First Weekend of Advent (C/RCL)
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
November 28-29, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Have I ever told you how much I did not want to be in parish ministry?? Some of you know the story. As a Roman Catholic laywoman I served as a hospice and as a hospital chaplain. I was happy in my ministry at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, and felt I was doing a pretty good job of it. I became a Lutheran in 1988, the year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed. I entered the candidacy process of the MetroChicago Synod of the ELCA to seek ordination. I already had a seminary degree and was working full-time in my hospital ministry, but spent the next few years taking part-time classes at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, to become “Lutheranized” .
I knew I’d have to do an internship in a parish before being endorsed for a call. (No Lutheran is ordained without first receiving a call to serve a particular community.) On the books, full-time internship was a requirement, but I petitioned the candidacy committee to make an exception and allow me to serve as an intern part-time, so I could stay on at Lutheran General. ‘Made sense to me. I’d already been a full-time teacher and pastoral caregiver. Surely I could pick up whatever else I needed to know on a part-time basis.
The committee didn’t agree! I was so upset leaving the meeting at which I learned I’d have to quit my job at the hospital to head for a parish that I blew through a stop sign and broadsided a car driven by a student from the University of Chicago. He was giving a tour of Hyde Park to his grandparents who were visiting from Iowa. Their tour continued after we detoured to the local precinct to fill out a police report.
I did the internship, received a call from St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Mundelein, IL, and was ordained. Another ELCA requirement is that pastors serve in the parish for 3 years before being endorsed for specialized ministry, like hospital chaplaincy. I was going to put in my 3 years to the day and go back to the hospital where I’d come from!
2 ½ years into my first call, Kristiane was born, and we moved back to NJ. I accepted the call to serve at Holy Trinity. After almost 23 years of being ordained and over 19 years in Manasquan, I’m still in parish ministry. Have I ever told you how much I love being in parish ministry??
I retell this story today because of our second lesson from 1 Thessalonians. Paul writes:
Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. (1 Thess. 3:10)
He’s the pastor, they’re the flock, and he wants to minister to them spiritually. And yet a few verses earlier he also said:
6… Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love… 7For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith… 9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?
The witness of faith of the people in Thessalonica lightened Paul’s burdens. They ministered to him. You minister to me. I’ve been in some narrow straits, I’ve been in some troubling and sad circumstances over the years, and you have been there for me and my family. You are the flock who ministers to the shepherd. How can I thank God enough for you??
There is joy in baptizing healthy babies in the bosom of the community of faith. There is joy in confirming the children I have baptized, and in officiating at the weddings of youth I have confirmed. There is sadness in burying those I have known long and loved well, but there is such strength in community. The Holy Spirit uses your love and care for each other to weave a blanket of comfort to wrap ‘round those who suffer for any reason.
Paul’s prayer for his friends in Thessalonica is this:
12…may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.
The Message paraphrase of that is:
…may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you.
Examples of your love for all (and not just those whose names we know and faces we love) include hosting Family Promise guests, helping to stock the local food pantry, delivering furniture, linens and kitchenwares to people from way down in Ocean County to way up in Monmouth County, taking tags from the Giving Tree and buying Christmas gifts for anonymous friends, and sending our Thanksgiving offering to Lutheran Disaster Relief to help neighbors we’ve never met cope with the aftermath of flooding in the southern states.
Today’s lesson from 1 Thessalonians ends with this prayer from Paul:
13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
That verse is the reason this passage was chosen for this first weekend of Advent. Our Lord’s coming again is sometimes referred to as His Second Advent, the first having been in Bethlehem. We also believes He comes today, in those we serve outside this place, and right here in the Word of God, in the Wine and Bread of Holy Communion, in the waters of Baptism.
We believe we are made holy in Holy Baptism. Elizabeth Bryn and Finneas James, baptized last night, Ethan Michael baptized today, are already loved by God, before they were born, no less before they are baptized. But in Holy Baptism they are made holy, consecrated, set apart for God’s work in this world. Mystically joined to our Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, these newly hatched children become a new creation in Christ. They now have an inexhaustible well of God’s love and power available to them. But, like us, they need to learn to dip their bucket into that well – or, to use another image, to swim in the ocean of God’s love.
We are spiritual billionaires! So let’s not live like paupers! Let’s draw on the holy inheritance that is ours through Holy Baptism. Then we shall live lives of faith-active-in-love and shall be ready when our Lord comes again or when we go to Him. Amen.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham