Sunday, December 23, 2018

Rejoice! Advent 3C

This week, a child died in custody of the United States Government.

This week, 15,000 children have been detained at our borders.

This week, marked the 6th anniversary of Sandy Hook.

This week, brought us an evacuation of Sandy Hook elementary school due to threats.

If hatred and bigotry were a bingo game, you could fill the card with the morning news.

Racism, anti-semitism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, gun violence.

This week… this week…this week…

Day by day.

We fend off long nights with strands of light. We will light three candles and sing.

Singing Gloria at the top of our lungs and placing another gift under the tree.

Smiling at the sweetness, laughing at the jokes.

Celebrating this day.

This day, with a candle we mark joy, on the Sunday we call “rekoice”.

How dare we speak of joy. How dare we!

We dare, we dare, we dare—because joy is not the fulfillment of our desires. Joy is not a result of the right now.

This is a joy grounded in the future. It is rejoicing because of what might be—not because of what is.

It is the yearning, for the promise, while mourning the present, and believing that this is not all that is or all that will be.

And, so today, we give thanks to God that this is not it.

That the second coming of Christ, the final in-breaking of the kingdom in all its glory—will give truth to the love that God envisions for all creation

Today we herald that creation, a new creation, in which the lies of the now will pass away.

This is what it means that sorrow will turn to laughter. This is what it means that those who mourn will find themselves dancing.

This is not it.

The empire, as we have created, it is not how God has envisioned it.

And, so we rejoice.

On this Advent Sunday of rejoicing

Knowing that the present evils of this world will indeed pass away.

That the kings of this world—whether they be presidential, or corporate, elected or dictated--that they will be overthrown by the in-breaking of a kingdom in which power is leveraged not through any act of violence but an act of love.

Gaudete, rejoice! For this is the day that the Lord has made!

A day in which oppression meets the promise of liberation.

A day in which suffering is intermingled with our hope.

And it is on this day that the prophet, utilizing the tradition of women’s songs of triumph, cries out “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart!”.

Joyful words, celebratory words! But, take note, these words from the prophet Zephaniah have been removed from their context--a context in which the prophet juxtaposes judgment, impending destruction, and current suffering, with this climatic call to rejoicing.

Islamic scholar, Professor Omid Safi writes that it is suffering that paves “the way for joy.  

Suffering was the Jesus that had to kick over the tables of the moneychangers,
Before the Spirit of God could come rushing in to the Temple of my heart.”

Suffering paves the way for joy—rejoicing in the promise of what might be that will overthrow the evils of what is right now.  

Our joy confronts the evils of this world. Our joy defies the death dealers and the doom sayers! Our joy is found today amongst the prophets who confront the persecutors—all the while proclaiming God’s promise to the persecuted!

The power of this call to rejoicing is all the stronger when we recognize the fears of those to whom it was proclaimed.

This is a rejoicing, for those who live in fear. Rejoicing, for those who live in exile. Rejoicing, for those who thirst. Rejoicing, for those who hunger. Rejoicing, for those imprisoned. Rejoicing, for those facing government sanctioned persecution. Rejoicing, for the impoverished.

 “The LORD has taken away the judgements against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel the LORD is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.”

You shall fear disaster no more. Can you imagine? In this world rife with fear, can you imagine what it would mean to fear disaster no more?

And, the people march to freedom. Their feet move on in hope.

The poor, the fearful, the hungry, the exiled…rejoicing! Rejoicing, because Advent isn’t simply about celebrating the baby that was, it is about celebrating the future which has been promised, “one who is more powerful than I is coming!”

(Pause)

I write these words from an undeniable context of comfort and relative security, which gives me pause.

And, I wonder.

I wonder, what those of us with power and privilege need to find in the words we hear proclaimed today. I wonder what fears we must release. I wonder where we, the people of St. Clement’s, are in this promise.

(Pause)

And, this is where I encounter the epistle and Gospel lessons appointed for today…

For it is in these passages that we hear the promise proclaimed in the midst of those who live in comfort—and who risk losing that comfort when they choose to follow Christ. These are people who are asking, from positions of privilege, the question, “What then should WE do?”

(Pause)

John the Baptist addresses a crowd that includes people with material resources, those who have more than they need. The crowd includes soldiers and tax collectors who serve the will of the emperor.

Paul, in his letter to the early Christians in Philippi, is writing to a community which included Greek and Roman citizens from the upper crust of society, people who enjoyed all the privileges of citizenship. We know this in part because of his closing words of encouragement in this letter—in which Paul extends greetings from fellow Christians serving in Caesar’s household!

Roman citizens, soldiers, and tax collectors were part of the early Christian church--these were individuals who had privilege and power, individuals who struggled with relinquishment of the same when confronted with the Good News of God in Christ.

And, I think, many of us can empathize with their struggle. We empathize because our culture confuses physical comfort and wealth with joy. We empathize because we recognize that we ourselves benefit from the very same systems that deprive and deny others. We empathize, because we want more.

We want more than our comfort, more than our wealth, more than the world that is.

So, on this Sunday we rejoice for the world that might be.

A world in which all of God’s people can thrive. A world in which the hungry are fed. A world in which thirsty children are given water abundant. A world as envisioned by God.

This is not that world, yet. But we rejoice knowing that we can act to assist in the promised in-breaking of that world. A world into which Jesus came, a world into which Jesus shall come.












28B, Stewardship


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Our worship service can be described as having two halves. The liturgy of the word and the Great Thanksgiving. The first half of our liturgy “the liturgy of the Word” encompasses the portion of the service which begins with the opening acclamation and extends until the passing of the peace.
This is when we hear the words of scripture, framed by our prayers and reflection.

The latter half surrounds our celebration of the Eucharist. It is when we gather, metaphorically, around the table we call “God’s table” the place where we celebrate, with the entirety of the communion of saints, God’s great gift to us in the form of God’s son. Transcending time and space, extending the past into the present and beyond, we are invited to give thanks with the very substance of our being.

This is what we do here. These are the prayers that shape our life of faith. And, one of my responsibilities as your priest is to help connect our life here in community to our lives out in the world--to serve as a translator for ancient rituals and words so that we might better understand how our lives are interwoven into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  

The sermon is one of the tools I have in order to help bridge the ancient text with our modern lives. The sermon or, if it’s short, the homily immediately follows the Gospel, and is considered an extension of the word of God. An extension, not because the preacher is infallible (I’m not) but because the sermon emerges as a response to the Gospel—connecting the words we have heard in scripture to our context in the here and the now.

Which is why, it seemed fitting to place Graham’s stewardship testimonial within this context—as a response to the Gospel, the good news of God in Christ. Sit with that for a moment and consider--our giving--of time and talent and treasure--is a response to the good news. Our participation, in whatever form it might take, is a response to God’s word to us. I want to be very clear, we can’t all give at the same level, because our abilities and resources vary—but, it is our shared offering given within the context of a community that supports each other, that allows us to be the Church. So, whether it is money, time, skills, or a mixture of the three, it is the collective offering that allows our community to not just survive but thrive.

So today, I have the amazing task of connecting our annual giving campaign, apocalyptic scripture, the church year, and our global context.

[pause]

A connection that I make through hope. Hope. Christian hope that leads us to believe that no matter what happens in these times, new and better life WILL come.

Annual giving is a sign of hope. Apocalyptic scripture is a genre of hope. The church year is defined by the hope of new life. Our global context demands action grounded in hope.   

Hope is what knits us, and all of this, together.

And, so this is the place where I turn, more explicitly, to the scripture we have heard today--specifically, to the passage we heard from the letter to the Hebrews. Emerging sometime between 60 and 80 CE, the letter is written by an unknown author, who is wrestling with the problem of congregational decline. To sum up the historical context of the letter, the initial enthusiasm of newcomers to the Church has faded in the face of a culture that doesn’t support Christians in religious devotion or adherence.

This is a problem the author of the letter to the Hebrews seeks to address through theological formation—reminding the community of the nature of Christ in order to remind them of the “why” of their being.

Let us revisit the text,

“Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Be confident in God’s love! Hold fast to hope! Encourage one another! Gather in community!
All the author of Hebrews needs is a set of pom-poms for this routine—rallying the community around a central cause, a central identity, and renewed enthusiasm. And, doing so within a context of fear and uncertainty—a context that feels familiar to our own times. A time in which our global and national awareness bring fire, famine, and flood, wars and rumors of war, into our homes and our churches.
Good news?
Jesus’s encouragement, “do not be alarmed” is encouragement to calm in the midst of the storm. It is an encouragement to hope, in the midst of hard times. It is an encouragement to hold fast to what is true, and just, and good, in the face of lies, and injustice, and evil.
Because, it is hope that brings us through. It is our shared effort grounded in hope, that will prove essential in this world where all are, indeed, needed. The world needs hope, and it is our responsibility to recognize our power and potential as Christians and as stewards of this earth to bring hope to these times.
I want to share the encouragement I found in the words of Dominican Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis an ecological activist and founder of Genesis Farm--words in which she reminds us of the centrality of hope in our perpetuation of God’s salvation story:
“It is no accident that we've been born in these times, that we find our lives unfolding now, with our particular histories and gifts, our brokenness, our experience, and our wisdom. It is not an accident. In talking about the fate of the earth, we know that its fate is really up for grabs. There are no guarantees as to its future. It is a question of our own critical choices. Perhaps what we need most is a transforming vision, a vision that's deep enough, one that can take us from where we are to a new place; one that opens the future up to hope. More than anything, we must become people of hope.”

At its core, the genre of apocalypse is a genre of hope.
So, let us encourage one another so that we might, indeed, become people of hope.


Amen.

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