Rejoice in Wait

Luke 3:7-18, Zeph 3:14-20

Sermon delivered by Shirley Lin on December 13, 2009 at St Andrew Lutheran Church - Pittsburgh

Good morning.

I took a worship course before I was ordained because it was a part of my course work.

And one of the things I learned in this course was about the way Jesus worshipped in the Synagogue. My professor taught us that back in those days, they had scriptures picked out for every day of the year, as we do. And on the day of worship, the members of the congregation would take turns to read the passage out loud, and then speak about it.

That the passage Christ read and spoke on was the one about himself had always been predestinated.

The texts today speak to me in a very similar way.

I noticed when I read the passages for today that the overwhelming theme was to rejoice in the Lord, to trust in God’s love for us and ability to keep us safe.

I have to share that it is with a joyful heart that I stand before you because this is homecoming for me.

I grew up in this congregation, with this congregation, and more importantly, learned lessons from this congregation that I carry with me always.

I’m really glad that I get to preach on joy and celebration, not only because it means that we’re in the holiday seasons but because I get to preach to you.

The St. Andrews congregation that taught me what it meant to rejoice in the Lord. The congregation that taught me what trusting in God’s love looked like. The congregation that taught me what it meant to be safe because God was present.

It was in this very building when I first experienced God’s call. I was sitting in those pews there when I felt this overwhelming feeling of warmth and joy. Something tugged at my heart and I wondered about what it would be like to go to seminary.

This was when I was a sophomore in college.

At that time, I dismissed that thought. I thought it was ridiculous for me to think such thoughts. It was not until my senior year that I started thinking about this. God’s call had sounded louder.

I am reminded of my call experience both because I am home today with you, but also because it was a period of waiting. We’re now in the third Sunday of Advent. Every week, we are counting down to Christmas, the day that Christ was born.

It is this time that we are reminded to wait. We are waiting for what is coming in a few weeks.

In the Gospel story today, the people mobbed John the Baptist. They loved what he was teaching them and they loved what he was doing for them. They were eager to call him the messiah. But his ultimate message to them was, hold on. Wait. I am not the one.

When good things are happening… when we know something so very exciting is coming our way, we do not want to wait. But in this patient time, God is still present with us. It is in this space of time that we remind ourselves to prepare.

It took me two years to prepare myself for seminary. And even then I didn’t think about going into the ministry at all. In fact, I had no idea what I wanted to do with this degree, but I felt that it was the right place for me to go.

In some ways, it was hard. The preparation time is a time of unknowing. It is a time when we can have our doubts about the future. But it is this time that we feel the embrace of God because without it, we cannot get through.

And our passages today are teaching us how we can properly prepare ourselves. We are joyous at this time because we trust in God for his salvation so we do not need to be afraid.

Sometimes, this is hard. Life can seem daunting.

In my call journey, it became very hard for me when I finally realized that God was calling me to a ministry—the ministry. When I started chaplaincy at hospice, it felt so right, but I did not feel prepared.

I could not even pray out loud for people, let alone going to visit the sick and dying!

But the Lord was near. In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, I requested that I be able to do God’s work. It was true, the peace of God, which certainly surpassed all my understanding, helped me through this time.

But it was also from growing up in this congregation that helped me. This congregation emphasized, above all else, the importance of showing love and acceptance to people, no matter who they were.

You taught me that ministry is not about what you say but about what you do, how you act. It is about the witness to the love of God, those things that John the Baptist taught, to share in what we have, to be fair and just, and to trust faithfully in our God because when God is present, we can do anything.

Throughout these years, I have really taken the lesson of trust to heart. Today’s Old Testament readings are all about having that trust. What this means for me is that I remain open to God’s call, in whatever way that may happen.

I am going back to school. I am in chaplaincy, but I will never know what will happen. I have prepared myself to do what is necessary when God calls, even if I am afraid. But I know that God is always near.

I appreciate that you have given me this opportunity to share with you about the texts, but about my life as well. It is with thanksgiving and joy in my heart that I stand before you today. Without you, I would never be here.

May you continue to trust in God, be not afraid, and let your gentleness and love be known to everyone. May you continue to shape and form the lives of young people.