St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-03-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-03-2017

First Sunday in Advent – Hope

Standing on the Promises!

Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I’m sure you can imagine that a lot of old memories were raised as my sisters and I, along with our spouses and descendants, muddled our way through all the activity surrounding the loss of our mother on Thanksgiving day. One, in particular for me, came up in planning her “Home-going” service as we discussed what hymns would be appropriate to sing. Turning to my father’s service for guidance we recalled a hymn chosen based on his response to those who would ask how he was doing with his illness in the later days of his life. To that question he would always respond “I’m standing on the promises”; bring each hearer to recall the hymn known by that title…

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the tune, it’s sung with uplifting joy and as it continually ran through my head over the past week and a half, it lifted my spirit with the reminder that my mom was, in those very moments, receiving what was promised just as my dad had 16 years ago!

The funny thing about that song, though, is that in all of its 5 verses it never mentions exactly what those promises are; not even one.

Of course, this isn’t a failing on the part of the author. Russell Carter didn’t neglect to list the promises; he wrote a song of joyful praise for those who already know what they are; and to entice those who do not know into wanting to find the source of such joy!

Today we begin our journey into recalling the giving of that source of joy; God’s gift of his only Son, the light shining bright in the darkened world, the Christ, the Savior! And in the celebration of the Advent of this wonderful gift we will recall the promises that came with it; the promises of the New Covenant of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy!

In our time, we tend to use the word “hope” in ways that convey a sense of wishful thinking; expressing a desire for something better to come along; a longing for positive change.

Think about all the ways we use the word hope… then think of how many times we use it in the context of being in a bad place now, wishing for good changes to come to us; or, in a less dramatic way, being in a less desirable place now, wishing for something better to come along in the future. Sometimes we even use “hope” to express our plans for the future. “Oh, I hope this surgery goes well for you”. “I hope I get over this cold soon”. “I hope to retire before I’m 70”.


This is fine; this is the common, even proper, use of the word in today’s world. But in the context of our faith, it is that and so much more! It is a promise; not only for better things in the future, but a promise of good things right here, right now; it is tangible, it is something we can hold onto; not as we wait for better things to come, but to pull ourselves up into those better things in this very moment!

As Paul writes in Titus 1 “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began…”! (vss. 1a-2 NRSV).

And, as Matthew proclaims Jesus as fulfillment of ancient scripture that says, “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen… He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope!”

And, again, from today’s Gospel reading Christ tells us “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”!

This is not hope for the future; it is this hope that holds us up in the here and now!


There was another hymn chosen to be sung in my mom’s funeral service that, perhaps does an even better job than “Standing on the Promises” does of conveying “hope” in the context of Christian life. That one was…

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood

There is our hope! Not of things to come but in things we already have; the assurance that what God has promised us is ours in the past, in the present, and in the future!

Drawing from my own experience of the past few weeks, and I’m sure I speak for Kathy, and Elaine, and the rest of mom’s family and friends, hope was not, and is not, wishful thinking; we did not wish that mom would be taken into God’s eternal care; in fact, I didn’t even pray for mom to be taken in, I prayed words of thanks and praise, knowingthat she already was.

It is this hope that allowed mom to die in peace; it is this hope that that allowed us to mourn our loss while rejoicing in her new gain; it is this hope that allows us to imagine the look on her face as she meets her Lord and Savior face-to-face and the great celebration as she is reunited with dad and her brothers and sisters!

And this is our hope, brothers and sisters in Christ; that God’s New Covenant, sealed with the blood of His own Son, is His promise to us; our assurance; that we are His in life, in death, in life beyond death!



Isaiah 64:1-9
64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.


1 Corinthians 1:3-9
1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,
1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–
1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–
1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 13:24-37
13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.
13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”