Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018 Annual Rector's Report

Rector’s Annual Report
            Rev. Adam T. Trambley         
January 28, 2018, St. John’s Sharon

Psalm 111 says Hallelujah!, I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.  At its core, what we come to St. John’s to do is to give thanks to the Lord with our whole hearts, to give thanks in this assembly of the upright, to give thanks in this congregation.  While we have our programming here at St. John’s -- our liturgy, our fellowship, and any number of activities to accomplish and tasks to perform – in the end what really matters is bringing the lives that we live outside of this place and offering them with thanksgiving to God who created us and sustains us and loves us.  What we are as a parish only begins in the moment after we have come in thanksgiving with the gift of ourselves and all that we offer in thanksgiving to be the Body of Christ.

We come to give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart, but we do not come by ourselves.  We come to give thanks in the midst of one another.  Our thanksgivings to God are made together so that we can receive each other’s witness of the joy and wonder of God at work in our lives.  As we receive that witness, we share in our thanksgiving, and in that act of thanksgiving the Holy Spirit moves among us and begins to create something that is fulfilled in the act of our Great Thanksgiving when we encounter Jesus together in the Body of Christ of the bread and wine as the Body of Christ here at St. John’s.  If our church is built on the great foundation of Jesus Christ, the building takes shape as we give thanks to the Lord with our whole hearts in this assembly.

One way we continue to build the church is by giving thanks to God for each other.  We have much to be grateful for as a parish and many people to be grateful to.  This sermon will serve as my own annual report to the parish, and I do have some pieces to highlight later.  Yet, the best report I could give would probably seem like a frenetic academy awards acceptance speech, where I read a couple hundred names off of note cards until Ron starts the next hymn and Jennifer Aniston and Harrison Ford come and drag me out of the pulpit.  While not many movie stars show up here, at least not since Patrick Swayze played basketball in the old gym while filming Tiger Warsaw, the list of thank you’s to be read for just the past year would number in the hundreds.  Hundreds of people financially supporting St. John’s.  Hundreds of people coming to worship.  Hundreds of people volunteering in different ministries.  Hundreds of people using our buildings in ways that build up the community, support our facility costs, and extend the reach of our relationships.  Hundreds of people praying for what we are doing here.  Thousands of people receiving the witness we offer of thanks and praise for God in our lives and being at least in some small way transformed by what God is doing here.  I give thanks for every one of you here today because I am grateful for the thanksgivings you offer here, for your support of this congregation, and for your work for the kingdom of God.  Whether or not your name is specifically mentioned in some way, what you do matters greatly to our church and to our mission and ministry.    

I would start by thanking our parish staff, which works very hard and very effectively at keeping our worship, our facilities, and our programming on track.  They regularly go above and beyond out of love and concern for this church and its people.  Tina has again been a rock, and continues to learn and try new things as technology and communication changes.  Ron leads our music in worship, but also does a wide variety of other things to nurture and sustain our church community.  Fred works to keep the buildings clean and in good order so we can welcome the many people who use the building each week, from our community lunch guests and ECS clients to Cana’s Corner Coffeehouse to the Girl Scouts to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church plant that meets here Sunday afternoons to the Mental Health Commission to twelve-step groups to people taking music lessons to the model club to the Relay for Life to cooking classes to birthday and anniversary parties.  Deacon Erin and her family have been a blessing to St. John’s in a number of ways, including her continuing work exploring how we can engage younger families who don’t attend church but are seeking to find a faith community in the midst of busy and often overwhelming lives.

Thanks for helping us with our facilities also goes to Jesse Fiske and his crew for their work on the building over the past two years.  In addition to repointing our buildings, they have installed storms for our office windows that have made a big difference this winter, built a base for our new sign, repaired and protected the stained-glass windows in the choir room, cleaned out the narthex tower, put an awning over the ECS staircase, and completed a few smaller projects.  Thanks, too, for all who contribute to our Believe and Prepare Capital Campaign that has made all that work possible, and to Donna and Angelo Stamoolis who have headed up that work.

Thank you, also, to all who support to St. John’s generally.  As you can see in our Annual Report, we received more contributions in almost every area than we budgeted.  That generosity has allowed us to finish another year in the black.  We also should offer our thanks to those who have gone before us and made final gifts to our parish.  The bequests made by many, of all sizes, at this point provide an income of about $100,000 a year to support our parish.  Wills and other end of life planning documents are important for you and your family, and as you do that work, I would encourage you to consider leaving a gift to St. John’s to support our ministry over the long-term.

Because people are so generous to this church, financial transparency and accountability are important.  St. John’s has a long history of prudently and responsibly caring for its resources, but technology and software changes, so we have signed up for a new database and accounting package.  We are taking it one step at a time, and every step is slower than might be hoped, but we expect over the next year to allow people to make on-line gifts as well as check their own giving records and their church directory profile on-line through their own password-protected account. 

This new accounting software was one of our goals for this year that was initiated by Gary Funderlich, who in a short time at St. John’s touched many lives deeply.  A significant part of our work this year was saying goodbye and commending Gary and others of our parish and family into a fuller life with God.  We conducted sixteen funerals at the church this year, in addition to a number of former parishioners whose funerals were elsewhere, and there were many other funerals of family members of parishioners who were truly part of our extended parish family.  I have never been a part of this many funerals in a single year. Our witness to the resurrection of Jesus as we give thanks for the lives of our loved ones is an important part of the life of the church.

We have had other transitions this year, as well, as we continue to welcome new members and say goodbye to people as jobs or other opportunities take them elsewhere.  This spring, Bishop Sean confirmed seven people at the Easter Vigil, including four adults, and many others have become part of our congregation since. 

In addition to our facilities and financial software, we have focused on a few other projects this year.  Our Natural Church Development Team looked at ways to deepen the loving relationships within the parish.  We spent much of Lent exploring ways to deal with conflict in a Christian way.  We learned about emotional triangles and overcoming resentments, and worked at talking across differences, while also developing a guide for Christian conflict resolution.  The NCD team initiated the “Person of the Month” and the “thank you” box in the lounge, as well as the specific recognition of some of our ministries during our services this year.  Thank you to the NCD team, which includes Tracy Schliep, Hannah Hancock, Katie Tingler, Ron Gracilla, Sandy Geiwitz, Debbie Gibson, Cleo Myers, Josh Herald, and Michael Wachter.         

The vestry this year spend some time exploring where we are as a church generally, and whether there were any major course corrections that needed to be made.  We spent a meeting with a consultant on strategic planning, and we thought about what St. John’s means to us.  While we know that there are always areas to work on and improve, and we would like to develop a more specific vision for the future of St. John’s, we believe that we are on track.  Our purpose statement, that we Worship God, Care for People, and Grow as Christians, still rings true, and our guiding principles are still the basic values of our congregation.

The vestry also had some robust discussions about best practices for caring our community, especially as we have become more engaged with our changing neighborhood over the past few years.  A sermon series this fall shared some of the dilemmas that I have had determining how best to help people coming with significant needs, as well as raising questions of vocation and goals for our outreach work and sharing some best practices.  The parish alms fund which we use for direct emergency assistance has been well funded this year, in part because donations to me or the church from weddings and funerals go into that fund.  We have given out about $10,000 in emergency assistance this year, which is almost double some past years, and working with people in crisis has been a larger portion of my work this past year.

This summer during my doctor of ministry residency, I took a class on community engagement and these issues with my colleagues.  I also completed my ministry project for my thesis this fall, which was taking eight community leaders on prayerwalks to help them see their community through God’s eyes.  One of the people who is helping me with my thesis work is the consultant we engaged for our parish Seeing Through New Eyes process, Dave Daubert.  I am currently working on writing and editing the final thesis, and will share some of what I’ve learned that at an appropriate time later this year when I’m finished.

I want to thank the vestry for all of their very good work this year.  Thanks to Madge Tamber, Barb Lipinski, and Tracy Schliep who are finishing their terms, to Keith Rowlands for stepping into the role of Senior Warden mid-year, Nick Baron who came on the vestry to become treasurer mid-year, to Al Seladi for his work as Junior Warden, and to Linda Hauk and Robert Barletta.  Thanks too to Matthew Ciszek who served as secretary, but who has moved to Erie for a new job.  He and Michael will be missed. 

In many ways the annual report is the time to highlight what has made this particular year different or significant.  Yet the primary work we do here is the steady, consistent work of worshipping God, caring for people, and growing as Christians that happens week in and week out.  I want to thank all those who help us with the crucial work of worship, including the altar guild, the choir, our ushers, lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, greeters, acolytes, and those who decorate for our special services.  So many people care for so many others, and I want to thank those who work with and support Episcopal Community Services, with our Saturday lunch, the ministries of the Episcopal Church Women, our fellowship opportunities like the morning munchies, and our Eucharistic visitors who take time to care on many levels to our parishioners that can no longer make it to church.  I also want to recognize those who help us grow as Christians, including the adult Sunday school group and our tween and children’s Sunday School teachers.  This parish does wonderful ministry on many levels that touches many lives, and whatever gifts you offer, they are appreciated. I finally just want to say thank you for the continuing privilege and joy of being your rector.  This parish is a great community that I am grateful to be a part of, and I look forward to our ministry in 2018! 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Talking About Baptisms

Epiphany 1 RCL
                                                           Rev. Adam T. Trambley                                  
January 7, 2018, St. John’s Sharon

I think there is a reason why John the Baptist shows up every January in our lectionary readings.  He at least wants to challenge us, but I think he also may be mocking us just a little bit.  Right about now, going out into the desert, stepping into a nice warm river in the sunshine sounds pretty good – whether to swim, be baptized, or just play Marco Polo, I don’t really care, as long as I don’t need to shovel snow off the sidewalk to get there.  Usually about a week or two into January is also when New Year’s resolutions are dropping off.  We’ve skipped the gym, eaten the last few of our favorite Christmas cookies, snuck a cigarette, and spent an evening scrolling through Facebook instead of cleaning the house or reading that New York Times bestselling self-help volume.  Here comes John with a call to repent, to make us all perhaps feel just a little bit guiltier.  At least this year, Mark’s gospel doesn’t recount John calling anyone a brood of vipers. 

Yet, if we turn to the reading from Acts of the Apostles this morning, we hear a very different perspective on John’s baptism.  Paul has gone to Ephesus, where he spends a number of years in his ministry and then later he leaves and writes them a letter.  Ephesus is an important early Christian place.  We have traditions that put John the Evangelist and possible even Jesus’ mother in Ephesus later in their lives.  But when Paul shows up, the disciples there have only experienced the baptism of repentance that John offered.  They have never been baptized in the name of Jesus, and have never even heard of the Holy Spirit. 

This omission might not be surprising.  John the Baptist was a big deal in the ancient world.  He was a religious gadfly to some pretty important government leaders, and all sorts of people, even those not fleeing cold climates, came out in the desert to hear him preach and to be baptized by him.  However these disciples got to Ephesus, which is a city in Asia Minor in present-day Turkey, they had experienced John’s baptism.  They knew what John had instructed, even if their understanding of Jesus message was much less developed.

Saint Paul is never shy about telling people the full gospel, however, so he lets the Ephesians know that there are two more steps in this process of becoming a believer. John’s baptism of repentance can come first, but then there is the baptism in the name of Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit.  Saint Paul also reminds them that even John said that there was one coming after him who was more important than he was, and that one was Jesus.  The Ephesians, then, waste no time in being baptized in the name of Jesus and then are prayed over and receive the Holy Spirit.  Like many in Acts who receive the Holy Spirit, they begin to speak in tongues and to prophesy.

Let’s look at these three steps into Christian discipleship, and what they mean for us.  First, John’s baptism of repentance.  Second, baptism in the name of Jesus.  Third, receiving the Holy Spirit, called in some circles baptism in the Holy Spirit, although it doesn’t always occur in a dramatically expressive way.

First is John’s baptism of repentance.  As Christians, we are called to repent of our sins, but this is, at best, a small part of our baptism.  We can understand a piece of baptism, especially in adults, as washing away our sins, but the rest of what happens through baptism is much more important. 

Let’s just talk about repentance a minute.  Repentance is vitally important in our walk of faith, and we need to take the time regularly to examine our consciences and turn away from our sins.  We do need to remember that repentance is about us, and, as such, is a small offering to God in light of what he is going to offer to us.  On the one hand, repentance is something we do.  We certainly need God’s grace to do it, but repentance is our action.  God does not do it on our behalf.  On the other hand, repentance benefits us.  When we stop sinning, our lives get better.  Sin is not some list of good behaviors that God puts off limits so he can catch us being bad and punish us.  Sins are those things we do that hurt us and the people around us.  Repenting of our sins means that we can start to have the life we want for ourselves and our families and our communities.  Certainly, we sometimes have to take the advice of more mature people to know how and where we may be hurting others, but repentance is the first step to the joyful life God wants us to live.  He is thrilled for us when we repent, and draws all of us in that direction.

The second step that Paul talks about, and often the first one in our Christian journeys, is baptism in the name of Jesus, or, today, usually in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  This baptism is baptism into the death of Jesus so that we are also baptized into his resurrection.  Here the water imagery is not of cleansing, but of drowning.  We are literally dying to our old selves so that we can be born again as new people in Jesus Christ. 

Obviously, infant baptisms have softened some of this language.  For good reason, those aren’t the images we want with our children.  Plus, when we have babies being born and raised in a Christian home, their dedication, while still a baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, is another step in the life of faith of being raised in the Body of Christ.  Ideally, they have never been outside of the community of faith.  As infant baptisms have replaced adult baptisms, we have also domesticated baptism with our liturgical furnishings.  The art deco baptismal font we have at St. John’s is beautiful, but doesn’t feel very threatening.  No one is likely to drown in it.  Yet baptism in the name of Jesus should be threatening to us.  We are letting go of everything to be born again into a new and eternal life. 

On New Year’s Eve, a few of us from St. John’s joined some African-American churches for a watch night service.  Watch night is a yearly service in the African-American community remembering December 31, 1862 when slaves went to church all night to pray and worship as they watched for the Emancipation Proclamation to declare them free persons on January 1, 1863.  At Second Missionary Baptist in Farrell this year, Pastor McKeathon from Second Baptist Sharpsville preached, and he talked about what we need to leave behind as we enter the new year.  He had a longish list of things like fear, and criticizing people, and running off our mouths, and holding onto too much stuff that we all need to leave behind.  But baptism in the name of Jesus goes beyond even that.  Baptism in the name of Jesus is leaving everything behind.  We really don’t want anything going into the water with us, because we are getting dunked and we need to be free to come up again as new people.  John’s baptism of repentance is letting go of the bad stuff we need to leave behind for our own good.  Baptism in the name of Jesus is letting go of everything, to die to self and to status and to stuff, and letting God bring us out of the water again to live for him.

Once we have died to self and come out of the water for Christ, then we can receive the Holy Spirit.  We pray for this at baptisms when we anoint people with chrism immediately after baptism, and pray, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  Being filled with the Holy Spirit allows us to unlock the gifts we have and be used powerfully for God’s purpose.  The Holy Spirit offers us a sense of closeness with God, and discernment, and whatever else we need to do the work that God has given us to do.  For some people, the Holy Spirit manifests in exuberant signs such as praying in tongues or incredibly joyful singing and extended praying.  For others, the Holy Spirit manifests in much quieter, but equally intense and effective ways.  Part of receiving this fullness of the Holy Spirit is wanting it so that we can love and serve God and our neighbors more fully and completely.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are meant for the building up of the Body of Christ, and all of us have different gifts but they serve the same purpose. 

Now these distinctions were very important to the disciples in Ephesus who had not yet been baptized in the name of Jesus or in the Holy Spirit.  Most of us, however, have been.  So why does this matter for us? 

Well, we aren’t going to be baptized again.  Once we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have brought into the fullness of eternal life.  We don’t have to worry about that.  But even with the Holy Spirit filling us, we aren’t perfect.  We fall back into sin after we repent.  We accumulate various stuff and status and situations that we find very hard to give up to jump in the water and swim with Jesus.  We slip into using our resources for our own benefit instead of offering ourselves to be used by the Holy Spirit.  These failings are easy and all too human.  So we read John the Baptist every January to shake us out of ourselves and recommit again wherever we are.

When I was in Hong Kong at a missions conference in 2015, one of the presenters was an incredible missionary in Southeast Asia, probably in his 40’s or 50’s.  He had planted churches and preached the gospel in places that were incredibly dangerous to evangelize.  He had seen friends persecuted and even die for their faith.  He was working in a new area and not getting any traction.  He felt a tug to go and evangelize at a local college.  He didn’t want to do it.  He didn’t see how it could be effective at that point, and it was sort of “been there, done that” feeling.  Then he described having an encounter with God where he felt convicted that he had to offer everything back to God again.  He said, I’ve already given you everything, God.  And he heard God reply that he had to give everything again.  He told us that he realized that after he had set out on his Christian life, at some point he had started to value the comfort and ease his life was taking on.  But God still wanted him to give up everything so he could receive everything from God and the Holy Spirit.  So he made the decision to hand everything over to God again.  And he went to the college, and he quickly planted a new church that developed great energy and joy beyond his wildest expectations.

We aren’t all going to be missionaries to Southeast Asia, but God probably does have a ministry with the college students in our community he is calling someone to take on.  I don’t know if that call is for someone here today, but I do know that God does have something in mind for each and every one of us.  If we don’t feel like we are doing it, we should look at ourselves closely. We might find that we have become one of the barriers to achieving what God has in store for us.  Maybe we have decided to let our fear, or our comfort, or our convenience, or our desire to look good or sensible or sane in the eyes of those around us, or our security, or our attachment to our own favorite sins to be our first priority, and let God and his will for us slip down the list a ways.  We all fall into that trap at some point.  But John the Baptist and Paul remind us of the way out.  Just follow Paul’s early baptism instruction.  Repent of our sins.  Remember our baptism in Jesus’ name when we died and rose with him, and let everything that gets in the way of that float down the river without us.  Then ask the Holy Spirit to give us whatever we need to do the work God gives us to do, because God will never call us to something without equipping us to do the work. The twelve disciples at Ephesus became the core of a church that changed the world.  Who knows what God has in mind for us.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40, 2 Peter 3, John the Baptist, and God's Salvific Timing

Advent 2B RCL
                                                           Rev. Adam T. Trambley                                  
December 10, 2017, St. John’s Sharon

In the reading from Second Peter today we hear that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  This message is helpful to us in an era when the news cycle is constant, when the Facebook algorithms pump articles and ads at an ever-increasing pace, and when the cell phone vibrates every minute or two with some new notification demanding our immediate attention.  So often we feel like the world will end if we do not respond RIGHT NOW.  But God, who is arguably much more important to everyone and everything else than we are, has let his plan of salvation play out over millennia.  As Peter says, this isn’t slowness, but patience.  God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth is so good that he wants everyone to be able to come to repentance and enter it.  In the meantime, Peter tells us to be at peace while we wait, which can be hard, and to live good lives.

To give a sense of the unfolding salvation of God, I want to focus on today’s reading from Isaiah.  This passage stands at a pivotal place in the Book of Isaiah, and is quoted in the gospel reading about John the Baptist as the fulcrum of a pivotal place in all of Salvation History.  

The first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah are concerned with the prophetic work of the man Isaiah who lived in the 700’s BC and with his interactions with the kings and people of Judah. 

Many of us are familiar with his call story in chapter 6 where he has a vision of the heavenly throne room and says, “Here I am.” (Ron can start to play the song under this portion of the sermon if he wants.) The ending of that call narrative is not so happy.  Isaiah knows he is living among a sinful people, and God tells Isaiah to go prophecy judgment on the people, even though they aren’t going to listen.

Isaiah does prophecy judgment on Israel, but he does not exclusively preach judgment.  In the midst of his judgments are also messages of future hope and restoration.  During his life, the primary geopolitical problem is the Assyrian Empire, and most of his prophecies deal with them.  At the same time, he is willing to challenge the kings to be faithful to God so that Assyria doesn’t destroy Judah as it does to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  His prophecy about a virgin bearing a son comes out of a conversation with King Ahaz, and he later has numerous interactions with King Hezekiah, who manages to remain faithful enough to survive the Assyrian attack – and we have Assyrian records that confirm the Biblical narrative, albeit with a slightly different spin.

The last interaction between Hezekiah and Isaiah we read about comes in Chapter 39, right before today’s passage.  Some emissaries come to visit Hezekiah from a far-away country of Babylon.  Hezekiah decides to show off.  He takes the delegation through all his treasure chambers and shows them his great wealth.  They go back to Babylon, and then Isaiah comes in.  He basically says, “Hezekiah, you are an idiot.  Now Babylon is going to come and invade the country to take all this stuff.”  But Isaiah also says it won’t be during Hezekiah’s life, so Hezekiah decides he doesn’t really care, which is not the long-term planning you want to see in your monarch.

Sometime between chapter 39 and chapter 40, a number of things happen.  Hezekiah dies and the Babylonians do come to Jerusalem.  They destroy the city and take all its treasure, and lead most of its key people into exile.  Isaiah the prophet also dies, at least we assume.  We are never told in scripture about his death, although a number of interesting stories have grown up over the years.  Either before he died he somehow wrote and preserved the rest of the book of Isaiah, chapters forty through sixty-six; or, much more likely, at a later time, one of Isaiah’s disciples drew on the many threads of the prophet’s words to show how they spoke into the new context of the Babylonian exile and then, later, the very difficult return from exile.  Chapter 40, which we read today, is the beginning of this second body of Isaian prophecy.

I’m only going to look at some of the links found between today’s reading and the first part of Isaiah.  We could spend all day on them.  Knowing they are there is important because it helps us see the connections between Isaiah beginning his work in the 700’s and the Babylonian captivity beginning 150 years later, and the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem a few generations after that the exile.  By the time we get to Isaiah being quoted in our gospel, over 700 years have passed.  Isaiah’s prophecies continue to speak about how the salvation God is unfolding over the long haul.

The setting for this opening of the second portion of Isaiah is once again the heavenly throne room we first saw in Isaiah chapter 6.  Now, however, instead of a command to preach doom and gloom, God says to “Comfort my people,” that her penalty is paid and her punishment is over.  The threads of restoration found throughout Isaiah’s prophecies are taking center stage. 

Then the prophecy of salvation comes forward with one of God’s heavenly servants crying out, “Prepare the way for the Lord.”  The thrust of this passage in context of Isaiah is that the presence of God is coming for all people to experience it.  Since getting to where God is going requires passing through the wilderness, that is where this highway of God is to be prepared. 
A heavenly voice then says to cry out, but the response is skeptical.  “What shall I cry?” another voice asks, noting that people are weak and fickle and quickly disappear.  Then the first voice answers, noting that yes, “the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”  The heaven instruction here is saying two things.  First, generally, even if we can’t rely on people, we can rely on the Word of God and God’s promises.  But more specifically, the voice is reassuring us that all of Isaiah’s original prophecies that were over a hundred years old then and are even older now, are still reliable because the Word of our God will stand forever.  Now the holy city of Jerusalem is to be the messenger proclaiming to all God’s people that God is here and is coming with a reward, feeding his flock, gathering his lambs, and gently leading the mother sheep.

This prophetic Word of God proclaimed by Isaiah and then applied to a new context will unfold in another new way in our Gospel passage.  The voice crying in Isaiah 40 is identified in Mark as a prophecy looking forward to John the Baptist.  He is the voice in the wilderness crying out “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  He is calling the people to make straight paths for God to come.  Finally, centuries after this prophecy of God coming to his people, God is actually coming to his people as, among other things, the Good Shepherd feeding his flock. 

John the Baptist also gives details about how this prophecy will be fulfilled.  He has specifics about what it means to make straight the paths and to experience the Glory of the Lord that is to be revealed.  Preparing the way means repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  That preparation in the wilderness of the heart allows an encounter with Jesus, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, allowing us to know his presence with us always.  For John, these words had a particular understanding during his life and ministry, but we know they continue to be relevant even for us today.  We don’t have to go out to the Jordan riverbank like the people of John’s day, but his words still matter for us.  As we repent of our sins, we open the way for a full experience of God, and when we receive the Holy Spirit of Jesus in our lives, we come to know the power and the love of God in an abiding and intensely personal way.      

Imagine, though, that you were a faithful Jew living at the time of John the Baptist.  You may have been waiting your whole life.  Your people had been waiting for hundreds of years to finally have this important prophecy of salvation come to fruition.  We know from Luke’s gospel the stories of Anna and Simeon who had waited their lives to see the coming of God in Jesus Christ.  Why God took as long as he did, I don’t know.   But we can trust that God had a plan.

That trust and patience is the message of Second Peter.  While we are waiting eagerly for Jesus to come back in power and put things right, we can know that the delay is allow for a fuller measure of salvation.  Peter says that God wants all to come to repentance and none to be lost, so he is taking his time, which is not the same as our time.  We can be grateful for the hundreds of years that Isaiah’s prophecies percolated to bring us to the message of John the Baptist and the coming of Jesus.  We can be grateful, too, that God is doing something that will be good for us and for many others as we wait for the fullness of the love, joy, and peace of the coming Kingdom of God. 

A good practice this month would be to live into God’s long-term perspective.  The holiday season often adds to the tyranny of the to-do lists and the press of the immediate.  Remember, that whether we check all the boxes or not, Jesus is still coming back on his schedule and he is bringing the fullness of salvation. We can have faith in him, even if he seems to delay a bit.  As we live into that trust, our anxiety should abate and our peace increase.

I want to end with a story about Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  He had a habit of spending 24 hours each month on a retreat with his spiritual director, and he didn’t allow anything to interfere with that time.  During the most tumultuous period of apartheid’s end, people like the President of South Africa or other leaders sometimes felt like they had to talk to him NOW.  But if Archbishop Tutu was on retreat talking to God, he didn’t take their calls.  In retrospect, they said that his dedication to something greater helped them keep things in perspective and have a greater peace about their own situation.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with us.  While you are waiting…strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.