Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1A

Advent 1A November 27, 2016 Today we celebrate the beginning of a new year in the church calendar. It is the first Sunday of Advent, a season of the church year that is characterized by anticipation and waiting, by expectant hope and longing, by preparation for Jesus’s coming again through his birth at Christmas and by preparation for Jesus’s coming again into this world as he promised. Advent is, perhaps, the most counter-cultural of our seasons because all around us, the stores, the yards, the houses are all decorated for Christmas in a riot of carols and colors. And yet in Advent, we light our single candles week by week and huddle expectantly around the light of those individual flames. In our gospel lesson for today, we see Jesus in what is know as the “little apocalypse” entreating his disciples (and us) to “keep awake!” And that’s really the theme of this season, isn’t it: Keep awake! But how do we do that, we who are not so good at or comfortable with waiting? In Advent, we are invited to dwell for a season with our longing. We sing every week “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee…” We remember for a season that we are a people who are called to wait, to watch expectantly, to hope. Most of the time, we just refuse to wait. We rush or we ignore it or we distract ourselves with our smartphones, but in Advent we are called to embrace the waiting and the longing that comes with it, and we are invited to keep watch while we wait. We are invited to keep watch for the presence of God, who does show up and who will show up. A while back, one of my favorite songs was titled “Awake My Soul” by the British band Mumford and Sons. The refrain of the song goes: “Awake my soul! For you were made to meet your maker.” St. Augustine wrote a long time ago that at the center of each of us is a God-shaped hole. We try to fill it so often with things that aren’t God or of God. But in the end, only God can fill that void. So one way of keeping awake during this season of Advent is to embark upon an examination of our longing. What is it for which we wait? What does our deepest longing reveal about each of us? And what would it be like to kneel before God (perhaps during some extra silence before the confession?) and to name our specific longing before God and ask God for God’s fulfillment? So this Advent, may your soul be awakened: that you may watch with the expectancy and joy of children waiting for their playmates to arrive. May your soul be awakened that you may watch with the purpose of one who waits for water to boil. May your soul be awakened that you may watch with the patience and faithfulness of one who keeps watch with a love one who is near death. May you keep awake and keep watch for the presence of God in your life and in this world. For you were made to meet your maker.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

26th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 28C

26th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 28C November 13, 2016 I have a confession to make. And I'm well aware that this confession may make me seem un-American. But, I am not a baseball fan. There are several other sports that I watch or follow (sometimes tangentially), but baseball has never been one of them. I was on retreat last week when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and so I noted the elation among my friends who are long-time, long-suffering fans, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it. And then, I was introduced to a song I had never heard before. It is called All the Way, and it is written and sung by Eddie Vetter—the front-man for the band Pearl Jam. I was struck by this song because it is a love song from a Cubs fan, and it is a song full of hope and expectation and longing (written back in 2008) that has suddenly been fulfilled. The chorus goes: “Someday we’ll go all the way, yeah, someday we’ll go all the way.” And the song includes lines like “We are one with cubs, with the cubs we’re in love. We hold our heads high as the underdog…” And “In a world full of greed, I could never want more… someday we’ll go all the way, yeah, someday we’ll go all the way.” and “Here’s to the men, the legends we’ve known, teaching us faith and giving us hope… “Someday we’ll go all the way, yeah, someday we’ll go all the way.” [It’s funny, don’t you think, how after this crazy week we’ve had, after this crazy season, I keep being drawn to listen over and over again to a baseball love song. I just don't get it.] At first glance, our readings for this week seem to have little connection with love songs, other than the fact that the Bible is the love song of God for God’s people. But upon closer look, perhaps we may see things differently. Luke’s gospel has been written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Take a moment and imagine the most chaotic, destructive act happening in your lifetime—September 11th on steroids. The central focus of your faith, your worship has been destroyed by an occupying country. That is the community that Luke is writing to. The very ground under their feet feels unstable; nowhere feels safe. There is stress and fighting in the community. And Luke’s Jesus tells them not to put their hope, their faith in institutions, because they will crumble. Luke’s Jesus tells them that really bad things are still going to happen before the end times and they shouldn’t make preparations. They should endure faithfully and Jesus promises them that even if they are executed (which is a distinct possibility for them), that God will ensure that not a hair on any of their heads will be harmed. Then there is the reading from Isaiah. This reading is from the third part of Isaiah and the chronology is important here. In the first part of Isaiah (aka “Angry Isaiah), the children of Israel have forsaken God and as a result they have been taken into exile in Babylon. The second part of Isaiah happens when they are in exile and it is more hopeful. The worst has happened, but God is still with them. The third part of Isaiah seems to be more realistic. The people have returned from exile back to Jerusalem, and it is in ruins. There is no government. The temple has been destroyed and is in ruins, and the people are left with a whole lot of work to do to rebuild everything, including their fractured community. This portion of Isaiah, which is also sometimes called “Isaiah’s prophesy” sings the love song reminding the people that is God who does the work of creating and re-creating and it paints a vision of hope for how God will work to recreate their fractured community and home. And then there is 2nd Thessalonians. This reading is often quoted out of its context to berate people who are being fed without working, but that is not at all what is going on here. The writer of 2nd Thessalonians is addressing a very divided community who has been expecting Jesus’s upcoming and immediate return and who has become frustrated in that expectation (and maybe even fallen under some persecution from the authorities of the day). As a result of their division, some in the Christian community there have continued to faithfully endure and do the work of the beloved community while others have grown idle and are stirring up trouble with gossip. The writer of the letter entreats the community to continue enduring in faithfulness and encourages them to “not be weary in doing what is right.” So where is the love song for us in these readings this morning, after a crazy, divisive election season and a week that has resulted in half of our nation rejoicing and half in mourning? The love song for us is the reminder not to put our hope in institutions because they will crumble. We are not to put our hope in the Church or in the Nation. We are not to put our hope in the bishop or a conflict consultant or even this building and its beloved community. We are not to put our hope in the president or the president-elect, in our military or our justice system or our electoral college. The love song for us is a reminder that God is the one in whom we put our hope, and God promises always to be faithful, to care what happens to each and every one of us, so that not a hair on our heads shall be harmed as long as we remain faithful. God promises that God’s values are not our values and that God creates and re-creates according to God’s purposes not our own. But we are also reminded that we can’t just sit around and leave it all to God (because when we do that, we generally get up to no good). Instead, we are called to “not grow weary in doing what is right” which can be summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor. (I think we can all relate to the difficulty of this work here recently.) Just recently, I listened to a remarkable interview of Jack Leroy Tueller, a decorated World War II veteran. And in this interview Tueller tells of an experience that he had during his service in WW2 that can inspire and challenge us, if we let it. He says, "This is two weeks after D-Day. It was dark, raining, muddy. And I’m stressed so I get my trumpet out. And the commander said, 'Jack, don’t play tonight because there’s one sniper left.' I thought to myself that German sniper is as scared and lonely as I am. So I thought, I’ll play his love song." And just this little act of grace, this message of love played out across the expanse of darkness is so wonderful. If the story ends here, it is still a beautiful love song of human kindness. But it doesn’t end there. The military police approach Tueller the next morning and tell him they have a German prisoner on the beach who keeps asking in broken English, "Who played that trumpet last night?" Truller continues: "I grabbed my trumpet and went down to the beach. There was a 19-year-old German, scared and lonesome. He was dressed like a French peasant to cloak his role as a sniper. And, crying, he said, 'I couldn't fire because I thought of my fiancĂ©. I thought of my mother and father,' and he says, 'My role is finished.' Jack Trueller concludes: “And I stuck out my hand and I shook the hand of the enemy. He was no enemy; he was scared and lonely like me." “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” May God give us the courage to see each other in and through the vision of God and to play for each other a love-song across the dark divide.