Sunday, 12 December 2010

Open your eyes and your ears

Advent 3 year A 10 Sermon  Isaiah 35:1-10 Matthew 11:2-11
The prophet Isaiah promises the hostages and the exiles that joy will come into their world.

‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the voiceless…
sing for joy.’

But centuries later…from the darkness of his prison cell … Jesus cousin John is losing hope.
Even his memory of the baptism and the dove…
and the voice from heaven… aren’t enough

…John gets a desperate message through to Jesus…
things are looking bad where I’m sitting cuz…
are you really the one promised by the prophets?

And Jesus sends his disciples back to John…
with a message of encouragement…words any Jewish boy would recogniseimagery
straight from Isaiah’s prophecy

yes indeed my cousin… Jesus responds…

the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
and the poor… have good news brought to them.

the time for joy is now
the kingdom of God is at hand…

it may not look like it… from your jail house window
but the day of the Lord has begun… [pause]

The Kingdom of Heaven has been born into our world. And the signs are all around… [pause]

Last week I got a message from prison
from a member of our church. Jan Campher now faces his second Christmas behind bars…without his children
And… like John the Baptist
Jan is thirsty for messages of hope and encouragement.

And it’s heart-wrenching…
to hear how the smallest things…bring him joy.  

‘In other news, us inmates were granted a family BBQ day for 8 December and I’m looking forward to spending some time out in the year with the kids. I’ll also be lying if I said I’m not thinking about having a delicious BBQ’d sausage and patty and a fried egg on the day as I haven’t had this for well over 16 months.

There’s even talk of maybe having a scoop of ice-cream afterwards! Wow! I can’t remember wait it tastes like! It’s hard to believe it’s almost Christmas again! As another perk for good behaviour I believe the prison are allowing us each to guy a genuine Christmas fruit cake this year on our cafeteria buy list for Christmas.

So I’m desperately trying to save my massive pay each week of around two dollars forty to have the fifteen dollars available for a fruit cake in two weeks. I also arranged a small pressie for each of my babies with the aid of the Angel Tree society and the prison chaplain, Jeff. I’m so grateful for this.’

How do we know when the kingdom of God comes near?
In Isaiah’s words…

When ‘the ransomed of the LORD return with singing…everlasting joy shall be upon their heads…
they shall obtain joy and gladness…
sorrow and sighing… shall flee away.’

Jan ends his letter with these words … 

[I] left my faith… and my fate… in God’s hands.
At the moment He’s taking me from strength to strength. I feel a changed man’ [pause]

There’s still sorrow and sighing in Jan’s life
yet I also discern signs of joy…signs of transformation… signs of God working… [pause]

When Jesus sends his disciples back to the prison
with a message of hope for his cousin
he simply instructs them to tell John…
what they see and hear around them…signs that
indicate the kingdom of God under construction


What do we see and hear? Could we discern…
where God might be at work… in our community? 
Beneath these mountains and beside these lakes…
the way Jesus’ asks his disciples to detect…
how God was working in first century Israel?

Would we know how…to look and listen for the signs? Would our eyes and ears be open to the hints in our friend’s lives… as we play beside them on the golf course or at the bridge club.

Would we be watching and listening…
for the signs of God working…
on the way home with friends after school …
or sitting with a young mum… at mainly music?

Can we discern the signs of God’s ‘call to action’
in the pages of the Messenger…
or the stories in the Wanaka Sun?

Or do we believe the only place God is working is
in the church?

Have we received the sight and hearing
promised by the prophets? Or are we
still blind and deaf… to the signs of God’s Kingdom
in our own lives and the lives of others?

Do we see marks of transformation?
Or clues to God’s calling… in people's lives…the call to make peace and bring hope…to work for justice
and bring good news… wellbeing and joy…
to those who are poor… in pocket and in spirit?
Do we even look for signs of Shalom?

You’d think it’d be easy to discern these signs
in our own lives and… among our friends here
in the church…you think it’d be easy wouldn’t you.
Yet my guess is…few of us have developed the habit of watching and listening for the signs of God working.

So just for practise…I want you to turn to your neighbour and listen carefully… as they tell you how God might be working in their life at the moment.
See if they can spot what God might be up to …
Then you tell them what you think God might be doing in your life… while they listen and discern.

[they talk]

[Some report back]

When you arrived this morning…you were given two cards… would you write on the card with the ribbon … a sign you’ve noticed lately of what God might be doing in your life or in the world. Or a prayer of what you’d like God to do.

Just leave the other card for now.
[silent time to do this]

And now… as is our custom in this congregation…
I invite you to come forward together…
as the people of God…to decorate our Christmas tree with these expressions of encouragement and hope.

[once they’re seated again]

And with the other card… perhaps you’d like to write a Christmas message…to Jan Campher and drop it on the back table as you leave…I’ll make sure he gets them.

Jesus calls us to "Go… and tell what you hear… and see.’

Open your eyes and your ears…Jesus is saying…
don’t open your mouth ‘till you have

I take this to mean… it’s vital we stop talking
and start listeningcritical…that we become astute observers of the community we’re trying to serve in Jesus name.

Only then can we bear effective witnesses…
to what God might be up to…
only then… can we begin to discern…
what God might be calling us to do…
right here where beneath these mountains and beside these lakes…
for the kingdom is still under construction.