Tag Archives: repentance

God With Us: Repent and Rejoice! – sermon on Zephaniah 3:14-20

Advent 3C – December 12, 2021
VIdeo

This is Gaudete Sunday! It’s the Latin word for ‘rejoice’ taken from the first word in the New Testament reading for today. Rejoice in the Lord always we just heard Paul say to the Philippians – Again I say Rejoice! And why? Because the Lord is near.

Last week we heard John the Baptist calling us to a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” as he cried out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. And why? Because the Lord is near!

You just heard the gospel reading for today, describing John’s ministry in greater detail. As he called people to repentance, they had some questions about how, exactly, to go about that. Yes, we know repenting means turning away from one thing so we can turn toward something else, but how do we do that?

So John gives some specific examples. He encourages his listeners to look for ways to make things right and fair, to be generous with what we have, so that others who don’t have anything can be clothed and fed and cared for. He starts out calling people a brood of vipers, but ends up proclaiming the good news that … the Lord is near!

We are three fourths of the way through the season of Advent. And while we might think of these four weeks of preparation as leading up to Christmas, our focus should probably be looking forward to Christ’s coming again in glory as much as remembering his first coming in human form.

In fact, during medieval times, the four Sundays of Advent had nothing to do with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love – the themes of Advent in the middle ages were Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. Put that in your Christmas stocking! The truth is that Advent simply means Arrival. We look for Jesus to come among us, to be God with us – Emmanuel. So today, we hear the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah describe what that will be like, how God with us changes everything, and why God wants to be with us in the first place.

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
(Zephaniah 3:14-20)

Rejoice! Exult! I wonder if we even know what those words mean anymore. The short definition of “exult” is to ‘feel or show triumphant elation or jubilation.’ Try explaining that to a kindergartener.

Let me give you an example: It’s the sound you make and the way you act when a player from your favorite football team intercepts a pass and runs it in for a touchdown. Especially if that touchdown puts your team in the lead.

You exult when you watch your child ride a bike unassisted for the first time. I exult every time I get a sermon written in time to preach it. It’s that “Woohoo!” feeling of gratitude that things are good – really good! – and we are filled with joy and gladness we can’t contain. So why does the prophet Zephaniah, who has spent so much breath telling the nation of Israel how bad things are going to be for them because of their disobedience, suddenly do a 180 turn and start telling us to rejoice?

Because God has taken away the judgments against you. The first two chapters of Zephaniah are all about the punishment God intends for those who have rejected God. It’s pretty dire. A lot worse than being called a brood of vipers. Then, suddenly, here in chapter three, God does an about face – God repents. Now hear me out, I’m not spouting heresy here. There are several places in scripture where God repents:

  • God repented that he had made humans, because they would only do evil, and it ‘grieved him at his heart,’ so he told Noah to build an ark before God flooded the earth (Genesis 6:6)
  • God repented from destroying Jerusalem because of King David’s sin, and stopped the angel of death at the threshing floor which eventually would become the land where Solomon would build the first Temple (Chronicles 21:15)
  • When Nineveh repented of its sin in Jonah 3:10, God repented of destroying Nineveh.

Do you notice what all this repenting has in common? God gets disgusted with humans who have rejected God’s love, and decides to destroy them – then repents, or changes direction, and shows mercy instead. You could almost say that God is the model of repentance. God shows us how to repent of our sin, by repenting of punishment and turning toward mercy and life.

Here in Zephaniah, that’s exactly what God does. Zephaniah describes the Day of the Lord as a time of doom and destruction, but God says, “On that day, you won’t be ashamed … no longer will you be haughty on my holy mountain … no one will make you afraid,” (3:11-13) because God will shower God’s people with love and forgiveness. And like everything else God does, this new message of love and joy goes over the top.

“Rejoice,” Zephaniah says, “God is in your midst, so you do not need to be afraid anymore.” Your judgment, your punishment for all the ways you have abandoned God or ignored God or rebelled against God – all that is cleared away. You have no reason to be afraid, because God is in your midst. God is with us. And that brings us to my favorite verse in the whole Bible, and the central idea of this passage. It is a five-fold blessing:

  1. The Lord your God is in your midst,
  2. a warrior who gives victory;
  3. he will rejoice over you with gladness,
  4. he will renew (or quiet) you in his love,
  5. he will exult over you with loud singing …

All that rejoicing and exulting Zephaniah tells us to do back in verse 14 is merely a reflection of God’s rejoicing and exulting. All our loud singing is simply an answer to the singing God does over us. Have you ever considered that God sings? And when God sings, it’s because of you?

Ponder that for a moment. You are so precious to God, so deeply loved, that God rejoices over you and sings your name, even as God is in your midst, right beside you, God with you. I know the first time this verse hit me, it wasn’t with the realization that God cared so much for me, it was the fact that God sings! And if God sings, and we are made in God’s image, that’s why we sing. Not for our own pleasure, but for God’s.

It has only been with time and deeper understanding that I have come to realize it isn’t the singing that’s important here. It’s the love. Sometimes that love actually prohibits us from indulging in the pleasure of singing – as it has over these past months of pandemic restrictions. But if love is more important that anything else in this passage, surely we can express that love for God and for one another in other expressions of joy, at least for now.

And that brings us to the final part of this passage, this message of hope, peace, and joy for the third Sunday in Advent. Finally, we come to God’s promises, God’s pledge to do what God says he will do.

In the Day of the Lord, the day of rejoicing and exultation, God says “I will…”

I will remove disaster.
I will deal with your oppressors.
I will save the lame.
I will gather the outcast.
I will change your shame into your fame.

And best of all, because God is with us,
“I will bring you home.”

Isn’t that exactly where we want to be? At home with God, as God is at home with us? This is what matters. This is what Advent is preparing us for – the time when time is no more, when all the promises of the ages have been fulfilled, and God brings us home.

Prisoners of Hope – Sermon on Zechariah 9:9-12

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 5, 2020
Watch on Vimeo.

It’s been good to visit with a few of you this week, to learn what is on your heart as we begin the work of interim ministry together. You may remember a video that appeared on the church website a few months ago, where I explained the developmental tasks this congregation will need to address during this season.

Over the next several weeks, I will be explaining each of these tasks in greater detail, so that we can begin this important and urgent work with full understanding. The first task is to come to terms with your past. This might be the most difficult task of all, but the other steps of the process depend on getting this one right, so it’s a good place to begin. Continue reading

Making Room – Sermon on Matthew 3:1-12 for Advent 2A

December 8, 2019

Blessings on your Advent journey! You know, some folks aren’t even aware there is a season called ‘Advent.’ For them, this season leading up to Christmas is Christmas. We get that message loud and clear everywhere we go, in every store where we shop.

Last week, we celebrated the first Sunday in Advent with the 34th annual Hanging of the Greens. I mean, it looks like Christmas in here, doesn’t it? What are we waiting for? Let’s cut to the chase and start singing “Silent Night” and get that Baby Jesus into the manger where he belongs!

But we aren’t there yet. Continue reading

Minding the Gap – Sermon on Luke 16:19-31

We’ve been hearing Jesus teach with parables for the past few weeks. Today we hear the last of five stories that make up chapters 15 and 16 in Luke’s gospel. They all have something to do with wealth, in one way or another. And they all have something to do with repentance. Continue reading

Jesus Eats with Sinners – Sermon on Luke 15:1-10

September 15, 2019

The tension is growing between Jesus and the Religious Establishment. He’s been challenging everything held dear by the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He’s also been challenging the crowds who gather to listen to him.

Last week, we heard him tell us that, unless we commit ourselves fully to living our lives in him, we cannot call ourselves his disciples. Jesus is raising the bar, and we are beginning to understand what the disciples mean when they wonder out loud, “who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26) or “this teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) And if his own disciples are struggling, just imagine how hard it is for the religious leaders to grasp what Jesus is demanding of any who want to follow him. But there is one group of people who are eating up everything Jesus says. Continue reading

Listen to Him: Lost and Found – Sermon on Luke 15:1-32

March 31, 2019
Lent 4C

What’s your favorite story? Is it one you read when you were young, or maybe heard your parents tell you over and over? When our sons were young enough we could still tell them what to do, we made them sit through all of Lawrence of Arabia. We kept telling them we wanted them to be culturally literate, so they could get half of the jokes that flew past them when they watched the Simpsons.

Stories shape our worldview. They help us make sense of things we don’t understand. Stories teach us how to get along in the world, how to deal with hardships and challenges, how to behave toward others. It’s how the Inuit raise their children to be gentle and never explode in anger – they use storytelling to help young children understand the consequences of their actions.[1]

Jesus fully understood the power of storytelling. That’s why he used parables so often in his teaching. Stories helped the people who were listening to Jesus get a better grasp of who God is, and just how much God loves us.

So here we are, in the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, and once again, it’s story time. Here we are, following Jesus toward Jerusalem for the last time, and once again, we find Jesus at a table. Continue reading

When Bad Things Happen – Sermon on Luke 13:1-9

Lent 3C
March 24, 2019

In the Friday from First message, I mentioned a fancy theological term for the question, “How can a good and loving God allow bad things to happen to people?” That term is theodicy. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test. You don’t have to remember the term. But it’s the first thing we think of when catastrophes happen, especially when they happen to us, or to people we know.

Why does God allow evil to thrive? How can God just stand by and watch as hundreds of people are killed by a cyclone ripping through Mozambique and Madagascar, or while dozens of people are gunned down in Christchurch, New Zealand? How can someone who has never smoked a single cigarette die from lung cancer? How does a perfectly healthy young mother, who has devoted her life to ministry, die abruptly from an infection? Where is God in all that suffering? Continue reading

Lent: The Season of Rotten Snow

March 15, 2019

Last night, just as I was turning out the kitchen light, I heard a crashing thump. At first, I thought that Bruce had fallen while getting ready for bed. I called upstairs, “Are you all right?”  “I’m fine, but the gutter isn’t,” he answered. I stepped outside and looked at the roof of our porch. A giant ice dam that had been melting over the past couple of days had fallen, and it had taken a four-foot length of rain gutter with it. 

Years ago, I started calling this time of year The Season of Rotten Snow. Just as we are getting into the season of Lent, when we ask God to reveal to us the dark corners of our souls and the sin we hide there, a winter’s worth of snow is melting away. The pristine white landscapes of December are gone. Now there is only this gray, slushy mess, revealing all the trash and dirt that has accumulated over the winter.

The Season of Rotten Snow reminds us that we have work to do in our hearts. It’s time to clear out the anger and animosity, the complacency and self-centeredness, the resignation and hopelessness that have been building up in our souls. As melting snow reveals all the dirt of a winter, Lent reveals all the sin that we’ve let slide undetected into our lives.

And if we don’t want that sin to bring us to ruin, just as that ice dam brought the rain gutter to ruin, it’s time to acknowledge it for what it is: sin. It’s time to give it over to Christ, ask forgiveness, and be healed. May this Season of Rotten Snow reveal not only your sin to you, but Christ’s abundant, gracious, forgiving love. May you find healing in repentance, and peace in forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God With Us: Prepare for Peace – Sermon on Luke 3:1-6

December 5,2021
Advent 2C
Video

I mentioned last week that this season of Advent brings in the Year of Luke – in the coming year, we will take most of our gospel readings from Luke’s account. Luke uses the first two chapters to introduce this story of Jesus’ life and work. In chapter one, we meet a young girl named Mary, and her relatives Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are expecting a child in their old age. We also meet the angel Gabriel, who will tell Mary she is to become the mother of God’s Son, while Elizabeth’s son will be a prophetic voice that goes before Messiah into the world.

But as I also mentioned last week, a theme running throughout this gospel is the theme of reversal, and we will experience it during Advent by beginning at the end, as we did last week, and moving toward the beginning, as we will do next week. Today, we are in chapter three, and Luke introduces us to the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, known to us most often as “John the Baptist.” Continue reading

Whoever You Are: First and Last – sermon on Mark 10:17-31

October 10, 2021
Video

Have you ever held a garage sale? Somewhere in the process of getting all the items ready for the sale, did you ask yourself “How on earth did I accumulate so much stuff?” Our culture encourages consumerism – advertisers play on our emotions to convince us we really need something that, to be honest, we probably don’t need at all.

Mary Hunt writes a newspaper column called “The Everyday Cheapskate,” and she has a saying I really like. I think many of us could put it on our bathroom mirrors to read as we brush our teeth every morning: Continue reading