Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sermon: November 15

Awaken me this morning, Lord to your light, Open my eyes to your presence.
Awaken me, Lord to your love, Open my heart to your indwelling.
Awaken me, Lord to your life, Open my mind to your abiding.
Awaken me always, Lord to your purpose, Open my will to your guiding. Amen. (David Adam)

I came home from Convention on Friday night with a heavy heart.  I had learned of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. The number of dead and injured was staggering.  A couple of my kids were upset by the news, after we comforted them, I walked the dogs; and in the cool fall air and the smell of a nearby fire, my heart relaxed for a moment from the news.

It is so easy to get caught up in the fear, anxiety, the sadness.  I think of the children in those places. Guns & Bombs. Violence & Death. At a concert hall, at a restaurant and café, at a stadium, at a mosque.   

In the midst of such evil, we need to be careful that we don’t let fear rule us. For when we act out of fear, we do not act out of the best of who we are.  And what is the refrain, Jesus says to his disciples and to us.  “Be not afraid.”

As Christians, we don't need a bunker mentality, we need not buy into the fear and anxiety of our age, we need to live into that hope that God entrusts us with; it is what the saints did with their lives...

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

The reformer Martin Luther put it.  Such hope in the face of it all is what we can give to our world that can’t see such hope that only witnesses violence and bloodshed.

When the Jewish people were torn away from their homeland by the sword.  When they didn’t know how to have faith in a foreign land.  When they wondered if they had a future. It is Daniel who brings them such hope.  For Daniel tells of his vision:

“At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, but at that time your people shall be delivered."

The vision from God that Daniel shares is a reminder to the Israelites that even though they have been violently taken from their homeland, God is with them and they will be delivered.  It is a message of hope in a bleak time.

In the gospel of Mark, the disciples are enthralled with the beauty of Jerusalem. The stones and structures.  But Jesus knows such things do not last.

“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

This unsettled the disciples but Jesus went on…

"Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.”

There will be wars, famines, earthquakes… these are but the birthpangs.

It is hard not to be alarmed at what Jesus says but I don’t think he is doing that to upset us, but to make us aware of the struggles we will have to follow him.  People who would lead us astray by their words, terrible things will happen in our world like wars, famines, earthquakes and even terror attacks.  But it is just the beginning.  The kingdom of God is almost be here.  Don’t be alarmed.

But how do we remain in hope?

I think it comes down to how we cultivate our lives and how we want to change the world by living out of our faith and hope and love.

In 1992, the beautiful city of Sarajevo was being torn apart in the ethnic strife of the Bosnian civil war. On the afternoon of May 27, a bomb was dropped on one of the last functioning bakeries in the city - 22 people who were waiting patiently to buy bread were killed. Vedran Smajlović witnessed the bombing from his apartment window. He was horrified and enraged at the massacre. But what could he do? He was not a politician or soldier. He was a musician, an accomplished cellist. All he knew was music.

So that is what he did for 22 days ­- one day for each of those killed - Smajlović played at the same spot. Every evening after that, at 4 P.M., the time of the fatal explosion, the 37-year-old cellist, dressed formally as if for a concert performance, took his cello to the site of the crater created by the bomb. And there he would play one of his favorite pieces, Albinoni's "Adagio in G minor." All around him mortar shells and bullets would fly, but he would continue to play. He played for the sake of human dignity that is the first casualty of war. He played for life, for peace, for hope. He was also known for playing for free at different funerals during the siege, even though such funerals would often be targeted by enemy fire.

Today, Vedran Smajlović is revered as a hero by the people of Sarajevo. A statue of a musician, sitting on a chair and playing a cello, was erected on the spot where Smajlović first played. But Smajlović says in all humility, "I am nothing special. I am a musician, I am part of the town. Like everyone else, I do what I can."

He could have been swallowed by hate & fear, instead, seeds of life and hope were planted by Smajlovic, using his God given talent, to a weary and war torn city.  The tragedy in Paris & Beirut gives me pause to think about the seeds we plant in our children, and those seeds of faith & hope & love that we have in our lives in anticipating the Kingdom of God.

Let me end with the words of Martin Luther King Jr., spoken at the funeral for the four little girls killed in a bombing in 1963 at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with you [him], and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope & transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace."


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