december 6, 2009

Anna Blaedel
December 6, 2009
Malachi 3:1-2
Luke 1:68-79
First UMC, Osage

This morning, in a land not so far away, after weeks of preparing, people are gathering. Expectant. Waiting. A congregation, one by one walking through the church doors. One by one, hanging up coats and picking up bulletins and greeting familiar faces—family, old friends—perhaps noticing new ones, deciding whether to give the unfamiliar faces a curious glance and pass ‘em by, or whether to stop and smile and welcome them. One by one, sliding into pews, many of them sliding into the same pews that have cradled them for years, even decades. One by one, looking over the order of service, one by one preparing for worship. It could be just another normal Sunday morning, but there is an eagerness in the air. A sense of excitement. Anticipation, edging on nervousness. The members at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester have been preparing for a new pastor. You know what that is like… Think back to the months before we met each other. July and August of 2008. Waiting. Watching. Hoping. Dreaming. Letting go, just a bit, of the way things were, and making space for someone new. Sometimes it is easier to say goodbye, sometimes it is harder to say hello, but this time of preparation is hard work, isn’t it? And, it is heart work—opening hearts and lives to enter into a new relationship, to welcome someone new into your lives, your community. And, it is body work—packing offices, painting walls, cleaning the parsonage… Clearing out to make room for what is unfolding, what is becoming…

At Peace UCC, they are preparing for a new pastor, and today they will hear her preach for the first time. Their new pastor is a dear friend of mine, my first close friend I made in seminary. While I can imagine how the congregation might be preparing for her, I know how she has been preparing for them. I have been praying for her, asking other friends and family to pray for her, daily…I have shared her excitement, and her nervousness…I have reminded her of her incredible gifts for ministry when she starts to doubt them…I have watched as her partner makes a leap of faith and prepares to move with her, to support her…I have shared my experiences from this first year of pastoral ministry in Osage, and shown her around Rochester, and practiced interview questions, and looked at houses and apartments for rent. Together, we, and a whole host of other people, have prepared. And. Together, we’ve waited.

Recall the words of this morning’s lectionary text from Malachi….”See, I am sending a messenger before me to prepare the way…The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight…Indeed, this one is coming. But who can endure the wait? Who can stand this in-between time?”

Malachi is the last book of the section of the Hebrew Bible, or Christian Old Testament, called “The Prophets.” We don’t know who wrote the book of Malachi, and the text itself gives us no hints. The name “Malachi” is Hebrew for, simply enough, “my messenger.” The book of Malachi is more than a little argumentative. In it, God and the people go back and forth, accusing one another of neglecting and disregarding their mutual covenant. The people keep asking, “Where is the God of Justice?”

And, our scripture this morning is the response to that question…”See, I am sending a messenger to prepare the way before me…Indeed, this one is coming…But who can endure the wait? Who can stand the time in between?

Even the promise holds tension. Unknown. Some wait and see. Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, when we have to wait, when we face needing to prepare for something, we don’t even know what we are waiting for and preparing for…

In fact, while we tend to read Jesus into this piece of scripture, and assume Jesus was the coming messenger, this text is really about John the Baptist.

This past week, I have been living with the questions put before us by this morning’s scripture: What does it actually mean to prepare? How do we stand the wait? How do we manage to summon the trust it takes to wait? How do we ensure the time of preparation, especially when the future we are preparing for is unknown?

I cannot ignore the irony of spending this week contemplating preparation. It has been a full week, a week full of preparing…A week so full of preparing that it wasn’t until late yesterday afternoon that I finally could sit down and start the work of preparing this sermon… Which, perhaps, is fitting.

Sometimes, preparation is simply doing what we need to do, attending to what is in front of us, without losing sight of the bigger picture…what season we are in…what is coming toward us…where we are going…how we might need to shift course along the way…

Preparing…for the Advent season, here, for the worship services and spiritual practices and community events and setting of sacred space and opportunities to put our faith in action.

Preparing…with my friend, for this big Sunday up in Rochester…preparing for the coming year, together…

On Wednesday afternoon, the UMW celebrated the installation of officers, preparing for the unfolding of the coming year… On Wednesday evening, the youth traveled down to Cedar Falls to worship with the Wesley Foundation there…Some are preparing to attend college there in the fall…In worship there, the campus minister spoke about preparing…What we need to set aside so that we can prepare for the journey of Advent, the gifts of Christmas…He also spoke about clutter…Asked what clutter we need to deal with to make room to listen for God, to see God working in our lives. And, reminded us that God speaks even among the clutter, sometimes even through the clutter…A voice crying out in the wilderness…

May it be so...

No comments: