Sunday, November 29, 2015

All the Trees, Luke 21

All the Trees by C. Craig Topple
Commerce Presbyterian Church
November 29, 2015

Slide: Signs

The 1997 hit romantic comedy - fools rush in -
features Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry as two young people who meet by “fate”,
they have almost nothing in common,
and try to decide if they are meant to be together by relying on signs.
Any kind of sign, a necklace breaking, a flight delay,
a full moon..what does it all mean?  
Searching for answers a priest on the street says to no one in particular....”there are signs everywhere.”
Matthew Perry’s character engages him, “What? What was that?”
There are signs everywhere, he says, then he points a billboard sign...

“Signs signs everywhere there’re signs blocking up the scenery breaking my mind,
do this don’t do that can’t you read the signs!?”

Lots of these signs around
Well, can’t you read the signs?
Jesus says, signs, signs everywhere there’re signs…
pointing to destruction: signs in the sun, the moon (did any of you see it last night?, the stars!
On the earth there is distress among nations which is confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
Sounds like global warming to me.
Sounds like Isis to me.
Sounds like Fox news, CNN, or any other 24 news channel trying to get in our heads to me!

“Shall I go on?” Jesus asks: More signs?
Look at the fig tree.
Look at all the trees ...and their leaves....

Is Jesus saying we need to be able to read signs from nature better?
SLIDE: Little Tree.
In his award winning book, The Education of Little Tree, Forest Carter tells of life with his Cherokee grandparents.  
Of sitting with his grandfather watching the sun rise over a mountain one winter morning. Go to that scene...
"... we watched the mountain while we ate.  
The sun hit the top like an explosion, sending showers of glitter and sparkle into the air.  
The sparkling of the icy trees hurt the eyes to look, and it moved down the mountain like a wave as the sun backed the night shadow down and down.  A crow scout sent three hard calls through the air, warning we were there.
And now the mountain popped and gave breathing sighs that sent little puffs of steam into the air.
She pinged and murmured as the sun released the trees from their death armor of ice.
Grandpa watched, same as me, and listened as the sounds grew with the morning wind that set up a low whistle in the trees.  'She's coming alive,' he said soft and low, without taking his eyes from the mountain."
'Yes sir,' I said, 'she's coming alive.'  And I knew right then that me and Granpa had us an understanding that most folks didn't know." ¹
Little Tree learned from his Grandpa how to read the signs of art that takes time, practice and patience.  which, as Little Trees says gives,, " understanding that most folks don't know."

Look at the fig and all the trees..
SLIDE: Advent begins today
Advent calendar

We are in Advent Season.  "advent" means - to come to," expecting the arrival of Christ.  
Historically,  Advent was always a period of fasting--not a bad idea after heavy Thanksgiving meals!
Advent was a time of prayer--advent devotionals are avalialbe on and on the table in the narthez!  --
advent a time of watching and waiting, preparing for the coming of Christ--Immanuel--God with us.

In our passage from Luke--Jesus begins by talking about signs ...signs that really can get us down.
What story did you see on the news this week that got you down?
What event has happened in your life that made you want to throw in the towel and give up?
Slide: Ruby sad after UGA game.

Jesus says there will be many signs that will really get us down.
and as a result:
People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken:  
Shaken, unsteadiness, trembling, worry, fear.
So much can get us down if we let it.
So much can get us down for good reason.
Ya’ll have been praying for Trasie’s father who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and went through surgery recently.
After surgery he was about three weeks without doing much of anything....  
He was really down…
We know the body heals better when we stay positive and people were trying to remind him to stay positive.
easier said than done because, as he said, he was worried.   
thinking a lot about some pretty difficult things,
not sure if he was going to make it, or
how much longer he had.  
He felt paralized. Lost. Out of control.
Like life was slipping away from him.
Our visit with them this past week meant so much, and has helped him to get to a better place.
SLIDE: BAYMAX hugging Hiro
In Hiro's heart by
We watched Big Hero 6 together and Baymax reminded us: ‘Those that suffer a loss require support from friends and loved ones.’

When we experience loss,
And are captured by fear and worry--we can have a tendency to shrink, spend a lot of time looking down.
- looking down at our computers or phones finding more information to reinforce our fears.
---Looking down because we don’t want to see what is going on around us. Burying our head in the sand.
Looking down affects your posture, you get all hunched over.  
But, amidst the foreboding signs,
Jesus wants to give us just a little nudge.
“Can you look up just  a bit--look up, just to the height of the fig tree. It’s not too tall.  Just look up a bit.”
Fig tree at Crabbe Farm
SLIDE: The fig and all the trees
What happens when we look up just a tiny bit.  to height of the changes you a bit.
And maybe after a little while you might look up a little further...all the trees.

Black Rock Forest view from
It is winter now, but Jesus points to signs of spring---. Budding tips of trees, signs that new life coming.
Many like to portray Jesus as a great warrior who will come and do mighty battle against any number of our perceived and real enemies…
But you know what I think JEsus wanted to battle against more than anything else.
Jesus who came into the world as a baby in a manger, and the christ coming in the clouds we watch and wait for are above all else coming to battle against fear.  
I am told “do not be afraid” appears more than 365 times in the bible.  That means for each day of the year we can find a scripture passage which re enforces the kind of posture we are to take.
Do not fear!
Look up--!
Look up and see the fig tree, and all the trees,
Look up and see the Son of Man coming in the clouds!
Look up--This is a spiritual posture.
From slouched over, to balance and energy.  
Looking up is a posture of being alert.
Looking up is a posture of confidence.
Looking up is a posture of watchfulness.
Jesus seems to be saying, you who have faith, any faith at all….look up.
Look up.

"Are you ready for me to come to you?"
Three brief challenges as we begin this new year in the season of Advent.
  1. During advent let’s Look up, by looking at our relationship with God.
Jesus said: "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." [Lk.21:28]
In other words, when the world starts to get you down, lift your vision upwards...redemption is drawing near.  
Redemption in the coming of the Christ child.  
whose birth calls us to look beyond the present circumstances and remember our relationship with God, and God’s presence not absence with us.
Look up.

2. Advent is a time to look up from the worries of daily living
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly..."[Lk.21:34]
We worry a lot...too much.  About anything.
Amidst ominous signs of times, when days seem meandering and/or meaningless...might be better off hitting the egg-nog a little harder than usual.  
When we believe we are in control, worry and anxiety can rule the roost.  
But this Advent let’s look up and--put our trust in God--commit our circumstances to the only One who has genuine control.
Remember to trust the one who cared enough to come to us in a vulnerable child so long ago.
Another time when Jesus told disciples to look up--look at the birds...and do not worry.

Finally, Advent is a time to center ourselves spiritually
"Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." [Lk.21:36]
Alertness and prayerfulness--spiritual qualities that strengthen us to keep our spiritual orientation in a troubled world.
Be alert--it’s about intention, which can be very different from simply going with the flow or letting life pass you by--
Be about prayer--that time each day when we "stand, in confidence and humility-- before the love of Son of Man"

As we stand at the threshold of another Advent and Christmas season, the word of the Lord calls us to read the somewhat ominous and threatening  "signs of the times"--
and instead of looking down….Look up!   
Look up  at our relationship with God;
look up from daily worries and trusting God is sovereign.
look up to so that we may be centered, spiritually.

May our gracious God give us the perspective to see the meaning of the season and strength to keep a holy Advent.

Song is a wonderful way to keep the spirit of watchfulness and waiting of Advent. O Come O Come Emmanuel is an ancient advent hymn which originated in part from the “Great ‘O’ Antiphons.”
On each day of the week leading up to Christmas, one responsive verse would be chanted, each including a different Old Testament name for the coming Messiah. Each verse acknowledges Christ as the fulfillment of these OT prophesies--in an already-but not yet-kingdom of God. We rejoice at Christ's first coming, while at the same time praying that Christ would come again to perfectly fulfill the promise that all darkness will be turned to light.

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