Rev. Jill Komura

The United Churches of Olympia November 29, 2015

First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Luke 21:25-36

PRAYER: Gracious God, shine the light of your spirit on your Word for us today, Help us to

deepen our understanding of your Holy Promise and grow closer in our relationship with you.

Amen.

In my work as a hospital chaplain, I used to use four principal questions to

complete what is called a “Spiritual Assessment” with patients and families. The first

question was always this: “What do you long for the most?” Or, sometimes I would

ask, “If you could have just one wish, right now, what would it be?”

For the woman living with a husband with dementia: “I just want to have a

normal morning conversation with the man I married.” For the depressed father,

fighting his ex-wife for custody of their young children: “If she could only stop

drinking and we could talk.” From the frantic mother of a fragile fourteen year old, “I

want these bully girls to leave my daughter alone.” So much pain.

As people of faith, confronting the suffering in our own lives and the world

around us, we carry a nagging expectation. So many of our biblical metaphors cast

God as parent and shepherd. We are God’s children, and we identify with the sheep.

Our assumption is that, if we’re the sheep, it’s the job of the divine shepherd to keep

our world orderly and pastoral. After all, Psalm 23 begins: “The Lord is my

shepherd. I shall not want…” At some point, as the storms begin to rage and the

wolves begin to howl around us, we begin, like all animals under stress, looking

around nervously, wondering, “When is the divine Shepherd going to step into the

human fold?”

In today’s text from Jeremiah, the remnant peoples from the ancient Hebrew

kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 6th century BC are asking the same question:

“When is the divine shepherd going to step in and give us the justice long

promised?” The prophet Jeremiah knows what these people “long for the most.”

Conquered by the Babylonians, who dragged them into exile for half a century, their

Babylonian masters were in turn conquered by another ruler, who sent the Hebrews

home. While they were trying to re-establish themselves, though, they were

2Rev. Jill Komura

The United Churches of Olympia November 29, 2015

continually buffeted and attacked by other nearby kingdoms. These people of God

cried out for “justice and righteousness in the land.”

In Hebrew scripture generally, and in this text, the “justice and

righteousness” promised to the people of God was about restoring political order,

and the sense of safety and security that came with a stable government. No

wonder the Hebrew people assumed that the “righteous branch” from David that

God promises would arrive as a conquering king, up-ending whichever corrupt

political order they happened to be chafing under at that moment. By the time of the

Lukan gospel writer, the oppressive political regime preventing the re-

establishment of a Hebrew political power is the Roman imperial state.

There are good people of faith today who still believe that human history is a

completely pre-determined timeline, and that God will intervene in a cosmic come-

uppance to overthrow their enemies and put them in positions of power. Our

hunger for this particular recipe for divine intervention may be merely another

symptom of the extent of our suffering and our self-interested myopia. What if we

focused less on angry visions of personal and tribal vengeance, and more on

patiently fulfilling whatever God might “long for the most?”

In today’s text from Luke, Jesus’ charge to the community of disciples seems

to urge us to behave a lot less like passively waiting sheep and more like actively

watching and acting shepherds. Instead of plaintively bleating “when? When?” We

should instead be asking, “How, now?” Jesus warns us to “stand up and raise [our]

heads,” and to “be on guard.” The focus of today’s gospel text, seems much less fixed

on the question of “when” God is coming and more on how God’s people are to

behave in the meanwhile.

What if we were to stand with the shepherds? What if we were to care for

the sick, feed the hungry, welcome the exiled and shelter the homeless? After all,

in the gospel of John, Jesus says very clearly, “Feed my lambs.”

To choose to be people of God who stand vigil with the shepherds and not

passively wait to be cared for as sheep certainly lives into the topsy-turvy order of

God’s realm that Jesus preaches throughout the gospel. Remember that the “savior”

who will grow up to hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes is born in a manger

3Rev. Jill Komura

The United Churches of Olympia November 29, 2015

surrounded by shepherds. Shepherds in the first century were people of low social

status; their occupation had a higher status for the people of Israel until their long

captivity under the Egyptians eroded the honorable view of nomadic pastoral life.

By the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were considered untrustworthy and unclean,

and deprived of civil rights. They could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted to

court as witnesses. To buy goods from a shepherd was forbidden under the law,

because the assumption was that the goods would be stolen property. In the

Mishnah, Judaism’s interpretation of the Law, one passage even states that no one

should feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit. As people of

God, if we stand with the shepherds, we are standing with the oppressed and the

marginalized.

Is God’s vision of “justice and righteousness” about restoring power for a

particular person or tribe? Or is God’s justice revealed most fully in the victory of life

over death at Easter? Surely the “justice” that God asks us to enact in Micah 6:8,

where we are asked to “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,” is

not about social status, political power, or military might. As the writer Henri

Nouwen has written, “the vision offered by Jesus stands in sharp contrast to [the]

worldly vision” that values earthly control and domination. The fig tree Jesus uses in

his final parable in today’s text is a common scriptural metaphor for the city of

Jerusalem. What if he is urging us, as disciples, to focus on and expand upon the

hopeful signs, and begin enacting God’s new Jerusalem, one human encounter at a

time?

Maybe we should just jettison that old Greco-Roman view of time as linear

and deterministic. Let’s replace it with the turning circle embraced by the cultures

of East Asia, the Celts, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. As the Native

American botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has pointed out,

tides that appear and disappear, the fog that rises to become rain in a

different river. All things that were will come again.

She echoes chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes: “That which has been

already, and that which will be has already been. For God seeks what has passed by.

Time is not a river running inexorably to the sea, but the sea itself—its

4Rev. Jill Komura

The United Churches of Olympia November 29, 2015

Kimmerer also writes, “If time is a turning circle, there is a place where history and

prophecy converge.” In that understanding of our story in time, every occasion

when we reach out to support or aid another of God’s creatures or they reach out to

us, God’s promise of “justice and righteousness” is fulfilled.

Today, as we enter the season of Advent, let us begin our vigil of waiting not

as passive sheep, but as watchful shepherds standing a vigil of hope. Then, when

God intervenes in the human story, we will begin to understand what God longs for

the most. We will be able to celebrate, when

there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, watching over

their flock by night. And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared unto them, and the glory of

the Lord shone ‘round about them, and they were terrified. And the angel said unto

them, “Do not be afraid: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be

to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a savior, which is Christ

the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in

swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a

multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:8-14)

Amen.