“This Is the Day!”
I know that it will be a stretch, but I want to begin understanding our Gospel parable today by telling a parable myself:
You see, we do a funny thing when it comes to selling houses. We could live in a house for ten or twenty or even longer years and have a plan to upgrade the bathroom or kitchen or dining room, add a bedroom, or garage or what have you. But we put it off and we put it off, and finally when we are looking to sell the house, we remodel and upgrade and make the house much more attractive to potential home buyers. When what we should have done all along is done the upgrades and improvements along the way so we could have enjoyed them as part of the home we always wanted to live in, not just wait until the last moment and then finally make the improvements.
You might be asking yourself, what does this have to do with sheep and goats and visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry, welcoming the poor or stranger. And while on one level you are correct to wonder, what it actually all comes down to this time of year is the idea of “This is the Day!”
Often times we hear people say things like, “live each day like it is your last” or “today is a present, so treat it as a gift.” And normally I dismiss these things as positivity thinking about how to spend our days being attuned with one another, but lately I have been thinking about what it truly means to be present and to spend time with myself and others.
So, let us today ask the question, what if today was your last day on earth, what would you do if This is the Day?
No doubt if you had loved ones you would want to spend every moment with them letting them know how much they mean to you and perhaps dispensing what wisdom you have gained. Perhaps you would try to visit a place you have never been and always wanted to go, perhaps you would actually say what you have been meaning to say for years to a lost friend, family member, or someone you know you were mean to. Perhaps you would just turn in, not let anyone near you, and do the old dog maneuver and separate yourself from the pack and be alone in your last moments.
But remember our theme today is what would you do if today was your last day, and so I want to key in on something that we all too often paint over. Caring for the least of those among Jesus’ family begins with caring for yourself. Now this does not mean going overboard and turning overly inward and not helping others, but this means that you must love yourself before you can love others. This means that when you need that day to just rest and recuperate and recharge, that you take that day to do just that. So that when you are ready, you act, as the hands and feet of God incarnate!
In other words, and to stretch my parable out even further, you must make improvements so that your house is in good order and then when ready, you can invite people over. For if self-doubt, fear, and guilt reside within you, then you will have every excuse in the world to not help those around you. But if hope, faith, trust, and love are your foundations, then indeed your house is built upon the Rock of the Ages.
What this boils down to, is that all too often, we put things off in our lives and back burner our most important tasks for another day. All too often we make ourselves too busy to slow down and love ourselves, let alone, see the lost among us, the poor among us, the outcast longing to be known among us. And as such, all we then fail to look into the mirror and realize that perhaps we are the very lost we seek to help, that we are the very poor we want to assist, or we are the very stranger that longs to be welcomed.
Furthermore, what Jesus is telling us today, is that when we slow down to recognize and help others the way we would want to be helped, is when we are doing the very same thing for Jesus himself. So that on the day of reckoning, when the sheep and goats are separated (and I’m sorry to all the goats, I don’t know why you always get the short end of the parable) when all our accounts come due in life, we will be judged by one simple measuring stick…did you do it to the least of these?
Did you give the hungry food?
Did you give the thirsty something to drink?
Did you welcome the stranger?
Did you clothe the naked?
Did you care for the sick?
Did you visit the imprisoned?
It’s as if Jesus gives us a checklist of righteous measurements. It also seems quite daunting, doesn’t it?! But it is easier than you might think. Because often times it begins with us. But because after we have our house in order we must act and help others out, as Jesus calls us to do, and because I am all about offering some solutions today to help us on our way, here is a list of things you could do when ready to help the least of these:
Buy a bag of food at Coborn’s for the food shelf
Donate a case of water to Oasis of Central MN
Bring cookies to your new neighbor, or a neighbor you have not met yet
Take those old shirts of yours that you haven’t worn for decades and donate them to Good Will
Volunteer at the hospital
Volunteer at the Church
Volunteer at the Prison
Say prayers for all those mentioned above
And here is the truly amazing part of our faith: when you stumble, because you will; when you fall, because you will; when you sin, because you will; it is in those moments that the greatest of all of us, Jesus Christ, comes to save the least of His family…which perhaps just may be us! That no matter the day, whether This is the Day or it is another day in the future, we are saved by the grace of God, we are forgiven by the Cross of Christ, and we are lifted up to try anew each second, minute, hour, day, month, or year because at some point we will do something to help the least of these. And in that moment, when you may not even know what you did, in that moment, you were Jesus to the least of His family.
To quote a Haitian prayer, “Lord, what we were yesterday is not what we are today. What we are today is not what we were yesterday.” Today is a new day, this coming year is a new year, what do you plan to do with it? What repairs or improvements does your house need? What repairs or improvements does your neighbors house need? Are you going to do something now, or just wait until the last possible moment to finally be the love God longs for this world?!
This is the Day, This is the Day, All Glory to God, for This Is the Day, Amen!
Signs of Love
Rev. Tony Romaine
In Susan Trott’s trilogy about a Holy Man, she writes about a monk who lived on top of a mountain in a hermitage. To get to the hermitage, pilgrims would have to travel a long path up a steep and winding trail packed by fellow travelers. There were separate paths up and down, as the path was not wide enough for two-way traffic. The journey was arduous, and people may have to camp out for days before seeing the Holy Man, as he would only take visitors during the Summer months.
As one of the characters finally reached the hermitage which was a quaint two story non-descript house on a rock foundation facing East, the pilgrim knocked on the door and it was opened by one of the monks at the hermitage. The pilgrim knew he was a monk because every day the monks would go down to the village to pick up supplies and they were always dressed in drabby gray clothing and simple attire. And so, this man answered the door and said, “Yes, how may I help you?” The traveler answered, “I have come to see the Holy Man.” The monk at the door said, “Ah yes, follow me.” The monk then led the pilgrim through the hermitage passing open rooms and doors and finally they were at the back gate. As the monk opened the back door to the hermitage and said, “Goodbye.” The Pilgrim stunned said, “What, wait a second, I came to see the Holy Man.” And the monk answered, “and so you have.”
I love the idea of slowing down as we come to the end of our Advent season, because it reminds me that we can sometimes journey through life, an arduous journey no doubt, and miss all the signs that God is with us, or that God longs for us along the way. In fact, I sometimes think about if God is already among us and we just fail to see. Or if Jesus did come, would we recognize it?
See, we ask for signs that God is with us, we ask that God make present what the next revelation is, but then do we take the time to see it? And would we trust it if someone stood up in the middle of downtown Little Falls and proclaimed that a young woman would give birth to a child and that child would be named Jesus and he would come to save the world?
Unfortunately, I think not, for long gone are the days when the prophets went to the king’s court and proclaimed about a young maiden who would give birth, long gone are the days when a disciple would go from town to town and proclaim the Good News, and long gone are the days when the whole world stops and awaits a newborn baby…or are they?
Sometimes we have recency bias, or a tendency to think that what we are experiencing can only be happening to us. But I think that in those times before Jesus’ birth many Jews in the Mediterranean world were feeling much like we do today. They were feeling forgotten by a world which was ruled by leaders who seemingly could care less about the people who actually support and uphold the society. They were being persecuted for their beliefs and were being marginalized because of their religion. They were tolerated, but that was about it, by a Roman society that had no use for their God or their religion or their temple. And they were holding onto hope that one day a Messiah would come and would save them all; because it was written that this would happen and because it had happened before.
And then something marvelous occurred to these Jews, an angel appeared to an unwed virgin and promised her that she would become the mother of Emmanuel, God With Us, and that same angel appeared to Joseph to let him know that everything would be more than okay and that he should stick by Mary’s side because this was God’s work and Joseph should trust in God. And a sign was proclaimed that the messiah would come in the form of a baby. That God would save the world through this baby Jesus.
I think we overlook this one important fact all too often, that the sign of love that God sent into our world was not a thunderstorm breaking forth and a baby floating down from the heavens, it was not God incarnate with lighting bolts streaming from fingertips and flowing golden locks of hair appearing out from behind marvelous white clouds, it was a baby born in a room of a house reserved for animals, born into a feeding trough, and probably quite dirty and unkept.
But more so than the actual birth itself, is the symbol that God bursting forth into our lives in the from of a baby holds, the sign of love that we received o so many years ago…A baby needs to be cared for, nurtured, held, loved. A baby needs to be raised and taught and helped along the way. A baby is the most fragile form our human bodies take until our dying days when we are fragile once again. And so, if you have not thought of it yet, here is the important fact we often overlook…our salvation came in a form that requires our attention, our care, and our love; which means God incarnate, God in our lives, requires our attention, our care, and our love.
In other words, we must nurture each other, we must care for each other, and we must be the love for each other as if everyone we meet is God incarnate! In this respect, the sign of God’s love is in each of us, the love God has for the world lies within our hands and feet, and the only way we will ever recognize God within us is when we begin to recognize God within each other!
I know the cynics out there are immediately wanting to know about criminals or the mentally insane or the abusers and harassers and the list goes on. And you are correct, because we cannot change the past. But remember, Jesus did not come to change our past, He came to change our future. Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, His coming fulfilled all prophecy, but His coming was to give us a future which we could live into, one where we are free to love without restrictions and to choose anew. And if we fail to recognize the sign of God’s love within ourselves and each other than we will never realize God’s love in the world, or see it even in the innocence of a baby.
And so, if there is only one thing you ever know about Christmas may it be this: God loves you!
Is there a hole in your heart? God loves you
Do you miss someone? God loves you
Are you a believer? God loves you
Do you doubt or absolutely not believe? God loves you
Are you sad or lonely? God loves you
Are you conflicted, guilt-ridden, sin-filled? God loves you
God loves you so much that instead of staying distant and far away, instead of being something you could never feel or see, instead of being something you could never relate to; God burst into our world so that you could touch the divinity which exists within you, and you could see the divinity that exists within the other.
You might be wondering how I could know that God loves you, how could I possibly know? I know because I am broken, I am imperfect, at times lonely, at times depressed, and in those moments when I feel that I am not worthy of love, that I am not worthy of God’s grace, that I am not worthy of the life I have been given, in those moments when the deepest love of my most dearest loved ones or those who love me beyond compare cannot even reach the depth of my despair…It is in those moments when God’s love fills me and repairs me; because I am God’s child, I am of the Creator, and I am loved as a carnal being of God’s own hands.
As we have journeyed through the Advent season, we have spoken of putting on the Armor of Hope and awaiting the coming hour of God, we have spoken about the Root of Peace and how God calls each of us to be promoters of peace regardless of our history, we have celebrated the Joy that children bring through song and Scripture, through music and innocence. And here we are now on the cusp of celebrating the birth of Jesus into our world. As this season ends, it will bring relief to many that the busyness is over, the cooking is done, the family time spent, all the gifts either bought or not bought.
But the irony is that we will just ramp things up again, that we will inevitably speed up to the pace of life again, and we will undoubtedly start to go so fast as to miss the very important signs of God’s love in our lives once more. This is what happens to us, this is why the Advent season is so important, this is why we eventually come to another season of reflection and waiting in Lent, and this is why no matter how many times, years, decades we experience the message of Christmas, we need to hear it again and again and again. That God loved us so much that Jesus was born to save us, to love us. That the one true sign of God’s love lives within us all, and that love is meant to be shared with one another.
And so, let me leave you all with a piece of advice, a sign of God’s love. This is not from me, but rather this advice is from a Holy Man on the Mountaintop: “If you look on everyone you meet as a holy person, you will be happy.”
What better sign are you waiting for?
The Root of Peace
Rev. Tony Romaine
One of the great questions we struggle with as humans is purpose. For what reason were we created? Why were we even born? And as we journey through Advent and this season of waiting, it gives us momentary pause top ask the same about Jesus. I mean I know my family has its skeletons and secrets, but look at Jesus’ lineage from our Gospel reading today.
Here are just a few eyebrow raising ancestors:
Tamar who had two husbands die on her, was shunned by Judah, pretended to be a prostitute so she could bear a son for Judah, was almost burned to death before Judah recognized that she was carrying his son.
Rahab, who was a woman of the night, who hid two Israelis and saved them from certain death, was saved when the city of Jericho was destroyed because of her loyalty and righteousness.
David, said to be the greatest king in all of Judaism, author of many of the Psalms, still sent his best friend and best general to the front lines of a war to be killed so he could have Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, to himself.
Ruth, a Moabite widow, a foreigner from another land, stays with her mother-in-law Naomi and although not originally a follower of God, becomes one through family loyalty and dedication to Naomi.
This less-than stellar lineage makes us think about why Jesus has this family history. Absolutely it is important to connect things back to the line of Jesse which our prophets speak of and of which Jesus is a part, but more importantly, it is to demonstrate that out of the brokenness of our humanity comes peace, out of the destruction we cause ourselves comes healing, and out of the despair and loneliness comes love.
This line of Jesus is one filled with sinners ranging from murderers to adulterers to the greedy and the list goes on. And yet, this is Jesus’ lineage, heritage, and this is the line through which God chose to become incarnate. So, why do you think Jesus was ever born at all? I mean really think about it. Why would God even need to come in the form of a baby to save our world, grow into a wise adolescent, and then seemingly at the apex of his ministry; be cut down and crucified?
Sure, we can respond about the resurrection and eternal life and the forgiveness of sins; all good things and true. But there is one important reason we are forgetting that is key to our message today: God became incarnate through Jesus Christ to demonstrate and teach us that the way we are supposed to be living is part of our history and inside us already.
Yes, we are sinners, all of us in one way or another, have sinned. Perhaps some are murderers or adulterers or criminals or gluttons or greedy or you name the sin and I guarantee it is here in one form or another. And yet, we are here in this church which God longs to be in this community, we are here to worship and bring ourselves to Jesus, we are here to repent and ask forgiveness so that we can be saved and we are here because the peace we long for in the world can only be found through Jesus Christ.
But what we often forget is that that peace also has to come through us. If the Israelite soldiers had not kept their promise to Rahab and saved her life, this line would be broken. If David had not repented and confessed his sins, atoned for them and been forgiven, the line would be broken. If Ruth had not stayed with her mother-in-law and travelled to a land where people hated her, where people despised her, if she had not taken another people’s God and been loyal to Naomi and her house, the line would be broken.
At any point along this lineage, Jesus’ heritage could have been broken by one act of unkindness, rage, hatred, or selfishness. And yet, this is the lineage that survives, and this is the line of Jesus, the tree that sprouted from the root of Jesse, the tree that was born to be the root of peace.
Our world is spinning out of control right now. There are people who spout hatred and bigotry in all corners of the world, there are people who are lost and feel there is no way out, there are others who are lonely because they feel abandoned by the world and their God, and there are others who use every part of their power and privilege to keep people down just because they can.
That is why Jesus was born people. God became incarnate to show us that we have the power to bring about peace on earth, we have the hands that can offer hope, and we have the abilities to make life better for other people. And when we do, whether it is through small acts or grand gestures, we cannot possibly understand the impact we might have on someone.
If we want the world to be at peace, we have to work for it. The powers of evil and greed and gluttony and murder and destruction and all those bad things are seemingly always going to be there. But that is why you were born. You were born to fight the evil in the world. Not with guns or bullets or missiles or bombs.
But with wisdom beyond your years or knowledge you have obtained over the years. With courage to defy the powers that be and to be a broadcaster of peace, not hate. With a repentant heart that is not too proud to ask for forgiveness and to recognize your own failings, because with a repentant heart all can be forgiven. And you were born to bring peace about in this world with the greatest weapon of all; God’s love. God’s love which resides in you through the Holy Spirit and was set free and directed by our Great Teacher, Jesus Christ, who lives and breathes, and offers this world peace through your hands and feet.
And so I say to you, so what if you are old, young, rich, poor, married, single, divorced, widow, gay, straight, white, black, Republican, Democrat, hawk, dove, believer, questioning, or non-believer, long-time member, new member, or not a member. God loves you and has given you everything you need to make an impact on your world. God sent Jesus to save you from your sins so that nothing can hold you back from loving others as God has loved you. And God created you just the way you are so that in your own special way, you can bring peace to whatever part of the world you affect.
It will not be easy. Our world wants to make you afraid that different is wrong, that other is evil, that stranger is violent and going to harm you. And that is why this lineage of Jesus is so important. Because it demonstrates that foreigner is sometimes savior, that stranger is sometimes protector, that different is not dangerous, and that peace can be found even amongst the most chaotic of histories.
What will your root be remembered as? Will people look back on your life and remember you as a peaceful person, who brought love to other people, who helped out the needy and who sacrificed so others could find peace? And when people reflect about why you were born, what might they say?
I know for me; my life has been one of ups and downs. Perfection is hard to find, self-doubt a constant battle, fear and anger a daily battleground. But that is why finding peace and offering peace and love and hope is so important. See, peace is not the absence of conflict, peace is being able to offer others love regardless of conflict. Peace is not the absence of violence; peace is being able to not respond with violence. Peace is not the absence of fear; peace is being able to be present despite my fears. And peace is not the absence of death; but peace is being able to trust that Jesus has conquered death, so nothing in this world can scare me so much as to not offer love.
Honestly, saying these things brings fear to the forefront of my brain and hearing them trickle out of my mouth makes my heart tremble. But that is why amidst the question of why we were born, it makes sense to remember why Jesus was born. For His Hope, His Joy, His Love and His Peace is the only thing that sees us through. And that message is one that I hope this world never forgets, Amen