Finding Treasure

A sermon preached at the Congregational Church of Grafton UCC on December 4, 2016

Isaiah 11; 1-5   A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse . . . The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Romans 15:4-9, 13 May the God of green home fill you up with joy. . . (The Message)

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

The last few weeks, I’ve been working my way through the last unpacked boxes from my move to East Providence, Rhode Island. . . eight years ago. Every box holds a surprise. . . that’s what happens when you hire the movers to do the packing. I’ve seen them pack the trash, and once opened a box in which they’d packed an open can of olive oil. It didn’t travel well.

This time, I’m finally finding the shades for some of my lamps (I’d long since given up finding them and bought replacements), and just last week, found the treasure of a model ship my father had when he was a boy. Most of the treasurers that are surfacing are things I loved, but hadn’t thought about in years.

They were things I loved, but I hadn’t thought about in years. But when they came out of the box… I was thrilled to see them again.

Our Old Testament lesson today talks about another treasure, perhaps equally packed away and lost. . . and today is when we pull it out, remember again how important it is to us, how it speaks to our condition. The world this lesson describes is not yet here, and particularly helpful to us in a year in which that world seems further away than usual.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse – what a lovely metaphor! We’ve all seen how a tree can seem dead, and then in the spring a shoot comes up out of the stump once again. Here, this story is suggesting that something of the same will come from Jesse’s family – that a new offspring, descendant, will come from that family which seems to have died out – and will bring with him all the attributes of God’s ideal society.

This sprout will have God’s spirit – the spirits of wisdom, understanding, counsel and might, of knowledge and a proper respect for God. He will not jump to conclusions or believe fake news reports on Facebook. He’ll look at people through the lens of justice and mercy, rather than revenge and punishment. Fairness and faithfulness will mark him out.

Traditionally, we think of this sprout as Jesus, and so it is understood, but it is more than that. Every person who lives and acts in justice, love and mercy is, themselves, a sprout of the stump of Jesse, a true follower of God’s way.

This lesson is not only a testimony to the calling and mission of Jesus; it is our own calling, our own mission. This Advent season is all about reminding us that Christmas is – at it’s heart – not about candy canes and sweet carols, so much as it is about the tough and dangerous work of being agents of peace, tellers of truth.

I think the dream that our lives might be worthwhile is one we all share; and then, as I’ve heard, we grow up, and give it up – unless we’re fortunate enough to be teachers, or medical people, and pastors, people whose jobs virtually require them to do good. But we’re missing something important there, for it’s not the job we have that makes our lives worthwhile, it’s how we live it. And these days, that’s even more important.

These days, we are all called by God to be people who live worthwhile lives.

We are all called by God to create together God’s vision of harmony.

We thought we’d gotten there. We thought we now lived in a world where things would only get better and better, and now we’re beginning to realize that’s not true.

Yesterday, a picture showed up on my Facebook feed – it’s a t-shirt and on the back it says “ROPE – TREE – JOURNALIST” “some assembly required”. This is a different world than we thought it was.

What can we do, though? We’re consumed with Christmas preparations, and besides, we’re not leaders of industry, billionaires, or members of the government. What can we do?

I think, at the most basic level, we are all capable of doing what needs to be done, because we are all capable of being friends. And friendship is the most powerful tool in the work to change our world.

Friendship builds community.

Now, I’m not talking about the kind of friendship which means you invite your best buddies over for pizza to watch the Patriots. I’m not even talking about being friends with your dad or mom. I’m talking about the basic power of friending to change the atmosphere in a room, to change the tone and tenor of society. I’m talking about standing up for the “other”. I’m talking about refusing to laugh at jokes about killing journalists, or jokes about immigrants. I’m talking about naming falsehoods, about advocating for truth.

Most women my age know how this can change things. Back in the day, when I first started working, we had some guys who liked to tell raw stories, to do things to embarrass the women in the presence. And maybe afterwards, one of the guys would come over to say, “I didn’t like that either.” But it wasn’t until that guy, or a bunch of the guys, would stand up and say, “don’t tell those stories”, that the stories stopped. It wasn’t until they made their friendship, their alliance, with we who were powerless clear and open, that their friendship changed our world. That’s what we are being called to do today, not just for women, but for everyone who’s living in fear today.

You see, what they, what the haters of our world are doing, is sin. I might go so far as to say it is blasphemy. For God made us all of the same substance. We are all human beings, and we were made to know and to care for one another. When we speak of another with scorn, when we classify someone as one of “them” and then put them down, suggest they don’t “deserve” the same treatment as others in our land, that denies our God-given humanity.

Hope is thin on the ground in this Advent season, but that doesn’t mean we’re not looking for it, not hoping for it, not wishing for it. Today, I’m saying that hope is created by our intention to be community for one another, creating places of trust and safety.

Last month, I asked all of us to pray for those with whom we were angry. This month, I want to ask us to do something more active. I want you to keep aware, all month, to speak up for those who are slandered, or who are met with slurs, to watch out for that fellow rider on the MBTA who might be in danger. I want you to smile and say something friendly to every immigrant you meet. When someone asks why you’re doing this, I’d suggest you respond that it’s not about Clinton vs. Trump, but it’s about an atmosphere that’s released the vilest strain of bigotry…and that it’s simply not faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ to be a bigot.

That’s not going to be easy. It might not even be safe, so use your own good judgment. If you can’t safely say something, maybe you can quietly record an incident on your cell phone.

Do what you can, with what you have, follow Christ this advent by building friendships and creating community.


© 2016 Virginia H. Child




Christmas Greetings to All!

It’s that time of the year – the lights are on the houses, wreaths are on the doors, trees are on their way to our living rooms. The busyness of the season threatens to overwhelm us – go to a grand-daughter’s Nutcracker performance in the afternoon, and attend a Christmas party that evening… and when will you get the shopping done, the packages wrapped and shipped?

Most years, all that activity is nothing but a background to the Christmas Story, to the story of the arrival of God in the daily lives of us all. But this year, it seems, more and more, to mirror the general turmoil of our world.

Christmas comes, this year, to a world where the idea of peace and goodwill to all people is suddenly suspect.

Christmas comes, this year, to a world where the values we hold dear – that every person matters, that it is morally wrong and simply unacceptable for people to starve to death or die because they couldn’t afford a doctor, that every person has a right and obligation to literacy — all those values are under attack.

Christmas comes, this year, to a world suddenly aware that there really are people who believe that some people are more important than others, where it’s ok to rob the poor to enrich the wealthy, so long as you do it by manipulating stocks, where it’s acceptable to mock the disabled. Christmas has come to a world where we now meet people who say that “white is right”, who would deny gay people the right to live undisturbed lives.

Christmas comes, this year, to a world which desperately needs to hear, once again, the story of a child who taught us that the poor matter more than the wealthy, who taught us that God welcomes everyone, who taught us that the values of honesty, decency, fidelity, and trustworthiness are the marks of God’s way.

For years, we’ve assumed that everyone shares those foundational principles. Though founded in our understanding of Christianity, we felt they made such clear sense that, of course, everyone agreed with them. This year, we know that’s not true.

This year, Christmas is much more than a reminder to stock up on wrapping paper and eggnog, or a time to enjoy the light in our children’s eyes as they see their presents. This year Christmas comes to remind us that we are at the front lines of a struggle for the soul of a people.

This year, Christmas comes to remind us that we are not alone in the struggle to build a compassionate and just world.

This year, Christmas comes to encourage us to keep walking in the way, to listen to the souls of those who have chosen hatred, to continue to testify to them of the power of redeeming love.

This year, Christmas comes to empower us to stand with those who are afraid, who are persecuted, dismissed, rejected.

This year, Christmas comes to remind us that the Christ Child was despised, rejected, condemned for being an outsider, poor, from the wrong side of the tracks. The story recalls to us that the Holy Family fled as refugees from persecution to the land of Egypt. And in those reminders, we are called to the true message of Christmas, to the description of what “peace on earth and good will to all” looks like:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
            and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
            for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
            for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
            His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
            He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
            He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
            he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
            He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
            according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Christmas blessings to all!