November 30, 2003   Shirley Macemon
  Finding Hope
1 Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Luke 21:25-36


Roy was raised, literally, in bars that his father ran, and drank in. His mother was a product of her own environment--distant and harsh. Roy grew up thinking that was home--bars, a series of schools, new neighborhoods, until he one day found himself in a church where he connected with a youth pastor. Where he went back, and had long conversations with this pastor, where he was welcomed into the pastor's home, welcomed into the heart of the church community, where he learned that not everyone grew up in bars and had parents who couldn't express any positive feelings.

As a young adult, Roy gave back through the church--as a youth worker and Christian educator. When he married, he married a woman who had a strong connection to the church, who had a strong notion of family. He wanted to break the cycle, and pass on a strong notion of family, of home, and of the place of God and the church in family life. Roy Damonte was an influential Christian Educator in the San Jose district for many years, influencing literally thousands of young people over the course of his life. I tried to figure out how many of "Roy's" kids, and adults who worked in Children's ministry with Roy are now in professional ministry--I ran out of the people I know at about 12--in the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. As I look at the youth that those pastors and youth ministers are looking out for, there is a web that begins to stretch out across the country. Roy's son and daughter-in-law, Dirk and Carol Damonte, are the Minister of Music, Worship, and Youth and the Director of Youth and Youth Music, respectively at the Los Altos UMC, where they are in contact with an average of 200 or so kids a week, including my own 13 year old, Leah, who is active in the junior high choir and youth group. From uncertain roots, Roy built a foundation of love and hope upon which many lives have been changed.

Wednesday evening, Thanksgiving eve, I had the privilege of attending the Thanksgiving Eve worship that the youth groups and choirs sponsor. Starfire, the senior high choir, and Lightshine, the junior high choir provide the music, and a team from Mosaic, the high school youth group have created the service and are the liturgists.

Even though with my close ties to the Los Altos church, I've been away from that congregation for some time. Of course, I know Leah's friends: Evita, who's mother is wheelchair-bound from a bicycle accident more than 15 years ago; Julia, her grandmother passed away this past summer; Erika: her parents are raising her cousins as their own.... Not all of Leah's friends have extraordinary stories: Michelle's dad has a job again. Sheridan and her sister have about the greatest parents you can imagine--I remember how joyful their mom was when she and her husband got the news that they were adopting not just one, but two beautiful little girls.

I've lost touch with many of the high school kids--I taught 1st grade Sunday school beginning 13 year ago. That first year--the year this year's college freshmen were in 1st grade, three of these kids had lost their fathers in the previous 6 months. I never realized how often Sunday school curriculum talked about and had pictures of families with two parents--a mom and a dad. Each of these three are still strong in the church--and were back for this service.

During the anthem in this service, all previous Starfire members are invited to come and sing with the choir. The anthem is always the same: Simple things.

Thank you God for Simple Things....For who we are,
and not what we possess.

For some families, this annual service is the first time their college freshman is home since they left for school in the fall--it is the reunion par excellence--of friends, of families, of extended families; of those of us who have chaperoned tours and mission trips over the past years, of the youth and youth workers spanning the time since youth ministry at that church has been a "force."


In our gospel passage, Jesus is teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem at the end of his earthly ministry. The writer of Luke places this teaching as the last lesson Jesus delivers before he prepares for the Passover celebrations he shares with his friends and disciples before his death. Some of those with him had been talking about how beautiful the Temple in Jerusalem was. Jesus answered that there would be a day when "not one stone would be left upon another" (21:6) And of course, They asked "When, and how will we know?". Our passage this morning is part of Jesus' answer to the question: When will this even this happen, and how will we know that the Kingdom of God has come--and you have returned?"

Be on guard, says Jesus, that you don't get sidetracked with less important things, or the worries or amusements we try to fill our life with. Be on guard against that fatal absorption with yourself! Take care! Stay alert! "Stand up and raise your heads because the kingdom is coming."

Jesus' words are a challenge to our attitude, to our worldly cynicism, perhaps even to our scorn of prophecy buffs. Jesus' words are meant to raise our heads and raise our hopes. Could justice really come to the earth? Could domestic violence and its legacy come to an end? Could the leaders--political and religious--in the Middle East look into each other's eyes and see a brother or sister? Could we be liberated by God and start to walk tall in the Kingdom of God? Could the spirit of Jesus Christ appear among us in some way that our poverty-stricken minds could never imagine in a scenario that would simply erase our smug confidence about where the lines of reality are drawn?

In a book titled Standing on the Promises, Lewis Smedes says in essence that hoping for others is hard, but not the hardest. Praying for others is hard, but not the hardest. The hardest part for people who believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ is in "living the sort of life that makes people say, 'Ah, so that's how people are going to live when righteousness takes over our world.'"

The hardest part is simple faithfulness in our work and in our attitudes--the kind of faithfulness, without excuse and without false limitation, that shows that our work and our attitudes make a difference, and that we are being drawn forward by the magnet force of the Kingdom of God. That we work in the direction of God's hope and God's kingdom. [1]

A story is told about the Connecticut House of Representatives 220 years ago The House was in session on a bright day in May, and the delegates were able to do their work by natural light. But then something happened that nobody expected. Right in the middle of debate, there was an eclipse of the sun and everything turned to darkness. Some legislators thought it was the second coming, so a clamor arose. People wanted to adjourn. People wanted to pray. People wanted to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

But the Speaker of the House had a different idea. He was a Christian believer, and he rose to the occasion with good logic and good faith. "We are all upset by the darkness," he said, "and some of us are afraid. But 'the Day of the Lord' is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. And if the Lord is returning, I, for one, choose to be found doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought."

And men who expected Jesus went back to their desks and resumed their debate.

Statistically, Roy Damonte had a much better chance becoming an alcoholic than an accountant. He had better than average chance that, with his home life, his children would be parented in the way he was parented. When Roy found the church, the pastor who shared God's love with him, the statistics became meaningless for Roy, his own sons, and for the many lives he touched.

In this time of Advent, we designate a special time of waiting--waiting for the Lord. Hope is more than an idle thought. Hope is our dreams feet and wings. Hope carries us to, and is the result of our work for the Kingdom.


[1] "Between Two Advents: In the Interim", by Cornelius Plantinga, from Christian Century, 12-6-2000