Sunday, December 30, 2018
First Sunday of Christmas, Year C

Prayer of the Day
Shine into our hearts the light of your wisdom, O God, and open our minds to the knowledge of your word, that in all things we may think and act according to your good will and may live continually in the light of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 The boy Samuel grew in favor with the Lord and the people
Psalm 148
Colossians 3:12-17 Clothe yourselves in love; let the peace of Christ rule your hearts
Luke 2:41-52 The boy Jesus increased in wisdom, and in divine and human favor

Sermon
Title: At Home in God’s House

If these walls could talk.  For 160 years they have witnessed expressions and rituals, teachings and liturgies of the tradition that shapes our understanding of the Triune God, the Holy Scriptures, and the call to live as Jesus’ disciples in the world.

Whether at that font, or the one we currently use, infants, children, adults young and old have been baptized into the body of Christ.  They have heard their names called out as water was poured over them. The adoption into God’s family was sealed.  The life-giving presence of the Spirit was promised and delivered.  So much joy.  So much life.  So much grace.  In the name of, as our fonts say (one in German, one in English) One Lord, one faith, one baptism.  It didn’t matter the pastor, didn’t matter the language, didn’t matter the family of origin. The God of mercy and grace was making the promise every time.

At this table, sometimes kneeling before it, sometimes standing around it, so many meals have been served, so many who hunger have been fed, so many who thirst have been satisfied.  All have heard the promise that Christ is present in the bread on the wine.  Recipients with outstretched hands and open mouths have been comforted with the words “For you. For you.  For you.”  All of them encouraged with departing words like “the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you and keep you in his grace.”

These walls have heard countless hours of readings from Holy Scripture in a variety of languages, including Hebrew.  Add to that countless hours of sermons that have sought to bring these passages into present day context, make them relevant across the ages, mine them for the wisdom, hope, and mercy with which they overflow.  Words spoken here have joined together couples in marriage.  Words have tried to comfort the grieving at funerals.  Words have tried to collect and share hope in times of tragedy.

All of this on the inside while on the outside wars raged, financial crises exploded, innocents slaughtered, storms blew, seasons turned, neighborhoods changed, and marchers chanted.  All of this inside trying to make a difference on the outside.  If these walls could talk.  And that’s just the 160 years of Lutheran presence.  When we add the Presbyterian years and the Episcopal years, we come close to 200 years.  (2021 will be the two hundredth anniversary of the building itself.)

The readings for today encourage me to continue to shine our attention on this anniversary of St. John’s worshiping in this place.  In two, we have children serving in the temple.  Seeking understanding in the house of God.  Young Samuel has been dedicated to the Lord’s service by his mother Hannah who was barren. In thanksgiving for this child, she gives him to the old priest Eli as a gift for the temple.  Samuel becomes the last of the judges and ushers in the age of kings and prophets.  Whenever you have kings (and presidents) you really must have prophets.

And then, of course, there is Luke’s story of young Jesus, this famous story of…what do we call it?  Adolescent curiosity.  Teenage rebellion.  A growing awareness of self.  A search for meaning.  Haven’t we all gone through that?  Perhaps some of us still are.  How wise and right for Jesus to do this in the place he refers to as His Father’s house.  Perhaps you too have taken this journey in another one of our Father’s houses.

Just as this building has many memories of rites and rituals, words and wonders, so many of us have memories of sacred places where we have been fed, been inspired, been comforted, been united in community.  For me it started with baptism at Messiah, participating in choir and as an acolyte at Immanuel, confirmed at St. Paul’s, stretching my wings as an adult at St. Michael’s.  And that’s just the first 18 years.  With the psalmist we can sing: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord.” These houses of God have not been my second home, or maybe they have really been my first home.  What congregations and communities do you cherish as you look back over your faith journey?

And then there are those sacred spaces that are not lasting but are perhaps deeper impacting for their power – what Celtic Spirituality calls thin places.  Sometimes formal sanctuaries.  Sometimes surprise places.  Sometimes events.  For me, the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland, was one that changed my life.  And the living room where my father died after nine weeks in hospice care during which we all prepared for him to pass from this life into the next.  That was one that changed my world.  Do you have sacred spaces, sacred times, where that veil between heaven and earth has been especially thin?

We stand in a wonderful intersection this morning for considering life in this house of God and all the places we have encountered the divine.  Each spoke that enters this intersection brings encouragement for deeper meaning.  One road brings in our Christmas celebration of the incarnation – the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  The ultimate thin place, the quintessential dwelling place of God.  In Jesus, God is present in a most intimate way.  Another road brings in all the tradition and legacy of 160 years of ministry and witness.  Another road brings in our own faith stories that have brought each of us to be a part of this community.  Whether as a member, as a friend, or as a welcomed visitor.  Another road brings in this liminal time in our calendar, time for looking back over one year and looking ahead to a new year.

Take time to stand in this rich intersection.  Give thanks for the places that have fed and enriched you and your faith.  Seek out new places and opportunities if you are feeling a searching spirit rising in you.  And let us all recommit ourselves to the work of Christ in this place.  In this expression of God presence, God’s reign, God’s family. For outside these walls, wars continue to rage, financial crises explode, and economic injustice oppresses.  We know too well from the current news cycle that innocents are still being slaughtered – even in our own land, at our borders, in our detention centers.  And storms blow as seasons turn and climate is altered.  Neighborhoods change and face crises.  All the while marchers chant.

May the Spirit work in us, feed us in this place for the doing of the work beyond these walls.  Let us be encouraged and challenged by the words of the second reading from the letter of Colossians so that we might see ourselves as the children of God we are, that we might be clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear one another and forgive one another.  Finding our peace in Christ is binds us together as one.  And whatever we do, in word or deed, inside these walls or beyond them, let us do it in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God.

The Rev, Mark Erson, Pastor

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