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Repentance That Matters

Children's sermon
For December 8, 2019:

Tom WilladsenRepentance That Matters
by Tom Willadsen
Matthew 3:1-12, Isaiah 11:1-10

In the News
There will never be a time when race will not affect what’s happening in the news profoundly. At the start of the last century, W.E.B. Du Bois said, “the problem of the twentieth century is the color line…”

Woody Allen famously alluded to Isaiah 11 when he said, “the lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”

In Doctor King’s dream, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down at a meal together.

Could Isaiah’s stunning imagery of nature itself being transformed have relevance to us today?

There is one remarkable example of the children of former slaves and former slave owners meeting together that has been going on for more than ten years. Building relationships takes time, but the lamb and lion probably didn’t hit it off immediately either.

In the Scriptures
Matthew 3:1-12
The text from Matthew certainly grabs one’s attention. In some ways this is the true start of Matthew’s gospel, or perhaps, a second start distinct from what the reader finds in the first two chapters. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus; one could even call it “Jesus’ genesis.” These chapters cover Jesus’ pedigree and one set of tales around the story of his birth. There are significant differences between the birth narratives found in Luke and Matthew. It’s common to meld the different stories together, such that the magi and shepherds are side-by-side in the stable. In the Bible the magi and shepherds are separated by Mark’s gospel, among other things!

As you approach preaching John the Baptizer’s description and speech in this morning’s reading, you will do well to realize that John is a completely new character in Matthew’s gospel at this point. Matthew includes nothing of the story about Mary’s and Elizabeth’s pregnancies coinciding and John’s in utero leap of joy at hearing Mary’s voice. There is no mention of John and Jesus being related in any way in today’s reading.

You might want, also to call attention to John’s extreme lifestyle and his fashion sense. Even by first century Palestinian standards he was an outlier, imagine the sort of person you might see raving in the middle of downtown or preaching outside the public library.

In spite of, or perhaps, because of, John’s conspicuous habits he has attracted followers; he’s leading something like a renewal movement out by the Jordan River. The very river that his people crossed when they went from being Hebrews, that is, wanderers, to Israelites, a people with a name based on their landed identity. The Jordan is a significant place, imagine a National Monument in the current United States.

John’s out there in the wilderness, by the river, and people have been coming from “Jerusalem and all of Judea” were making pilgrimages to be baptized. While baptism was part of the ritual for a Gentile to convert to Judaism, its practice among the people who were going out to the Jordan, was not an analog to Christian baptism. John himself identified the purpose of his baptism as repentance. Indeed his word is “repent.” There was a sense of one being cleansed, perhaps purified, by receiving John’s baptism; those who were baptized confessed their sin.

Isaiah 11:1-10
The first five verses describe and foretell a “shoot” “from the stump of Jesse.” Curiously, the text does not mention explicitly that this shoot will be a leader, or king. The shoot will be given the Spirit of the Lord and thus be able to bring justice to society. The shoot will be wise, strong and righteous.

The next five verses describe a transformation of the natural world. Predators and prey will get along with each other. “A little child,” “the nursing child” and “the weaned child” will all be safe from the perils of lions, asps and adders. The three mentions of children at slightly different developmental stages are a good example of Hebrew poetic style, where similar meanings reinforce the central message: creation will be safe for everyone.

While the two sets of five verses do not claim causation, their juxtaposition certainly leads the reader to believe that the coming of justice among people, and harmony in nature coincide with the arrival of the righteous shoot.

In the Sermon
As crazy and attention-grabbing as John the Baptizer appears, there is a deep authenticity to his message. Yes, people are undergoing a ritual cleansing, perhaps marking a desire for a significantly different life than they had led before. His message does not end with baptism, it begins there. He rails at the authorities, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who have made the trip all the way from Jerusalem. Whether they are there to take part in John’s renewal or condemn it is not clear. Either way, just calls them out to live repentance, not just pay lip service to it. He’s the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Isaiah foretold him; Dr. King cited these words, something dramatic was taking place out in the wilderness.

John cautions, or perhaps reminds, the people that it is not who they are — their status, prestige, ancestry — but what they do, the fruits of their repentance that matters. “You’ve got to walk the walk,” John insists.

Consider the deep divisions in our society today. Was there peace and harmony around your Thanksgiving table? Did the Republicans and Democrats abide together? Did those calling for impeachment dwell at peace with those who see only a witch hunt?

Dr. King talked about reconciliation similar to those suggested above in his “I Have a Dream” speech. On that hot day in August 1963, on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital he laid out a vision for our nation’s future.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

One stunning example of former adversaries working toward reconciliation began in 2006, 43 years after “I Have a Dream.” There's a great story about the descendants of slaves and slave owners who meet regularly for reunions at the site of a former South Carolina plantation. What began tentatively at first has emerged as a story of repentance and change:

The descendants of slaves and slave owners have been finding friendship, reconciliation, and wisdom by meeting with each other for weekend-long reunions at the South Carolina plantation where they share a painful past…Read more about the reunion here.

Bethany PeerbolteSECOND THOUGHTS
Letting the Sucker Do Its Work
by Bethany Peerbolte
Isaiah 11:1-10

There are a couple factors that need to be in place for a shoot to grow out of a stump. The stump can't have decayed too much so that it is alive enough to muster the energy to send up a sucker. A sucker is the tiny branchlike growth whose only job is to grab sunlight and make food. When a gardener takes a tree out for good they make sure these factors are out of the picture and ensure the tree will not grow back.

Isaiah, however, is talking about a sucker that has grown from the stump. The line of Jesse is not dead. It has just enough energy to send up one more chance for survival. This sucker has one job, to grab the power and strength of God for the world to live again.

The sucker, in this case a human of the line of David, will need to harvest wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. While eyes and ears deceive, this shoot will judge with the righteousness of God. The result of such good judgement is that predator and prey will be able to live in unity and equity. Lion with lamb, leopard with child, cow and bear will all be at peace. This is a glorious image of the kingdom of God.

While the picture is painted pretty well, the animal examples could let humanity off the hook from participating in this righteous equity. Perhaps the more compelling metaphors are the absent parent and abandoned child, the conversion therapist and the proud LGBTQ+ person, the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate.

This Advent let's imagine a world like that. A world where there is so much abundance no one wants for anything. Everyone is present enough to others that families stay together. Everyone is accepting enough to not try to change anyone. Everyone has enough understanding to listen to different viewpoints.

Scarcity, or the impression of scarcity, creates a system where some prey on others. When an animal fears there is not enough food they will hunt unusual prey and consume more than normal. Humans are no different. When we perceive there will not be enough to fulfill our needs we can act in unusual ways.

Scarcity is at the root of "-isms" in our culture. Not enough jobs? Exclude immigrants. Not enough government funding? Exclude the poor. Not enough acceptance? Exclude those who are different. Yet Isaiah sees a different world where abundance creates safety for everyone. The lion has enough food and does not need to kill a lamb. The man-child has proper clothing and does not need to kill a leopard for protection.

Advent may be the perfect time to dream this image because, for brief moments, it becomes a reality. As families gather they find ways to set aside the labels that divide them. Politics may come up but families find a way to change the subject or love each other through the different opinions.

Though hard to find, there are a few examples of opposing sides finding a way to exist together. NATO is a space where countries can work together to seek a common goal. This often brings enemy nation's into the same room. This week the President of France urged NATO to reconsider identifying Russia or China as an enemy. France hopes to unify efforts to fight terrorism in general and not specific nation's.

A new photography book by Gray Malin shows the beauty of opposites existing together. The book is called A World of Opposites. The cover features black and white llamas in a dessert. The rest of the book features pictures like “Above and Below,” “Wet and Dry,” “Apart and Together.”

You may feel like this is a fantasy not to be achieved in our lifetime. This may be true and in that case our job is to simply keep the stump alive. Our work is to not let the decay set in so that the sucker can do its work and harvest the nutrients we need to make the fantasy a reality.


Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

Matthew 3:1-12

John the Baptist is proclaiming a radical way of turning life around, urging the crowds by the river to repent, and change how they live. Once a neo-Nazi, Shannon Martinez embodies that kind of change in her own life. Martinez is a mother, stepmother, bartender and a guide for people who want to leave hate groups. “On a late summer morning in Athens, Georgia, Shannon Foley Martinez sits barefoot on her back patio, still in her pajamas, and clicks “follow” on the Twitter profile of a White nationalist named Adrian. He has almost no followers, so he notices her within minutes. “Hello,” he types via direct message. “Hello!!!!!” she responds as her 3-year-old son plays nearby. Martinez is a former neo-Nazi who now works to deradicalize people who are still in the movement. She was referred to Adrian by a friend of hers who researches right-wing extremism. When Adrian (not his real identity because of the sensitivity of the conversation) first started speaking to the friend, also via Twitter, the friend asked Adrian if he’d like to talk to someone who used to hold similar beliefs. “In response to your offer of a turncoat to talk to, that would be great,” Adrian replied. “As small a chance as it is, there is still a technical possibility I am misguided, and I owe it to myself to see that if I am.”…[Martinez] alternates between her back patio — knees up, feet propped on the base of the deck table — and her front porch, where she reclines, legs crossed, in one of those low-to-the-ground camping-and-soccer-games chairs. She tends bar about 30 hours a week, and her husband works at a restaurant. She is raising her seven children, ages 3 to 22, and a teenage stepson with autism. Her phone is a portal to her jumbled network of “formers,” academics, activists, law enforcement officers, policymakers, and amateur experts who are collectively working to counter the rise of far-right extremism. And it’s a means of connection with “actives” such as Adrian, whom Martinez hopes she can help to heal.”

She doesn’t believe in changing people’s minds, but instead exploring why hate groups are appealing to people.  For her, they provided an explanation for a brutal and difficult world. “She sees conversations like these as her responsibility, as amends-making for the four-and-a-half years she spent perpetrating violence on everyone — Jewish, gay, or Black people — her ideology told her to hate. “My entire life,” she is fond of saying, “is predicated on apology.” This doesn’t mean she’s mired in guilt. Instead, it means naming and working to repair the harm that she caused. “Anywhere my voice is invited to be, I will go,” she says, from Holocaust museums to universities to the U.S. Institute of Peace.”

Her change of beliefs, and in turn, the way she lives her life, are emblematic of the radical repentance John urges.

* * *

Isaiah 11:1-10
Living as a Peacemaker
Christian Conte is a peacemaker who may look like a thug to some people, which he says is an asset in his work. His bald head, stocky build and wealth of tattoos help him connect with people who have committed violent crimes. He runs support groups for offenders, and he says, “On my first day there the guys were in line to sign in and, as they were getting in line to sign in, a guy said, “Hey go ahead, man.” I just had a t-shirt on so I had tattoos out and everything, and he said, “Go ahead, man.” I said, “No, you go ahead. I’m Dr. Conte.” He said, “Oh, yeah? I’m Dr. Conte, too. Go ahead.” I said, “No. I really am. Go ahead and get in line.” So I learned early on that my persona does help. It certainly helps me to connect with people. And I don’t feel the same types of judgments that I hear other people feel about these guys. I really don’t. I look at people and I realize, “How do I know that I wouldn’t have been different if I didn’t grow up in their world and see the things that they saw and have their cognitive functioning?” I’ve thought that for a long time. And when I started to integrate into my personal life what I believed about counseling and psychology, and I really started to integrate it through meditation, it just became a part of who I am. One thing that my clients have always reported is that they don’t feel judgment from me. I’m going to accept you. I’m not going to accept the behavior. I mean, guys knew I was not for violence. I wasn’t even a proponent of spanking. I don’t even spank my daughter. I’m not for violence in any way. But I’ll accept you as who you are. You may have messed up. That behavior is not acceptable, we’ve got to work to change it, but I accept the essence of who you are.”

Conte says he lives by the saying from Lao Tzu, who said, “If you treat the people as though they are trustworthy, then they will be trustworthy.” (This should work in churches, too!) Conte explains, “If I look at you and I’m exuding peace and I’m trying to talk to that center in you that I know that you can exude peace as well, I think a transformation happens. I realize as I say it out loud, it can sound out there…I think it does sound naive. Except that I’ve seen it for thousands and thousands of hours of working with people. So it’s a matter of saying, “Look, I’m validating why you’re angry at something. You’re angry at something. You have a right to be angry. Just because you grew up in a certain area, because you look a certain way, because you look physically tough, I’m validating — hey, this is what you’ve done. But the question is, do you want the results of what you’re going to do?” I mean, there are certainly moments when things get really intense. I had a guy one time — about 6’7”, 270 lbs. — and he came his fourth time late to group. He was late by two minutes. And guess what? If you’re late by one minute, I’m calling your parole officer. I wasn’t attached to that. I didn’t have emotion around it.

But I remember going up, thinking to myself, “This guy’s bigger than I am. This could be interesting.” I went up to him and I said, “Look. I can understand you’re going to be really frustrated and will probably direct some of this anger at me, but you recognize that this is your fourth time late, and that your PO has to be contacted, and you’re likely going to go back to jail.” And he turned, and for a moment when he turned, and put his head off to the side, I thought, “Okay. Well he could turn around and swing right here. I’m aware of that.” But I said, “Look, I understand. I can understand you’re fired up. If you’re pissed off, you’re pissed off.” And, he said, “No. I know. I want to be pissed at you guys but the truth is, I know I did it. I knew I did it.” And I just jumped on it. I was like, “That’s huge. That’s huge for you to have that realization.” I just kind of praised that part before anything happened.”

Peace begets peace, even when we don’t expect it.

* * *

Isaiah 11:1-10
Those Who Work Against Peace
It’s dismaying to learn that the moments of inspiration we find online have a sinister back story. An investigative report outlines the process for sowing seeds of dissent, and it begins with a feel-good story everyone can love. The work is so good that we get sucked in easily. “Internet trolls don’t troll. Not the professionals at least. Professional trolls don’t go on social media to antagonize liberals or belittle conservatives. They are not narrow minded, drunk or angry. They don’t lack basic English language skills. They certainly aren’t “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” as the president once put it. Your stereotypical trolls do exist on social media, but the amateurs aren’t a threat to Western democracy. Professional trolls, on the other hand, are the tip of the spear in the new digital, ideological battleground. To combat the threat they pose, we must first understand them — and take them seriously.

On August 22, 2019, @IamTyraJackson received almost 290,000 likes on Twitter for a single tweet. Put in perspective, the typical tweet President Trump sends to his 67 million followers gets about 100,000 likes. That viral tweet by @IamTyraJackson was innocent: an uplifting pair of images of former pro football player Warrick Dunn and a description of his inspiring charity work building houses for single mothers. For an anonymous account that had only existed for only a few months, “Tyra” knew her audience well. Warrick’s former coach, Tony Dungy, retweeted it, as did the rapper and producer Chuck D. Hundreds of thousands of real users viewed Tyra’s tweet and connected with its message. For “Tyra,” however, inspiring messages like this were a tool for a very different purpose.”

The fake Tyra was growing an audience of people who love a good story, building a base for promoting dissent. The goal “was two-fold: Grow an audience in part through heartwarming, inspiring messages, and use that following to spread messages promoting division, distrust, and doubt.” As the article continues, “Professional trolls are good at their job. They have studied us. They understand how to harness our biases (and hashtags) for their own purposes. They know what pressure points to push and how best to drive us to distrust our neighbors. The professionals know you catch more flies with honey. They don’t go to social media looking for a fight; they go looking for new best friends. And they have found them.”

The posts are carefully crafted to elicit emotion, and its emotion that divides us. “Anger drives people to the polls; disgust drives countries apart.” The technique is hard to resist. “Effective disinformation is embedded in an account you agree with. The professionals don’t push you away, they pull you toward them.” All the while, they’re subtly undermining our trust in each other and in our institutions.

Peace is the work of all of God’s people, and God calls us to pay attention to those who seek to undermine it.  

* * *

Matthew 3:1-12
True vs. Fake Repentance
In working with violent offenders, Christian Conte says that in one the first groups he ever participated in, the people in the group were required to write letters of apology for what they had done. John the Baptist calls us to a true and deep repentance, and we all have places where we need to turn our lives around. Conte says in this group, the offenders had learned the right words to say — as we often do, when we speak the words of a prayer of confession, but fail to actually change our lives.

In the groups, people would look at each other’s letters and say, “on a group with violent offenders, I listened to what people really said: “No this is horse shit.” “You’re supposed to say this in it.” “No, no, hurry up, man, get an eraser. You’ve got to say this.” “Just say this word right here; you’ll make that dude happy.” They just said what they were supposed to say. Since that time, all these years later, I’ve visited people in prisons and talked to people, and that’s still what they do. They’ll say in their writings whatever the therapist tells them they’re supposed to say so they can check the box and say they took accountability, but it’s not actually happening.”

Conte adds that he helped people change by reminding them that if they get in trouble over and over, “you’ve got to be doing something wrong. So maybe everybody in the world’s messed up, or maybe it’s you. Maybe you need to start working on yourself. A statement I often said was, “Look, we’re all human beings. If a human being does it, it’s human nature. So if you do it, let’s just explain it. Let’s figure it out.” A lot of guys would comment that it helped them when I talked about it that way, “That’s just human behavior. So you got pissed off. So you hit somebody that you wish you hadn’t hit. Let’s learn from it; let’s move from here…” I believe everyone can change. I still think human beings are worth it.”

That’s what John, when he prepares us for Jesus, says to us, too.

* * *

Isaiah 11:1-10
Bringing Opposites Together
Educator and peace activist Maya Soetoro-Ng believes that a lot of dis-harmony with each other comes from a sense of isolation. She recalls being a young teacher in the public schools in New York City, and how isolated her students were. “A lot my students, even though they had subway passes that could take them all over the boroughs to many places and anywhere for free, they never really left their 10-block radius because they didn’t feel the outside world beyond their little neighborhood belonged to them, and they didn’t feel they’d be welcome and that sort of thing. And it really kept them hearing and knowing only one story. And it also kept others who might have benefited from knowing them and being connected to them and knowing their story from doing so. So I really began to see my job as a social studies teacher to bring the flesh and blood of people’s stories back into the work of teaching rather than having social studies be about memorizing discreet facts to be regurgitated and then forgotten.” She adds, “humans are complex; that all of us need to be remain exceedingly vigilant to ensure that the best inside us is nourished (love, compassion) and that we engage in frequent reflection…I believe teaching is an important tool for peacebuilding but also that all of us have role to play in diverse definitions of peacebuilding. So I wanted to rebrand peace so make sure it could be seen as action-oriented and that peacebuilding was seen as the duty, obligation, and privilege of each of us — no matter our profession.”

She believes that any kind of work — no matter how unusual or pedestrian — can be a frame for adding to peace in the world. She works with any ambition that her students have. “I ask students to give me anything they aspire to do. We collectively think about how to transform their perspective of their work and their life’s purpose into a peacebuilding purpose. One student’s only ambition was to build golf courses and design them. I worked with him — we talked about how golf is regarded as an elitist sport (expensive to play), so why not transform it to look at issues of environmental justice, to allow others to play, to connect to community outside, transform golf so games create adjacent community library — how can we use golf course design to think about waterways; create a walk along golf course to create personal peace; have golf be an opportunity to think about mindfulness (putting small ball into small hole). Why not create a space where people are not separated from one another but that allows for dialogue, communication? There really is so much opportunity that is untapped for people to begin engaging in peacebuilding leadership, and have that be a part of what seems like an unrelated profession.”

If the lion and the ox are going to have a relationship, and live together, we all have a role to play in that transformation.

* * * * * *

Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:

Isaiah 11:4
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Mississippi and Mississippi State have been longtime rivals. The players who stand on the field inside the sidelines are filled with emotion and determination to win. The two teams confronted each other at the 116th Egg Bowl, which was played on Thursday, November 28, 2019. With four seconds left in the game the Rebels wide receiver Elijah Moore took a pass from quarterback Matt Corral, and he bumped his way into the end zone. This put Ole Miss one point away from forcing the game into overtime. But then the unspeakable happened. The game being shown on television and with families and their children in the stands, Moore celebrated his historic catch by crawling on all fours in the end zone, pretending to be a dog, and then he lifted his right leg pretending to urinate. The unsportsmanlike conduct carried a 15-yard penalty, moving the ball back to the 35-yard line. Luke Logan’ kick missed the goal post, with the ball sailing far to the right. The Bulldogs won the game 21-20.

* * *

Romans 15:7
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
The Religious News Service printed an article on November 27, 2019, in which the author, Alejandra Molina, concluded that “as Americans become less religious, the role of chaplains may grow.” The reason why chaplains are becoming increasing import, Molina wrote, “as fewer people identify with a specific religion or attend religious services, Americans may be more likely to meet a chaplain than a local clergy person at a congregation.” Chaplains are in hospitals, airports, sporting events, college campuses and on military bases, just to name a few places where a man or woman of the cloth is found ministering. What is also interesting is those who are in need are “crossing boundaries to receive care from someone they perceive as sometimes dangerous ‘other.’” In other words, individuals are willing to receive assistance from a chaplain who may be Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim.

* * *

Psalm 72:3
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
Dolly Parton was nominated for her song God Only Knows for the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards show, which is set to air on CBS on January 26, 2020. Parton has always been outspoken about her Christian faith. She said, “I’ve always felt like my music was more my ministry than a job. I just feel that this day and time, we need more people that are in a position to help to try to do something, if they can, to brighten the world a little bit. That’s what I’m hoping to do now.” Parton went on to say, “I’ve got three faith-based songs out now, which I feel very good about. Whether you believe in God or not, we need to believe in something bigger and better than what’s going on because we’re not doing too hot. We need to try to do a little better.”

* * *

Isaiah 11:6
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
On Tuesday, November 26, 2019, the papal plane was returning from a weeklong visit to Thailand and Japan. Pope Francis was willing to answer eight questions from the journalists on board the plane. During the dialogue the Pope indicated that the use and possession of nuclear weapons should be made “immoral” under official Catholic teaching. He also expressed his concern over the use of nuclear energy. He told the reporters, “An accident (through the) possession or the folly of some leader could destroy humanity. I have a personal opinion: I wouldn’t use nuclear energy until it is totally safe to use it.” The Pope then returned to his discussion on nuclear weapons. During his trip to Japan, Pope Francis visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities hit by atomic bombs a few days apart in early August 1945. From that visit the Pope said, “Hiroshima was a true human catechesis on cruelty.”

* * *

Isaiah 11:4
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Christian Headlines, on Tuesday, November 26, 2019, began an article with this byline: “New Fossil Suggesting Snakes Once Had Legs Helps Explain God’s Curse on Serpents in Genesis.”  It was discovered that at one time snakes had two hind legs. In Genesis we read that God condemned the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve, saying, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” Bodie Hodge, the curator of the Creation Museum, said, “If it slithered already, what was the point of the curse and why compare it to creatures which had legs in Genesis 3:14? Regardless if it was a beast of the field, the serpent was indeed a land animal and capable of locomotion in the Garden of Eden and in the field.” From the Genesis story of “the fall of man” we know that each participant was punished by their traditional role in society. To man God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” To woman God said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.” And to the Serpent God said, “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” This would indicate that at the time the Serpent encountered Eve, he did not crawl but had legs for locomotion.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating

Isaiah 11:1-10
And a millennial will care for them
Ok, Boomer — here’s another reason to be nice to your kids: they will indeed be managing your care. Millions of younger millennials have become caregivers for their older parents, according to the AARP. Many of them are navigating caregiving roles for their parents while still “adulting.”

But unlike other “sandwich” generations, millennials are becoming caregivers while also trying to establish careers and raise young children. The unique circumstances of their parents’ generation add to the stress: many boomers had children later in life, and quite a few are divorced or single. Younger caregivers are also more likely to be men. AARP senior vice president Susan Reinhard says that her research indicates millennial caregivers are experiencing high levels of stress.

I call it ‘life interrupted,’” Dr. Reinhard said. “They were saying things like, ‘I’m not sure I can get married.’ ‘I don’t know if I can have a baby.’ ‘I don’t know what career I can pursue.’”

Application: In thinking about how “a child will lead us,” we often focus on leaders like the Parkland High school students who became gun control advocates, or Greta Thunberg and her advocacy for reversing climate change. The unspoken, often less noticed leadership of caregivers is often neglected, but in many ways represents the servant leadership style embraced by Jesus.

* * *

Isaiah 11:1-10
“Equity for the meek”
Director Steven Soderbergh’s new and somewhat quirky movie “The Laundromat” is now streaming on Netflix. It’s an offbeat look at the human side of the complex data leak known as the “Panama Papers,” which detailed ways corporations and billionaires take advantage of offshore taxation benefits and shell corporations to hide wealth. (Here’s a link to the story in case to refresh your memory.) The movie details the crumbling of the Panamanian law firm Mossack and Fonseca. Meryl Streep plays a widow whose husband was killed in a freak tourist boat accident. Her pursuit of compensation provides the thread that unravels vast schemes of avoiding responsibility.

Watching the movie requires a bit of effort, but there are several memorable lines which uphold the idea that if the meek are going to inherit the earth, they’ll be spending a lot of time in probate court. Notable quotes include:

“Tax avoidance is a crime,” says the actor playing Panamian lawyer Jurgen Mossack. “But tax avoidance, that’s what put us in business.”

“More than anything else,” says lawyer Ramon Fonseca, “our clients expect one thing from us.” “Privacy,” chimes Mossack. “Now privacy and secrecy are two different things,” Fonseca continues. “Privacy is locking the bathroom door while you’re using the restroom.” “Secrecy,” says Mossack “is locking the door because what you’re doing in the bathroom is not what people usually do.”

“The meek,” says Fonseca, “they were supposed to inherit the Earth. Doesn’t seem to have worked out that way to me.”

Application: The Laundromatuses humor and satire to dissect the multitude of ways a powerful and wealthy minority of persons use control and exploitation over a multitude of less wealthy people.

* * *

Isaiah 11:1-10
Fractured states
CNN’s “Fractured States of America” series explores the feelings and experiences of Americans who feel increasingly marginalized by incessant fractious debates. The underlying message, CNN’s writers assert, is that “America has a problem, and it’s time for a wake-up call.”

In other words, the cow and the bear are not getting along too well. Jane Carr and Laura Juncadella write about their research in a website:

You described leaving church communities, being alienated from your children. Eve, a first generation child of immigrants from Rexford, New York, recounted a dinner party where her closest girlfriend "continued to talk about 'bad immigrants' although my husband begged her to change the subject. Another girlfriend of ours was there; she's a Chinese immigrant." Eve's husband ended the conversation and cut off all interaction with her friend. Eve says, "I am still always pleasant and social with my friend, but I don't feel good about it."

Carr and Juncadella go on to describe the story of how a woman encountered the pain of division in her church:

I am a black woman in my 40s and also a Christian. I go to a church that is diverse and is comprised of Democrats and Republicans. Since the election of Trump, it seems that everyone on both sides has lost their minds. I have purposely stayed off of social media because I was starting to hate people that I have loved for years. I felt that those who support Trump don't support my rights or views as a minority woman. I am truly heartbroken over some of the hateful things that they say. I am especially disappointed in my Christian friends who blindly follow Trump saying that he a man of God. Even though everything he says goes against the beliefs of the Bible. Particularly love thy neighbor as thyself.

Application: Living into Isaiah’s vision of vegetarian lions and children becoming friends with poisonous snakes may push our imagination to the limit in a world which seems doomed to fail because of its divisions. Yet the promised Messiah brings a hope which sustains faith.

* * *

Matthew 3:1-12
Bearing fruits worthy of repentance
John’s appearance in Advent happens just as regularly as the clanging of bells for the Salvation Army’s kettle drives. Yet some are proposing a boycott of the Salvation Army over its concerns that the faith-based charity is biased against LGBTQ persons.

The Salvation Army was quick to point out that it never asks anyone their sexual orientation prior to providing assistance. “We believe by sheer size and access that we are the largest provider of poverty relief for people in the LGBTQ community,” wrote David Hudson, the national commander for the Salvation Army. But he affirmed that local pastoral leaders affirm that marriage is only one man and one woman.

Stephen L. Carter, an African-American law professor and author at Yale, argued that the rush to an “all or nothing” judgment over the Salvation Army’s evangelical theology may miss the point. Carter offered that perhaps it is more important to consider the amount of good work conducted by the Salvation Army.

If Hudson’s claims are true, said Carter, then “maybe we should let its work be the touchstone of its value.” He continued, “It should be possible, in this season of giving thanks, to be grateful that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and at the same time to be grateful for the fine work done by the Salvation Army and other religious charities.”

Application: John declares that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down, and called the Pharisees and Sadducees to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Is it possible to advocate LGBTQ acceptance while also acknowledging the good work of organizations like the Salvation Army?            

* * *

Matthew 3:1-12
Scales falling from eyes:
“Sometimes,” writes journalist Tony Norman, “repentance is spurred by a conscience truly stricken by the knowledge of one’s overwhelming hypocrisy.” Norman backs up his claim by describing the recent recanting of the prosperity gospel by evangelist Benny Hinn.

“I am correcting my own theology and you need to all know it,” Hinn said earlier this fall. “The blessings of God are not for sale. And miracles are not for sale. And prosperity is not for sale.”

Norman continued, “The mind boggles. There was something almost Jesus-like in Mr. Hinn’s pronouncements, which made the moment even more confusing. “I think giving [seed money] has become such a gimmick,” Hinn said. “It’s making me sick to my stomach. And I’ve been sick for a while, too, I just couldn’t say it. And now the lid is off. I’ve had it. you know why? I don’t want to get to heaven and be rebuked.”

Yet for Hinn repentance can only go so far. Norman, who calls Hinn a “serial repenter,” said Hinn stopped short of returning any ill-gotten gains, or any other funds raised by his organization. “Benny Hinn is many things, but no one can accuse him of taking the words of Jesus either literally or seriously. Hell will freeze over before Benny Hinn makes a show of repenting of the prosperity gospel that goes beyond pious lip service. After all, God saw fit to give him all that intoxicating cash in the first place.”

Application: As Tony Norman observes, Benny Hinn started down the road toward repentance, yet stopped far short of the sort of repentance proclaimed by John the Baptist and embodied in the gospel.

* * *

Romans 15:4-13
Abounding in Hope

Paul offers a foothold for a preacher to make a needed — if perennial — plea for looking out for those who may be experiencing bouts of holiday depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers important tips and factors which should be a part of every congregation’s lists of ready resources. More importantly, simply acknowledging how hard the holidays can be for some people could promote a theologically-balanced view of hope much in line with Paul’s prayer that God would “fill you with all joy and peace in believing.”

Speaking of peace…

Websites and pop psychologists offer plenty of advice on ways of managing stress, depression and anxiety during the holidays. The church, however, seems to remain silent on the matter. Perhaps we have also bought into the notion that this “most wonderful time of the year” can bring renewal to our churches. Or perhaps we are afraid to name the truth: we believe that a busy church is a healthy church.

A church committed to a more spiritually-healthy future might advise its parishioners to explore sabbath during Advent, so that they “may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Explore this interview with the late Eugene H. Peterson, or this piece from the former Alban Institute.

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: Give our land your justice, O God.
People: Send upon us your righteousness.
Leader: May righteousness flourish and peace abound.
People: Blessed be the God of Israel, who does wondrous things.
Leader: Blessed be God’s glorious name forever.
People: May God’s glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.


Leader: Come, let us worship our God and our Creator.
People: With joy we sing the praises of our God.
Leader: Let us celebrate the unity of being God’s children.
People: We rejoice that we are all one family in God.         
Leader: Let us live out our beliefs in kindness to all.
People: We will reach out to others in care and grace.      

Hymns and Songs:
Jesus Calls Us
UMH: 398
H82: 549/550
NNBH: 183
NCH: 171/172
CH: 337
LBW: 494
ELW: 696
W&P: 345
AMEC: 238  

I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
UMH: 206
H82: 490
ELW: 815
W&P: 248
Renew: 152549/550

Lord, Speak to Me
UMH: 463
PH: 426
NCH: 531
ELW: 676
W&P: 593

Lord, I Want to Be a Christian
UMH: 402
PH: 372
AAHH: 463
NNBH: 156
NCH: 454
CH: 589
W&P: 457
AMEC: 282  
Renew: 145

What Does the Lord Require?
UMH: 441
H82: 605
PH: 405
CH: 659
W&P: 686

Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates
UMH: 213
H82: 436
PH: 8
NCH: 117
CH: 129
LBW: 32             
W&P: 176
AMEC: 94
Renew: 59

Take Up Thy Cross
UMH: 415
H82: 675
PH: 393
LBW: 398
ELW: 667
W&P: 351
AMEC: 294  

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
UMH: 427
H82: 609
PH: 408
NCH: 543
CH: 665
LBW: 429
ELW: 719
W&P: 591
AMEC: 561  

Make Me a Servant
CCB: 90

You Are Mine
CCB: 58    

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is the Creator of us all
Grant us the grace to remember that we are your children
and all humanity is part of our family which we lovingly embrace;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are the One who created us all.  You have made us sisters and brothers one to the other.  Help us to remember whose family humanity is so that we can embrace on another in love.  Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially the ways in which we abuse one another often in God’s name. 

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned.  We have been blessed with a world full of sisters and brothers and yet we isolate ourselves from each other finding division where there is unity.  We talk about our faith but we often fail to live it in our daily dealings with one another.  Instead of our faith uniting us we use it to separate and condemn.  Help us hear you calling us back to you and to being in community with all your children.  Amen. 

Leader: God is always calling us home to be in communion with God and with one another.  Receive God’s love and grace and share it with your sisters and brothers this week.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory be to you, O God, who is our hope.  In you alone we find our unity and our peace. 

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned.  We have been blessed with a world full of sisters and brothers and yet we isolate ourselves from each other finding division where there is unity.  We talk about our faith but we often fail to live it in our daily dealings with one another.  Instead of our faith uniting us we use it to separate and condemn.  Help us hear you calling us back to you and to being in community with all your children.

We thank you for the prophets of old and of now who remind us that we are all your children.  We thank you for those who accept us even though we are different from them.  We thank you for your Spirit that unites us all in your own self. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for those who feel rejected and despised because people see them as being different.  We pray for the bonds of peace and hope to unite us all in your holy family. 

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity.  Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Read Isaiah 9:6-7.

This Sunday is about peace. Do you ever argue with your sisters or brothers or your friends.  Maybe you want to play one game and they want to play something else.  When we don’t get along it isn’t very much fun.  It makes us feel sad or maybe mad.  Isaiah reminds us that God wants us to be in peace, to get along.  God wants it for us and for everyone.  God invites us to help make peace happen by trying to get along with each other and helping others.

Fruit Worthy Of Repentance
by Dean Feldmeyer
Matthew 3:1-12

You will need:
Good fruit — A nice, ripe apple. A firm, bright yellow banana. A fresh, juicy orange. Others as you desire.
Bad fruit — A sliced apple turned brown. A banana turned black. A dehydrated, wrinkled orange.

(Ripe fruit can be made bad by placing it in a warm oven, about 150 degrees for a couple of hours.)

Display the fruit on a tray for all to see.


Good morning, boys and girls!

Look at this fruit, right here. All of this fruit came off of trees. It grew on trees and then it fell off or was picked.

Now, how can you tell if those trees were good trees or bad trees?

Well, what do you think? (Point to black banana.) Was the tree that produced this banana a good tree or a bad one? Yeah, probably a bad one, right? (Point to good banana.) What about this banana? What kind of tree produced this one? Probably a good one. Right!

(Repeat the exercise with the apples and the oranges.)

You know, in today’s lesson we heard a story about Jesus’s cousin, John, who was called John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer. He baptized people in the Jordan River but his baptism was different than the kind we do here in our church. He asked people to stop being bad and doing bad things. Then he invited them to be baptized as a sign that they had changed their life and they were changed people.

When they changed, he said, they were like trees that had been producing bad fruit but now they were like trees that were producing good fruit.

And do you know what? All of us, no matter how young or old we are, can produce good fruit. We can produce love and kindness and peace and help and all those kinds of things that make life good for each other.

We can be trees of good fruit, and that’s what John and Jesus wants us to be.

End the message with a prayer for God’s help as we all try to be trees of good fruit for one another.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, December 8, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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New & Featured This Week

The Immediate Word

Mary Austin
Christopher Keating
Quantisha Mason-Doll
Dean Feldmeyer
Bethany Peerbolte
George Reed
Katy Stenta
For June 27, 2021:
  • Waiting for the Lord — and People by Mary Austin — The psalm proclaims that it is God “who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” We can trust (and hope) that the same is true for our nation.
  • Second Thoughts: Invisible Suffering by Chris Keating — Just as the woman in Mark’s story pushes through the crowd in search of healing, long haul Covid patients struggle to find hope.


John Jamison
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. (vv. 21-24)

* * *

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Mark Ellingsen
There are lots of reasons to be grateful!

2 Samuel 1:1,17-27
Mark Ellingsen
Frank Ramirez
Bill Thomas
Bonnie Bates
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
I read this story in July 1991’s “Bits and Pieces.” I think it does a great job of describing friendship. A British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following:

“One who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable.”

“One who understands our silence.”

“A volume of sympathy bound in cloth.”

“A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down.”


C. David Mckirachan
“No Limitations” by C. David McKirachan
“In Spite Of” by C. David McKirachan

No Limitations
by C. David McKirachan
Mark 5:21-43

Mark presented a portrait of Jesus that showed a Christ who moved into situations with action, often upsetting the expected. Many times, Christ’s actions did not bring comfort or peace. 

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
"It's not fair," announced Kendra angrily.

"No," chorused her band of friends, "It's not fair."

During the long, summer evenings, the car park of the local supermarket was usually half empty. It was a glorious open space with, most importantly of all, a really smooth surface. What's more, if you started at the side nearest the supermarket, it had a gentle slope right down to the other side. It was absolutely made for skateboarding - or so Kendra and the gang felt. But the manager of the supermarket seemed to have other ideas.


David R. Cartwright
When all else fails, what do you do? When you are up against it, where do you turn?
William J. Carl, III
Getting through grief may be one of the hardest things we do as human beings. One of the best ways to begin the process is to find it within ourselves to stand up and say something in a public setting that puts into words both the personal and collective feelings of all who have gathered to mourn. History is replete with stunning examples. Pericles' Funeral Oration as recorded by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War is certainly one of them. At the end of the first year of war, the Athenians held, as was their custom, an elaborate funeral for all those killed in the war.
Glenn W. Mcdonald
Year after year Stumpy and Martha attended the fair in their home state, and every summer it was the same story: Stumpy was tantalized by the old-fashioned bi-plane in which anybody could take a ride for ten dollars, and Martha was disgusted by such an obvious waste of money. "Ten dollars is ten dollars," she would always say. And Stumpy would go home without his airplane ride.

Special Occasion