Thursday, December 26, 2013

Lighting the World

I love writing communion liturgies, and reading John 1 after a while seemed to me as though I was reading a Great Thanksgiving. Here is a Christmas Eve communion liturgy based on John 1:1-18 (NRSV).
Communion Table on Christmas Eve. Picture by Aaron M. Harrington, 2013.

We came into being through a Light that pierces through the darkest places. Tonight we remember when that Light, in pursuit of us, put on flesh and dwelt among us. Yet sometimes we still cling to the darkness around us, and so when we gather together to be with God, we must try to let go of the darkness. We must try to allow the Light of Life to pour into us again. So let us pray together:

Illumine us, O Light of the World. Shine through our darkness. We come before you tonight asking for you to push out the ugliness and pain that too often cramps our souls, asking for you to make room in our hearts for the Light. Forgive us for the fear and stubbornness that keeps us from following the way of life you have set out before us. Offer us grace upon grace again, O Holy One!


Open your ears to hear the good news: God loves us so much that God comes to us in the form of a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

Glory to Our God who is full of Grace and Truth!

PASSING OF THE PEACE: Now let us share signs of that peace which we find in Christ with our neighbors!


The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord Our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Almighty God, creator of heaven and Earth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, life that persisted through sin in the Garden, slavery in Egypt, the reign of crooked kings in Israel, and exile from the Land Promised to us. That life persisted in spite of the darkness of our violence toward one another, in spite of the ways we abused one another and ignored the cries of the needy. That life persisted, and the life was the light of all people. That light--- it shone in the darkness so brightly.

And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn.

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest. 
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Holy are you and blessed is your son Jesus Christ. You blessed us with life, but we turned away toward darkness again and again. And again and again, you called us back to the light. You sent us a man whose name was John as a witness to testify to the light. For the true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.

That is what we celebrate tonight as we worship together--- how You came into the world. How the Word Became flesh. You, God, became human to bring light to a world dark with the oppression of the Roman Empire, to a world so mired in sin and greed and despair that people were losing their imagination for a different one. But you in Jesus turned water into wine, you healed the sick, you fed the hungry, you washed the feet of the weary, you called out people on their judgmental behavior and urged us instead to love one another as you have loved us.

And yet we didn't accept you. We, your own friends, betrayed you. We gave you up to death on a cross. But the light shines even in the darkness of death. That light will not be overcome.

That is what we proclaim as we come around the table on this Christmas Eve. On his last night with us, Jesus sat at a table and fed us. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with us, saying “This is my body, which is given for you.”

When supper was over he took the cup, blessed it, and shared it with us, saying, “Take, and drink. As often as you do this, remember me.”

Because when we eat and drink and receive Jesus, we gain the power to become your children.

And so, in remembrance of these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ's offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Show us your glory as we come together on this sacred night. From your fullness may each of us here receive grace upon grace. May we in receiving through bread and cup go forth from this place sharing grace upon grace with our brothers and sisters. May we be light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.

And now, with the confidence of the children of God, let us pray as Jesus taught us: THE LORD'S PRAYER




Let us pray:
Light of the World, we give you thanks for this mystery, for how your Word became and becomes flesh to live among us. We give you thanks for the grace upon grace we have received from you. Now we ask that as we light candles and sing, your grace will grow within us, overflowing to touch those around us. For each of us here will hold a flickering candle; seemingly insignificant one by one, yet magnificent when held together. Let your light pour out of this place, that all may now how your light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Amen.

Of Shepherds and Angels

This is the Christmas Eve sermon I preached at Presbury United Methodist Church as part of a lessons and carols service complete with communion and candlelight. It is short and sweet. May you find beauty in it as well as a challenge to Go, Tell It on the Mountain...

The Adoration: Luke 2:8-20 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Do you ever think much of the shepherds? For me, on Christmas Eve at least, I keep coming back to these shepherds--- and not just because I'm a duck farmer from North Harford. But that the Good News came to shepherds, shepherds of all people, says to me that maybe the Good News can come to me too.

According to many scholars, shepherds at the time of Jesus' birth were looked down upon in the same way tax collectors and prostitutes were looked down upon. They were thought to be lazy and even dishonest. They were pushed around by wealthier landowners, often excluded from religious rituals because they were thought to be unclean, and even deemed unsuitable to testify in court. Shepherds were poor, lonely, dirty; they did not expect great things in their lives. They did spend much of their lives watchful, even through the darkest time of night, but they were not awaiting some magical prize. They were just trying to keep their sheep, which are dirty and smelly and not the most intelligent of animals, from running off. And yet it was to these people, a people walking in the darkness of exclusion and exhaustion, that God sent messengers to proclaim peace.

While not all of us know the kind of exclusion and exhaustion the shepherds must have felt, we have walked in some kind of darkness--- that of grief or illness, financial stress, bullying. We, too need to see that light the shepherds saw, hear the words of the angels, rush to find the promised child who will change everything. And this story offers all of that too us.

Yet, for us, this story has become an ordinary story, one we have read so many times it is difficult to see the good news within it. We read it year after year and sing the same carols. I can't read the story in a different translation because these words are written on my mind and any other translation sounds wrong. We have to sing Silent Night and Joy to the World or it just isn't Christmas. We get into a rhythm the way those shepherds must have done, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And so the wonder of this story wears off for us, and we get used to living in darkness We forget that there is a message of light available for even us. But then angels, God's messengers, come and mess everything up.

That's God for you. God messes things up, turns the world upside-down. This is what Christmas is about, turning the world upside-down, kings born in barns, shepherds becoming God's messengers, light shining on those who have lived in darkness. But even when we need that light so badly in our own lives, when we see it, we are often terrified, as the shepherds were. We may even try to shut our eyes to it. At least in our darkness, we know the rules. If we are sick, we know that we must go for radiation for a set number of days and a set amount of time. If we are grieving, we know what kinds of things will set off our tears. If we are being bullied, we know in what order the taunts go. If we are struggling financially, we know how to avoid bills and stretch food. The rules to these kinds of games are horrible, but sometimes they are less fearsome than this unknown, topsy-turvy world that the angels proclaim when the speak of a child-king wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

But, for all the fear the shepherds had at the sight of the angels, their story ends with them glorifying and praising God for all they have heard and seen. Rev. Vicki Flippin, a United Methodist pastor in New York City, writes, “We have no idea...what it will look like after the world turns. All we have and all we need are the glimpses of glory shining off each other’s faces in the darkness, assuring us that God is still in this, birthing something beautiful and significant among us.”1 The shepherds glimpse the glory of God in the faces of those around them, and they knew that, frightening as this world the angels proclaimed might be, they were not alone. They had one another. And God was with them.

But God being with us is not always a comforting thing. In the case of the shepherds, it meant responsibility. The shepherds basked in the glow of the choirs of angels, then they went and worshiped the baby Jesus, perhaps even cradling that baby, that God-with-us, in their arms. The Gospel of Luke does not tell us what happens to those shepherds, not exactly, but we are told is that the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. They became the messengers, the angels, sharing the good news.

Picture by Aaron M. Harrington, 2013
And we, too, are given the same responsibility when we come to this place on Christmas Eve. For the real work of Christmas, to paraphrase a poem by theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman,2 begins when the shepherds are back with their flocks, and we begin to search out others who are lost, broken, hungry, or prisoners and we bring light to them, offering healing or food or release. The real work of Christmas begins when we rebuild our communities, when we work for peace, when we reach out in love to one another.

And so we will begin that work right here in worship tonight.

As we pass the peace, I will be giving you angel pins made by the Leafs to remind you that the Christmas story has transformed us from shepherds into God's messengers, the angels. We are to glorify God, sharing with everyone we meet about this baby in a manger who signified how God comes to us no matter how far gone we feel. And then we will come to the communion table together, choosing to leave our land of deep darkness for the land of Light and Love.

1 Vicki Flippin, 
2 “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman, page 23 of The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations 
When the song of the angels is stilled, 
When the star in the sky is gone, 
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks, 
The work of Christmas begins: 
To find the lost, 
To heal the broken, 
To feed the hungry, 
To release the prisoner, 
To rebuild the nations, 
To bring peace among people, 
To make music in the heart.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Water Breaking Forth in the Wilderness

In 2009, I went on an experiential educational trip to the border with Methodist Federation for Social Action folks through BorderLinks. There, I saw "water breaking forth in the wilderness" (Isaiah 35:6). I wrote about the experience for December 18 of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church's Young Adult Advent Devotional (see page 19 of this PDF or continue reading below). I have been reflecting a lot recently on my adventures traveling, and this experience is one that burns brightly for me this Advent season.

Scripture: Isaiah 35:1-10
Focus: Opening your eyes to hope

In the desert where we were, a tall blue flag shot up into the sky, anchored to the dusty earth by a blue jug.

Here, on the border, where so many are lost in the wilderness, whether the symbolic wildernesses of greed or grief or the actual desert, here, there was water breaking forth. This hospitality is what we had been waiting for, whether we knew it or not.

We were a group of young adults participating in an experiential education program focused on immigration. Earlier that day, we met with some high school students living on the border who, when we shared our names and what the border meant to us, overwhelmingly spoke of death.

That stuck out in my mind as we saw this flag that symbolized water, which was being offered by a migrant shelter in Altar, Mexico, a simple place with hot food and a warm place to sleep.

When we arrived, no one was there yet for the night, so we waited. We had no idea what we should expect, but one of us got out a guitar and began to sing. Slowly, people began to arrive, including a young family, a teenage boy, and two brothers. They were exhausted and the language barrier made it difficult to strike up a conversation, but they joined us in song. Then we ate together, piecing together stories.
That night was filled with life and warmth, even though the realities of the dangers of the desert hung over us.

Reading Isaiah brought me back to that night at the migrant shelter. Isaiah's litany is one of hope in the midst of death; the hope we have been waiting for in the midst of the death we have seen around us.

Preparing ourselves for Jesus' arrival this Advent season is about opening our eyes to that hope at the same time it is about how we can nurture those blossoms God has planted in the wildernesses of this world. As that shelter on the border was, we can be waters breaking forth, offering life to people in their wilderness places.

PRAYER: Holy One, we reach out to you, seeking relief from the wildernesses around us. But we know we aren't the only ones. Return us to your joy, and give us the courage to bring your realm to this place. Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Contents of Your Bookcase a Part of Your History

"The contents of someone's bookcase are part of his [sic] history, like an ancestral portrait." -Anatole Broyard

On Facebook, there is this suggestion going around: "List 10 books that have impacted your life, but don't think about it too hard." Of course, I always think too hard, and there are way more than ten books that have influenced me, especially if I include all I have read recently. But I still wanted to participate because books have made me into who I am today, helped me to better understand that I learned from the saints and prophets in my life. I am thankful for those people who have shared books with me, and hope that you pick up one of these books and enjoy it as well!

1. Books about Who God Is and Who We Are
Old Turtle by Douglas Wood and Cheng-Khee Chee, Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Color Purple by Alice Waker, The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
The first three of these were read before I graduated from high school, and I was fortunate to have encountered both Old Turtle and The Color Purple in church. God in all these books is far more fluid and complex and vulnerable than one typically learns in Sunday school.
2. Books that Showed Me What Strong Women Can Look Like
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, Philip Pullman's The Sally Lockheart Mysteries, Books by Tamora Pierce, A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
Unfortunately, all of these books were also very white and middle class; yet they still gave me an image of the women and girls as heroes.  
3. Books that Taught Me to Be Critical of Religion from a Young Age
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, The Poinsonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Philip Pullman's are beautiful books that treat the children they are written for as intelligent and capable of knowing the truth, even when it is ugly and painful. The Poisonwood Bible showed me the dangers of mission and evangelism while at the same time showing me the beauty of cross-cultural relationships. The Mists of Avalon taught me that we have a lot more in common across faiths than we care to admit...
4. Books about the Church, Our Pitfalls, and Our Possibilities
A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren, The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, and Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, and Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel
These books I read in college and am now at a much different place in my faith journey, and I could probably include Donald Miller as well. Now I am far more critical of Shane Claiborne, even though I still admire the work he does so much. But these books gave me a taste of the revolution that is inherent in faith-communities while critiquing their current state.
5a. Probably The Most Beautiful Book I've Ever Read
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 
Really anything by Toni Morrison. I think she is one of the most brilliant, most powerful authors of all time. 
5b. Also This One is Amazing
Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria AnzaldĂșa
6. Books that Helped Me Place Myself in the Biblical Story
The Magdalene Gospel by Mary Ellen Ashcroft, Lamb by Christopher Moore
When I preach, I am constantly trying to discover how we can claim this biblical story without whitewashing it and ignoring its own sin--- and without taking it too seriously. These two books helped me see how to do that.
7. That Book I Can't Get Out of My Head
Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Tolerance by Janet Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini
The problem with tolerance. Read it.
8. Books that Reveal the Reality of this World We Live In
The Revolution will Not Be Funded by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization by Wayne Ellwood
Tired of being lied to? Wondering about the failure of liberalism to change the world for good? Read these books, be sad, and then do something about what you've read.
9. More Books I've Read since Graduating from Seminary about Who God is and Who We Are
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by Jame H. Cone, On the Mystery by Catherine Keller, Children of Israel by Danna Nolan Fewell, Saving Paradise by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker
These books have changed my life as a pastor, constantly keeping me critical, and reminding me why I felt God could use me as a pastor to do justice work.
10. And of Course, My Favorite Books
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon, and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

There are many missing--- Laura Ingalls Wilder, L. M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and  Lloyd Alexander being the most glaring omissions--- and I am still thinking about The Hunger Games and The Book Thief. But that's the thing about books. They stick with you and give you a hunger for more books.

Please share your own lists below in the comments section!

Invitation to Peace

The second Sunday of Advent, we had three baptisms at Presbury United Methodist Church and I felt called to remember the prophetic life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. It was a lot for a young preacher to attempt in one sermon! What follows is adapted from the sermon I preached.

Scripture Lesson: Isaiah 55 (NRSV)
Ho,everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 

See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. 

Sermon: Invitation to Peace
Let us pray:
Patient Teacher, let not the Word that goes forth from your mouth return empty!
Plant your Word within us this morning,
pour out your Spirit upon us so that we may bear good fruit;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.1

I found myself reflecting this week on the Isaiah text we read together as though I was on Robben Island in South Africa, a place I visited four years ago. Robben Island is a desolate place. Even now that it is covered in tourists, it feels empty and cold. You can see Table Mountain and Cape Town across the water, but it feels so far away. It was easy to see how such a place could be used as a prison, as it was used since the seventeenth century until the mid-nineties, for it feels as though this little bit of land had broken off from civilization and was drifting off into the sea. And yet, it is a place that signifies, to me, the invitation to peace we read about in the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. 

The text is introduced in my translation of the bible as an Invitation to Abundant Life. Yet, for the community who first read this invitation, they must have felt like the prisoners on Robben Island, desolate and cold, cut off from home and community unjustly. Such an invitation to abundant life that we read in scripture or hear in the words of great leaders like Nelson Mandela seems strange. And yet, when I was visiting Robben Island in 2009, I saw it has indeed become a place where it is as though the mountains and the hills break forth into song and the trees clap their hands. One of the most powerful things about visiting Robben Island was how the South Africans touring it with us burst into freedom songs.

Now, I know that not many of us are familiar with South African history--- I never even learned about apartheid in school and I don't know if it is taught today. But in light of Mandela going home to his ancestors, joining the great cloud of witnesses, this week, I could not shake the connection between Isaiah's and Mandela's invitations to abundant life, characterized by full bellies, joy, and peace. So even though a history lesson may be strange for a sermon, I hope you can hear the calls to abundant life within it.

The first connection I saw between these two invitations is that both invitations came from people in exile. When we read, “For you shall go out with joy and be led back in peace,” in the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, it is a reference to the Babylonian exile, when important, prestigious, and powerful Israelites were forced out of Israel when it was conquered. But even after two generations of exile, prophets believed that they would return home.

So too the story of not only Mandela but of all South Africa is one of exile and a longing for home, especially for native black South Africans. South Africa was colonized by the Dutch and the British beginning in the 1600s. Slavery, war, and exploitation of labor and land were characteristics of Europeans' occupation of South Africa. And, as was the case in our own country, inequality was present from the beginning. The government run by the white minority established apartheid, officially introduced in 1948 when Nelson Mandela was 30 years old. Apartheid is a word that means “apartness,” and was a system of violent racial segregation not unlike Jim Crow in our country. In it, however, people of color were not considered to be citizens at all, did not deserve any rights at all, and for whom most services like medical services were inferior to those for whites. People of color were to be constantly reminded of their so-called inferiority, even to the extent that Mandela received short trousers instead of long pants that white prisoners received when he got into prison in Robben Island to remind them, he says, that they were boys.3 This system of segregation provided a labor force for the whites in charge.

Mandela resisted apartheid from the beginning, and worked for freedom. He started as a lawyer, often working with poor blacks on things like police brutality. He urged South Africans to fight for their freedom, and spread a vision of an egalitarian society where people could live free of domination based on race. He moved up the ranks in the African National Congress, a political party that was eventually made illegal by the apartheid government and was forced underground. Mandela was constantly harassed by the police, and was eventually imprisoned for twenty-seven years in that place of such cold loneliness on Robben Island.

And yet--- here is the second connection--- yet, leaders like the prophets of Israel and Nelson Mandela and Jesus kept dreaming and proclaiming a different world. They spoke of peace in the midst of violence, abundance in the midst of hunger, equality in the midst of huge economic difference. Now, in Mandela's case, this dream was not a nice, nonthreatening one. Mandela was actually considered to be a terrorist by our own government until 2008. While I find that absolutely ridiculous and embarrassing on our part, I must confess that as a pacifist I struggled reading his autobiography when in it he talks about his decision in the African National Congress to take up arms against the white supremacist government. But I still consider him to be a fighter for peace because, even in his acts of sabotage he was against hurting civilians, and his presidency was defined by reconciliation. He was elected president, the first true democratically elected president, in 1994, and he served until his retirement in 1999.

Mandela oversaw the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during his presidency, where war criminals, those who had perpetuated the sin of apartheid in South Africa could be brought to justice. However, those convicted were not thrown in Robben Island's cold cells. Rather, the commission offered amnesty in return for truth and breaking the silences around the human rights violations that had occurred. It offered opportunity not to dwell in the past, but to break silences that blocked the possibilities for the future.

In his inaugural speech, Mandela said:
We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves. Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom ring. God bless Africa.4

That is an invitation to abundant living. While we do not know the exact impact the invitation of abundant life in Isaiah had on the exilic community, we do know the impact Mandela's invitation had in South Africa. I saw the impact in a conversation I had while in South Africa with a refugee named Fabien from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the things I asked him was why he thought his country and the countries around him are still plagued by such violence and cruelty. War is constant in countries like the Congo. I mean, I had my ideas about how nations like ours continue to colonize countries like the Congo economically and politically by encouraging debt and corruption. But Fabien said that the violence was a result of a lack of leadership.

His answer kind of dumbfounded me. So simple and yet so powerful. In South Africa, the first democratic president had been a political prisoner for almost thirty years: he had been degraded and abused and yet he and other leaders preached reconciliation. Unity. Peace. These leaders extended an invitation to build a world like the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah envisions, one in which everyone who thirsts--- no matter their color, no matter how much money they have, no matter what--- can come to the waters.

This Sunday, the second in Advent, is one in which we have already come to the waters, the waters of baptism. And so, on this Sunday, the invitation to build a world of abundant life is extended to us. We prayed together today that through baptism we would be incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God's new creation and made to share in Christ's royal priesthood. The new creation is a world of peace and plenty so complete that the nations of the world run toward it, of justice and joy so catching that even the mountains sing and the trees clap their hands. And as ones who share in Christ's royal priesthood, we are to be leaders, extending the invitation to this new creation.

Mandela's leadership demonstrates for us that this invitation is not to an imaginary place or a vision of the world where we will go when we die. This invitation is a different way of living here and now when we speak out and witness, even at great cost to ourselves, for that which is good and right. This invitation is a different way of living when we stand up to say enough is enough in the face of bullying and hate speech. This invitation is a different way of living when we reach out in love across our differences. There is no easy road for freedom, but when we work together, we will bring glory to God. So let us respond to the invitation this holiday season.

I found a prayer of thanksgiving for Mandela's life that I wanted to close with. Will you pray with me?
Merciful God,
Author of salvation, Giver of every gracious gift,
we give thanks for the life and witness of your servant, Nelson Mandela.
His quest for freedom was was a witness to your saving power in our world
a power that can break the shackles of sin and oppression and hatred.
And his commitment to justice gave us a glimpse of what your kingdom should look like
a place where swords of war can actually be traded for the plowshares of peace;
a place where bitter enemies can, by your grace, become friends.
Receive your servant, Mandiba, and grant him the eternal rest of your saints.
May he rest in your mercy and rise in your glory.
And may we, your Church, follow his witness of peace and justice marked by reconciliation.
For when we do, we know we are also following the ways of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns now and forevermore. Amen.5

1Based on Kimberly Bracken Long, ed., Prayer for Illumination, Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Feasting on the Word: Worship Companion, Advent through Pentecost (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 85.
3Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (New York: Little, Borwn and Company, 1994), 383.
4Nelson Mandela, Inaugural Speech, 10 May 1994,
5Prayer by Bgosden, A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Nelson Mandela, 6 December 2013, covered in the master's dust,