December 16, 2018

2018 Dec16

Advent 3 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by Isabelle Preston and The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


Today is Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” means “rejoice”. In our Epistle, we are commanded to rejoice always! And it is why we light the pink candle on the 3rd Sunday in Advent – a reminder to rejoice in the Lord always.


The reading from Philippians is one of my favorites, but more for nostalgic reasons than theological. When I was the Youth Director at Trinity Cathedral in San José, one 3rd Sunday in Advent was Youth Sunday. One of my kids was preaching, and she ended with quoting “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near”…and I was reduced to tears! It was one of those proud Youth Director moments.


But I do love the overwhelming positive encouragement for Christians to live out the Peace of Christ in our daily lives. If there is anything from the Epistles that I would have as a poster on my wall, it would probably be Philippians 4:4-7. The fact that it is constructive, affirming and non-judgmental in its instruction is comforting in pursuing my Christian responsibilities. It is all “carrot” in directing us.


The Gospel, on the other hand, is predominantly “stick” in its instruction on how to lead a Christian life. As I mentioned last week, John the Baptizer rebuked and challenged the establishment and the wealthy as the focus of his ministry. The Gospel passage is an illustration of that. I’m sure some in the crowd went away angry, for they did not respond well being told what to do with their wealth.


Part of the Gospel reading was offered to the Teens to reflect on for their page in The Witness for December. My note to them was:


John the Baptist – anticipating the coming of Jesus as the Messiah – says to the crowds:


"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages." – Luke 3:10-14


In poetry and pictures, what does this mean for you as kids in San Luis Obispo?


Isabelle Preston wrote the article for The Witness, and she accepted my invitation to collaborate on today’s sermon. In doing so, she explored:


•    What John's instruction means to her as a teenager in San Luis Obispo.
•    What is frustrating about our inability to care for all the people in this town.

These are questions we should all be asking ourselves and discussing whenever we are given instruction on how to be Christ in the world. With that, we should explore the hope that also exists, as well as how what we do in this world relates to the Coming of Jesus.


Here is Isabelle to give her thoughts on how to live the Gospel and to heed the words of John the Baptizer.


In the Scripture, John the Baptist who is awaiting the coming of Jesus told the crowds around him that the more fortunate should share their abundance of food and clothing with those who have none. He also told the tax collectors and soldiers to take only what is necessary and not to abuse their power. These messages can be summed up by the Great Commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. By sharing the necessities of this life, we are demonstrating our love for God.


With the widening disparity in incomes in contemporary society, it has become increasingly important to share with the less fortunate. Here are some statistics that might surprise you. San Luis Obispo is the sixth most unaffordable place to live in the United States. In 2017, a family of four making less than $65,000 a year here was considered low income. According to some estimates, approximately 23.5% of children in SLO county are living in low-income working families. Within San Luis Coastal Unified School District, approximately 10 to 12% of children live in poverty and between 4 to 6% of children live in deep poverty. These are the same children that are sitting at the next desk in our schools.


Many public resources are currently being spread among the growing number of low-income people in need. This help is essential, but we may unintentionally forget about those people who have the least amount of power, particularly those children, who because of their age and financial situation, remain largely unseen.


It is easy to overlook the number of low-income children around us because for most children and teens, they just want to blend in and not be labelled by their peers. It is hard enough being a young person dealing with school, peer pressure, and balancing all the expectations put upon us. Imagine trying to do that when you don’t have a stable home or enough money in your family to support the things you want to do. Also imagine trying to keep that secret from your peers when you don’t know how the other students are going to judge you.


The For Kids From Kids Toy Drive started around nine years ago with the recognition of all the kids who are less fortunate and don’t have the opportunity to receive gifts around the holidays. When Anastasia and I were about 5 and 8 years old, we were taking dance lessons at American Dance next door to the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter. Around 5 o’clock, as we would be leaving, we would see families with children carrying their school backpacks and very young children being pushed in strollers. As we were driving home, we would talk about how unfair it was that some children could afford the extras like dance lessons while other kids the same age were looking for a place to eat, sleep, and do their homework. We continued to talk about how all kids basically want and need the same things. We thought it wasn’t enough simply to have the necessities like food and shelter, but it was also important to have the extras like toys and the other things they want in order to be happy and feel like a regular kid. The For Kids From Kids Toy Drive started as an opportunity for kids to give other children gifts of their own – kids just like ourselves who have all the same dreams, desires, and potential but not the same amount of opportunity.


The toy drive was designed to give these children and their families hope around the holidays and to give higher income families a chance to help bring children who normally don’t get presents some joy at Christmas. Since it started, St. Stephen’s has been doing the toy drive every year and now helps a family from the Salvation Army as well. It was also adopted at Teach Elementary eight years ago when Anastasia first introduced it to the Student Council. Even though we are both gone now, the school has continued to do it ever since. What makes this toy drive unique is that all the toys and donations go directly to the children within San Luis Obispo and our local school districts. If we remember John the Baptist’s words to help the least fortunate, we are doing our part to serve God’s will and have a positive impact on those in need.


Thank you, Isabelle.


Isabelle’s illustration of John's call for us to share our wealth is also a part of our anticipation of the coming of Jesus … at our Christmas Remembrance and at the Second Coming. As John the Baptizer says, one greater the him is coming with great power. And as I spoke about last week, John's ministry is the model for our own Christian work in this world.

Two of our readings are about rejoicing in what God bestows upon us. The Canticle makes it clear that it is God who saves us, and because of that, we should rejoice. The Philippians reading affirmingly encourages us to rejoice in what God gives us, and to use our abundance for the good of others.


The Gospel, however, does not speak of rejoicing. It is a rebuke on extravagance and corruption. While the other readings are uplifting, and they affirm our faith in God, they can also illustrate how complacent we can become, and how we sometimes need to hear the harsh delivery of what John the Baptist exhorts. These periods of anticipation and repentance, like Advent and Lent, are reminders that we shall not take God's goodness for granted.


Let us share the overly-abundant, inexhaustible Love of God, that Peace of God’s that surpasses all understanding with as many who need it, with as many who will listen. As Isabelle and Anastasia have done in practice, Let us do that also with our material abundance – share with those who are lacking in material abundance.

This Advent, may the warmth of your house, of your friends, of your physical comfort, never let you forget our plea to God:


Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


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