Called to Work for the King

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Note, the manuscript differs markedly from the audio as I went off script again! 🙂

Please pray with me, gracious and holy God, give us the courage to jump when you call. Amen

 

 

So today we ordained and installed new elders and deacons. They have been called to be spiritual leaders in this community, to give of their hearts, their wisdom, their insight, to collectively discern where God is calling us and how we can best contribute to the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth. It’s an incredible invitation, to see the hope, the potential, the possibility; to see the new thing that God is bringing into our midst and to participate fully in mid-wifing this new thing. Yet we also care deeply about our traditions and those who have deep visceral connections to our traditions. So there’s a tension here, a care and compassion for our history and traditions but also a willingness to follow where God leads and we don’t always know where that will be.

 

In our text today we have a different version of the call of Peter than we heard last week. Last week Peter’s brother Andrew came and got him told him he just had to come and see, this week the two brothers are fishing and Jesus sees them in the midst of this common ordinary task and calls them into something new. He sees something in them that no one else can, that they are more than just fishermen and he calls them to this new thing. Let that get a grip on you for a moment, God sees you each and every day, engaged in your daily tasks and calls you into something new at any moment. “Leave your nets, your computers, your fields, leave the routine of the hospital or school, I have something new in mind for you,” imagine. Along the way the disciples are remade, re-created, made new.

 

Being called and ordained to the service of God changes a person in ways that are hard to identify and name. We are seen through the eyes of God and this is a whole new way for us to see ourselves, to have all our potential and possibility called into being through the act of being seen. It’s a holy moment, a becoming, an act of ongoing continuing creation within us. Shakespeare wrote that, “We know who we are, but know not what we may yet be,” and God calls us into that unrealized potential, “Come and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

This liminal space, a threshold moment, when one is called into something new, passes quickly. Matthew’s text says the men immediately left their nets, left their families and followed. They stepped into this new thing without hesitation. Most of us hesitate. When I left for seminary I hesitated, and hesitated, and told God that if this was supposed to happen, he’d need to figure out the logistics, because I didn’t see how it could. I knew as I drove across the US, through two February snowstorms, that this was a threshold moment, a before and after moment, a it’ll never be quiet the same moment. We get those now and then, and sometimes we are aware of them when they happen, sometimes we only see them in hindsight.

 

We know where we’ve been, but we are only beginning to discover this new thing we are called into. Every Sunday we pray that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven, but today we are reminded that we are called to be a part of that coming. We are to be about our Father’s business.

 

If previously our lives were ruled by the ways of the world, fears of scarcity and exclusion, wanting to make sure we got ours, because there wasn’t enough to go around, and being on the outside of the clique isn’t just painful, it can be dangerous, if this is where we have been, where me and mine ruled our thoughts, we are invited into a broader kingdom, a more gracious era where the me and mine is stretched to include you, and you, and you, it is stretched to include the other, the outsider, the unclean, the lost and the lonely.

 

Being called to work in and serve the kingdom of God here on earth as in heaven, changes us, remakes us, and as we stand in a new place, a new vision, a new paradigm comes into view. We are changed, and therefore everything is changed. We cannot go back to the way we once were, this threshold moment brings us into something new. If a person is in Christ, they are a new creation, see the old has passed away.   It’s hard for us to let go of the old, to walk away without hesitation. We fear the loss that change brings with it, and at times it’s just too much.

 

We can get caught up in longing for the good old days, which weren’t really all that good, but they were familiar and mostly we remember the good times. Being called into the kingdom business invites us to look for the potential, the hope, the creative possibility, it is a forward looking action. We who long for security and comfort are invited on a creative journey where no such promise is made. The birds of the air have their nests, the fox has its hole, but the son of man has no where to lay his head,..oh, and let the dead bury the dead, go on and leave your family behind for your family will be humanity, all of God’s beloved, and perhaps Jesus should have told them this right from the beginning! Instead it comes later, in Matthew 8.

 

But that’s the thing about liminal spaces, those threshold moments, we know we are moving into something new, but we can’t yet see what this new thing is. We know it is a moment of creativity, of God’s ongoing creative work in us, but we can’t see the outcome. We know we are invited into a whole new way of being, but we hesitate, we hedge our bets, we hold back, and no one steps through a threshold by holding back.

 

We are called to be a living witness to the kingdom of God, to be a light on the hill, that all might see how wonderful and beautiful the light is and come, but we cannot do this with one hand in the past. We honor and treasure our past, but we live and work in the present. We keep our eyes on the future that God is calling us into. We are watchful, keeping our lamps trimmed and our eyes peeled as we seek always for the potential, the hope, the possibility that God is calling us into.

 

Leave your nets, your old ways of being and the security of home, that you might join in the fragile, creative action of the kingdom. We are called into a new era, a new way of being, one which is founded on the trust and love of God and which asks us to lay aside fear. Laying aside fear we are opened to wonder, our tender hearts vulnerable to the world, to each other, and who knows what might happen then?

 

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

 

 

Come and See

 

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Come and see. It’s an invitation to experience God. It’s an invitation to experience Christian community. Come and see. It’s our best advocacy when people ask us, “why be a Christian?” Come and see. See where I am dwelling, where my heart abides, come and see this community. See what a difference we are making in the world. Come and see how following Jesus changes a person, has changed me, will change you. No pressure, just come and see.

 

It isn’t enough for someone you respect, such as John the Baptist, this new fangled prophet with his new baptism for the remission of sins, to tell you it’s good. You’ve got to come and see. Perhaps it was that they were already following Jesus that prompted him to turn around, to ask them “what are you looking for?” He didn’t ask them what they wanted, he knew already they were looking for something, they were seekers, but could they even say what it was they wanted to find? How often do we go out seeking for Truth with a capital T but are still unsure exactly what it is we want? We need to have meaning and purpose to our lives and so we seek, we look, and Jesus says, Come and see.

 

See where I am dwelling, see where I am abiding. See how I abide in God and how you can have that tender intimate relationship also. Come and see that he dwells with those most in need of God’s love and care, that he loves those who need it the most, and this is all the meaning and purpose he needs.

 

Shane Claiborne is a devout Christian and he determined to Go and See himself. He wasn’t finding God at seminary so he went downtown. Shane admits he was nervous at first. He left all his valuables in his dorm room so the poor people who lived on the streets wouldn’t rob him and he went downtown. He says he met Christ in those people. He met a group of them that had moved into a large abandoned Catholic church and set up home. He became friends with many of them and did what he could to help them stay there, keeping a roof over their heads, and advocating for better housing. Unfortunately on his first foray into the wilds of street ministry he was robbed, but not by the people on the street. When he returned to his dorm room he discovered someone had broken in and all of his carefully stashed valuables were gone. Come and see, where Christ is dwelling, where God abides, come and see. It isn’t always where we expect.

 

In our text today Peter responds to his brother’s urgings, just like the Samaritan woman at the well, his brother says to him, “Oh man! You’ve got to come meet this guy! I think, just maybe, he’s the messiah!” and Peter follows him. Come and see, he finds there a man who dwells in God’s presence, who abides with God, who embodies God, come and see, he finds there a community of people living in grace and love, a love so startling that over and over again they fail to get it, fail to see it, that their expectations are constantly shattered. Come and see and let your world view be changed, be shifted. Shane Claiborne expected to meet dangerous thieves, but he met kind and loving people living in community. When we go looking for God we ought to be open to meeting God in very strange places! We ought to be open to seeing Christ in very different people.

 

Despite Peter’s three years of following Christ he remains as stubborn as a Mississippi mule. If I don’t see, I won’t believe it. God knows this, so before he sends him to Cornelius, a most unexpected person in which to see the image of Christ, God confronts Peter’s stubborn insistence on seeing God only where he expects.

 

Surely if God were going to convert anyone, he would convert a Pharisee, right? Or a Rabbi? Or, well, someone appropriate, someone at least of the Jewish lineage, but no. God answers a god-fearing Roman and his household. Peter, who is in the habit of dwelling with God, abiding in God, is doing just that, up on the roof of his house, meditating, being “still and knowing,” God. And God comes to him, “take, kill, and eat” he commands setting before Peter a host of uneatable things. I hope for Peter’s sake there was some lobster or some other wonderful thing previously unknown to him in there! And Peter protests! These can’t be edible! It would be a disgrace to eat such filth! It would make one unclean. He won’t do it! Like Shane Claiborne going downtown to the homeless he is worried about how contact with all this stuff might damage him, might infect him with something untoward, but God speaks to him again, “what I have made clean, you shall not call unclean again!” The image of God lives in even the most unlikely people, and who are we to deny it?

 

And off Peter goes to the foreigner’s house, the invader’s house, the house of a Roman occupier. If Shane Claiborne expected to find dangerous people when he went downtown, Peter was sure to find a dangerous man when he went to the house of a Roman occupier. This was not even a common Roman soldier, but an officer, a centurion. But yes, even to those who commanded the occupying army, God came. Come and see.

 

If we then, are to take seriously this come and see method of evangelism, we need to ask ourselves exactly what it is that people see when they are here with us. When people ask you, why are you so generous and kind, I hope that you will say, “because God first loved me, because God taught me that whatever I do to the least of these, meaning those who are hurting, scared, outside of community, left out in the cold, whatever I do to them, I do also to God, and I love God, so I must love them.”

 

If we take this come and see seriously, can we say that we are a community in which God’s love so shines that people will want to bask in that glow? Can we say that we are a community that longs to love all people, regardless of their native language, their psychiatric history, their faults, their flaws? Are we a community which is so shook by compassion that when we see others hurt, scared, and afraid, we are moved to action? To holding them within the love of Christ, knowing that God can heal what we cannot? Are we that community? For if we are a community that can honestly say, Come and See, how we abide in God, how we dwell in God, then there is no limit to what we can achieve, we can change lives!

 

God has never asked us to understand everything and have the right answers, God has asked us to love all people who he puts in our path, God has asked us to love each other, as we would love Jesus Christ himself.

 

This weekend is MLK weekend and so we are challenged, can we see the image of Christ in the “other?” Can we see the image of God in those who are “other?” Can we love all people who come here and invite them to enter wholly in, that they will not have to leave any part of themselves outside these doors in order to fit in?

 

My friends, we have a challenge, to be the image of Christ to all people who come through those doors and to all people whom we will meet each and every day. We, if we are to claim Christianity, are to be the image of Christ to those we meet, and we are to see in them the image of Christ. Peter was called to see the image of God in an oppressive, military commander, one who may have been called out the very next day to supervise a crucifixion like the one which took the earthy life of our lord and savior, one of those….and see in him the image of God.

 

If I could have anything, anything at all, it would be that this community would so resound with love for one another that people would leave here saying, come and see, come and see how they love one another, come and see how they abide in God, come and see, it’s so wonderful! Come and see how they welcome others wholly and completely, inviting them to show up exactly as they are, no need to leave any part of yourself outside these doors.

 

How we live with one another reveals how we live our faith. In times of difficulty or trouble, we return to our faith. Our faith teaches us how to live in community, it is not solely focused on the hereafter, but on the here and now. Our scripture is full of language telling us how to care for and love one another. The foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the sick, how we treat the most vulnerable among us reveals to the world how we live into the words of Jesus. We can boldly say, Come and See when we live fully into our faith, loving all of God’s children, caring for the most vulnerable among us. We can stand tall and be a light on the hill for all people that they might see God at work when we abide in God and in God’s Word.

 

Peter did not know what he was getting into, he did not know how far outside the lines God would push him, but he was faithful when that push came. He went where he was called and loved even the most unlovable. May we do the same,

Jesus, the Dove, and God

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We are going to get God-drunk today, our heads spinning, everything seems uncertain and the ground on which we stand may sway. We will stand in awe and wonder, because today we are imbibing that rich concoction that is the Trinity, and we will try to avoid heresy as we discuss it. I’m not going to give you advice on how to live a better life today, or how to get right with God, because wisdom, as the proverbs remind us, begins when we stand in awe and trembling before God; letting the wonder of all that God is shatter our preconceptions and stir our hearts and imaginations.

 

Our text today was written centuries before the development of the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was brought about by the emperor Constantine, who insisted there had to be one right answer and the best theologians of the land needed to get their heads together and figure it out. The primary question, at that time, was who is Jesus Christ and what is his relationship to God Almighty? Some said he was a prophet, others the son of God, and therefore not equal to God but somehow lesser, some insisted he was divine right from the start, even before he was born, others insisted that divinity was conferred upon him at his baptism. Today, we are listening to scripture which predates this attempt at certainty.

 

Proverbs 9 tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but I want to challenge that translation. Where we can, we use scripture to understand scripture, and there are few phrases that are more common than “do not be afraid,” so I want to challenge the translation that states we ought to be afraid of God. I want to suggest that a better translation is, “The beginning of wisdom is to stand in awe of the Lord,” with all due trembling and wonder, with our knees knocking not because we are afraid but because we are over-awed, standing before the enormity and majesty of God, allowing the un-captured and unlimited mystery of God to sway us, to touch our heart;

 

So let us begin;

 

In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, the Word was with God and the Spirit of God, the Ruach which moves where it will and cannot be bound or contained, moved over the tohu wa bohu, the chaos and darkness, and the tehom, the depths from which all life would be called forth. God seen through a Trinitarian lens, shaped by the Nicene creed, is present in the beginning wholly and fully, all three aspects or persons of God present. The Word, the Spirit, the Creator, moving over the chaos and darkness, acting on the watery depths, began to create.

 

Yet there must have been some sense of separation when the son of God became incarnate, became enfleshed and accepted some of the limitations of humanity. This separation which is so painfully evident on the cross as we hear Jesus crying out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus, Beloved child, chosen one, in whom God’s soul delights, who will bring forth justice for all the nations (Isaiah 42) experiences a separation from God the Father, calls and cries out. The temple veil separating the holy of holies is shredded as if in grief and loss. God is set loose on the earth, no longer housed in this space. But I get ahead of myself. Our eyes are drawn to the climatic scene as the heavens are rent and torn open, too many spoilers ruin a good story.

 

Returning to Jesus birth, we have this sense of individuation, separation, and perhaps even appreciation, as when you happen to glimpse someone you know well and love but for a moment, you fail to recognize them, for a moment you see them as a stranger would, and then familiarity reasserts itself bringing with it a deeper appreciation of who they are, of how others see them.

 

It is almost impossible to speak of the Trinity without committing one heresy or another. Do we lean toward seeing God in three persons and suddenly we have populated our theology not with one God but three, or do we lean toward the one and suddenly we have a God who is always one and only one but wears different masks at different times, now appearing in the mode of Spirit, now Creator, now Savior? God, very God, three in one God, wholly and completely three, wholly and completely one, eludes us. We just can’t wrap our minds around the concept.

 

Here in this instance we see God looking at God, and looking with joy, awe, and appreciation. Here we have God the Creator looking at God the Savior and exclaiming for all to hear, isn’t this wonderful? This movement of the Savior toward humanity, drawing the Creator, drawing the Spirit near, with deep appreciation and love. Witnessing the consecration, the submission of the Messiah to human necessity, not godly necessity, but human, and we see God very God, in an act of gentle humility submitting to the care and love of John the Baptist. God again giving God’s very self into the care of a very human person. One who would proclaim Jesus in one moment, but express doubt later.

 

As John preached and called for repentance on the banks of the river Jordan, offering a new baptism, one that was particularly effective, not one that needed to be done and redone but one that sealed a change in one’s being. This was a new thing, just as it was new for a prophet to offer a remedy to those he challenged. John’s call for repentance, for preparing the way of the Lord was not new, his offering a baptism was, and like all new things it drew a crowd. And as this crowd came in all their difficult humanity and diverse understandings of what was occurring, Jesus walked in their midst. He comes to John just as all the others do and he refuses to accept a position of privilege. Fully committing himself to his humanity, he asks John to baptize him. Jesus who was without sin, washes in the waters of the Jordan, just like everyone else. There is humility and tenderness in this, a quiet surrender to the will of God, not simply as an example, do as I do, but in fullness, without intending an audience, but quietly going to John with “please” on his lips and gratitude in his heart. This act of surrender and submission to God’s will does not make Jesus the messiah, he was that at his birth. It does serve to consecrate him to this task, an anointing, making him the Christ, the anointed one.

 

And the heavens are rent apart. How different is this moment from the moment of his birth when the heavens were filled with angels proclaiming his arrival. This rending of all that would stand as a barrier between God and humanity re-unites all three aspects of the Trinity. God the Father tearing through the fabric of space to be reunited in joy with his son, the Holy Spirit flying down over the waters, over the holy child, resting upon him, gentle as a kiss. This is the tearing down of all barriers that might separate God from God’s self, that might separate God from the world, that might separate God from us.

 

The heavens are torn apart, just like the temple veil which separates the holy of holies will be torn apart when Jesus dies. God is let loose in the world, no longer confined in some distant heaven or far off place, no longer confined to a small section of the sanctuary which no one enters but once a year and then trembling in fear of God’s wrath. God is loosed upon the world. Barriers between us and God are destroyed, overcome, obliterated, no more. If the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos of creation is so vividly recalled when the Spirit of God hovers over the chaos of humanity’s desperate attempts to be made whole, to find salvation to be healed, if it causes us to look back at the creation, then the tearing of the sky foreshadows the tearing and over coming of the temple veil. Our view is at once drawn back to the first creation and forward to the new creation, the new order. Somewhere between these two events we remember the crossings of the red sea and the Jordan, being freed from slavery, the promise of a home, a land flowing with milk and honey freedom from want and deprivation. In our baptisms we are set free to live a new life, a life freed from fear.

 

Every baptism is an image of beauty in the midst of chaos, recalling the chaotic waters of creation and the Spirit of God hovering over the Tehom to call forth beauty in her midst. Every baptism is a reminder of liberation from exile, the waters parting as we walk out of bondage and into hope. Every baptism is an invitation us to open our eyes and see God at work in us and in spite of us, a holy wind rushing through the community of faith as we feel the splash of water upon our skin.

 

Feeling the Spirit descend upon us, we would know that no matter what was raging around us, the Spirit of God is always hovering over the waters of our world, a beacon of hope, a promise of new life. Over the chaos and apparent dysfunction of our daily lives, of our society, of this beautiful world, teeming with life, with loss, with new birth, with death, God speaks and moves, still creating, still bringing us into the new creation, bringing us through the waters and into the promise. The Spirit of God still hovering over and around us, God still creating, still shaping and molding us into a new creation.

If we are brave enough, we will grasp this gift that God is giving us, this new promise. If we are brave enough we will take that outstretched hand and enter the dance. May it be so,

Unexpected Life

emerging-from-chyrsalis

 

 

 

We hear these words of Isaiah promising a beautiful future, one where predators and prey will befriend one another, but we must put this into context if we are to hear the fullness of this vision. It did not come to Israel during calm periods of peace, but during interesting times. It came to Israel during times when alliances with outside forces threatened the sovereignty of the state. It came to Israel during times when the economic systems promoted the wealthy and devastated the poor. It came to Israel at a time when, as Isaiah put it, “Your hands are full of blood” and there was no justice for the oppressed, poor and marginalized. It came to Israel during dark and frightening times.

 

I wonder if it might almost be heard as a parent comforting a child about to undergo surgery, yes honey, this will hurt, but one day you will walk again, one day you will play again, but yes, it will hurt. Our lectionary this year is insistent that we look at the darkness and brokenness within us. It’s terribly difficult to do and honestly, I was looking for a more upbeat and inspiring message today. One that would fill us all with hope, love and joy, But first, our scripture tells us, repent. The scripture from our lectionary that I didn’t read today was the one with John the Baptist yelling at the pharisees, repent you brood of vipers. I really wanted something more upbeat than that, but here it is again, Isaiah only a few chapters from yelling at Israel saying, God hates your worship, God won’t listen to your prayers, not when your hands are full of blood. We are reminded that advent is not only a time of anticipation but of preparation. Be gentle with yourselves this advent, but be persistent too. Take up your cross and be a part of the healing that this nation, this time, all of us, so need. We are the people who have been called to this moment, to be peace in the world, to bring healing, to speak the gospel word.

 

Oh, it’s a hard word today! A few days ago someone asked me how there can be so much darkness, so much pain in the world. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who became famous for documenting the stages of grief, once toured concentration camps in Germany. She was met there by survivors who had returned to the camp to tell their stories. Stories not only of loss, despair and death, but stories of redemption, of finding meaning and purpose in caring for one another, of finding hope in the midst of this most painful situation. As she toured the camp she began to notice that there were images of butterflies carved and scrawled in corners and over beds, in midst of these horrible living conditions, images of butterflies and she asked her tour guide about this. Her guide responded, “We knew we were in hell, that all we knew was gone and that everything was falling apart. Some of us believed that God was still at work in the midst of this, that God would triumph, even if we didn’t know how. We believed that God was remaking us and that in the end, God would be triumphant.”

 

So we turn to the hope, the promise, yes, the chrysalis looks like death, but something new is being born and we must stay faithful and stay present to this. Reverend Yolanda Norton, an assistant professor at San Francisco Theological, described it this way: “In Isaiah 11:1-10, the prophet finds himself in a season of despair. He writes in the interstitial space between destruction; a time that has seen and is anticipating devastation at the hand of the Assyrian empire. And yet, the prophetic speech of Isaiah is filled with a persistent hope that God will bring peace, order, and love in the midst of chaos and ruin.”

 

She goes on to remind us that while Isaiah is promising us that the end is secure and that God will not now nor ever abandon us, God does work through us and insists we participate in the healing of the nation. This is not a suggestion that God will magically make everything better even if we persist in tearing things down. Isaiah spoke truth to power, and that power was involved in tearing things down, in oppressing and hurting people. Get right with God, he said, do it now, but to the people he spoke words of peace, of promise.

 

This is the promise, that we have a savior and he will judge with righteousness, and his justice is restorative. Even the most venomous among us will be made whole, will be made well. Nature, red in tooth and claw, will become peaceful and a new paradigm will reign. And we are called to participate in this transformation. In the first chapter of Isaiah we are told what this will look like, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

 

Christ is constant, God’s mercy and justice are constant, but we are not. So in the season of Advent we are called again to the paths of righteousness and of hope, of mercy to those who are vulnerable and justice for those who are oppressed. We are called to be a living witness to the hope we find in Jesus Christ. To live each day with the intention of lifting up those who are beaten down by life, who struggle and who are hurting. We are called to stay present to all the pain and loss in the world and to see it through eyes of compassion and not grow weary but abide in the promise, gain sustenance from the love and mercy of God.

 

Viktor Frankl was a psychologist who was interned at the concentration camps. He stayed present, he observed, and he noted what it was that made a difference, what it was that helped some survive while others, seemingly strong and healthy succumbed. He said later that what made the difference was the act of reaching out to others with love and compassion. In a vivid example of this a survivor recounts how, as a young man he and most of his neighbors were herded into a cattle car to be transported and on the way the cattle car was left on the side of the tracks in bitter, freezing cold. He noticed that one of his neighbors, an older man, was shivering violently and he went to him. He sat with this man all night, rubbing his freezing feet, holding him, keeping him warm and alive. When the dawn broke only the two of them were left alive, their act of solidarity, of keeping one another warm through the bitter night had saved them.

 

We are called to just such acts of solidarity. We are called to the audacious hope and conviction that even when things seem to be at their darkest, that God is still working a great good in us. We are called to righteousness, yes, but also a stubborn faith that even when the world seems to be tottering on its axis that God is in control, that God has good in mind for us and not evil. So we step bravely into this future, this incredible belief that we can stay present to the pain of the world, that we can have compassion for one another, and that love will win.

Embracing Joy

 

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Matthew 24:36-44

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

 

 

Decide now how you will live your life. What matters most to you. Where do you want to put your energy. Make that decision now. You don’t have much time. You think you have time, but you don’t, so decide now, act now, be the person you want to be now. You don’t have much time, don’t be fooled, don’t put it off. Be who you want to be right now.

 

If the word apocalypse literally means removing the veil of all our illusions, of coming face to face with the truth, then perhaps we can live an apocalyptic life every day, shredding our illusions and facing the reality, the difficult truths, the beautiful truths, every day. It’s odd, though, isn’t it? that our lectionary has this apocalyptic warning for the first Sunday of advent. Advent is that time of waiting, of anticipating, it’s a pregnant time, dark and hidden, waiting for new light, new birth, new life, the hope of a new future and kingdom here on earth, and the whole world groans for this, we long for redemption, for this new thing to come, for justice to come down like a cleansing rain, washing away all injury, all wounds cleansed and healed, we long for this!

 

But fear does drive us now and then, it causes us to pull back from our dreams, our best intentions and asks us to live a life that is small and safe. It insists we can try and live out our dreams another day, another time, but not now, not yet, we’re not ready, and so we play it small. If the owner of the house had known when the thief was coming, he might have realized the thief is the fear that lives in his own heart insisting that he lock all the doors, put up a fence and keep a safe distance from anyone who might want his things. The thief is the promise that he can make it alone and doesn’t need anyone so why take a risk? Why answer the door and risk meeting someone who might hurt your heart, disappoint you, abandon you.

 

“We want to love people who won’t hurt us, let us down, or betray us, but there are no other people.” Everyone we meet is fighting a battle with their own wounds, their own brokenness and sometimes it spills over and we get caught in it; the closer we are to that person, the more we feel, the more likely we are to be hurt, but the alternative, shutting down, closing our hearts, pulling away from love, is far more painful. Fear says it’s not worth the risk, love says we are strong enough to take it all in stride, feel the pain of our best intentions falling flat, our expectations unmet, failure to communicate, and still love. Love says we have plenty of room and lots to give and we can live our lives out loud.

 

CS Lewis said that, ““To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

 

And so a part of us wants to avoid living fully, loving fully. We want to lock ourselves away from any vulnerability or risk, but we cannot live that way. Brene Brown is a researcher based in Houston Texas and a several years ago she began researching whole heartedness. She wanted to know how it is that some people are able to live these rich, full lives, lives that we all look at with a little envy. In her now famous TED talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability#t-9445) Brene admitted that when she discovered that the difference between these whole hearted, delightful folk and those who lived much more cautiously and fearfully was accepting vulnerability she experienced a bit of an existential crisis. She had been looking for the perfect life hack, how to have it all, to win at the game of life, and the answer came back, be vulnerable, accept that you will be hurt, you will lose, and decide to love anyway.

 

I’m with Brene in that deep down desire to find an easier way! And there is a big part of me that wants to put my life on hold until this better way shows up. I want promises and certainty, but our text reminds us vividly today that only one thing is certain, we aren’t promised tomorrow. We are not given the perfect life hack, but invited to consider how we are living with what is. Are we keeping our lights lit, our lamps full of oil as we wait for the bridegroom? Are we saying the things we most need to say, the I love you’s, the I forgive you’s? Are we offering our hearts and our full attention to those we love the most? Or are we withdrawing and distracting, promising that another time, another place we’ll show up more fully.

 

The hospice caregiver Stephen Levine participated in a one year thought experiment which he documented in his book A Year to Live. He decided to live one year with the thought that this year might very well be his last. He wanted to get that incredible benefit which he saw many of the dying people he accompanied receiving as they approached their death. Why wait, he thought, until the diagnosis was for real. Tomorrow is never promised us, he figured, so why not assume that I will not be here next year. Every time he began to disengage with life, he would remind himself that this was his last experience of this day. He practiced embracing each and every day, each and every experience. It is not that he had not known that he ought to be fully open, fully present, but knowing this and actually practicing it are two different things.

 

So we begin our period of advent, this pregnant time, with the reminder that this is precious, precious time. This is one more incredible opportunity to open our hearts, to stay present with all that pains us, to forgive, to love, to worship, to create space in our every day busy-ness for joy.

 

Jack Kornfield:

“In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?” 

 

So having gotten just this far into my sermon I was personally confronted by the fact that I have not been living this way. I know the importance of being present in each moment, cherishing each relationship, but doing it, actually putting these thoughts into practice isn’t something I’ve been very good at. I get busy, just like all of you and I get tired and it always seems like there will be another day, another time.

 

In June of this year I drove through Minneapolis, anxious to get here I failed to make adequate preparations to connect with people there whom I dearly love. I told myself that there will always be time, I could come back up later, but six months down the road I just never had. It’s hard to convey simply how important these people are to me; people who helped me find courage and conviction when it would have been easier to simply quit. People who offered me many and various ways to participate in the life of the church and encouraged me. People who had become a new family to me, yet I had gotten busy and failed to connect.

 

Short story long, I was in Minneapolis by 1:30, eating tomato basil soup at Turtle Bread Bakery, relishing the sights, the tastes, the sounds of a city that had been home to me for four years. At 4:30 I was sitting on the steps of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian watching members of my church family begin to filter in. I hadn’t been there in nearly four years, Bill has a full beard now, I almost didn’t recognize him. Lisa has lost weight and was looking all fine and trim. The Root kids had grown! Oh my gosh, but Owen is as tall as I am now! My two Sue’s and Kara, women who have been like sisters to me, were all there.

 

Yesterday I stopped denying myself the joy of reconnecting with these lovely and beloved people. Yesterday, a few of us gathered around a table and shared a meal. Yesterday I was able to wrap my arms around dear friends and give them long overdue hugs! Yesterday I remembered that I am not promised any more time; I am not promised second chances or second Christmases,

 

How well do you love, how fully do you live, how well do you let go of things not meant for you? The problem is, we think we have time and we put off our joy, we tell ourselves that we can connect with loved ones later, we can say the words that we long to say, later, we can find joy, later.

 

Do not wait, my friends, we are not promised later. We have the incredible gift of now. Do not withhold yourself from joy. Cherish each relationship, treasure your conversations, give yourself fully to each moment, for tomorrow isn’t promised. Two will go into the field, but only one will come back; so love and live as fully as you can, cherishing this moment, this time, this person with you now, and do not withhold yourself from joy.

 

Transformed by Gratitude

 

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[d] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[e] approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show your selves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’[f] feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Were none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

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Gratitude is an act of appreciation, of awareness, it is a choice. We choose to dwell in love, in active thanksgiving, celebrating the gifts we have received, the abundance that surrounds us. There are so many voices surrounding us these days, telling us to be afraid, telling us we don’t have enough, telling us we aren’t good enough, and to be fair, these voices are pretty persistent and loud, but we have another voice, that still, quiet voice which is always present to us, which reminds us that we are wholly loved and cherished, that we need not be afraid, that we have enough and we are enough.

 

We can choose to dwell in gratitude, to deny those voices which insist we do anything other than this. A grateful heart is a peaceful heart, is a loving heart; living a life of gratitude is an act of holy appreciation. It is to continually look and see all the wonderful things that God has done for us. We are invited to stand in awe of the immensity of God’s love and providence. Today is a gift none of us have earned or deserve, Life itself is a gift. Today we stand, or sit, surrounded by the incredible beauty of this community, a loving, kind, and gracious community. A community which reaches out and enfolds the lost, the hurting, the lonely, a community which feeds the hungry and accompanies the sick and dying with love and grace.

 

We can choose to dwell in gratitude through this act of holy appreciation. We choose to dwell in gratitude when we notice the care and affection given us every single day. The hot cup of coffee, the warm dinner, the lighting of a fire place, the hand which reaches out to hold our hand, each act a simple gesture of love, of care, of being seen, which we are invited to appreciate. ‘a grateful heart is a peaceful heart, is a loving heart’ holy appreciation is a deliberate act, a choice to see all the gifts and love around us. , it is an invitation to raise our eyes from the hard work, from any grief or loss that weighs on us, and see the light of love and grace in our daily life. To stay awake and woke to the beauty and the light of God pouring down on us like sunlight breaking through the clouds on a cold day.

 

 

Perfect love casts our fear, and it frees us to be more wholly who we were created to be. Voices of scarcity and fear will tell us that we are only hungry for the next new thing, or that we need to be better than we are, or that we will never have enough. That still, small voice within reminds us that we are children of God, created in God’s very image, that we are enough, and we have enough. What we are really hungry for is meaning and purpose, we hunger for what we are not giving. We have a need to give, to know that our life has meaning and purpose. We hunger to know that our lives are being lived with integrity and that we are living faithful lives. We think sometimes that we are hungry for what we do not have, that we always need one more thing, but the need we are trying to fill is that of meaning and purpose, that of expressing our love and care, our creativity and gifts. We long to live into our God given identities, a longing that God has written into our very heart and soul. We were created in community for community and we long for this interconnectedness.

 

If the first blessing, the first gift that Jesus gave to the lepers was that of physical healing, the second, which only the tenth received, was that of abiding in and dwelling in deep love and gratitude. It was to be moved from suspicion to trust, from isolation to connection, from enslavement to an imposed self reliance to the reality of interdependence and community. We are all part of the body of Christ. I will not be well while my brother, while my sister is not well and realizing this, my heart is opened, my life transformed. Gratitude is the great gesture of this passage, this transformation.

 

And this gesture of passage unites us. It unites us as human beings, for we realize that in this whole passing universe we humans are the ones who pass and know that we pass. There lies our human dignity. There lies our human task. The task of entering into the meaning of this passage (the passage which is our whole life), of celebrating its meaning through the gesture of thanksgiving.” Of deep abiding gratitude.
– Br. David Steindl-Rast

 

 

 

 

The tenth leper was so overwhelmed he moved completely out of fear, he did not rush off hoping his good fortune wouldn’t be taken from him, his faith was so firm he never even considered that his good fortune, this gift of healing, could be lost. He simply rejoiced. He exulted in this moment of joy, of healing. He withheld nothing of himself held not one shred of doubt, can this be real, but simply let go with exuberant joy.

 

I imagine that some of the others might have rushed off, thinking, “a man who can heal so easily must be incredibly powerful, imagine what else he might do. With all that power, he could be dangerous,” and so they scurried away, in fear.

 

Another might have thought, “Oh wow! I’m healed! But….is it for real? Will it last? I’d better see a priest as quick as I can before it goes away. How long do you think it will last?” he might have wondered as he rushed to the temple, fear driving him.

 

All of these lepers had at one time, been a part of the community they were hoping to return to. Families they hadn’t seen or interacted with for years. Friends they could no longer hang out with. How often had they dreamt of healing, of being home again, of seeing old friends or attending celebrations, the weddings of their children, Passover, harvest, all the traditional gatherings.

 

How long had they been standing on the edge of society, having to warn off passersby, calling out, “unclean, unclean,” bearing the shame of having somehow failed or simply not being good enough, but not being able to do anything about it.

 

And now it was within their grasp. Yet only one was able to accept this grace fully, only one was able to fully enter the moment, to leave off all fearful doubts and simply rejoice. Now, I know that I am one of those who often struggle to accept good things. I probably would have been one of the 9 lepers who ran off, not trusting that all this grace and goodness could be real, or could really be for me.

 

But if we can really feel our blessing, wake up to the enfolding love of God, the full embrace of this loving and gracious community, our whole lives will be changed, transformed, made new.

 

We are those who live in the middle of blessing so rich that we are like fish in water, wondering what it might be like to really swim. We are a blessed and loving community, healed and made whole through the love of Jesus Christ and today we have this incredible invitation to move into gratitude and let it shift and change our hearts.

 

It’s a new way of being, this act of letting go of all anxiety and fear, of letting oneself be overwhelmed by love and gratitude. We may lose our way, time and again. Old memories may reassert themselves. The voices that tell us we are not good enough or we don’t have enough will continue to shout, and we may fall into fear and anxiety again. The antidote to fear and anxiety is love and to experience love fully is to find one’s self suffused with gratitude and if we let that gratitude suffuse our whole being, we may well find ourselves dancing, or kneeling, praying or singing, and nothing will be the same again.