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A Righteous Advent

November 29, 2015 Leave a comment

 

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Last week I was scheduled to give you a brief talk about stewardship, particularly stewardship of creation. Now for me there is not that much of a stretch between these two themes – creation and advent – so I was thinking just maybe we could merge them into one message. It will either come together brilliantly or fail pathetically, but you are owed at least an attempt at what you missed from me last week. We shall hope for brilliance. And if it never gets there, there’s always coffee to discuss it over after the service.

So let’s begin this adventure with our first reading today from Jeremiah. Notice how the readings are prophetic and apocalyptic. The one thing we draw towards in this season, the one focus as the natural daylight fades and the amount of darkness increases IS the new Light – with a capital L. Or maybe more appropriate might be RE-newed Light. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, what we do in Advent is recollect ourselves and prepare for the second coming of Christ. The prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah tell us of the first coming. That prophecy was fulfilled just over 2000 years ago. That is why today we focus on the renewed Light, represented by the candles in the beautiful wreath. We are to bring ourselves back into a state of going about our business in a right and proper manner. And we’re told of that second coming in the writings of the Gospels and Epistles; here today we’re reading Luke’s version and the self-prophecy of Jesus describing the future. So we wait in hope with our candles lit to drive away the darkness that tries to consume us.

And do it how? In righteousness. Now this word has an effect where when we are confronted with it can often confuse as well as annoys us. Righteousness. It’s a word that you seldom hear outside of religious circles. Someone makes a comment about how someone is a sinner for doing something that the good book says they will be condemned for. Another hears this not-so-nice comment and responds with “you aren’t supposed to judge others!” That response is immediately met with the first person saying “I use righteous judgement like the bible says to do! So don’t judge me!” And another opportunity to learn from and educate each other is wiped out because now both parties are in defense mode and there is nothing that can be said that will change their minds.

How did this situation get so convoluted to start with? Again, I think it comes down to how we view that word “righteousness”. It sounds so authoritative. Yet Jeremiah convincingly and lovingly cries out with hope that the Lord will cause a righteous branch to spring up, and there will be justice and righteousness, and everything will be so wonderful and fulfilling that the day shall be called “The Lord is our righteousness.”  …   Let’s ask ourselves how that compares with the form of being righteous I just mentioned.

There is a difference. True righteousness is not an attitude or an absolute standard. It refers to how we conduct ourselves in staying in line with God’s purpose – God’s ‘will’ – if you wish. In the Feasting on the Word Commentary, Gary Charles says that “It is doing the good thing and the God thing: right doing as opposed to wrongdoing, and doing as opposed to being.” What we see and hear of all too often is Self-righteousness which is nothing more than the inflated ego of self-approval; He says further “righteousness is the humble ethic of living toward others in just and loving relationships.” We as a congregation will be comforted and motivated by preaching and teaching that brings this kind of Jeremiah righteousness into its language and life. It will be a challenge that causes us to reflect on our integrity in the world. So is the Lord our righteousness? Are we willing to welcome the day when God’s justice and righteousness will be fulfilled? Can we read Jesus’s words in Luke and accept that what he describes will come true?

I don’t know how you understand it all but for me, this acceptance of Advent just doesn’t fit into the secular world this time of year. How soon after the pumpkins were carved did we see tinsel and trees and inflatable snowmen, santas, and yes – even inflatable baby Jesus’s placed on the shelves where just a day or two prior sat bags of black and orange wrapped candy. Advent doesn’t fit into the secular world these days because it’s antithetical to capitalism. We mustn’t be contemplating our inner lives and making space in our hearts for more peace and hope and love and joy when Christmas gets here. We’re supposed to have already opened two new lines of credit, preordered all the latest tech gadgets, and stocked up on every bottle of cheer and box of candy we can find. That’s what will make us happy! And it will make us happy now! Because if we’re happy now, we are sure to be elated on Christmas morning. Or Christmas Eve more than likely, the way we are forced to keep moving everything further ahead these days. So Advent just doesn’t fit into the ways of a kind of world that wants us to be in and OF it.

There has to be a balance where we can nurture the space not of this world. A space where candles are filling in the shadows with their light, while we do what is needed to be done in the world with the challenge not to become a part of it. This is where stewardship enters the picture. We must make the best use of and be able to balance our time, our energy, our work load, (our check books), and our prayer time; so that we don’t forget what is most important to us. Also, what is important to God and God’s purposes – God’s will – that way of righteousness that is humble, just, and loving to every creature on this earth.

I use the word “creature” here to mean everything that was created. When we use creation language we are more apt to view everything around us as something sacred and holy whose substance exists from the beginning of time, back when – as Paul says in other parts of his letter to the Thessalonians – Christ was before all things came into being and nothing came into being without Christ. In all things. Created all things. Yes. Christ was, is, and is to be. Everything that God made – and God continues to make – was and is declared by Him to be good. It is because of this I’m inclined to believe that any destruction of the creaturely nature of earth, our island home, is not a very righteous thing to do. Which is why I’ll always try to be a prophetic voice for those creatures who cannot speak for themselves.

Advent takes work, commitment, and an open mind that is willing to break loose from the material objects that we are told will comfort us and bring us joy. Advent makes us wait in candle lit silence in preparation for the second coming. Advent takes a righteous kind of thinking that will seek out God’s purpose and will. We are in a time that is constantly trying to drag us away from what we are supposed to be doing and apart from the people we need to do it with. May we as a congregation join together this Advent and become the light of a candle for our community that allows them to see the light of Christ whose return we wait for in this world. Amen.

Deacon Pete

Ref:  RCL Year C, First Advent.

Have Yourself A Cosmic Christmas

December 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Merry Christmas everyone!  Tonight I bring you greetings from a host of sisters and brothers in Christ who could not be here but wish to extend their best wishes, prayers and love as well.  We are truly blessed by them and on this wonderful night we can respond in kind through our own thoughts and prayers.

You know, so much happens in the space of a year that when we pause to collect our thoughts and look back at where we were 12 months ago – (and I’m not just talking about our church but our personal lives as well) how we arrived at where we currently are on this Christmas might have been hard to imagine back then.  It might have been nice to have a prophet convey a message to us about it as did Isaiah.  But then I think about that and I’m not sure how that would work out.  Think of how we would react if a modern day prophet had foretold us of the events that would soon shake and shape our world into the condition it’s in now.  What an amazing story we would have listened to as the future was presented to us.  Depending on our individual views, some might have called the prophet odd, some might have ignored him, some might have suggested a good therapist, and as an afterthought some might have even waited to tell the rest of us “They told you so.”  Yet here we are, a year later celebrating the birth of our LORD at the Christmas Vigil – announcing with the psalmist “The LORD is King; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad.” We have spent the previous four weeks during Advent preparing for this day singing together “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel”   We are here, seated on this glorious night listening to how the angels met the shepherds and rejoiced singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  And we continue to read Luke’s narration telling us, how after hearing the story of the shepherds, Mary; “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

As I read over and over the words “Rejoice” I was reminded of another time not long ago where we shouted a different tone of “Rejoice”!  That was nine months ago as we walked through Holy Week together with mixed emotions.  After singing the Exultet at the lighting of the Easter Candle I repeatedly made known in my brief homily at the Easter Vigil how it was essential that we were to rejoice in the goodness that was already ours, regardless of what the world looked like to us.  We were caught in a time when we were forced to look at ourselves and realize that if we were to celebrate a birth at the end of a year, a resurrection was needed in our own community.  It’s a paradox as old as time that in order for something to die; something must be born, yet for something to be born, something has to die.  It’s about returning to life over and over.

And returning to life is what you did!  As we gather together on this Christmas Eve, it is quite evident that there is more than one birth to be celebrated tonight.  We come to celebrate the birth of Jesus and honor Him with hymns of praise and prayers of thanksgiving while coming together in Holy Communion as a parish – a bit more confident than we were nine months ago.  It’s a celebration of a rebirth into a new era in the history of our church.  A rebirth where, back in the spring, we collectively gathered our questions, our fears, our hopes and our hearts; and realized that if we want to move forward we must evolve.  And evolve we did!  But there’s one thing about evolving – and we must not become complacent with this – it’s an action that never ends.  For Christ never stops evolving and neither must we.

The Christ of evolution is different than the Christ that most of us think of.  It is not the baby Jesus and not the man Jesus but the Christ that Jesus became and the Christ that lives in each of us.  It is the source of our being, which we need to cultivate, grow and actually live.  During the season of Advent we looked for times of solitude, resting in peace and silence to help nurture us from within.  We looked for quiet times to prepare for the coming of Christ, but if we look for that coming of Christ under our tree or on the mantel in the crèche we put out for Christmas, we’ll miss the point of this every time.  To quote Canon Babcock during one of his off-the-cuff homilies at our Wednesday Holy Eucharist; “We aren’t using Advent for the preparation of the coming of Jesus, that’s history, it’s already happened.  We’re using Advent for the preparation of the rebirth of Christ within ourselves.”  So that is why we work so hard for this day.  It’s the promise of the second coming and the promise we make to God in our baptismal covenant to make Christ alive in every action in our daily lives.   If we look at tonight as just another birth celebration – even with all the energy and love we put into it – we lose the purpose of the event the rest of the year and next year we’re still in the same place, just one year older.  Far too often we get in ruts or become comfortable where we are and so we sit back and think that we’re rolling right along when in fact what we’re really doing is falling behind.   We become static and Christ appears static to us.  Everything passes us by and the rest of the universe goes on evolving without us.

I find it interesting that the Jewish Tanak begins the first chapter of Genesis “In the beginning when God began to create…”  Creation is not a one-time event and to stay evolving means we are also responsible for creating the world we live in.  The entire universe; all the stars, planets, galaxies and nebulas and all the other things we stand in awe of while looking at the night sky are moving and expanding, even stars are born and they create planets and then eventually die off.  All this from having been shot out in the explosion of the big bang we call God’s beginning of creation by making order out of chaos and creating something from nothing.  Just as we are moving through our galaxy, Christ is moving within and around us and we must move in life with Christ, ever changing, ever adapting, working peacefully with every person on earth; always looking for new ways to better ourselves and our community.   Our relationship with Christ is our relationship with the world.  The Franciscan Nun Ilia Delio puts it this way; “Because we humans are in evolution we must see Christ in evolution as well- Christ’s humanity is our humanity, Christ’s life is our life … To live in Christ is to live in community; to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of community.”

In order for us to continue to evolve in the same fashion as the last nine months that gave us this rebirth, we must never stop moving forward.  We must keep moving with the same Christ that St. Paul talks about when he calls it the Christ in which we “live and move and have OUR being.”  There is nothing static about our lives in Christ.  To paraphrase the reading from Titus; the grace of Christ is not something we have gained through any special act or deed, but a gift from God we receive and are given at every moment of every day. Father John and Father Tom and I can tell you that we hear and see good things happening here among us.  We are entering this new era here and it is not merely a coincidence that we’ve arrived at this place on Christmas Day, in the same amount of time it takes to give birth.  It took a great deal of honest reflection and committed people to achieve what we’ve done but keep in mind the work is never done.  God doesn’t stop creating, Christ doesn’t stop moving, the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop guiding; it’s up to us to look at this newborn Christ within us and ask where we are to go next.  Whether the answer is from within our own self or from the entire family of sisters and brothers in Christ, when the actions are finished for this leg of our journey there will be another path to take from there.  Today the world sings praises and celebrates the birth of Jesus.  Let us pray with thanksgiving that as we join them in song and praise, we again REJOICE … because Christ is also alive and reborn within us … and with Mary we can reflect on all the joyful things that have been said and done in our lives, and treasure them in our own hearts as well, never forgetting to love and live in Christ not just on this Christmas Day, but every day of every year.  Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL year A; Christmas Day II

A Healthy Spirit

December 17, 2013 Leave a comment

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We often hear of someone who is a good spirit. On occasion we’ve heard people described as mean spirited. We hear of people seeing spirits walking around. We have spiritual growth committees, we describe ourselves as being on spiritual journeys, and some of us even have spiritual directors. The “spirit” can be holy, tired, lively, poor or untamed. With all of these and numerous other ways we tie the spirit into our daily lives and conversations, it makes me stop and wonder where our concept of what spirit is comes from.
When I personally think of the spirit my mind imagines the spirit as it was portrayed in the baptism of Jesus and at Pentecost; “in the image of a dove.” Yet I believe that being a part of God’s creation means I carry within me a portion of that Holy Spirit of God. We all do. And that Spirit can be displayed to others or it can be repressed by us depending on how we choose to work with it. Yet there is more. Consider how we pray. When I pray or am thinking about my actions and attitudes what I pray for is a healthy spirit. A healthy spirit means that we are taking care of our souls while genuinely caring for the souls of others. It means we have taken the time for daily scheduled prayer or meditation or hopefully both. It means the things we read, watch, and listen to are grounded in our faith’s teachings and inspire us to do good. And it means that when we do find ourselves facing fear (fear being the root of anger, hate, and prejudices) we can turn to Christ and ask for God to send the Holy Spirit to guide us with love. When we follow through with that course of action we can more easily have faith that the outcome will be what God wills, and we are better able to accept it. Yes, there are many ways to talk about the spirit. During these seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, may we all work towards having a healthy spirit.
Peace to all,
Deacon Pete

Say Yes this Advent

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

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The birds were hanging out around my feeders early this morning. Our dogs had decided to allow me to sleep a bit longer than usual and so it surprised me to look out on the deck and notice a Blue Jay staring at me from the deck railing. Another motion caught my eye from the red twig dogwood which was a downy woodpecker examining the branches for food. Then another movement under a pine tree revealed a red belly woodpecker. My senses slowly began to wake up and get attuned to my surroundings as a variety of birds came into focus. There were doves, cardinals, finches, titmice, chickadees, sparrows and a few others that escaped before I could identify them, darting quickly in and out from my view. Some landed on the ground beneath the feeders while others chased each other in out of the bushes and shrubs, all with the one intention of finding food. I began to wonder how many other things I’ve missed in the past simply because I’d not taken the time to stop and look.
We miss a great deal in life by not taking the time to look around at our surroundings and notice what is in front of our eyes. Some will focus on beauty; some will see only pain. Some will pull away from the immediate scene and gaze out at the distant hills and clouds. How many will notice everything that is around them? Our entire lives can play out like this one scene: Tending to focus on the thing that’s going on with us, forgetting about or ignoring the rest of the world as she turns and takes care of her business. Our energy and time gets consumed by this one event. As we approach Advent, let’s see if we can enlarge our view of the environment. What can be done to see as much of this huge tapestry of life as possible as it plays in front of our eyes day in and day out? When Mary said “Yes” to God, she was agreeing to open herself up to an unimaginable history changing experience. We don’t expect to change any history other than our own with the work done for our souls, but we can work to see any number of new happenings right in front of us if we, too, can say “Yes” to God. Let us greet this season of Advent with our eyes, mind, and heart wide open so that our experience of waiting for the newborn Christ gives us a larger view of the world than we would normally expect. Amen.

Deacon Pete

Old Thanksgiving, New Era Advent

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

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As a young child, Thanksgiving meant one of several things to me.  First and foremost it meant gathering around the television to watch the parade and wait anxiously to see Santa riding in the final float with his reindeer, and later we feasted on a huge turkey dinner with pumpkin pie.  My plate was usually full of turkey and just enough of the other things to ensure I’d be getting that pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.  It also meant my Dad and my uncles would be gathering to plan out the strategy for their hunting trips on Monday.  And of course it meant we would soon be taking a ride into the city to see the Christmas lights strung across the roads from street lamp to street lamp, and strolling down the sidewalks to see the magic of mechanical displays in the windows of stores such as Glosser Brothers and Penn Traffic.  Some of the toy elves would hammer and saw while others tied bows on boxes and of course Santa would be patting Rudolph on the head or wave to us as we stretched our little legs as high and tall as we could get without being picked up by Mom or Dad.

Those family gatherings, the preparations and trips were all part of a time and season where hope was attached to each snow flake that fell on the lawn wishing for a white Christmas.  The stillness of the cold nights held a certain peace that kept us youngsters from getting too rambunctious from having to play inside so much.  The TV programs of Frosty, Rudolph, and the short animations of Suzie Snowflake and Hardrock, Coco, and Joe brought joy to our little hearts as they signaled the coming of Santa – and yes, Jesus, too.  But the thing that held us together most through whatever else came along was the love of a family knit closely together by their faith in the Holy child, Jesus.  Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love; the four themes we celebrate in the coming season of Advent may have been impressed upon a child through the events of the season in his or her surroundings, but these words are made manifest in that final celebration of the birth of Christ, the first and final Word: The Word found in today’s scripture readings that hold even more reasons to be thankful.

Scripture says “let’s not stop at the reasons to be thankful.”  The stories show us how to celebrate and in each reading we find a different aspect of what Thanksgiving can mean to us.  On the surface Deuteronomy may seem like it’s giving us another law but what it’s really doing is helping us prioritize our actions.  Many people in this situation – getting a new job or new income – would take what they have made or what they have been paid and make an offering after what is left from all of their needs, wants, and desires.  What we’re told is the opposite; that a true and mature faith requires us to make our gifts to God and God’s people first and what is left is for us to live on.  The wise souls know that putting God first in all of their actions is an act of thanksgiving done not with expectations of getting something in return, but actions done with love.  In the psalm we rejoice – for God’s mercy is endless.  When we walk with God or meet with Him, wherever that may be, we need to be constantly aware that we are on Holy ground and the only action required is to openly show our gratitude.  So we come before his presence with a song.

The epistle for Thanksgiving Day almost shouts aloud by itself!  Rejoice!  Again I say, Rejoice!  There is no coincidence that the exultet which is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, the chant that echoes the phrase “rejoice now all you saints and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets sound salvation” that it is the same joyful noise we make today.  We rejoice in the resurrection that leads us into Easter and Pentecost and now as we close the calendar of the church year we once again repeat the sounding joy with thanksgiving.  Surely there were times that were troubled and times where our thoughts veered off course, but they were for their own time; at this moment in time the focus of our prayers are to be filled with thanksgiving.  Whatever is placed in front of us right now should be held in the light of goodness, purity, and worthy of honorable praise.  We should be thankful for everything and rejoice for all that is good.

And finally our Gospel puts the exclamation point on Happy Thanksgiving, with the knowledge through the Word that we are always fed with bread from heaven.  Why it’s even written into the Great Thanksgiving at the Offertory:  “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”  We truly have been blessed this past year.  We’ve found strength in ourselves and support for each other.  We’ve made some errors along the way but nothing has damaged us.  For me to say that I’m grateful for all of you would be an understatement.  We’ve helped each other grow and with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the kinship of the Holy Spirit we’ll continue to move forward.  A new era awaits us.  It could not be more fitting for it to greet us as we give thanks and celebrate the things we have, and also as we head into the Advent season of waiting and preparing for the good things to come.  So as we give thanks for the past and present, let us also rejoice with Hope in our future, Peace in our community, Joy in our souls, and Love in our hearts.  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL Thanksgiving Day, Year C