Sermon for 12/1/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
First Reading: Isaiah 2:1–5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2In days to come
the mountain of the LORD's house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3Many peoples shall come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths."
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
5O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!\
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
In the early 80’s, the North Carolina State men’s basketball team got a new coach, the young, brash, Jim Valvano. When Coach V got to the team, he had them do a funny thing at the start of the very first practice.
Instead of shooting free throws or doing defensive drills, the players practiced cutting down the nets on the basketball hoops. This seems like a strange way to begin a basketball season, but Coach V wanted his players to know what to do, when they would win the NCAA national basketball tournament and take part in the post-game ceremony of cutting down the nets so that they could bring them home as trophies. Now, Coach V wasn’t going through this exercise just for fun, or to try and be smug. Coach did this, to help instill in his players and coaches the vision he had of where their journey together would naturally lead.
In our reading from Isaiah today, we are also given a vision of the future, a good and glorious future. This is the vision of the days to come, and it is a vision of peace, a time when nation will not rise up against nation, but instead, all nations will live in harmony, according to the will of God.
This, being the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of our Church year, we remember that we are waiting for this vision to come to fruition. And, as we get older, we may be wondering what’s taking God so long to accomplish it. Even a quick glance at the world around us tells us pretty quickly that we aren’t exactly living in this time of peace. When we read of this vision today, we may not even be that concerned with the macro level of nation rising up against nation, instead, it may be that we just have to think about all the things disturbing the peace in our own, individual lives that seem to make these visionary, “days to come” very unrealistic.
So, as we start this Church year, even as we try to wait with hope and joy, we can, at the same time feel hopeless, depressed, or even apathetic. For example, thinking about the days to come, as one struggles with serious illness may not lead us to happy visions of those days. Or as someone ages, and things get taken from them, visions of the future starts turning from dreams of what you’d one day hope to do, to realizing how much you no longer can do. Perhaps, with these grandiose, prophetic visions or in the midst of our own unmet expectations, there’s just generalized disbelief, or loss of faith, in this God who proclaims such peaceful visions, but hasn’t really delivered on it so far.
So in the midst of this tensions, of seeing this vision and also feeling so far away from it, we go back to North Carolina State for a moment, when Coach V had his players cut down the nets at that first practice, the exercise didn’t count on every player’s belief, nor did it magically cause every player to believe that someday they would be national champions. What the exercise did do, was unite the team in a vision of what they would be working to become. And, for the team, this vision became a reality in 1983, as the Wolfpack became one of the most unlikely champions in all of sports history, and cut down the nets for real.
This championship was so unlikely, that some even called it miraculous, but it didn’t just happen by chance. It took years of hard work, it took staying focused on the vision when things went wrong, and it took a coach who showed the players what he thought of them through this visionary exercise, , that they were champions, and why they were brought to play basketball at North Carolina State in the first place.
Through no work of our own, in the waters of baptism, we have been made in essence, God’s players, God’s team. God has chosen us to make Isaiah’s vision of peace, that we hear this morning, a reality, God has chosen us to start the work that it foretells, the peacemaking process, the work of making swords into plowshares, the work of teaching forgiveness instead of vengeance, the work of becoming a community that exists and is sustained only for the sake of love, the work of sharing the God who has given us this love so that all people may live into this vision.
And, even though we’ve been made a part of God’s proverbial team, there are many things that make this vision from Isaiah seem completely absurd, and the God who gives them to us simply a wish or a dream. The Good News in all of this, is that this vision is God’s vision, and it doesn’t depend upon our feelings or belief to make it happen, it is God’s work. The Good News, is that we are given a real, living taste of this vision, when God comes to us in Holy Communion, and not only declares peace with each of us as individuals, but brings us together in the peaceful unity of this meal we share. The Good News, is that in this meal of Holy Communion, the peace of this vision from Isaiah, the peace we are waiting for, God’s peace, which transforms our violence into love, and our individuality into community, is given to us.
On this, the first Sunday of Advent, we start out this year with a vision of peace, a vision of life with God. This is a vision that is given to us, and made real in us not by how we feel, or our belief, but by the work of Christ transforming us. We come to our meal of Communion this morning to be fed with this vision, and we pray that just as Jesus has come to us, this same Jesus Christ will continue to come and grow through us to become a vision for all the world.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,