Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve 2016

Christmas Eve-2016 This season, I’ve been listening to one particular Christmas cd over and over again. It is Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace. I had listened to it several times without really thinking about it before something strange about it occurred to me. Out of the 28 Christmas songs that Yo-Yo Ma and his friends have compiled, 8 of them are different versions/ improvisations on one song: Dona Nobis Pacem. Dona nobis pacem. Do you know this song? It’s actually found in our own hymnal on page 712. It goes like this: It means, “grant us peace.” So as I’ve been listening to this Christmas album through this season, I’ve been listening to this one song over and over and over again. Grant us peace. Grant us peace. It is a simple song of both hope and longing. I think it is safe to say that every single one of us longs for peace. And like those different musicians doing different improvisations on the same song, we sing this longing for peace differently in our own lives. Some of us sing it hopefully. Some of us sing it sadly, remembering what peace we have lost. Some of us sing it angrily, as we see the injustice around us or in our own lives. But no matter how each of us sings it, it is the song that is found at the deepest, depths of each of our hearts. Lord, grant us peace. It is what we have come here tonight in search of. It is what we long to experience and encounter here, at least on this one night, if we can’t have it in any other place or time. Lord, grant us peace. So what do we make of the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds? “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” It seems that they are saying that peace comes with Jesus, but if this is so, then how is it that we long so desperately for it all these many years later? One of the deep truths that we are called to remember this night, when we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel--God with us--is this. Jesus doesn’t bring the kingdom of God; he reveals the kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t bring peace. He reveals that peace is already here, within our grasp and within our hearts. On this night, of all nights, we remember that God takes on human form to reveal to us Godself, to reveal to us just how much God cherishes us. In and through this gift, God shows that God experiences and understands how difficult and dark our days can be, how confused we get about our identity and place, how many painful things we do to each other out of that confusion and insecurity. And through Jesus, God shows us, again and again and again, but also for the first time tonight, that God loves us—deeply, truly, and forever; that God is with us; that God’s kingdom is already here among us; and that God’s peace already dwells deep within us. The message of the angels for us this night is this. You are of infinite value, deeply loved by God. God is with you, and you already have the peace of God within you. So tonight, we sing this song of longing for peace out of place of thanksgiving—that God’s peace is already ours (You can sing it with me if you like…)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3A

Advent 3A_2016 December 11, 2016 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” It’s quite a different picture of John the Baptist that we have this week compared to last. Last week, we saw John in his glory, preaching repentance out in the wilderness, calling people “a brood of vipers” and so certain in his mission, to prepare the way for the Messiah. This week, we have John, imprisoned, alone, abandoned, uncertain: “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John is looking for assurance, for fulfillment, for hope, and amazingly enough, even in the midst of extreme persecution for speaking the truth to power, John is prepared to wait and remain true to his purpose—pointing people to the Messiah. Jesus responds (as Jesus often does) without really answering John’s question—but rather telling John’s disciples to “go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them…” Jesus points to the acts of healing, mercy, justice, reconciliation, and joy that are the fruits of his ministry, and he offers those as the answer to John’s question. By answering John’s question in this way, Jesus invites John (and John’s disciples) into visioning the new kingdom of God that is being born in and through Jesus. I imagine that it was incredibly hard work for John, alone in the dark of his jail cell, to vision the new kingdom that God was creating through Jesus. It’s hard for us too, all these many years later. I was talking with a friend from another church not too long ago, and she and another woman were talking about the disappointment in their church and the choices those in power had made. The other woman said to my friend, “Why couldn’t they let the new church be born?” A little over two years ago, your vestry decided that it would utilize the priest in charge process from our diocese as you called your next priest. Your search committee received 8 names of suitable candidates from the bishop, and they went to work---they read all the candidates’ profiles and resumes and cover letters; they read sermons (from the same Sundays so they could be more accurately compared); they composed questions for the candidates to answer and then read and compared all those. Then they interviewed 3 of the candidates, asking each a series of the same questions, and they worshipped with each and listed to each preach. It was the most thorough and well-organized search process I have ever participated in. At the end of that process, you chose me; and I chose you. And together we are St Columb’s. I gave you my heart long ago. I admire and respect from where you have come and I see so much wonderful potential and possibility in you that I am eager to help you engage with. But I have also been deeply disappointed in the ways that we have all recently allowed grumbling, malicious gossip, and lies to tear the fabric of our community, and we have been so quick to believe the worst of each other. In the reading from James today the writer says, “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.” He writes this to a community who is being persecuted, and he urges them not to grumble against one another because they need each other, they need that faithful community to help them await the Lord’s coming. Survival over the long haul requires patience, not only with the Lord, who brings fulfillment in God’s own time, but with each other lest we destroy the community that holds us up during the waiting. We can do better. We have the power to name and confront grumbling and malice when we see it (both in our own hearts and in the words and actions of others) and to not allow it to divide us. For we are St. Columb’s. Many years ago, a small faithful group of you acted with great courage as you made the decision to move from West Jackson to Ridgeland, and you committed yourselves to the vision and the dream that a new church would be born. More joined you, and you acted courageously once again to help the new church be born when you built this nave. More have joined us, and it is time for us all once again to call upon the plucky courage that is the foundation of this congregation, that has been stoked and nurtured by those of you who have been here all along and to allow the new church to be born. For we are St. Columb’s. Today is the culmination of our annual giving campaign. We will be turning in our pledge cards that represent our commitment to this parish and to God’s mission and ministry which is being lived and carried out here among us. Now, I know some of you don’t want to pledge until you see which way all this is going to go, and that is certainly your prerogative and is something that is between you and God. But that is not the choice that I am making, nor is that what God is calling me to do. I am making my pledge and my commitment to God in and through this place because I have seen how God’s kingdom is made manifest by our common life—people are transformed by the love of God in and through the people of this parish; acts of mercy and kindness are shared with those who are in need or are suffering; and we still have an abundance of joy, even in the midst of hardship, which is the product of hope and our trust in God and God’s love for us. So I make my pledge, my commitment to God and the new church that is being born in this place, and I invite you to join me in that hope. For it is only together that We are St. Columb’s.