Sylvania United Church of Christ
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The sermon for week November 27, 2016

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A New Season

"A New Season”

Isaiah 2:1-5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Today I feel a need to offer a confession. My confession is centered around my use of my smartphone. It all started innocently, when I switched to using my smartphone as my alarm clock when my bedside alarm clock went on the fritz. My morning routine changed as a result. The alarm goes off. I silence it. Since it is now in my hand, I google the UCC daily devotion and spend a minute or two reading it. Feeling good that I began the day on a positive spiritual note, I then hit my news app. and for the next 10-20 minutes or more I spend reading the morning news. I had not thought about this change in my routine until I read an editorial in The Christian Century written by the editor, Peter W. Marty 1.

He wrote the following,
“Ever since I started using my smartphone as a morning alarm clock, my wake-up habits have shifted. Instead of engaging in prayer to open my day – once a regular feature of my rising…I check the news. When I lean over the edge of the bed to shut off the alarm, I notice my screen displaying news alerts that arrived overnight. Of course I click on them, wondering what I might have heroically saved in the world had I stayed up all night…I’m consumed by the news.” Then he asks the question, “Do we actually consume the news, or does the news consume us? Either way, it’s hardly a noble activity.”

He goes on to quote Alain de Botton, a British-based philosopher and author of The News: A User’s Manual. Marty writes that, “de Botton believes that in contemporary culture, news has largely replaced religion as “our central source of guidance and out touchstone of authority.” The news – not scripture, tradition, or inspired ritual – informs how we handle suffering and make moral choices….It makes us more shallow than we may want to admit.”
If he is correct, I am challenged by this thought. The last thing that I want to become is more shallow. My fear is that he may very well be correct. The ten or twenty minutes that I spent scanning the news feeds was time not spent in prayer or reading a devotional. And I must admit there is little in the news that is edifying or life altering, whereas time spent in prayer or reading spiritual writings is almost always edifying and life altering.
Martin Luther King, one time quoted Theodore Parker, a Unitarian Minister from the early part of the 1800’s. In a sermon calling for the abolition of slavery Parker said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I would like to think that as a moral person I am participating in this arc of the universe. My morning rituals certainly do not appear to be bending me in that direction.

So today on this first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of a new Christian year, if you are like me, spending precious time of your day responding to all of the chirps and vibrations coming from your smartphones, time that takes you and me away from participating in the bending of the arc of the universe, let us take this time to stop and reflect on who we have become.

One thing that I suspect has happened to us as we spend more time being consumed by the news, is that we are less hopeful about the future. The more we read and watch armed conflicts, whether they be in Syria or Afghanistan, or the more we hear of another black youth or police officer killed here in the United States, the less likely we are able to connect with the vision that Isaiah was casting, that of a world where they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Sadly a vision that cannot be imagined is a vision that will never come into being. My fear is that we are a generation that is losing its imagination.

For instance, when I was an early teen, the Vietnam was came to an end. Our country went for almost the next 15 years without involvement in war. By the time I was 30 years old, I had lived half of my life in peace time. Compare that time to my oldest son who was born in 1990. He is now 26 with no memory of a time when we have not been at war. His whole generation has not experienced a time of peace. We now have a generation for the first time in memory that cannot imagine what peace can be like for they have no experience of it. What cannot be imagined is not likely to become a reality.

Isaiah’s prophetic words call us to reclaim our imagination. The prophet’s words are so graceful, so haunting, so expressive of our deepest yearnings that they have been etched into a wall called the “Isaiah Wall.” This wall stands in the park opposite the United Nations. It serves as a public reminder to the leaders of the nations of this world of the vision of the “Beloved Community,” a community where peace reigns and where there is justice for all people.

There are many in this world that have lost the ability to imagine such a world that Isaiah envisions. In a reflection on peace and justice, Mary Hinkle Shore suggests, "even skeptics have to admit that justice, safety, and widespread prosperity have a better chance of resulting in peace than injustice, danger, and disparity of wealth" (New Proclamation Year A 2007-2008).

So as we enter this season of Advent, a season that gives us four weeks to prepare to receive God’s gift to us, a gift that changed the world, a gift that lived Isaiah’s vision into being. It is a gift that challenges us to take the vision of a peace and justice filled world and to live it into being. So let us prepare by setting aside those things that distract us from participating in that great arc as it moves toward justice. Let us become like the 100 year old woman who on the occasion of her birthday, when she was being interviewed by a reporter and asked, Do you have children?” She responded, “Not yet!” Or let us be like a little farm girl on her 12th birthday, who got up before dawn and ran out to the barn. She had asked her parents for a pony and was hoping that it would be there. She flung open the barn door, but in the dim light, could see no pony, only mounds of horse manure. Being an optimist she declared, “With all of this manure around, there must be a pony in there somewhere.”

Young or old, let us use this time that is given to us to and let us “walk in the light” of which Isaiah speaks. Do not allow the distractions of this world, whether they be the constant news alerts pinging on our phones, or facebook posts, or cute cat videos, cause us to lose our way. Let us keep our eye on that vision that Isaiah cast and for which Jesus lived and died. Let us find ways, whether as individuals or as a community of faith to continue to bend the arc toward justice and toward peace. Let us make that commitment as we enter this season of Advent, a season whose purpose is for us to prepare our lives for Christ to find a home. The arc awaits our bending…

1Peter W. Marty, “Consumed by the News,” The Christian Century, November 23, 2016, p. 3.

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