“What Will Tomorrow Bring?”


This is the message I presented for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (5 December 2004) at Tompkins Corners UMC, Putnam Valley, NY.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 11: 1 – 10, Romans 15: 4 – 13, and Matthew 3: 1 – 12.

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The events, politically and theologically, of the past few weeks lead me to conclude that we are a long way from meeting the prophecy of Isaiah described in today’s Old Testament reading. And despite the fact that many religious leaders see tomorrow as the coming of the New Kingdom of Christ here on earth, I think that we are moving away from that prophecy rather than towards it.

As we look to and prepare for the birth of Christ, we have to ask ourselves what will tomorrow bring? Will it be the healing of divisions between nations and peoples, will it be the welcoming of all who believe into God’s kingdom, will it be a world of peace that often accompanies the description of the lion and lamb lying down together? Or will this nation become more divided, will our churches become even more exclusive, driving away those who need the presence of Christ in their lives?

I have already seen signs that suggest many possible Christians are turning away from the church because the church will not let them it in. Perhaps it is their lifestyle, perhaps it is something they have done in the past, or perhaps it is because of what they believe. What is certain is that many people who need the church and the presence of Christ in their lives are turning away from the church because they see a church that is not open to them.

It seems to me that the religious leaders of today, and that includes those who would seek to lead the United Methodist Church, care more about establishing a kingdom here on earth based more on a rigid structure of laws than they are on seeing that the message of the Gospel is heard throughout the land. So intent are these leaders on this outcome that they have lost focus on the prophecies that foretold the coming of Christ.

Throughout the history of the church, it was the prophets who criticized, interrogated and exhorted God’s people regarding social evil. This is a tradition that began with the prophets of the Old Testament and reached its zenith with Jesus’ life and teaching.

But while today’s leaders, who claim to preach the Word of God and based on biblical teachings, focus on marriage and sexuality, there is very little in the Bible on those two topics. While we hear from prominent Christian leaders that these are the major moral issues of today, Jesus spent very little time, if any, discussing the two topics.

What did Jesus talk about in his ministry? What values does the Bible teach us? There is no doubt that if you were perusing the Bible in search of scripture that talks about the immorality of certain sexual practices or abortion, you’ll find a handful, here and there. But you’ll find far more verses dealing with economic ethics on earth, especially as it relates to the poor. As Sean Gonsalves noted in a recent column, we might want to consider the following:

“If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother (Deuteronomy 15:7).”

“This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles (Psalm 34:6).”

“He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker. But he that honoreth him hath mercy on the poor (Proverbs 14:31).”

The prophet Isaiah had this to say: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them (Isaiah 41:17).”

“As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great and waxen rich … they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? (Jeremiah 5:27-29).” 

The prophet Amos declares: “Thus saith the Lord; for three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes; that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek … (Amos 2:6,7).”

Turning to the New Testament, Jesus himself said that the nations would be judged according to how they’ve dealt with “the least of these,” and he announced his public ministry with these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).”

And did you know that James, Jesus’ brother, had a few things to say wealth and poverty also?

“Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you … Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which … you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord (James 5:1-4).”  (“On Their Own Terms”, Sean Gonsalves, AlterNet, posted on 1 December 2004)

These verses are just the tip of the biblical iceberg, which is why some theologians speak of God’s “preferential option for the poor.” When Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners was in seminary, he was part of group that wanted to find every reference in the Bible to the poor and the oppressed.

The results were slightly astounding. In the Old Testament, the subject of the poor is the second most prominent theme with idolatry the first. In the New Testament, this group determined that one out of every sixteen verses was about the poor; in the Gospels, it was one out of every ten verses. One member of the group even went so far as to take a Bible and cut out every reference to the poor. When he was done, the Bible fell apart.

If the richest nation in the history of the world is populated by millions of Bible-believing Christians, then how come issues of poverty and economic justice were barely mentioned this past election season? There are an estimated 35 million poor people in America, including nearly 13 million children. The poverty rate has increased steadily over the past three years, most dramatically among children. But it was not a moral value worth discussing in the last election. It is most interesting, and slightly disturbing, that those who claim to be following the Bible and holding on to biblical values lead a movement that follows a gospel of prosperity. When there is so much of a difference between the wealthy and the poor, why is it that the leaders of the conservative movements in Christianity are defenders of the wealthy? (Adapted from Soul of Politics by Jim Wallis)

The Bible stresses the obligation not only to care for the poor but also for others, who cannot support themselves, i.e., widows and orphans. But in today’s society, what happens to those without power.

The Gospel contains many accounts of Jesus’ healing ministry. But what is the quality of health care in the country today? The Gospel also contains many accounts of Jesus reaching out to the social outcasts of His day — lepers, Samaritans, and often times women. But how do we as a society react to the outcasts of today? And were does the Bible stand on killing? How is it that many people can oppose abortion yet support the death penalty? How is it that killing is some situations is wrong but wars are okay? Is it permissible to invoke the name of God to both prevent killing and authorize killing? (adapted from Connections, December 2004, by Barbara Wendland)

It comes down to this. What was the ministry of Jesus? Based on the Gospel message, what issues should have our highest priorities? As Christians, should we not base our moral values on Jesus’ teaching?

One can only wonder what John the Baptist might say today if the leaders of the conservative churches of this country were to come and listen to him preach his message of preparedness and repentance. Would they be able to say, like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old, that their faith was the faith of their forefathers and that was all they needed? Would they be willing to hear John the Baptist call them liars and hypocrites, vipers and worse? I think not; when your actions belie your words, when you turn away those who should be in church because you don’t like their lifestyle, how can you say that you hold to the tradition of the Bible and the message of the Gospel?

Paul writes that Christ did not die for one specific group of individuals but rather for all. It is not up to the church to decide who can come in but rather it is up to the church to be ready to accept anyone that hears the Gospel message and decides to follow Christ. Paul notes that it is up to us, as believers, to welcome all who come to Christ, not shut the door in their face.

As we progress through the season of Advent, as we prepare for the birth of Christ, we are challenged to think about what the presence of Christ in this world means? John the Baptist acknowledged that his purpose was to prepare the way for another, one who would baptize believers with the Holy Spirit.

It is admittedly hard to see Advent in terms of revival, evangelism, and repentance but it should not be. After all, Advent is a time of preparation and repentance is the first step in that preparation. If you are not willing to give up what keeps you from Christ, then you cannot repent. If you cannot repent, then you cannot prepare for the coming of Christ.

Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of a new day, a new beginning. The references are to the branch of Jesse’s tree that is to be planted somewhere. The branch of Jesse’s tree is Christ and it is to be planted in our hearts. We must begin anew if we are to welcome Christ into our lives and into our hearts.

As we prepare for Christmas today and look to a new world tomorrow, we must look within our own lives and, like those who gathered at the River Jordan to hear the Baptizer preach, repent of our past and begin anew. As we continue this celebration of Advent this day, the question remains “What will tomorrow bring in your life?”

1 thought on ““What Will Tomorrow Bring?”

  1. Pingback: What Is In Your Heart? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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