Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
Information info@potsdamumc.org

To The Outcasts

December 16th:

To The Outcasts
December 16, 2012
Call and text:  Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Read:           W&S #1

                                To The Outcasts

This past week was extremely busy for a lot of people in this congregation.
        Those in the cantata for example
        Those active in the Holiday Fund for another

In our household Marge spent a great deal of time early in the week
        Working with others on putting the cookie mixes together
And then she spent Friday and Saturday at the Holiday Fund.

We waved "Hello" and kissed "good-bye" a lot this week
        But we didn't find much time for casual conversation

In her absence, I spent a great deal of time with a new friend
        His name is Zephaniah
        He lived and prophesized a few years earlier than Jeremiah

And as we spent time together, I came to appreciate more and more
        The book containing his prophecies
        And in particular, the coherent way in which it is structured.

Today's call to worship was the last several verses of that book
And what a nice, hopeful scripture to call us to worship!
That scripture tells us
        That God took away the punishment that God had imposed
        That God is in our midst
        That God will renew us in God's love
        That God will rejoice over us with gladness
                And exalt over us with singing
        That God will deal with our oppressors
and restore our fortunes.

Isn't that the type of scripture we want to hear
        as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ?
In fact, isn't that the type of scripture we want to hear
        all year long?

God, speaking through Zephaniah in those verses
Makes me think of spoons full of sugar and Mary Poppins.

Life like it should be:  magical,       and wonderful,  and carefree.
But life isn't that way.

Life requires
        Responsibility  unselfishness,  and accountability.
It requires
Tolerance,      understanding, and sharing

So does our relationship with God
        A relationship that, as we talked last week
 Christ came to refine and to strengthen
        A relationship that, as we talked two weeks ago,
 Is evidenced by justice
And so we must understand that that any resemblance to the Julie Andrews' fictional nanny
        Is found only in the book's last seven verses

The book begins very differently.
Not with a message of hope and comfort
But with a message that is harsh and demanding
        A message that makes God sound more like Judge Roy Bean
than like Mary Poppins

It begins like this     [1: 1-4a, 12, 14-17;]

"I will utterly sweep away everything."
"I will cut off humanity from the face of the earth
"I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs"

"The day of the Lord is near" Zephaniah reports
But he describes that day as
        A day of wrath, distress, and anguish
        A day of ruin and devastation"
        A day when people shall walk blind
                Because they have sinned against the Lord.

Why would anyone want to celebrate the day of the Lord's coming?

However, after that chastising beginning we are presented with an option
        An option to gather together to seek the Lord
to seek righteousness and humility
saying that if we do,
we might be hidden on the day of the Lord's wrath.
And so the book of Zephaniah's prophecies
        Begins with warning and chastisement
        Which in turn are followed by a possible option
        And then the book concludes with our call of joy and hope.

Recognizing that, God starts to sound
        Not like Mary Poppins   and     Not like Judge Roy Bean
But like
        A parent who deeply loves an offspring
        A parent who will, however, punish that offspring if necessary
        A parent who so loves that offspring that he desperately wants to avoid having to punish him/her.

That relationship was previously revealed in God's covenant with David
        Where God's promise concerning David's offspring was
                "I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me."
       And  God promised to establish the throne of that offspring forever.
      But also warned that when the offspring committed iniquity,
He would be punished,
but God's love would not be taken from him

That is the God for whom Zephaniah was speaking
        The loving, forgiving and yet firm parent

That is how you and I have to understand our relationship with God
        God is the deeply loving parent of you and me
But also a parent that has expectations of us

Only if we understand our relationship with God like that
        Can we understand God's joy in commuting our sentence
That understanding will also enable us to recognize that God's mercy to Jerusalem
Is an example our parent has set                for us to follow

Did you happen to notice that something was missing from our text?
        There is no indication that Jerusalem had repented!

God unilaterally commuted the sentence of Jerusalem
        God took away the judgment      because God chose to do so.
        God turned away their enemies   because God chose to do so

We would call any commutation of sentence "mercy"
But when it occurs without any defensible idea that we deserved it
We have to call it "grace."

The baby in the Bethlehem manger was given to us
        As God's greatest act of grace
        We didn't deserve him, but we are grateful we got him

But although given to us, he is not ours alone
        He was given to all
                People whom we identify as being a lot like us
                People whom we consider (in the words of the text) outcasts

If we are to follow our parent's example
        We have to share the greatest gift we have received
        And we have to share him with those outcasts

And thus if we are really preparing to celebrate Christ's coming
we have to ask ourselves whether we are willing to do that.
Are we?

And before we answer "Yes" too quickly
        Let us remember that for someone to be an outcast
        Someone else has to have cast him/her out

That someone who did the casting out may well have been one of us.
        Perhaps we have cast someone out by refusing to forgive
        Perhaps by refusing to talk to someone
        Perhaps by believing the worst about someone and jumping to inadequately supported negative conclusions about him/her
        Perhaps by making it clear that we think that we are better than he/she

If the Lord surely came         not only to us
        But also to the ones whom we have cast out.
How can you and I
        keep casting others out
        Rather than reeling them in?

And if we do, how can we celebrate his birth
        Or believe that we have prepared for it?