“Going into the Void!”

First Sunday of Advent                                                                                  30 November 2014

(Isaiah 64:1-9   Psalm 80  1 Corinthians 1:3-9   Mark 13:24-37)

“Going into the Void!”

I listen to a lot of interviews on the radio when I am driving in my car.  This is how interviews end.  The interviewer, having taken a full minute and a half to plumb the very depths of some complicated issue like abortion or the Supreme Court nominating process, always with two people representing opposing viewpoints, turns to one and says, “So, Robert, we are just about out of time.  In the final fifteen seconds we have left, just tell us, what is the future of Western civilization?”

That’s pretty much how I feel right now!  So, Pastor Mike, we’ve had an awfully busy week—the events out of Ferguson; Thanksgiving; Black Friday; throwing out the Ray Rice suspension; the Bill Cosby accusations—and, oh yes, it is also the beginning of Advent.  So, Pastor Mike, in the next eight and one-half minutes, can you help us make sense out of all of this, before we head back to the mall?

“We are just about out of time!”   If we think of these words as more than a code phrase from radio or television, meaning a commercial or the next show is coming soon, it sounds a little ominous.  That’s pretty much how I’m feeling right about now!

And even if there were time enough to lift up all these issues, it is how Ferguson, Missouri, has become a parable for America, that demands our attention today.  And, as with any parable, how we hear it and, what we do with what we hear, becomes our work when we leave this church this morning.

In the e-newsletter that came from The Lutheran magazine this past week, the title of the article was, Advent invites us into the Void.1  In the article, Betsy Williams reminds us how Advent begins in empty spaces:  an empty womb, heavens that are shaking and rumbling, the wilderness at Jordan’s banks.  And so, as these next four weeks rush in upon us with so many “to do” lists, and when we become overwhelmed with so many invitations to parties and concerts, on this first weekend of Advent we are given a different kind of invitation:  to be awake enough, alert enough to notice the empty spaces of our lives.

In the Gospel text, we hear Jesus describing a world where everything seems to be falling apart; even the sun, the moon and the stars have left their rightful places in the skies.  But Jesus admonishes us that even when our lives seem robbed of all we once were able to count on for certain, Jesus is saying, to look into that empty space  and listen–listen deeper than the uproar and clamor of the crashing world.

And I know all of you have different empty spaces in your lives, and I’m not ignoring those; and I encourage you, rather than avoiding those holes, look at them, listen to them, hear where there may be movement of hope.

And I’d say the same for all that has occurred in Ferguson.  What is being taught to us out of the clouds that cover this town?  Are we able to listen deeper than the unrest to what we may be invited to hear?  Please know that I’m not passing judgment on the grand jury decision, even as I know that as a nation we are divided by the verdict.  For me, the issue in this parable out of Ferguson, Missouri, is the demand for us to look more honestly into the void created when our passion for racial justice and an inclusive world is not passionate enough to change hearts and to institute systemic change in our country!

Jim Wallis, the president of Sojourners wrote in a blog on Tuesday morning:  “Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America.” 2

The New York Times recently completed a series entitled, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.”  The final part of the story began with a few common eye-rolling responses often given by whites when we begin to talk about racism.  Comments such as: “It’s time to move on!  Are whites doomed to an eternity of apology?  America is about personal responsibility…so let’s get beyond the slavery issue!”

Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, taking an entirely different approach, wrote in a statement Tuesday evening, “Despite the anger, violence and injustice connected with this sad and horrible tragedy, we should not abandon our hope or our neighbors.” 3

The father of Michael Brown, the man who was slain, wrote earlier on Monday, “Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer.  No matter what the grand jury decides, I want my son’s death to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”4

But for this not simply to remain an issue in some small town near St. Louis, it has to get very personal for every one of us.  Ferguson is not only in Ferguson.  It is in Gettysburg and in every community in our country.  Look around you right now.  See the void.  In one of the larger congregations in this community, there are so few African Americans who worship with us each week.

I dare suggest that the parable of Ferguson, Missouri, is inviting us into this void that we see around us, and demanding a response: how can we make racial equality an important part of our mission here at St. James?  Because in each and every one of us is where we live and love like Jesus!
Finally….. Advent faith.  In the midst of all the polarizing views on racism—Advent faith, if you will—reminds us that all the hullabaloo and raucous is never the final word.  The last things in God’s view won’t be the emptiness of destruction.  The final, last thing is hope—hope bubbling up through the mud and muck of our sin-filled lives.  We may not see it yet.  We may not hear it yet.  But that’s the promise of Advent faith.  Be awake; be attentive; be alert—especially in the empty places and the voids in your lives—because there is an invitation from God somewhere in that emptiness.

Jesus comes!  Jesus is coming!  Jesus has come!  As Advent people, we are called to believe this in Ferguson, Missouri, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and everywhere between and beyond; and in believing, we pray for the grace and the courage to transform our faith into action.  Amen

_____________________________

  1. The Lutheran, e-newsletter.  Betsy Williams. November, 2014. 
  2. A Sad Night for America. God’s Politics Blog.  Jim Wallis. 25 November 2014.
  3. Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  A Pastoral Word on the Grand Jury Decision in Ferguson. 25 November 2014.
  1. A Sad Night for America. (above)
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