Sermon delivered at Foundry United Methodist Church, Washington, DC
December 3, 2023
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37
Good morning. I’m Rev. T.C. Morrow and I’m glad to serve as a Deacon in secondary appointment to Foundry as part of our extended clergy team, along with my primary ministry in a faith-based human rights organization called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we begin a new sermon series titled “The Perfect Gift.” As the Christmas season has many of us thinking about gifts – the joy of giving and receiving – we will spend some time reflecting on gifts you can’t find in a store or countless hours searching online retailers. Gifts like sharing words of love, doing acts of kindness, being in solidarity, reaching out in service, and being generous with our time and attention. As we draw nearer to the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day, we invite you to spend time in these weeks reflecting on the good gifts that God has given to you. And time reflecting on your ongoing responses with others and the world around you.
Will you join me in prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I sat drinking my morning coffee, with our cat Missy on my lap, scrolling through countless pages of Pokémon t-shirts. It was the second week of November, and we were going to celebrate Christmas over Thanksgiving weekend at my sister’s house. I just had to find the perfect Pokémon t-shirt for my sister and time was running out. We both are avid Pokémon Go players, and she loves to wear her Pokémon t-shirts. I wanted to find just the right one to add to her collection. She particularly likes tie-dyed shirts and it got to the point that I considered buying a shirt and tie-dying it myself. I eventually found a shirt based on The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover. It says “The Starters” and has Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Charmander, and Pikachu on the crosswalk. My search was over. I decided it was the one, and when gifts were exchanged it was warmly given and warmly received.
This week I thought about the time we spend searching for just the “right one” – the right gift, the right school, the right vacation activities, the right significant other, the right place to live. As I read over Pastor Ginger’s sermon series description about “silently-given” gifts, I thought about the few weeks earlier this fall that I made sure to text or call my sister every morning and night. We’re on a family group chat that we communicate every day, but we don’t always do every day just the two of us. She was in a moment that I intentionally wanted to check in more regularly. I had so easily gotten sucked into a long internet search in an attempt to find a perfect t-shirt for her. Am I also giving the same attention to considering what gifts of time and love I can give all year round?
We can spend so much time searching for the perfect thing that we can miss what is going on around us, we can miss the opportunity of the moment. We want to share the right, special gift. But I encourage you not to let the impulse for perfection stop you from sharing what you have now. In a culture obsessed with perfection, we can worry so much about making things the very best that we get stuck in doing nothing, or the alternative of spending way too much time on one thing. The search is important, but instead of searching for the imagined ideal, we can stay attentive and watchful, searching for how we can share the gift of God’s love through our every day encounters.
We can worry that we don’t have the right skills or the right education or the right temperament but when we show up, God will always find a way to use us. We can worry we don’t have the right words, but our presence can be enough when accompanying someone going through a hard time. We can worry that our speaking out won’t make a difference, but change can happen with persistence. We can worry that we’ve not always done the right things in the past and we might mess up again, but with forgiveness we can keep trying.
The good news is that God’s grace is abundant and “all day long [God is] working for good in the world.” The apocalyptic tone in both our scripture lessons today acknowledges the big rift between our current state and the totality of God’s promises. If I started listing all the ways we are separated from God, all the ways we do damage to ourselves, to each other, and to our planet, we might still be here tomorrow. We cry out “How long, O Lord?” and wonder when God’s promises will be fulfilled.
Yet even in my own days of greatest lament, I believe that God is at work in us and through us. I love the imagery from Isaiah 64:8 – “we are the clay, and you are our potter.” God shapes us over time, the potter needs at least some time to do her work. This might mean some patience while we are being molded, but we have each other in community to learn and serve with, to pray and celebrate and grieve with.
While we may seek a big “Eureka!” moment, God is gifting us with glimpses of the kin-dom every day. A smile from a stranger, a kind word at the doctor’s office, finding inspiration in a piece of music, a compliment that brightens your day, a call from a friend just when you need it most, successful labor negotiations yielding better pay and conditions, directly impacted people empowered to share their experiences with policy makers. The search for encountering Christ this Advent starts with being open to all the ways that God is revealed to us in our ordinary, every day experiences.
In a bible study this week, a member shared how she can lay on her couch in her higher floor Arlington apartment and see only the sky. No other buildings in view, she has started doing this every morning. Awake before the sunrise, this gives grounding and connection to the world beyond the next door buildings. This time provides a source hope amidst challenging days.
I’m not much of a morning person, so it is sunsets that catch my awe and help connect me to God’s good creation. I love to walk to the lake near my house and watch the sun set. Or I look out my west facing kitchen window, and remember my Grandma Morrow often commenting on the location of the setting sun in the fields outside her kitchen window as we would get dinner ready during the months I lived with my grandparents before moving to DC. It is not only the sheer beauty of a gorgeous sun set that connects me to that which is holy, but I’m often reminded of my grandmother and the cycle of life. I give thanks to God for the beautiful gift of it, for all the times her memory comes to my mind, helping me put into perspective the challenges of my day. In the midst of all the pain and suffering of our world, we need to be reminded of the ways that God is with us. We search for glimpses of the inbreaking of the kin-dom of God, seeking nourishment to sustain hope.
We yearn for the fulfillment of the kin-dom of God, the coming of the Messiah as described in today’s Gospel text in Mark 13 as “‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” In the midst of all the pain and suffering in our world, we yearn for an end to destruction and death. We seek to keep cynicism at bay and maintain hope that brokenness, hate, and war do not have the final say. Advent marks a period of watchful waiting not only for celebrating the birth of Jesus, but for anticipating when “Christ comes in final victory” as we pray in our Communion liturgy. It is a time to find ways to renew our hope that new ways of being in relation to God and each other are possible, new life is possible.
This morning we join Christians now, and in the past two thousand years, and in the future in celebrating Holy Communion. We remember Jesus’ birth, death, and victory of new life over all that seeks to destroy. May you be open to Christ’s liberating love in your own life, and how God is equipping you to share that perfect gift through your words and deeds, through what you prioritize and what you pay attention to. At this table, may you encounter Christ’s liberating love and find a peace that surpasses all understanding. May it fill you with hope that buoys you, with glimpses of the kin-dom of God even amongst all the heart-ache of our lives. May God’s grace surround you this day and every day, may you be filled with hope and empowered to share that hope.