Monday, December 24, 2012

The Eve of the Nativity 2012

The Eve of the Nativity 2012 “Suppose someone in hiding stirs, showing their whereabouts there. God does the same. No one could have found God-God gave Himself away.” This is a quote from Meister Ekhart who was a medieval mystic, and I can think of no better way of talking about why we are gathered here together on this holy night. Tonight, we give thanks for the many ways that “God gives himself away” and for the many ways that God reveals God’s self to us. In the beginning, God gives himself away in creation, putting part of God in all that there is and then breathing God’s breath into man and woman, creating us in the image of God. But we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. And so God reveals God’s self to Abraham, and God promises that God would be our God, and we would be God’s people. But we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. We become enslaved, and God brings about our liberation. But we quickly forget our liberation, and we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. So God reveals God’s self to righteous people, to matriarchs, patriarchs, judges, heroes, kings, and prophets, but we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. And we become enslaved again, people who walk in darkness, until God liberates us again with God’s great light, but again we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. Again and again, God gives us glimpses of God’s self as God calls us back to God. Again and again, God invites us to follow God’s way and not our own. Until, in the fullness of time, God gives himself fully to us and becomes Emmanuel—God with us. God reveals God’s self fully to us in the person of Jesus, who is always on the side of the weak and the powerless, who shows us that the way to God is found in truly giving up ourselves, our way and our will. He shows us that we find God when we live lives of mercy and kindness. He shows us that we find God when we live lives of forgiveness and reconciliation. He shows us that we find God when we give and we find God when we love. And by giving himself up to death, Jesus shows us in the resurrection that God’s love, God’s self, God’s desire to be reconciled with us is stronger than everything. Stronger than our own will and the ways that we turn away from God. God’s love is stronger than the mistakes that we make. It is stronger than sickness; it is stronger than evil that we can never hope to understand. God’s love is stronger, even than death. It is what we call “the mystery of the Incarnation”—that the fullness of God is made present in our lives and in our world. But the story doesn’t end here. God continues to call us. God continues to choose us. When we realize that God is calling us and choosing us, not for a task or a role but to be the revelation of God’s self in this world each in your own unique situation, then we are living the truth of God with us, and we become a part of God’s revelation of God’s self. We become a part of the way that God gives God’s self away in this needy and dark world. We become the people who have walked in darkness who have seen a great light, and through the grace of God, we reflect that light through the way that we live our lives. “Suppose someone in hiding stirs, showing their whereabouts there. God does the same. No one could have found God-God gave Himself away.” Thanks be to God.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent Year C

3rd Sunday of Advent Year C December 16, 2012 It’s the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Rejoice Sunday, when we lighten our penitence somewhat with our lovely rose and these themes of rejoicing echo throughout our readings. And then we have John the Baptist, who would most certainly have failed a modern day homiletics class with his opening line, “You brood of vipers!!!!” As another writer put it, “Nobody wants to get fussed at by John the Baptist two weeks before Christmas!” And of course, we have the shadow of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School hanging over our whole nation. So what are we supposed to make of John and his message of repentance this week and these horrible deeds when all around us seems to be geared toward rejoicing? Last week, my husband David preached at the 8:00 service, and I was struck by something he said in that sermon. He said that salvation is when all the barriers between us and God are wiped away. I’ve been pondering that all week, as I ask myself what are the barriers that I place between myself and God, and what would the removal of those look like? And when we look back at John the Baptist’s preaching in today’s lesson, that’s exactly what he is talking about. He starts off by lambasting his listeners for their hypocrisy, but when they approach him for instruction, he answers honestly and even gently in his own wild and wooly way. “Ok, you call us to repent”, the people say. “What then should we do?” And John says to them, if you have two coats, then share one of them with someone who doesn’t have a coat.” And then the tax collectors ask him, “What should we do?” And he says, “Don’t cheat people.” And then the soldiers ask him, “What should we do?” and he answers, “Be just.” It’s really not that radical, once you get past the name calling. So what is the good news for us in this call to repentance in the midst of the call to rejoicing this morning? Instead of hearing him call us all a brood of vipers who are in need of repentance, what if we thought about him saying to us, “you are already good enough to be loved by God.” The kingdom of God is already come near, and yet you choose to put up barriers between yourself and God. So the repentance, the action required on our part has to do with the intentional work toward removing some of those barriers that we erect between God and ourselves (and between ourselves and others). What if we heard him saying, “You who are a part of a country and a society who spend $450 billion a year on Christmas, what if you gave a little extra to someone who doesn’t have it”? In looking around at the media and at peoples’ commentaries on Facebook over the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I see outrage; I see deep grief; I see an eagerness to analyze and to understand and to label. I see people clamoring for better gun control. I hear people try to start a witch hunt against folks with mental illness. I watch as people say that this is the result of not having God in our schools. Our question to God is much like what his hearers asked John the Baptist. We feel helpless, and we ask, “What then should we do?” Maybe part of the barrier between us and God is found in our attempt to know and to understand. Sometimes there are deep mysteries that cannot be know, cannot be understood; we rush to act because that is how we feel we are doing something. But sometimes, we are called to stand in the face of this dark mystery and not lose hope, not lose hope in God, who is always with us, and not lose hope in our fellow children of God. Sometimes we are called to stand in the darkness of mystery and continue to be faithful. That is what John the Baptist is talking about when he tells his hearers to “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” In no other time of the year are we as eager and as willing to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” than during this season. And one of the challenges of the faithful is to discern when we are called to stand still in the face of mystery and when we are called to act. This week, I read a meditation by Richard Rohr adapted from his little book Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr. He writes, “The Scriptures very clearly teach what we call today a ‘bias toward action.’ It is not just belief systems or dogmas and doctrines, as we have often made it. The Word of God is telling us very clearly that if you do not do it, you, in fact, do not believe it and have not heard it. The only way that we become convinced of our own sense of power, dignity, and the power of God is by actually doing it—by crossing a line, a line that has a certain degree of nonsensicalness and unprovability to it—and that’s why we call it faith. In the crossing of that line, and acting in a new way, then and only then, can we really believe what we say we believe in the first place. We do not think ourselves into a new way of living as much as we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. Lifestyle issues ask much more of us than mere belief systems” (48-49). What then should we do? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Pay attention to the needs of others and treat them with mercy and kindness. Over the course of this week, I came upon several startling and hopeful facts. First, you will receive a letter from the treasurer this week letting you know that we expect to be about $15,000 in the hole when we finish this year. Now, that’s actually less than we’ve been in the hole for the last five years or so (that’s been around $22,000), so that’s actually good news. And the better news is that the year is not yet over. We still can make a dent in that number by giving to the church as we look for ways to bear “fruits worthy of repentance.” The second fact I came upon is that through all of our generosity, we made Christmas possible for 34 children this year. And we’ve collected a record number of new clothes for the Harrison County Children’s Shelter. I wish you all could have seen the toys and the clothes all lined up in the hallway outside Susan’s’ and my offices. It was truly a sight to see! And the third fact is that since January, we have collected and distributed over $17,000 through discretionary giving to help people in need, and most of that has gone to people in this parish to help meet basic necessities. That’s 17,000 dollars worth of people sharing out of their abundance to help others have enough. That is bearing fruit worthy of repentance! Here’s another way of thinking about this “bearing fruit worthy of repentance”. Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Rejoice! For the Kingdom of God has come near. Examine the barriers that you have placed between you and God and you and your neighbor, and bear fruit worthy of repentance. How are we all being called to “live ourselves into a new way of thinking?” In that lies God’s salvation. In that lies God’s hope.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday of Advent--Year C

1st Sunday of Advent—Year C December 2, 2012 Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and it is also the beginning of the church year. Today we enter a season of preparation and expectancy, not just for the coming of the baby Jesus at Christmas but also we remember the importance of preparation and expectancy for Jesus’s promised second coming. But this expectation comes with its own difficulties. First, most talk of Jesus’s second coming in our day and age has been hijacked by people who read the bible much more literally than we Episcopalians, and they try to speculate upon a timeline and to identify specific current events as being the signs and portents of the end times. (In fact, there has apparently been more talk of late of the Mayan calendar and the prediction of the end of the world this moth…) But again and again, these doomsday predictors prove to be wrong, and as a result of this, some folks have ceased to believe and to hope in Jesus’s return altogether. I had a New Testament professor my first year in seminary who stunned our entire class by saying, in a rather off-hand way, “Of course, no right thinking Christian believes in the eschaton (or the end of the world.) So in the light of all that, what are we supposed to make of today’s gospel reading, and how might we make our peace with this second part of Advent, this waiting expectantly for Jesus’s return? The passage from Luke’s gospel this morning, along with its counterparts in Matthew and Mark, is referred to as the “little apocalypse.” Jesus is teaching his disciples about the end times, warning them not to be afraid when the whole world seems to be falling apart around them, but rather to keep alert, to not get worn down by life and daily concerns. And we can certainly relate to this, can’t we? I’ve met and visited with so many of you, of late, who have this sense that the world is falling apart around you, whether it is because of politics and the state of the economy or whether it is because of things going on in your personal life. But even in the midst of all these goings on, there is good news here that is at the heart of this season of Advent. As one writer put it, an important part of Advent is waiting, anticipating, longing for and trusting in “a promised future that seems very removed from our current circumstances.” So how do we do that? How might we cultivate that expectancy? The word apocalypse means “revelation.” And the artist and writer Jan Richardson reminds us that “God is in every time and season, about the work of revealing God’s presence.” She goes on to say that we cultivate this expectancy of Advent in our lives by “practicing apocalypse.” She writes, “In the rhythm of our daily lives here on earth, Christ bids us to practice the apocalypse. He calls us in each day and each moment to do the things that will stir up our courage and keep us grounded in God, not only that we might perceive Christ when he comes but that we may recognize him even now. There is a sense, after all, in which we as Christians live the apocalypse on a daily basis. Amid the destruction and devastation that are taking place in the world, Christ beckons us to perceive and to participate in the ways that he is already seeking to bring redemption and healing for the whole creation.”i We cultivate this expectancy of Advent in our lives when we actively expect Jesus to show up in our lives, in our days, in our moments. We cultivate this expectancy when we actively look for the ways that God continues to reveal God’s self in our lives, in our church, and in our world. In an excerpt from her memoir Prague Winter, Madeleine Albright puts it this way, “This is because the goal we seek, and the good we hope for, comes not as some final reward but as the hidden companion to our quest.”ii Here’s another way of looking at it. I had a conversation with someone earlier this week, and we were talking about the readings this coming Sunday and about the end of the world. And she asked me, “If you knew that the world was ending in 12 days, would you live any differently?” It’s a question I’ve been thinking about all week. During this Advent season, this season of expectation, how is Jesus calling you to “practice the apocalypse?” What things does God call you to that “stir up your courage and keep you grounded in God?” How is God already showing up in your life and in your journey, as the “hidden companion to your quest?” How would you live differently if you knew the world were about to end? i. ii. As quoted in BibleWorkbench Issue 20.1 December 2, 2012 p 11.