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This Month Archive
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

 

 2016

 Sermons



Dec 25 - The Gift

Dec 24 - God's Love Changes Everything

Dec 18 - Lonely?

Dec 18 - Getting Ready

Dec 11 - The Desert Shall Bloom

Dec 4 - A Spirited Shoot

Nov 27 - Comin' Round the Mountain

Nov 20 - Power on parade

Nov 13 - Warnings and Love

Nov 6 - Saints Among Us

Oct 30 - Reformation in Catechesis

Oct 23 - The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Oct 16 - The Word of God at the Center of Life

Oct 9 - Continuing Thanks

Oct 8 - The Cord of Three

Oct 2 - Tools for God’s Work

Sep 25 - Rich?

Sep 23 - With a Word and a Song

Sep 18 - To Grace How Great a Debtor

Sep 11 - See the Gifts and Use Them Well

Sep 4 - Hear a Hard Word from Jesus

Aug 28 - Who is worthy?

Aug 21 - Just a Cripple?

Aug 14 - Not an Easy life with Christ

Aug 6 - By Faith

Jul 31 - You can't take it with you

Jul 25 - Companions

Jul 24 - Our Father

Jul 18 - Hospitality

Jul 17 - Priorities

Jul 11 - Giving

Jul 10 - Giving and receiving mercy

Jul 3 - Go!

Jun 26 - With urgency!

Jun 19 - Adopted

Jun 12 - A Tale of Two Sinners

Jun 5 - The Laughter of Surprise

May 29 - By Whose Authority?

May 22 - Why are we here?

May 15 - The Spirit Helps Us

May 8 - Free or Bound?

May 1 - Let All the People Praise You

Apr 24 - A New Thing

Apr 17 - A Great Multitude

Apr 10 - Transformed

Apr 3 - Here and There

Mar 27 - The Hour

Mar 26 - Dark yet?

Mar 25 - The Long Defeat?

Mar 25 - Appearances

Mar 24 - Is it I?

Mar 20 - Bridging the Distance

Mar 16 - Singing the Catechism: Holy Communion

Mar 13 - What is important

Mar 9 - Singing the Catechism: Holy Baptism

Mar 6 - What did he say?

Mar 2 - Singing the Catechism: The Lord's Prayer

Feb 28 - Pantocrator

Feb 24 - Singing the Catechism: the Creeds

Feb 21 - What kind of church, promise, and God?

Feb 17 - The Catechism in Song: Ten Commandments

Feb 14 - Available to All

Feb 12 - Home

Feb 10 - The Catechism in Song: Confession and Forgiveness

Feb 7 - Befuddled, and that is OK

Jan 31 - That We May Speak

Jan 24 - The Power of the Word

Jan 17 - Surprised by the Spirit

Jan 10 - Exiles

Jan 3 - The Big Picture: our Christmas—Easter faith



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The Desert Shall Bloom

Read: Isaiah 35:1-10 

 
Third Sunday of Advent - December 11, 2016

The Rev. Kenneth R. Elkin 

 

A mirage is one of the dangers of being in the desert.

The heat, that burning, all-consuming heat distorts the air so that what is ahead of the traveler is obscured.

One's imagination takes over and interprets the horizon as a place where one would rather be.

Instead of heat and dryness, the parched traveler begins to think of the refreshing coolness of water in an oasis.

This deluded person chases toward the horizon and finds only dead, dry sand.

The mirage saps the weary traveler's strength of body and spirit.

The mirage that was thought to be life-giving leads only to death.

California's Death Valley got its name for very good reasons.

 

The prophet Isaiah speaks to people who are weary of the struggle of life.

There are voices, lots of voices, each one calling in a different direction.

Some say “Don't worry. Be happy.”

Others see only gloom and doom.

The people of Israel needed to sort out the voices and determine which voices were part of a mirage and where were true voices.

Isaiah's voice is one among many competing voices, and yet it is his that has been remembered.

At least a few people were moved to check out what he said, and they discovered it to be the truth.

Isaiah gave stinging words of rebuke when that was needed by the nation as a whole and when it was needed by individuals as well.

He had been granted the gift to say something beyond the judgment and punishment that will come upon the people.

The barrenness which we have known and the disasters yet to fall upon us shall not have the last word.

The desert shall bloom and we will rest easy in the good fulfillment of the Lord's promise.

Forty years they had wandered in the desert during the time of the Exodus.

It was forty long years, during which time they were supposed to learn the lesson of dependence on the gracious hand of God.

Forty long years during which time disaster was always close at hand.

Hoe many times they failed!

How many times did they walk toward a mirage instead of walking in the path of the Lord.

And then once they were settled in the land of promise, it was even worse.

The looked around themselves and thought they were safe.

“Look at the fine walls we have built, the temple and storehouses.

And we have done it all ourselves.”

“It is a mirage, an illusion, self-deception,” the prophets retort.

“there is not a bit of truth in it.”

All those fine things about which you boast will be taken away, the temple destroyed, storehouses plundered.

What then? Will you curse God that he has forgotten you, or will you be too numb from the shock of it all even to curse God?

“Then, the desert shall bloom,” says Isaiah.

Not the cultivated fields which you so carefully tend.

It is not the towns which you have so carefully constructed that will glisten in the sunlight.

It is the desert, that area which you thought was useless, a wasteland.

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom abundantly.”

 

The question immediately pops up: Is Isaiah talking about an actual desert, or is this poetic language to talk about people whose hope and trust in God is as dry and barren as a desert? 

The answer is ...Yes..Both!

Whether in nature in general or within the people of Israel, Isaiah wants everyone to know that the way things have been is not the way that they will always be.

Where there has been dried-up hope, God will make a new creation and it will be no mirage, he insists.

 

The prophet is talking about a complete change of the old ways; he is not talking about a prettying-up of our favorite tricks and worn out excuses.

We write someone off, or perhaps a whole group or class.

“They're no good anyway.”

When an opportunity for a new ministry comes our way, we look for excuses to avoid it instead of marshaling the resources to work with it.

Then there are the deserts of illness, old age, loneliness, and faithlessness.

“The desert shall bloom,” says Isaiah.

Those persons of situations which we thought were hopeless will be transformed.

 

And then there are our present day mirages, all those things around us that give us false pictures:

--You will find true happiness by making more trips to the mall.

--The public school can fully take the place of church, Sunday School, and the family in adequately preparing kids for adult life.

--Violence is the quickest and easiest way to win an argument.

--If we come to church on Christmas Eve and squeeze our eyes very tightly, we can will the perfect Christmas to happen, a Christmas like we think that we remember from a long time earlier in our lives.

They are mirages, all of them.

They are false pictures of reality.

 

The desert shall bloom, says Isaiah.

This is not just wishful thinking, it is faith.

We are invited to trust the God who makes a way when we have no hope of our own, replacing it with faith resting upon our experience of God's goodness in the past.

Again and again the prophets will rehearse the promises made through Abraham and his descendants.

Again and again, God has made something out of nothing, light out of darkness, life out of death.

This God found slaves in Egypt and brought them forth to freedom.

This God reached them in exile, caused a path through the desert, and brought them home.

This God came to us and delivered us through the life, death, and resurrection of a baby born in Bethlehem.

Things may be desert-dry for any number of people here this morning.

If that is true, then listen this morning to the prophet and hear the hope he proclaims; hope not in himself but in the faithful God who makes a way through the desert.

Recall God's acts of unfailing love in the past, and take heart for the future.

God can make a world out of chaos, deliver slaves to freedom, bring exiles home for Christmas, and make any kind of desert burst into bloom.

 

We are gathered here around what is real, the promises of Jesus.

We are doing what Isaiah says the re-made creation will be doing – we sing God's praise.

When we stick with this core activity in this group established by God, we will be able to sort out the mirages, to evaluate the difficult situations, and join the Christians of every ages in praying: Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, and make your creation new and whole.

 

       Hark, the glad sound! The Savior comes,

       The savior promised long;

       Let every heart prepare a throne

       And every voice a song. [LBW#35.1]

 

Let all the people gladly say Amen. 

 

Please note: The preceding sermon is provided as a resource for the thought, prayer, and meditation of the members and friends of St. Mark's. It is the residue of a verbal event, and thus it does not have academic footnotes and other details that would be expected in a written document. The writer gladly acknowledges the prior thought and work of many Christians before him.