Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

Sign and Trust

December 22:

December 22, 2013 [NOTE: Icy weather; thus not preached]
Call:    Matthew 1: 18-25
Text:    Isaiah 7: 10-16
Candle:  Candle of Signs

            Sign and Trust

I title my messages.
   I have done so since my first day as a UMC pastor,

I do so, because often - not always - titles catch people's attention

I learned this many years before finding myself behind a pulpit.

I learned it from the Rev. Tom Schafer,
   my pastor when I first began to worship at Oneida First UMC

Each year a family in our church would invite Tom and his wife
   To visit them at their summer home on Wellsley Island
and   to lead worship at the church on the island.

One year I learned that Tom's sermon title was
   "Grace is Not a Blue Eyed Blonde."

And while I expect
that if I were to comb the beaches of Southern California
I might well encounter a blue eyed blonde named Grace,

Tom's title made its point;      and it caught my attention
Some forty years later it still sticks in my mind



And so, on July 2 1995,
when I first stepped to the pulpit in Jordanville,
My sermon,
a reflection on Jesus' response
to the inhospitable Samaritan village in Luke 9: 51-56
had a title.      That title was, "Getting Even!"

Catching people's attention puts them one step closer
   To keep - or start - them walking through the church doors.

But getting someone's attention
is only one reason that I give titles to my messages.

The more important reason is that the title
normally serves to hint at
where I want to go
and   what I want to do
with my reflection on the scripture

Sometimes it provides the hint for you
   So that when you begin to listen
   You have some idea   of what it is that I will be talking about

Sometimes it provides the hint for Warren
   So that when he begins to choose anthems
   He has some idea  of what it is that I will be talking about

But almost always    it provides a hint (reminder) for me
   So that when   I begin to construct and write the reflection
   I have some idea of what I thought I would be talking about.
      When I planned the service several weeks before.

With everything that takes place in the weeks that intervene
   Between my original planning and my sermon writing
I need that help.
But, of course, there are weeks when,
as I begin to prepare the message,
I discover that what I am called to emphasize
is not what I thought it was going to be
weeks before
when I planned the service and made my choices

This has been one of those weeks.

For this week, as I prepared, I came to realize
   That both the title - and even more so the Advent candle -
      Seem to put the accent or emphasis on the "signs"
And what I feel called to do
   Is accent, or put the emphasis on,     our response to signs.

That is,
   On the choice we have to make
      Whether to trust what God wants
      Or Whether to trust ourselves and what we want.

And so, I was awfully thankful
   That when choosing the couplets that have been our Advent titles,
   I paired this week's "signs"     with "trust."

You see, "signs" worry me.

They worry me because way too many times,
I have observed people who think they have a sign from God
   But they are really listening to themselves
      Or other people.

To recognize or discern a true sign from God
   Takes prayer

To recognize or discern a true sign from God
   takes a Christian understanding that God's signs
   Are signs of love, hope, mercy, humility, and thankfulness.

If what one believes is a sign does not reflect those values
   Then it is almost certainly   not a sign from God.

[an aside: this is what impresses me about Pope Francis.
   whose approach appears to be summed up by those values
and   whose accent seems to be to be on those values
      instead of on arguements over the hot button issues
      that have divided the church
      and weakened its ability to serve Christ.]

Today's words through Isaiah are about a sign,
   A sign that has to be read in the various dimensions
      That we looked at last week:
         What was being said to Isaiah's contemporaries
         What is being said about the messiah
         What is being said to us today.

Listen to Isaiah.  You'll recognize the words      [Isaiah 7: 10-16]

"The Lord himself will give you a sign
   Look, the young woman is with child
   And shall bear a son,
   And shall name him Immanuel."

The birth of a child in those days - particularly a male child -
   Was a sign of love and assurance

The name to be given to the child was "Immanuel,"
   a name that means, "God is with us."
   A name that almost certainly is a sign of love and assurance

Can we have a more loving assurance
than that   God is with us?

The promise that the existing threat to Judea would be resolved and things will get better
   Was almost certainly a sign of hope and assurance.

Can we have a more hopeful sign
   Than a promise that things will get better
   Because God - not you or I - is in charge?

So filtering or examining Isaiah's words
 through the core values of our faith
Confirms the expressed word that this birth is a sign,
      A sign from God.

And this is where the multi dimensional nature
Of the words spoken by the prophets comes in.

For the birth of a child to a young woman
offered loving assurance to King Ahaz and those in his kingdom

But not only to Ahaz and his contemporaries

The birth of a child who would be messiah and deliverer
   Continued to offer loving assurance
   To those who would listen in the generations that followed

The birth of that child messiah
   Was so great a loving assurance that his birth
      Caused the great angels to sing
      And the humble shepherds to tell of his nativity.


And you and I
In 21st century St. Lawrence County
believe that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth
      remains a remarkable assurance
of God's love and presence

And we believe this
   Not so much because of the angels and the shepherds

But because we see in His life
   Actions  of love, hope, mercy, humility, and thankfulness.

And because we see in His teachings
   Words    of love, hope, mercy, humility, and thankfulness.

And because further, we see in His death
   The supreme example
of love, hope, mercy, humility, and thankfulness.

But the lesson of Advent is not  that God gives us signs.

The lesson of Advent is
   That you and I have to not only discern the signs
But that you and I must also lead lives that indicate
   That we trust those signs
   That we embrace those signs
   That we follow the characteristics that validate those signs

and so the lesson of this fourth and final Sunday of Advent
   is a question:
Do our lives reflect love, hope, mercy, humility, and thankfulness

If not, what we are really saying is
   That the birth of this child is not a sign from God
   And that Isaiah wasted his breath in speaking to us.