Watson Memorial United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Sermons

Beginning Saturday, December 8, 2018, we will be posting sermons by our Pastor, Rev. Blair O'Quinn. Each week we expect to see the latest sermon that was given at WMUMC. Those sermons will remain at least two weeks.
 
 
Sunday, December 16, 2018,  [Wat Mem] Zephaniah 3:14-20

Zephaniah, unlike most prophets, focuses very heavily on oracles. While our modern ears hear these two titles as being synonymous, this is most often is not the case in ancient society. By definition, a prophet is someone who determines the will of a deity. An oracle is a telling of the future. While there is quite a bit of overlap, they are distinct concepts.

Prophets usually were separate from priests, and most often served as advisors to heads of state. Their job was to tell their king what their chosen deity wanted. Often, this would be in the form of conditional statements, such as “do this or God will punish you,” or it would present a problem the commoners were having to the ruler that they might have been blinded to by nature of their position.

This type of prophecy is distinct from an oracle in that it poses this condition. An oracle, by contrast, tells things in far more absolute terms. “This will come to pass” is the tone and spirit of an oracle, rather than the warnings of woah that can yet be avoided.

A prophecy that presents this condition is exceedingly useful to a ruler. It gives them a chance to avoid whatever pitfall they are currently in or might tread into. An oracle by contrast is something unavoidable, often because God has decided to act, and there is nothing that can be done to change God’s mind.

Zephaniah falls in the latter category, but rather than speaking to tales of woah and apocalyptic endings as most of the oracles we remember do, Zephaniah instead speaks of a moment of God setting things right. Oracles, however, are usually cryptic and often are fulfilled in ways the speaker might never have imagined.

This process begins by God taking away the judgments against Israel. Israel had plenty of reasons to be judged harshly: rampant poverty and wealth inequality, corrupt bureaucrats, idolatry, foreign policy that involved Israel in wars it had no business being involved, the list goes on and on. Certainly, the later part had caused the most trouble for Israel politically, as they were stuck between the Assyrian and Egyptian empires’ spheres of influence, and often tried to play one against the other.

This sort of foreign policy would make enemies of the regional great powers, and Assyria was particularly brutal in their enforcement towards their “client kingdoms.” Israel’s political decisions further pulled it away from listening to the Lord, earning the nation its harsh judgments.

But the Lord will be within the midst of Israel. This prediction in the minds of those who first heard it harkens back to the time of a moving tabernacle, with God’s presence made known through the Arc of the Covenant roaming throughout the land, rather than confined into a temple. But none could have predicted the idea of God’s immanent presence being known through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, rather than what the people were more familiar with.

The imagery of God as a warrior also harkens back to a time long gone. To Zephaniah’s contemporaries, it would have reminded them more of the judges of old, such as Joshua, Gideon, Deborah, and Samson. A time when Israel won battles through spectacular means because God went with them. Such imagery would inspire people to know that God would deliver Israel from those that would seek it harm, but pay close attention to what is said. Verse 17 reads: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory;”[1] Nowhere in this text does it specify that God as a warrior will triumph over specific nations, as many other prophets sometimes proclaim. Instead, Zephaniah’s words speak to a warrior victorious. This victory would manifest in God’s triumph over sin and death through Jesus Christ, rather than through leading an army for Israel’s liberation.

But the ordering of the universe is not the only thing Zephaniah speaks about. While such things are amazing and wonderful, superlatives upon superlatives, it can feel a bit distant from our day to day lives. But Zephaniah speaks of the lame being saved, the outcast being gathered, and their shame being taken away. Both are important parts of Jesus’ ministry. Because while it is important to emphasize Jesus’ ultimate salvific role, Jesus still spent time on earth, healing the sick and spending time with the dregs of society.

Even with his pointing to the ultimate coming of the kingdom of God, Jesus still enabled the kingdom he proclaimed to break through on a daily basis to those he encountered while walking the earth.

 It is this spirit of comfort that comes through the kingdom that we celebrate today. This comfort that what ails or isolates us no longer holds sway over our lives is a powerful thing. This comfort, that God will gather us together in our home, the home of God’s kingdom, is what we point to today.

For today, we celebrate the candle of Joy. Joy in this instance isn’t just a childish glee, or that sensation you get from eating something sweet, rather it is a state of being. A Joy of knowing that God has saved us and worked through Jesus Christ. A Joy of being able to be a part of God’s plan for the world, even if we are undeserving. The Joy of being a part of the congregation of God, here and now, in this church.

Joy isn’t simply a fleeting happiness. Joy is a state of exuberance in all things. Because even as the world around us may seem progressively getting worse and worse, and forces seemingly conspire to knock us down a few pegs whenever we start climbing back up on our own, we can still take to the “glad tidings of comfort and joy.” We can take comfort in the kingdom of God, whenever it begins to break into our world. We can be joyful for all the things God has done for us, and embody that joy to all those we encounter. More importantly than even that, we can be the bearer of that comfort and joy to others, and share in the wonders of God’s love for us.

We have a chance to share the wonders of this fulfilled oracle; to show others this positive outcome through the prophet Zephaniah. There is so much to live into, but most importantly today, we are to live into the Joy for all the world, as our “fortunes are restored before our very eyes,” says the Lord.

Let us pray,
 

 

 
 
 
Sunday, December 9, 2018, SNOW No Sermon
Sunday, December 2, 2018,[Wat Mem] Jeremiah 33.14-16 Advent 1
Why do we look forward to Christmas? There aren’t [m]any young children present, so I ask this question to you all as adults. Why is Christmas special? Like most holidays, it is a chance to gather with friends and family, but that is no different from other holidays, like independence day, or thanksgiving. There are also other religious holidays that provide the same benefit, most notably Easter. So what is it about Christmas that gets us excited?

The easy answer is it is a chance to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. And certainly this is true. Afterall, Jesus is the most influential human to ever walk the earth. God incarnate, the Word made flesh. Emmanuel, Messiah, king of kings, lord of lords, titles upon titles upon titles. Such a person is worth remembering, and what better opportunity than to celebrate their birth! But is that all that we are here for? If it was that simple, why light an advent wreath at all? Why make the waiting and anticipation so drawn out?

Today, we lit the candle of Hope. We celebrate what Christ was to the people of ancient Israel: Hope. Hope for a better world, one free of the Romans and their oppression. One free of outside interference, or foreign Gods imposed upon them. One where the nations tremble at the presence of God. And we certainly received that hope.
Not only was the political situation dire, but the world itself is bleak. We see evil everywhere, human cruelty and sin seems to know no limit. Death seems to follow in the wake of human tragedy, and suffering is a shared experience. God had every right to be angry, not just at Israel, but all the nations and peoples of the world. Many of these things we still see today, in our own communities, in our leaders, and sometimes in ourselves. Without Christ, there is nothing to save us from these things. But because of Christ, we have been saved from sin, evil, and death. That alone is worth remembering in this time of anticipation.

But advent isn’t just about putting us into the mindset of those who lived in Palestine before Jesus, but is also to remind us about what hope Jesus gives us today. This hope is something we can cling to because we know who Christ is. And Christ is many things to many people. He has brought many people hope through various aspects of his life and ministry.

Christ’s birth was a fulfillment of hope through prophecy. First, Jesus’ lineage can be traced back to king David, as Jeremiah and other prophets had pointed out. But that is the human side and speaks to the understanding of those who lived before Christ. Nobody could have expected God becoming truly human, the idea would never have occurred to people. Certainly, nobody would have expected to see royal lineage as somehow being of secondary significance to the salvation of Israel.

We see hope through the life and examples of Christ, where he healed many people and performed many miracles. People gained life, not just through the healing but also through being brought back into the community. Justice was done, not by the edge of a sword and the power of a king, but by meeting people where they were and experiencing the life of the kingdom of God. People could see the end of the forces reigning over them, that of sin, evil, and death.

Christ taught us how to live, both in relationship with each other but also in how we are to act towards God. He reached out to gentiles and Jews, and showed everyone a better way to live. Jesus conquered death, so that it has no more sting. We know this through Christ’s resurrection and triumph over the cruelty of the cross. Jesus did all of these things for us. There is so much to celebrate with his life, ministry, miracles, and teachings.

For us today, though, we don’t have to look forward to the messiah coming, instead we look towards to hope of Christ’s return. The hope we share isn’t just about what we gained through Christ’s birth, though certainly that is part of it. It is also about what we are all waiting for even today. It is why we still sing songs asking “Come thou long expected Jesus” or “O come O come Emmanuel,” even though “Love came down at Christmas.”

There is more to look forward to. The story of Jesus didn’t end with the ascension. The Church isn’t just here to proclaim all the deeds of the past. There is still more to prepare for, there is another act on the horizon. And we need a season to remind us what it is we are waiting for.

This anticipation is why we have Advent. This hope of the coming kingdom is what pulls us through this time. This hope is what starts us on our journey as Christians. It is why we open the Christian Year with a candle that symbolizes hope. Because without this hope, not just from who Jesus was or what he has done, but also from what Christ will do, we would have nothing to celebrate at Christmas. It would just be another holiday, one that we check off and go through the motions with. Instead, even as we get older, Christmas still has a sense of wonder to it. I hope we never lose that.
Hallelujiah. Amen.