Sermon, December 4, 2016

They Will Not Hurt or Destroy on All My Holy Mountain
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
December 4, 2016
Second Sunday of Advent, Sunday of Peace
Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 1:68-79

Advent tells us that something is coming.
“God is coming,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer says,
God, in the form of Jesus Christ.
“Christmas is coming—
whether it is with us or without us
depends on each and every one of us….”

Today on the Peace Sunday of Advent
the scriptures, hymns and candle lighting
all insist that with Christ comes peace.
Peace is coming, and whether it is with us
or without us depends on each and every one of us.
The crucial question is, do we believe it?
In Bonhoeffer’s words, “Are we going to let it come to us,
or are we going to resist it?
Are we going to join in this movement
that comes down from heaven to earth,
or are we going to close ourselves off?”

Advent challenges us. It does not let us escape
the truth of our condition or the need for our response.
Advent says “peace,” and we are forced to see
how little peace we have in our heart or in our world.
Advent says “peace,” and we feel the agitation
of a long list of things we have to do before Christmas,
or we feel the agony of missing those
who will not be with us this year,
or we feel the deeply disturbing worry we have
for a world that seems to be speeding
farther from peace every day.

Advent insists that we hope in peace
even when peace seems hopeless.
Advent insists that we turn to the light
even in a darkness that seems lightless.
Advent demands that we choose,
are we going to believe the promises or not?
Do you believe Isaiah when he prophesies
of a coming day when
“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain?”
Can we let ourselves sink into the deep comfort
of believing in the possibility of that peace in our time?

Do you believe Zechariah when he prophesies,
“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace?”

Do you believe John the Baptist when he says,
“Repent, for the realm of God has come near?”
This is what John tells us to do
if we believe God’s realm of peace is near:
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
Remember that the word repentance
is the Greek word metanoia in the Bible,
which does not mean wallowing in sorrow
repenting over our sinfulness,
but choosing to turn again to God
and being joyfully transformed
by the renewing of our mind and life.
Metanoia means inviting Christ be born
in the stable of our heart in this moment—
believing and opening and waiting
for Christmas to come within us.
John is saying, in essence, if we believe,
then we should bear fruit worthy of Christmas,
because the promised dawn from on high
is here now to give light to those who sit in darkness
and guide our feet into the way of peace.
It is as near to us as our own heart,
as near to us as the person in the next pew,
and our task is to bear fruit worthy of it
by having peace and being peace and acting
as if this is God’s realm of peace
right here, right now, and we are citizens of it.

St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Have peace in yourself,
and thousands will find salvation around you.”
There is nothing we can do to establish the peace
of God’s realm on earth that is more powerful
than to turn to God wide open, believing
it is already here and we are living in it,
and then go out and act as if it were true, vowing that
they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain—
not on my holy mountain!—
however small the sphere of my mountain may be.

Someone at Church Council on Thursday said
that this congregation has been walking
a harmonious path the past couple of years.
It has done so by yearning to do so,
by believing it could do so, and
by learning how to do so
through training and practice.
Peace comes because we choose to do
the things that make for peace,
believing in it, insisting on it
and sacrificing for it by being peace
even when we feel far from it.

A woman named Irene ran a small business.
She had a very prickly employee—competent, but mean.
One day Irene walked into the woman’s office
to question expenses that the woman wanted reimbursed.
The woman responded extremely rudely to Irene’s question.
Irene went back to her office fuming.
She thought of firing the woman.
She thought of putting her reimbursement request
in a bottom drawer and forgetting about it.
She was full of hateful, vengeful and violent feelings,
and then she stopped, and said, wait a minute,
this is not who I want to be,
this is not the office environment I want to create.
They will not hurt or destroy on all this holy mountain!
Irene resolved to model kindness,
to be an instrument of peace, by calmly and firmly
insisting on healthy and direct communication
until the prickly behavior changed. And it worked!

I have promised to remain neutral
on the question of whether this congregation
should declare itself Open to and Affirming of
people of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
and I truly am neutral, I will support you whatever you decide,
but I will say this—I have been at every meeting,
and not once have I heard anyone speak against
being a congregation where all are welcome,
where all are affirmed as beloved children of God
and embraced fully by the love of Christ in us all.
There is no question that this is
the church you feel you are and are called to be.
The only question is whether you will say it
in official words and make clear to a world
that is increasingly divided and unsafe
that here in these walls, all are one. Here all are safe.
They will not hurt or destroy on all this holy mountain.

The prophets insist that this is the peace
that the coming of Christ is bringing into being.
“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.”
Anywhere that a single heart lets
the love and light and peace of Christ
be born and grow within it,
the vision of the prophets comes to pass
around the holy mountain that is that person.
Anywhere that a church nurtures peace within its walls
and shines it out a lighted window into the community,
the prophecies of the coming dawn prove true.

Advent reminds us that there are people
who sit in darkness and the shadow of death today,
there are people who are suffering violence and abuse,
and they need the comfort of the hope that peace is possible,
they need to know that there are holy mountains
where God’s peaceable kingdom is coming true
right now. “Are we going to let it come to us, too,
or are we going to resist it?
Are we going to join in this movement
that comes down from heaven to earth,
or are we going to close ourselves off?”
Advent asks us these questions. How will we answer
in our heart and as a church?

Let us answer to God now in silent prayer…

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