Sermon for Second Advent -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
“Begun, not finished” is a great description of our lives as Christians and an important lesson for this Advent season.
I like to wash and dry the dishes. I guess I like to do this simple activity because it is so simple and it is one I can take from start to finish and complete. I can see that I am finished when all of the dishes are washed, dried and put away.
I think I find this appealing because in my “line of work” I do not often have the chance to see something from start to finish. Most of the ministry of we pastors is “planting seeds,” so to speak, plant seeds for future growth of individuals and groups. And often we do not see the final results of our “seed planting.” So, I like to do the dishes!
Some things that we all do can be done and completed: A builder builds a house; a mechanic fixes a car; an engineer designs a bridge – Each of these tasks has a beginning and an ending point. But, many other things that we do seem never to be finished or complete. We may plant a garden, but we know with the planting of the seeds our work is just beginning. A couple may have a baby, but they know that they have at least 18 years of care in front of them. A couple may be married, but for them the work of staying married is an everyday, forever task. A person may join a congregation, as a number of folks have done in the past year here at Mt. Olive, but, hopefully, joining a congregation is only the beginning of our life in faith.
Such a growing, moving, begun-but-not-finished faith is what St. Paul spoke of in today’s second lesson from Philippians this Second Advent Sunday.
For Paul, the Philippian Christians were his partners in the Gospel. They had sent him gifts to carry on his missionary work. Paul did not see these gifts as charity but as expressions of the Philippians’ partnership with him in the work of the Gospel. The Philippians had suffered much persecution for their faith. In today’s text, Paul promises that God would help bring the good works begun by the Philippians to completion, a completion that would come through Paul’s ministry.
Paul makes it clear that God had already begun to work in and through the Philippians but that this work had not yet been brought to perfection or completion. In this text Paul prays for their growth in love and tells the Philippians that there are greater days coming for them. God has begun a good work in them, but only begun, not finished.
Begun, not finished. Good words for the Philippian Christians and good words for us Santa Monica Christians in our everyday lives as gardeners, parents, spouses and church members and even our individual lives as Christians. Our Christian faith, as Paul sees it, is always tentative and growing, always seeking new ways in which God can show God to us.
Sometime I wish that my faith “construction” would be more like building a house, that it could be something done and finished and wrapped up, just like the last nail put into a building project. However, Paul makes it clear that a faith like that, finished, completed, fully built, a faith like that would be a dead faith. Our Christian faith is always to be growing, questioning, moving, and always incomplete. And, Paul tells us that our faith will continue to be like this until the day Christ comes again.
As Christian people, we are begun, not finished.
In 2015 it is easy to get discouraged about the state of the world or about people generally, or even about our own “lot” in this world. I could recite a list of discouraging global and national and even local events but you already know that such a list could be, could be, quite overwhelming and very sad.
In the face of such events, it is easy to get bitter and sarcastic, especially about our fellow human beings. I remember Stephen Colbert saying, around this time last year – “Only 24 more shopping days to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior!”
I also remember this little ditty from Yip Harburg:
“God made the world in six days flat, on the seventh God said, “I’ll rest.” So God let the thing into orbit swing, for a dry-run test. A million years went by and God looked at the world in glob, “Oh Well,” God signed, as God turned away, “It was only a six day job!”
While Harburg’s poetry may be cute and Stephen Colbert clever, both express a negativity that is rampant in our land today. Christmas may be coming, but many Christians are worried, justifiably, about the state of our world: terrorist activity all over the world, even at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, warfare in Syria and Iraq and too many other places to name, and what seems to be the mass shooting of the week with shootings just this past week in San Bernardino, California as well as Savannah, Georgia and such a listing can go on and on. It is all too easy for us to jump from these problems to a most-negative view of the world and of humankind.
We humans seem to have made a mess of this world, a mess that maybe only God can straighten out.
And that is the point of Paul’s letter to the Philippian Christians and one of the themes of every Advent season – God can and will straighten out the mess we have made of this world and the beginning of this cleanup is the coming birth of God’s Son, a Savior for humankind from this mess, Jesus Christ, the savior we await this Advent season.
And, equally important, Paul counsels us to remember that we are people, we are not God, and that God has only begun working in and with us. That reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers – it says, “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet!”
That is also one of Paul’s messages for all of us today. The world may seem to be in a mess. However, no matter what the state of this world, God is not finished with our world or each of us quite yet. God has only begun.
God has begun his work in and through us. This work is nurtured through our faith, through worship, study, fellowship and service. There will be setbacks in our lives as Christians, even times of less faith and discouragement. But, Paul counsels us to remember that God has begun working in and through us, but that that work is not yet finished and will not be finished until the day Jesus Christ comes again.
These are good Advent words for us: God has begun with us. Despite any temporary setbacks, individual or otherwise, God will complete his task of loving us. These are important words to hear in Advent and always, especially when we are in the midst of strange times. They are important words to hear as we prepare once again for our Lord to come into our lives anew this Advent. We can all be heartened by the fact that God is not finished with us yet. God’s love and caring and concern for us and the growth of our faith continue today and always. We are begun, not finished. And, we can thank God for that!
Begun, not finished. God’s love always in our lives, in the good times and the not so good. And God is not finished with us or this work – God has only begun to do God’s work here on earth through us.
And, through all of our lives, we are surrounded by God’s love and the promise of a savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is with us always.
Thanks be to God!
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Begun, Not Finished
Sermon for Second Advent
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
December 5&6, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California