Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, 12 December 2010 (originally posted this as 17 December 2007 but that was because I copied the first paragraph and forgot to change it). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 35: 1 – 10, James 5: 7 – 10, and Matthew 11: 2 – 11.
Sorry that I didn’t get this posted on time but things have been a little hectic. My post for the 4th Sunday of Advent will also probably be late as I finish up the grading for the adjunct teaching position I had this semester. I may have some thoughts about Christmas posted next Saturday and definitely will have my sermon (“The False Gift”) for 26 December up as well that day.
I am also putting together my list of top ten blogs for the year. Right now, not many of my 2010 posts are in the top ten which is understandable; it was that kind of year. If you have any favorites that you would like to nominate, let me know before the 28th. I will probably work on the list while watching the Iowa – Missouri bowl game. This is the only bowl game that I have any interest in watching and it is one of the few times where I have no interest in the outcome. As a Missouri alumnus (M. Ed. ’75) I like it when Missouri wins and as an Iowa alumnus (Ph. D. ’90), I like it when Iowa wins. So this is one game where I watch one half as a Missouri alumnus and the other half as an Iowa alumnus and simply enjoy the game. 🙂
As I was thinking about this message and reading the Scriptures for today, I began to think of a conversation between the disciples Thomas and Nathaniel Bartholomew that might have taken place sometime after Easter. Now, tradition tells us that Thomas and Nathaniel left the Galilee for the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia and India. Nathaniel would die in Georgia while Thomas would die in India.
Nathaniel and Thomas were talking about where to go now that Jesus had commissioned to go out into the world and teach everyone they meet what they themselves had been taught.
Thomas speaks first “Where do you think we should go?”
Nathaniel – “That’s sort of funny since a couple of months ago, you weren’t even sure where Jesus was going.”
“But its different now. I know where Jesus has gone and He left us with some instructions to carry out.”
“We can go anywhere we want to go. It is typical that Jesus showed us the way but then left us to continue the work.”
Why don’t we just play it safe, stay here in the Galilee, and keep on doing what we have to do.
Do you really think that the authorities will let us stay here? I think it would be best if we left this area and go somewhere else.
And so it was that two friends, bound together for three years as students of Jesus, made a decision to leave the Galilee, their home and classroom for three years and take the Gospel message out into the world, teaching all those that they met and telling all who would listen the Good News of Jesus the Christ. They left the Galilee knowing full well that it would not be an easy life and they may very well die harsh and cruel deaths. But still they went and the Word was spread.
How many times have conversations such as this imagined one actually taken place in churches around this country today? How many times has a church refused to carry out the Gospel message because of some sort of fear of the unknown?
It is only logical to be unwilling to venture beyond the walls of the church because the world is a dangerous place and can often be foreboding. After all, it is called a sanctuary after all and it does allows us to be safe when we are inside.
We look at what it might cost and say that we cannot take on a new task because it would cost too much when our expenses are already too high. Too often, our church discussion focuses on the upkeep of the building as if having the building insures that people will be there.
But if nothing is done to bring new people into the church, then one day the church will be an empty shell and people will wonder just went on inside that building. But how many times did Jesus allude to those who were exactly just that, empty shells?
There’s a part of the conversation between Nathaniel and Thomas that I didn’t record. It was that part that spoke of knowing the words of Isaiah and his prophecy of the roads straighten, the valleys filled, and the path made smooth. They, as well as the other disciples, knew that the road they walked would long and dusty, that their lives were probably in danger every minute of the day. It was not an easy world in which you were from a different town or village, let alone another country.
But they understand what Isaiah was writing in today’s Old Testament reading – they had been with Jesus and they had walked the roads. They also understood that just as John the Baptizer had prepared the way for Jesus, so too had their way been prepared by Jesus. They had been sent out before and they knew that it could be done.
It would be very easy for many people today to say that it is all fine and good but such work is for the young and eager. But to those who perhaps scoff, James offers words of encouragement, pointing out the need to stay the course, as it were.
So the words of today, which all speak of the paths that we walk, ask us “where shall we go?” And the answer may be that we should just go outside the walls of the church. We are not called to go to far away and strange lands but we are called to leave the sanctuary that we have built for the sanctuary that God has provided. We will go where we are needed and we will know where we are needed when we leave the safety of the present for the certainty of a future in Christ.