Sermon for December 14

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

There are two stories.

Two stories that deserve to be told.
Two stories that we try to tell whenever we gather.

The first is the story of what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in the world.
The second is the story of what we’re doing.

Actually, everybody tells that story. Just this week several people tried to get me to tell that second story- specifically, they asked me what was new and exciting in my life.

I told them nothing was new, not this week anyway.
What I didn’t tell them was, there is an exciting thing happening, but it’s been getting more familiar every year.

But I’ll tell you what it is: God is working in my life, and God’s working in yours.

That’s what we celebrate every Sunday-
And during advent, we focus on an extraordinary way that God has of doing that:
By coming among us
As one of us
As the weakest among the weak.

Whenever he comes, lives change.
The broken-hearted are bound back together.
The outcastes are returned to their true family.
The depressed begin to rejoice.
The prisoners feel the wind in their face.
The ruined cities are rebuilt.
The struggling saplings grow into mighty oaks.
And the dead are raised.

I’ve seen it
You’ve seen it
We’ve seen it.

But listen: it doesn’t happen in the manner of a magician waving magic wand. It happens by God working in us, which means, well-

It means work.
And the work usually involves sacrifice
And sometimes it involves risk
And often it will demand long periods of perseverance.
And at least once or twice a day it will involve some courage.
And always, always, always it will require trust.
Because it’s hard work changing our life
And it’s even harder work changing the lives of those around us,
Never mind the world.

Let me tell you a short, simple story.
It’s a story about a food processor.

I had one, but it was small, and it had lots of parts, and it intimidated me.
I tried to use it once or twice but I never enjoyed it, so I got rid of it.
I bought another, but I couldn’t quite figure out the pint.
It was small too, and I couldn’t do too much with it so I rarely did.

I tried a blender, but it was even less useful.

Last month, just after Thanksgiving, I made some bean and kale soup[. I needed to chop the kale, and it took me some time and lots of aggravation to chop it in the small processor.

So I ordered a full size one.

Last night I made some more bean and kale soup, and I threw the kale in the chopper.

What do you suppose happened?

It chopped up like, well, like nothing I’d ever seen.
Any mechanic will tell you, if you have the right tools things go a lot easier.
Sometimes they’re still WORK, of course.

But we rejoice, because we have what we need to do the work.

What WE have is the grace of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the dwelling within each of us by the Holy Spirit.

So the Apostle Paul write to encourage the Thessalonians in their work.
After all, it’s easy to give up.

There’s a woman in jail right now.
I met her the first time I ever visited the jail, four years ago this week.

She was in then, and she got out, and she went to college.

I saw her once in a while, at the library or in town.

But then I saw her again, in jail again.

The next time I saw her, I told you about it during testimony time. She was working and she was happy.

But sometimes I saw her where she worked, and I could tell it was a struggle. A hard struggle. A painful struggle.

And now she’s in jail again.

I’ve had her on our prayer list and on my personal prayer list and I’ve told her that.
But it’s interesting to hear what she talks about.
She reads the newspapers to see what’s happening crime-wise in town, and what’s happening in the courts, and who’s in trouble.

That’s her world.

I’m not sure- maybe she doesn’t SEE God working in her life.
Or maybe she sees it, and is scared by it.
Or maybe she sees it, and it’s still very difficult.
Because, really, life is not easy
No matter who you are
And it’s even harder
Without somebody cheering for you to succeed.

So I’ve told her, and really, just about everybody there
I’ve told them how much I’d love to see them
Outside in the fresh air,

Until then, I pray without ceasing.
Because I know God is at work in the world.
I know that Jesus is IN THEIR MIDST.

I have a friend, he e-mails me almost every day.

I met him when I was in college, though he had already graduated.
He may not remember it, but he was a lot of encouragement to me.

I’m not sure how we reunited, more than 30 years later. But in between he did not have an easy life.

Along the way he suffered from depression, and sometimes he still does.
But every day- every single day- he gives thanks.

Usually for small things, but not always.
Sometimes it’s big things, such as two very fine sons.

Yesterday morning, this is what he posted on Facebook:

“Just remember in all the mess at Christmas – sickness, divorce, unemployment, you name it God shows up.”

Well, how would he know?

Because he’s been in each of those places, and he’s seen the Lord.

So he holds fast to the good.
He gives thanks.
And whenever he can, he rejoices.

That’s the work we do.
But THIS is the work God does:

Sometimes God leads us
And sometimes God follows us,
And either way the path is a wandering path
And that path will challenge our emotional and intellectual strength.

Sometimes it will challenge us through adversity
And sometimes it will be through prosperity.
Sometimes it will be through boredom
And other times through adventure.
Sometimes it will be through loneliness
And sometimes it will be through the bonds of citizenship and faith and family.

Because really, all of those circumstances will require trust in way that Jesus leads us, and on our own we are bound to stumble, no matter the conditions of the trail.

But every time we discover Jesus being right there, where we are-
Every time we realize that he has not abandoned us-
We become more and more
Clothed with the garments of salvation,
More and more covered with the robe of righteousness,
More and more like Jesus.

The theologians call that Sanctification, which means “made saint-like”
But what it means is, we’re walking in step.

Or maybe it means we’re living LIKE him
Because we’re keeping him in sight-
Or maybe, because we’ve seen how he works
We start to work that way too.

There was a boy named Rob.

Rob grew up with four siblings in a hard-working West Virginia mining town.

His Dad was a gambler and an alcoholic- one psychologist that interviewed Rob described his father as “ne’er-do-well”.

And Rob’s mother? Well, she practiced throwing knives at a picture of her husband.

The children were sent to foster care, and Rob spent his later childhood in a stable home.

The path Rob’s life took was not a straight path. His teachers encouraged him, he went to New York City, and Rob found artistic success. He also fell in love and got married.

They moved to the Southwest. But they couldn’t have kids.

So instead- perhaps remembering his foster home- perhaps remembering the teachers who encouraged him- Rob and his wife adopted two. And Rob began volunteering.

A psychologist asked Rob- a screenwriter- to identify his life theme.

And this was his answer, in one word: Redemption.

That was the theme of Jesus’ life. It was his mission and purpose and manner of life.
And when he’s working in us, it’s our theme too:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept sound and blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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