"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour
Matthew 24:36-44 NRSV
(A first Sunday of Advent Reading for the Revised Common Lectionary)
-Rev. Melissa Fain-
All of us, even the ones who feel utterly hopeless, hope for something. I know that sounds completely backwards. How can the hopeless hope? There have been writers throughout the ages that believe hope is a folly. Hoping for something that might never come is a waste of time. This is the truth I've learned by wandering in the darkness: When we give up our shining beacons of hope, festering and decrepit rocks of hope take their place.
Not all hope is good. Some hopes abscess and rot our culture. This happens when we hope for vengeance, or death. Both can be hopes, and both are not shining beacons of light.
I know what you might be thinking. Holy Chinchilla, Batman! That's too dark for Advent! If you know me, you know any trip into darkness is only to show you the light. Just hang in there with me, and I'll get there. I promise.
Between the end of the Old Testament, and the beginning of The Gospels four hundred years had passed. What had the people been hoping for? A warrior king. They wanted righteous judgement. What did they get? A fragile and innocent baby. In many ways, this was an unfulfilled hope, and that was good.
This season. let's assess our hopes and decide if they are the kind that God fulfills, or the kind we should put aside. We should seek the hope of an innocent and fragile baby, not the hope of a vengeful warrior king.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Last week I spent the time talking about Isaiah, and this week I want to touch on a different prophet: Jeremiah.
There is something else interesting about the text; something worthy of being mentioned here:
There are basically two versions of the Book of Jeremiah. You might initially be thinking I'm talking about the biblical text and an extra-biblical text. No. I'm talking about two texts that predate our English translation of the bible.
The "original" Hebrew bible can be found in two languages: Hebrew and Greek. Here's what's interesting about these two translations.
Finally, the above picture. This is an image of Jeremiah, as painted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
-Rev. Melissa Fain-
There are two general camps when it comes to Isaiah.
I'm part of the camp that believes the Bible is the inspired Word of God. It's not literal, because the moment we became part of it's creation (it was human hands that wrote it down, and continued to write it down through the centuries) it necessarily becomes a flawed document.
That being said, what do we know about Isaiah, and the book attributed to Isaiah?
First of all, some might get antsy hearing the book of Isaiah could have been penned by more than one author. You might be wondering if that makes most of the book a forgery. Don't. Scholars believe the pre-exile voice is the voice of Isaiah. They also believe he had his own disciples. It was not an uncommon occurance during this time period for the followers of a prolific voice to take up his name when continuing their call. This wasn't considered a forgery, but was actually what the average person expected. Let me put it this way, if the whole book was written by one man, that man would be hundreds of years old. Yes, we have people who live hundreds of years, but thats pre-Noah's Ark. No one during this time period is living that long.
Secondly, the book of Isaiah is a great look at the three kinds of prophecy, since the book contains all three types.
I could travel over oceans Cross the deserts, climb the mountains Just to share Your story Bring You glory and win souls for You
And I could sing like an angel Songs so humble and so thankful Full of drama and emotion So the world would know Your truth
I could give away my money And my clothes and my food To restore those people who are poor And lost and down and out
Oh, I could succeed at all these things Find favor with peasants and kings But if I do not love, I am nothing
-Ginny Owens (I Am Nothing) Based on 1 Cor 13
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Five years ago, almost to the day, I would give the most difficult sermon of my ministerial career. It's not an unknown story. God, I wish it was. I wish broken churches would immediately find healing, so they could continue helping others in an already broken world. Five years ago, I learned the depth of the pain the church is living with. Five years ago, almost to to the day, I was asked to resign from a small rural church.
Now, if you are any average Jill or Joe you might think I had it coming. In truth, I did. I spent the first half of the call with a broken ankle, and wasn't allowed to drive. My secretary would pick me up so I could make visits to the hospital and to visit home bound residents. The second half of my call was spent pregnant, and she was a difficult pregnancy. I even made a secret trip to the hospital during the General Assembly in Nashville because something wasn't right. I spent my off days writing sermons, because they didn't offer maternity and I wasn't going to ask for it. (I was a foolish girl.) In fact, one elder suggested I should save my vacation so I would have something when she arrived.
Yeah, I had it coming. The writing was on the wall. When I went for the interview I made three things clear. I wanted to make sure the previous female minister left on good terms, because I didn't want my first full time call to be in a church where they had a negative view of female ministry. I made it clear that I was technology oriented, and explained how I used it up to that point. I wanted to be hired in a church that felt called to take on new ministers. I should have realized that congregants lie when they are desperate. I should have seen the writing on the wall. I didn't, and five years ago, almost to the day, I stood by myself in the parking lot, weeping.
Why was I weeping? I was preaching, even though the Elders thought I should just quit. They were told by higher powers if I didn't preach it would look like I was part of something terrible that would deserve immediate expulsion and having my standing taken away. They knew I hadn't done anything really. In fact, the conversation was simply, "It's a bad fit." So, there I was in the parking lot, preparing myself, when my Kindle did something it had never done, and hadn't done since. It began playing the above song on it's own, without anyone touching it.
That's when I lost it. The message hit me almost immediately. Yeah, the sermon was going to be really difficult to give. It didn't matter that it was written months before, and already sitting on the pulpit. I had to speak to people who wanted me gone, and people who were deeply hurt by the people who wanted me gone. I was about to willingly step into the furnace and allow myself to be burned alive. Yet, as long as I had love, I had something. Nothing I was losing that day was worth anything. I still had God. God was still my employer. The church was simply the accountant.
This morning I was prepared to post something completely different. I was filled with anxiety and frustrations for things completely unrelated to my call as minister. Then the song came up in my feed, as a reminder of five years ago. It was a reminder of why I'm here. I'm a woman, called by God to lead her people. I'm not here for money. I'm not here for fame or glory. I am here because of love, the one love given by God through Jesus Christ. I'm here because I don't want broken ministers and congregants. I'm here because God is my employer, and I am willing to walk through fire to fulfill this call.