Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Comfort ye, my people (Rick O'Brien, Dec. 7, 2014)

O God, our creator and preserver, we cry out to you along with our brothers and sisters in West Africa, especially Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where so many lives have been lost. We pray that as they continue to live and struggle with the Ebola Virus Disease, you will grant them your grace and mercy that an end to this virus will come soon; and that life and community will be restored. Give us the courage and strength to respond willingly to this great human need. We ask this in the Name of the One who came and gave his life, so that we might live life fully, Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen 

Braeden Mannering is a typical 11 years old boy from Delaware.  He enjoys riding his scooter and playing video games with his friends.  But Braeden is unusual in one respect.  "It started off when I saw a man who was homeless," Braeden said. "I couldn't stop thinking about him."  Brae went home, made a brown bag lunch, and brought it to the man.  In so doing, he provided more than just food.  By his simple act of kindness, he offered hope.  There are many people like Braeden in the world, and there are many 11 year olds who do simple acts of kindness like this.

But Braden was not satisfied doing a simple act of kindness.  He wanted to do more.  And he did.

Brae's Brown Bags are brown bags containing a few healthy snacks, water and a message from Braeden, including a list of local services and contact information for people to get further assistance. He often includes food, gloves, and books for children.  Over the past year, Braeden has personally given out over 2,000 of the bags. 

The label on the front of each bag says, Brae’s brown bags to provide hope and nourishment.  This young boy is giving hope to those who have none.  He is an agent of change, he is following Jesus’ instructions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for those in need.  Braeden understand the message from Isaiah, Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  It may surprise Rusty, by for this verse I prefer the King James version that says Comfort Ye my People.

The season of Advent is a time of waiting, but it is also a time of preparation.  But unlike waiting for the birth of a baby in our family where we would be buying bibs and high chairs and cribs, we are preparing for the arrival of our God incarnate.  What does one do to prepare for such a world-changing gift?  Isaiah tells us that.  Comfort Ye my People.  Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight a highway in the desert, every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low. 

Isaiah is telling us that we need to change the world.  We need to remove the artificial barriers we create between ourselves.  Make the crooked straight.  Lift up those trapped in the valleys of life and stop exalting others for no reason because we are ALL of us children of God and Jesus is coming into the world not for some but for all.  Comfort ye my people.  A message to us that we may take comfort from the fact that God will soon be among us, but also a challenge.  A challenge that we should not simply wait for the Lord but WE should be the ones doing the comforting.  Braeden knows this.  This 11 year old boy gets it.  He is comforting the people, with food, love and encouragement.

So how do we build upon this child’s wonderful example?  How do we offer comfort to God’s people?

We do some of this already.  Through our outreach ministries at Epicenter, Christ Church brings comfort to God’s people through our food bank which is on track to provide 1 million pounds of food to the hungry this year.  We comfort by giving clothes to those who need them through Matthew’s closet.  We comfort by housing homeless families through Family Promise and by caring for sick teenagers through the Huntridge teen clinics. 

But these are things we do every day.  And while it is easy to take pride in these accomplishments, for many of us these are things that are done by other people.  Our involvement may be to support these efforts financially or with prayer, but in Advent we are called to take on a more active role in preparing the way of the Lord.

The collect I began with is for our brothers and sisters in Liberia and West Africa.  Bishop Katherine has called upon the entire church to pray for them this second Sunday of Advent.  With Isaiah, pray for comfort and strength for all God’s children; seek out the builder of straight roads and giver of healing balm for all on this difficult journey.  Learn about this crisis, and instead of fear, let your hearts be moved to respond in generosity of spirit and of purse.”

Our sister parish of St Augustine’s is in Maryland county Liberia, right on the border of the Ivory Coast.  Life in Liberia is not what any of us would consider to be easy.  They have faced great challenges from many years of civil war in their country and in their neighboring countries.  The church building itself was literally torn apart as people scavenged the materials to rebuild their own homes which had been devastated by war.  They have none of the comforts that we take for granted, and then came the Ebola crisis.  Our brothers and sisters at St Augustine’s have had far more than their share of trouble, and yet, they are full of the Spirit and they too await the coming of our Lord.  I spoke this week with Father Williams who told me of their joyful Advent service and the anticipation it brings them of the birth of the Christ child.

And so this second Sunday of Advent, I would ask that you follow Isaiah’s instruction and offer comfort to our brothers and sisters in West Africa.  There are several ways to do this.  The first is to pray for them.  Pray that God will alleviate their suffering, and bring about an end to the Ebola disease.  The second is to make straight the highway in the desert, to donate to ERD so that we can help rebuild their churches and their lives.  And just as important, we can offer hope and encouragement.  There is a table in the courtyard where you can write out a Christmas card.  Our brothers and sisters there will likely never meet most of us in person, but they need to know that we love them and care about them.  So fill out a card; let them know that you are praying for them and wish them the joy and love of Christmas.  We will send them all to St Augustine’s so that they will know that we love them and care about them.  From half a world away we will be offering hope and encouragement to brothers and sisters that we have never met.   

Prepare for the coming of the Lord.  And if Isaiah and Brae and I haven’t convinced you this morning, then perhaps this bumper sticker I saw the other day will help.  It said, “Jesus is coming – Look Busy”.