Jeremiah 23:1-6 23Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. 5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Luke 1:68-79 68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
73the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Colossians 1:11-20 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Luke 23:33-43 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Good morning, St. Matthew! We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging that hard past and praying our way into a better future.
And so we pray.
O Glorious Lord, today we celebrate your servant, Andrew, the first to recognize and follow the Son of God. With his friend, John, he remained with Jesus, for his entire life, and now throughout eternity. Just as he led his brother, Peter, to Christ and many others after him, draw us also to follow him to Christ. Teach us how to lead people to you, solely out of love for Jesus and in dedication to His service. Help us to learn the lesson of the Cross and to carry our own crosses with that same dedication to faith and service that we see in your servant Andrew. In your name, we pray, Amen.
This morning, our hands are overflowing with liturgical riches. In following the Orthodox Advent spiral, we are commemorating the life and witness of the apostle, Andrew. Andrew is the disciple named in the Gospels as the first one to understand who Jesus is – he is the brother of Simon Peter and brings the very rock upon which the church is built to meet the Lord. Andrew in Orthodox circles is a very big deal indeed – he is the one who is credited with founding the church at Constantinople which becomes the centre of the Eastern Church in 38AD. We are told his witness extended up into the Caucasus, and he becomes the patron saint of Romanis, Ukraine and Russia. His very name tells us something of his character and background – unlike Simon Peter, his brother, he is not recorded as having a Hebrew or Aramaic name – only the Greek “Andrah-ee-ah” – literally meaning the “brave, manly one”. James and John get recorded as the fighting brothers, but it seems that Simon and Andrew were the real deal – big men who fished and went about their business with skill and persistence. When he was martyred in 60AD, tradition holds that he refused to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus, so his cross became an “X”. Therefore, his symbol is that “X” – a St. Andrew’s cross, which some of us with Scots heritage might recognise as the central symbol on the flag of Scotland. There’s a lot in his life that we could lift up today, but his is not the only event we celebrate today.
Today is also Christ the King Sunday, when the Western Church is ending its time in Pentecost and turns toward the beginning of the four-week Advent next Sunday. As we do so, we are invited to recall who the Babe in the manger will grow to become – the Saviour who comes for all, who will literally spend every moment of his life extending a call to any who will listen to come and be a part of the kindom of God. So the Gospel today is lifting up the story of the thief on the cross – the one who, in his dying moments, is invited to receive the riches of heaven, and who chooses those riches in a new faith, born out of the witness of seeing who Jesus is, even in his death. Understand this – even in the grinding destruction that Rome was placing on these convicts – they could not obliterate the Divinity that shone from Jesus. Balanced with that shining Divinity manifest in his death, we have Mary’s words from Luke about Jesus’ shining beginning. This peasant girl from the backwater of Galilee, knows what is happening inside of her and you better believe she is going to proclaim that Divinity, to name that Divinity and CLAIM that Divinity! In his letter to the Colossians, Paul isn’t shy about his proclamation either; “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell!”
And as if this isn’t enough, we are also lifting up the Day of TransRemembrance, recalling that far too many of our trans-siblings have lost their lives to prejudice and hatred, have lifted up their truth only to be met with condemnation and judgement from a world that says to them “We don’t want to see you, we don’t choose to know you, we don’t allow you to be who you are.” In 2021, there were 50 reported trans murder victims, as well as 32 reported in 2022. Listed here are those recorded deaths. https://www.hrc.org/resources/fatal-violence-against-the-transgender-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2022 . These are siblings who found their truth to be contrary to the bodies in which they were born. If that’s hard to wrap your head around – I want you to take a moment and think about your own body. If you are one of the very few who can think of nothing you’d like to change – hurray. But most of us have parts and pieces that we would change in an instant if we were given the chance.
How many of us joke about being surprised by the old lady or the old man in the mirror? Surely that is not the truth of who I am! Cher once famously said that in her head, she’s still 25. And she has had the luxury of wealth and time to try and keep some of that 25-year-old alive. The lifts, the tucks, the injections – hey, it’s her body, right? What does it matter to me? Now – if that mirror shows you a face so far from your truth that you cannot reconcile the difference between that face and your truth – would you not try your best to bring them into alignment? Who we are is not just the meat on our bones – but that meat is important. It speaks of our reality; it models the person we want the world to see. It is the reason you will see that even in the poorest places on the planet, people will still care about the clothes on their back – and why, in any crisis, after being fed and housed, the first things people look for is their personal stuff. I have seen men and women stuck in nursing homes with a barely functioning body insist on just that blouse and just those shoes. Two days before my mother died, the hospice cut and styled her hair. It meant nothing; it meant everything. The meat that covers our bones we mold to tell the story of our inner lives.
When Jesus incarnated as that baby in the manger, God was choosing to tell a story in human flesh. It is a story that Mary heard and recognized – and allowed it to transform her flesh for the glory of God. It may touch a sensitive part of our flesh – but we had a conversation here last week where we talked about the places I have lived in, both here and in states on the East Coast. And I shared that one of things that is true about being a small-town Midwesterner among the big city folks is the very real chip on my shoulder that gets jostled whenever my homeland is referred to as “fly over country”. Now Chicago folk may be less susceptible to that perceived slight, but as someone raised in Oshkosh, the words hit home. And they hit harder because when I looked in the mirror, I never saw a girl from Oshkosh. It truly wasn’t that I dislike the small-town world; I just knew that it wasn’t my world. Followers of Jesus might recognise that idea when Paul writes to the Romans in chapter 2, verse 2 – “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We are called to be people who model for the world what is means to live with the knowledge that we are not limited to the meat of our bones; we are called to live as change agents – people who are confident that we are transforming daily to become more of the people who we were created to be.
And that means that we don’t encounter each other as hicks or city slickers, as unmarried mothers or polished church ladies, as thief or law enforcement, as Catholic or Protestant, as Roman or Orthodox, as Jew or Greek, as slave or master, or as male or female. No! We don’t operate in faith on the criteria of appearance – we are instead called to meet each other in one identity only – as CHILDREN OF GOD. This journey to the manger is not easy, not in the least because all of us are prone to meet the flesh and miss the Spirit. Maybe that is why we get so hung up on that flesh – why we want to hang on to the judgey bits of our sinful self. But that’s not where we are called – we are called to meet each other, no matter what our circumstances, as embodiers of God’s love. If that embodiment is in working man’s jeans or Michael Kors latest – If that embodiment is unhoused and unwashed or living large in McMansions – If that embodiment wears three-foot hair and has a killer swish, if they wear a chest binder or know how to tuck their bits – we meet them as our sibling and we love them. That is what this manger walk calls us to – to hear God’s call from out of the blue – to be willing to lay all things aside, and travel to a stable, bringing our Spirit filled embodied meat to encounter the miracle of God incarnate – the Divine enfleshed in a baby’s skin. There will be many who will not believe in Jesus’ true divinity, who will be so enraged as his declaration of his truth that they will kill him for it. But there will be some who will meet him in his true self and are literally transformed – and who will, in their turn, live that embodied truth, transforming all the world.
The choice this morning is ours – will we conform or transform? Look in the mirror – in this season of Advent, be brave enough to let your outside match your inside.