“What Are You Waiting for?”
Jeremiah 33.14-16 & Luke 21.25-36
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
27 November 2022 (Advent I)
You have not heard me preach a lot about the Second Coming or the end times, because neither is a particularly large part of our theology. But that was not true for many of our earliest forebears in the faith, who thought it was coming right around the corner.
The earliest followers of the Way of Jesus, most of whom worshiped with Jewish communities, had some sense of apocalyptic literature from The Book of Daniel (where we hear that mysterious moniker, “The Son of Man”) and from sections of the major prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah. And the words from Luke’s Gospel, likely written at the end of the first century, 50 or 60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, point toward the Second Coming.
Jesus’ followers soon realized that his execution was not God’s final word, that there had to be a next chapter unfolding with the empty tomb and post-resurrection experiences. Jesus had come proclaiming the kingdom of God: a new world in which life would be organized the way God intended, rather than the way normal path of civilization and the resulting Empire ruled things.
Many Jews in the first century anticipated the coming of the Messiah as a military leader who would restore Jewish home rule in the homeland and eject the occupying Romans. They didn’t get the Messiah they were expecting, instead they got a subversive sage who proclaimed an alternative to the violence, greed, and injustice that were normal in that civilization. I wish I could go back and sing a few lines of the Stones’ song to them: “You can’t always get what you want…You can’t always get what you want…But if you try sometimes, you just might find…You get what you need.” They wanted a generalissimo and instead they got nonviolent Jesus, which is actually what the world needed.
Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky.” Doesn’t that sound a bit like what is happening today? We know all about epidemics! And climate change is upon us. We have distressed the earth and it is resulting in rising sea levels and all kinds of chaos that it is difficult to foresee.
Wouldn’t it be great if God would just do a big clean-up and let us start over in a world where we cared for Creation and for each other? That’s the underlying message of the tale of Noah and the great flood, and I’m not so sure how great that would be for us. Or God could send Jesus back for “The Kingdom of God, Part Two” (for those who didn’t get it the first time). That is what Luke describes when he writes, “When you see these things taking place, you know the Kingdom of God is near.” For first-century Jews, religious and national crisis was writ large by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD by the army of Rome.
There was expectation among Jesus’ earliest followers that something radical was going to happen to clean up the injustice of Empire.
Christians have waited for more than 2,000 years for the Second Coming. Was it just that the timing was off when Luke writes, “this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened?” Maybe. Advent is all about waiting, but, my friends, 2,000 is a very long wait.
I don’t think their timing was off. But I think they missed something that Jesus said while he was still teaching and preaching in the Galilee. It’s a radical little nugget of truth that is so volatile (kind of like, say, a mustard seed) that it isn’t even included in the Revised Common Lectionary.
I don’t think the early Christians’ timing was poor. I think that some of their eyes were closed, and their ears stopped up. They missed it! The Kingdom was right there in front of them all along. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they could have gone home to the Kingdom of God anytime they wished, and they didn’t even have to click the heels of their ruby slippers. They just had to live into it, even under the boot of Roman oppression.
Here is what they missed, which we find earlier in Luke’s gospel. “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed [like earthquakes, epidemics, or changes in the sky]; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
The Kingdom of God is among you. Have Christians been waiting for something that has been available to them for 2,000 years? We have been shown the wisdom and the way to live out the kingdom or kin-dom or realm of God. We’ve had this knowledge for two millennia, so why are we not willing to live into it? What do you think: why haven’t Christians, why haven’t WE, lived into the Kingdom of God and created the Beloved Community? I think I know at least one answer. Being a part of God’s Kingdom is costly. It requires self-giving love. It requires putting the needs of the community above the needs of the self. And as Jesus shows time and again, it can even mean putting the needs of the new family in Christ ahead of the needs of one’s biological family.
Advent is a season of waiting, of longing for a world that is closer to what the God of justice and peace intends for us and for all of creation.
The earliest Christians were waiting the Second Coming, yet that may not be a big part of your faith journey. Isn’t it time we paid more attention to the “First Coming,” rather than waiting around for the Second? For a few thousand years, emperors and bishops, priests, and pastors have often considered the message of Jesus too hot to handle. If Jesus is Lord, doesn’t that imply that Caesar is not? If we pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God, where does that leave our patriotism? If we live out self-giving love, where does that leave the market economy on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
In 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity. A short 12 years later, in 325, he called the Council of Nicaea to institutionalize and unify the doctrine of the church, and the creed that emerged from that council says only this about the life and teachings of Jesus: He “became incarnate and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day.” There is no mention of the kingdom of God. No reference to the Beatitudes or to what Jesus did. Nothing about the message of parables. Nothing about love. The church, which had been counter-cultural, became the establishment instead of becoming a movement. That is what happens when Empire melds with and supersedes religion. And it fuels Christian Nationalism in our country today.
So, what are we waiting for? The Second Coming? The Rapture? I suspect that none of you are waiting for those things to happen. Are we waiting for somebody else to “do” faith for us? Do we wait for “somebody else” to step up and step in when we share ministry and mission in this place? We are the movement!
The Kingdom of is among us, here and now and still unfolding! Even though we may never see the reign of God in its fullness, I deeply appreciate the way our congregation acts for justice, peace, and inclusion and engages in acts of compassion with one another. That gives me tremendous hope. At Plymouth, we do our best (however imperfectly) to keep Jesus at the forefront, rather than Caesar or doctrine, dogma, or ancient creed. In the final analysis, love wins. During this Advent season, may each of us deepen our journey as followers of Jesus. And may every heart prepare him room. Amen.
© 2022 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Luke 17.20
Ser13nv22FC.doc “A Vision Worth Living” -1- November 13, 2022
Lection: Isaiah 65:17-25
First off, I want to thank Hal for one last opportunity to preach before we head home at the end of the month. I want to thank him as well for the opportunity to be here during his sabbatical for the second time. It is such a gift to serve in the place of a deeply respected colleague for a time, and to be subsidized to spend time with our grandchildren in such a beautiful setting. Charnley and I are deeply grateful!
Hal asked me to summarize my time with you these last few months and to share my observations on the life of this congregation of God’s people. I don’t believe he thinks I’m an expert, but just in case you might think that, I looked up some definitions of an expert and found these: an expert is a has-been drip under pressure. That’s not a bad description I suppose, but I like this one better: an expert is anyone from out of town.
Both of those definitions are helping me stay humble this morning. They remind me that my role has been to serve, and to observe, but most importantly to walk beside the people of Plymouth on a journey with Jesus. That’s all of you and so I want to thank you all for your patience and your kindness and for the privilege of working with your amazing staff and lay leaders during Hal’s sabbatical time. As you know, your ministry team will be evolving in the next months with the search for a new Associate underway and with Jane Anne’s retirement and with JT continuing his leadership journey. Let me comment on your staff. I have worked on and led church staff teams for a long time. This staff works together with respect and affection for one another. I have never served with a team where so much positive energy and spirit are present. Hal built this team, and his leadership will continue to build as the team evolves in the coming months.
As most of you know, I think, congregations in our tradition are lay led. As clergy, we serve as pastors and teachers, as coaches and advisers, and with the other members of the staff, support and facilitate the real leadership. That is your elected leadership team of three Moderators, past, present, and coming, your leadership council, your boards and ministry groups and lots of engaged volunteers. They, along with all of you, are the real heart of this congregation and their creativity and willingness to volunteer makes all that happens here possible. It is a sign of a congregation’s true strength, that the ministers, and especially the Senior minister, are often surprised by the level of activity and commitment going on in the life of the congregation. It has been a joy to behold.
Watching the Deacons every Sunday, observing the sound team, being in a building so well maintained by Trustees and volunteers who care, standing in awe of the team that led the Mission Marketplace and those who fill our worship with music and those groups that do so much in this community that brings to life the love of Jesus. I find myself wanting to dance with joy and thankfulness for this local incarnation of love called Plymouth. I am so pleased that in a world that is scary, my grandchildren are surrounded by a faith community like this one.
Let me make some specific observations and some generalized recommendations, after all, I am an expert, so you probably expect that, but I want to connect my thoughts with a specific text from the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah is a complicated book that is really the patched together words of three or four different prophets who lived over the course of the two hundred years from about 700 until 500 years before Jesus. Some of these words, molded by tradition, have come to be associated with the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Some of these words remind us of the Christmas story, or as words of promise about a time when God will end history with peace and justice for all. These words are visionary words of power and beauty that make what I am going to say seem a little mundane, but one of the things I believe with my whole heart, is that if you want to build the "kindom" of God, you need to name it and claim it and live that promise with all the strength you can muster, right where you are. As the Wendell Berry poem I shared a couple of weeks ago said: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts,"
This congregation and every congregation I know anything about has emerged from and may continue to exist in a tough time. Pandemic, political pandemonium, fear for the future, and change have become the new normal. We live in a world that seems to conspire against the possibility that people can trust one another.
I spoke a couple of weeks ago about what I see on the political horizon, let me talk church. Congregations are crashing. Some ministers are leaving the ministry and people have developed new ways of living that do not involve coming to worship or a willingness to volunteer or support financially, institutions. Whatever tensions existed in a church or other organizations, have become worse or more intense. Old wounds have been opened and many decent people have been reborn as curmudgeons, whose anger has soured them and strained relationships with others, particularly in the life of local congregations. Many folks seem content to stand on the outside and criticize, rather than build or rebuild for the sake of the future.
Last week I had a chance to speak to a young colleague serving a small congregation in New England. This young leader is one of the brightest and best in a new generation of clergy who see things, including the Gospel, a whole lot clearer than I ever did. They have been tested in the recent tough times, and instead of joining those who are leaving ministry, they have embraced the pressure with a sort of persistent love, not unlike the saints and mystics who emerged in the plague and strife torn Middle Ages to lead and to serve and to be the presence of Jesus in that time.
I asked him what he was experiencing in his congregation. He told me what I already knew and shared just now about the struggle and the pain and the brokenness. But then he surprised me.
I half expected to hear him say that he was discouraged and exhausted. Something I had heard from other colleagues too often in recent days. Instead, he went all Isaiah on me. I was sitting at Hal’s desk staring at this text from Isaiah and wondering what on earth I was going to say about it this morning and this young pastor spoke God’s truth and said that he had resolved in the fractured life of his post-pandemic congregation to act and speak in a new way. As I listened, he spoke words which I am audacious enough to suggest were heaven sent. He said this:
“I have resolved to treat each day as a first day in all my relationships. I have committed myself in the work I am doing in this congregation to declare that God is doing a new thing in my life and in this congregation and to act like it and invite whoever shows up here to act that way too. There is no room for too much past.”
And I was sitting there looking at Isaiah 65 while he was speaking, and reading the prophet’s words: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating……” (Isaiah 65:17-18b)
Now that knocked the cobwebs off the center of my soul and spoke a word of life that I needed to hear and a word that I need to share.
Dear church, treat each new day as the first day, a day of rebirth and renewal and rejoicing. Do not remember the former things. Greet one another as if you are meeting for the first time. Work together as if the world depends on the work you are doing. Commit yourself to one of the mission partners of this congregation or one of the task force groups, like the environmental justice group or some committee in this community to make this a better town.
Mentor one another, be a second parent or grandparent to those attempting to mold a new generation of moral people in this place; care for one another. Remember that the person sitting next to you bears the image of God. Show up on Sunday or if you can’t, join the balcony, because praying and singing together, and studying an alternative reality that is love driven and Spirit led, is the only thing I know that can subvert and challenge the corrosive environment in which we are living. I have this nightmare vision in my mind of preachers and politicians standing arm in arm in front of a cross spewing vitriol and racial hatred and intolerance as if hanging a cross behind your head makes that OK. It’s not OK.
Dear Plymouth friends, do not hold on to some old hurt or some fractured reality of what has been or what might have been. Assume that God is still speaking and act like it. The best days of this congregation are not sometime in the past. According to the prophet Isaiah they are yet to be.
Do everything you can to grow this church family, numbers are not important, but they are. Money doesn’t matter, but it does. The only thing worse than not giving, is guilt giving. Give with a joyful generosity that will transform your life. Being a generous person is living Jesus and embracing your image as God’s child…. generosity is a life saver. To live the life abundant, give…..
Church growth experts, remember what I said about experts, forget most of what the growth experts have to say…. do mission, do love, do sincere caring and be seen doing all of that. You will suddenly find yourselves surrounded by people of all ages who are attracted by the irresistible power of Jesus love.
A minute ago, I asked you to study an alternative reality driven by love, now let me dare you to live in an alternative reality. Here’s how it goes: the way of Jesus is the way of love. It begins with God’s unconditional love for all of us and for this world and then it invites us into a partnership with that love.
That journey will lead this congregation into intense engagement with environmental justice, water conservation, serious engagement with white supremacy and the oppression of persons of color, especially indigenous people and the genocide that literally took place on the land on which we are worshiping. That will lead to all sorts of good trouble. But good trouble will put you exactly where God wants you to be in the good future God has in store for this congregation.
Finally, thank you for the gift of time in your presence. Next Sunday, I’ll be sitting out there giving thanks, which is exactly where I want to be on the last Sunday before we head home. Strength to you all! Amen.
Lineage and Soul
A short message related to Matthew 1:1-17 and All Saints/Souls Day
Lineage matters to the Soul
As a resource for learning, healing, and empowerment
As a connection to Life and Spirit
A record of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Aram.
4 Aram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz was the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asaph.
8 Asaph was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Joram.
Joram was the father of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amos.
Amos was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
This was at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Achim.
Achim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary—of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ.
17 So there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen generations from the exile to Babylon to the Christ.
For the word of God in Scripture
For the Word of God among us
For the word of God within us
I grew up Protestant with an early teaching about not worshiping ancestors. I guess it was one of several lessons to distinguish us from Roman Catholics (of whom I knew none) who seemed to name and look up to a lot of people other than Jesus. And in my home church I didn’t really understand why I had to listen to long boring lists of strange names of who begat who like the list we just heard that opens Matthew’s Gospel. Later I learned that Matthew’s author had a purpose to show his listeners that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish and kingly, and that God was working a plan for Good News. This plan included surprising stories and unexpected people. Matthew’s audience would have known those names and remembered their stories. It wasn’t as boring to them as it was to me as a kid.
With apologies for the excessive focus on patriarchs, let’s just say that Matthew knew lineage was important for his storytelling purposes.
I’ve learned that lineage is also important for the soul’s enlivening and enriching, for the soul’s liberation and loving. I credit my mentors and teachers, including lovers of myth, teachers of depth psychology, and First Nation people who revere their ancestors for that learning.
In a few moments we will celebrate a brief ritual of Totenfest.
Totenfest is a distinctive practice that grows out of the Evangelical Church side of the United Church of Christ. It has deep German roots. Indeed, Totenfest is a German word that means “Feast of the Dead” or “Festival for the Dead.” It was established in 1816 by Prussian Emperor Fredrick William III as a day to remember that nation’s soldiers who had died in the recently concluded Prussian War.
Totenfest became an important observance in the Evangelical Church in Prussia (established by the same emperor in 1817) as a day to remember not only the war dead, but also church members who had died in the previous year. We have associated it with the other similar church traditions of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. These are all practices of lineage connection.
There is wisdom in this commemoration and connection, food for the soul. And that’s what I want to briefly share with you this morning: the importance of lineage connection for the life of the soul.
Let’s use our imaginations to touch into this truth of lineage and soul:
Take a nice deep and easy breath and settle in to where you are. I encourage you to close your eyes and engage your imagination.
Imagine your parents standing behind you, mother on the left and father on the right. If had parents of the same gender or gender non-conforming, place them where it feels right to you. (If you’ve been adopted, place your birth parents there as well as those who raised you.) Settle in for a moment. See how that feels. Imagine gently leaning back into them. Any resistance? Any negative blocks? Make note of that. Now imagine the next generation standing similarly behind your parents. Again, note what you feel. And so on and so on until there is a massive pyramid of people, one generation behind the next, stretching into the horizon.
In this great generational pyramid of people and stories, there is all of humanity; truth and deceit, courage and cowardice, foolishness and wisdom, tragedy and triumph. It’s important for each one of us to come to a kind of peace with our family lineage. Making peace with this lineage and accepting it does not mean condoning its painful parts, the wounding actions and life denying behaviors of those in it, including our parents. Coming to peace means accepting being human, and their being human, and appreciating whatever you can, even if that is only appreciating the gift of life and the chance to have your life now in your time and to make your own choices, some of which may even be to heal the past which is still present.
So just pause for a breath, contemplate this pyramid and note how you feel about it. Ask for God’s grace and peace to be with you and your lineage. And I’m happy to connect with you and support you further if this image raises painful and unsettling feelings for you.
Allow this pyramid of family ancestors to fade into the mist of your mind’s eye.
There is second image I invite you into. Imagine making a lineage pyramid of the saints, the saints that inspire you. This is a pyramid of choice. I invite you now to fill in such a pyramid, imagining all the saints from all the ages and from any faith tradition who have inspired you, a spirit family who can be wind and support at your back. I can imagine Martin Luther King and JoAnn Robinson, a member at King’s first church who encouraged him. I can imagine St. Francis and Clare. I can imagine Gandhi behind me and Wangari Maathai of Africa. I can imagine some people at my hometown church and a college chaplain. I can imagine others who stood up for marginalized people and Creation. I can imagine mentors and teachers. Build your own spirit family right now. Fill it up with those who can support you as an inspiring example and a presence. In your mind’s eye, look back at all these, living or dead, and receive the blessing of these saints.
And, in your mind’s eye, turn back around and gently lean back into it. Feel its support. Receive that support. Take a deep breath and anchor that in you.
And now turn forward and see the younger ones and those yet to come, generation after generation forward, children, nieces and nephews, children of the community and larger world. Know that they are an extension of your lineage, of human lineage, of life’s lineage. Send love to them. Pray for them and commit to act for them and their world.
Now take another full and easy breath and gently come back from that imaginal space.
These lineage images and journeys are a kind of prayer practice that can show us where we can get strength and where wounds persist and need God’s grace and healing. When we do that healing work, we can release more love and energy and freedom for our lives now. Looking forward helps us locate where we are and give us perspective on what is important. Please, talk to me if you want to know more about this process.
Furthermore, being in the connection to lineage reminds the soul that we are not the originators of life, but recipients of life participating in a great chain of life where life is in some way living us, coming through each of us. Our culture has so often defaulted to individual power and choice of the individual that it has neglected a deep spiritual truth that we are in a great river of life not of our making. There is much that we do not choose. God so often chooses us and calls us. Spirit is moving in us and around us in a great lineage of life. God can move in our lineages of family and faith even amidst the painful passages. The soul needs a real connection to that Great Lineage of Life, human and beyond. We are all called by God to cultivate our gratitude for the lineage of life and to serve its healing and vitality. AMEN