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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.

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Spirit and Character (and hope)

May 26, 2013 1 comment

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How striking the words that Jesus starts out with! “I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now.” He tells his friends this because if he told them the truth they wouldn’t believe him, nor would they understand certain things about God and Spirit. With each passing day He made reference to God as his father, yet even that seemed difficult for them to grasp. Many mysteries of the world would have been revealed to them if they could somehow break away from the routine thought patterns of their minds. But at the same time, they came to him with hopes, dreams and a faith that defied rational thinking. Day after day they followed him and listened to his words. He eagerly and lovingly accepted the crowds that begged to be healed, taking time away only to eat, sleep, and of course – pray. They may not have understood the how or why of this healing but none of it seemed to matter to the followers – as long as they could touch his garments they knew the possibility of a new life was at hand. And Jesus recognized this need for a personal relationship – all the while knowing that his absence would be quite hard for them to bear. For him to leave without instructions would be near abandonment to those who expected their messiah to be a living hero and free them once and for all. They were to hear all the truth at another time in another way. A way in which God the Son could continue guiding and loving them even after he was gone from their sight; a way in which we can still today can access all the truth without hearing the words.

Yes, even in our own time, we find it difficult to bear the real meaning behind the words we hear or miss the opportunity to make a connection with what we read or hear. I have a personal story about that which might serve as a good example that goes along with today’s reading from Paul. It illustrates this fairly well. Some of you may have heard me tell it, some not, and I hope it bears repeating on this day. Three years ago while I was working at my internship, Sheri happened to become ill and we were in one of rooms of the emergency department at the hospital. Now it also happened to be that I was preaching that upcoming Sunday and was reading the lessons to see where my sermon would be going. As I sat next to the bed, I opened up my Bible to the marked passage and was reading – quite intensely to be sure – when I glanced over and thought about how much pain she was in at the time. I glanced back at the text and continued. The next thing I know I’m reading the line about suffering… and about how it leads to endurance… and how that leads to character… and then hope… and then I became filled with the Holy Spirit, or so I thought, and thinking that this was all in some cosmic order of events; me… her… the reading… everything seemed to fit together… I said; “Listen to this! Here’s an answer and reason for what you’re going through!” Well, she glanced up at me in what appeared to be thankfulness for maybe finding a cure. “Here it is, right here in this week’s readings for my sermon!” And I began reciting the passage from Paul of what suffering led to and after I was done I said; “See? All of this pain and suffering you’re going through?!? It all leads to character and hope!! So you have nothing to worry about!” —– It was at that moment I learned a huge lesson in bedside manners concerning pastoral care. She gave me a look only a spouse could understand and said “I don’t want character and hope; I want this pain to go away!!!”

Yes, I then also understood how many times we think we have an answer – or the answer – and jump into something without first discerning the situation or praying for the right solution. It was not that I had lousy intentions with my zealous reaction; it was that I was not ready to bear the words. I, too, was hearing through my own mind from my own will and my own emotions – and not from a place where I could discern all the truth that the passage was telling me. Oh, the Holy Spirit was present there, that’s for sure, right there in the written words. Had I maybe not been so attached to the situation I may have found that the passage was meant for me. That as I struggled and sympathized with her pain, the situation would help form me into being better with hospital visits. It might just help me recognize the hope that I need to have for others.

When our knee-jerk human reaction is the desire to find a cure or an answer or a quick way to relieve someone from pain it can – as I learned – be more of a setback than advancement toward our cause. Instead of first seeking guidance and waiting to be faithfully confident in knowing the truth, we plunge into waters of unknown depth. Where did these words and my actions come from that led me to do the things I did and react that way? Were these actions and words that first came to mind and out of my mouth the result of patient listening to all the truth from the Holy Spirit or were they of my own will? How can we be sure? Where does the guidance and comfort come from? God? Yes, God. From that part of God who is our Father and Creator? From Jesus? Jesus did say that He would give us whatever we asked for in His name, and we know that Jesus was God in human flesh, but we’re also told Jesus ascended into heaven, too, so it’s not his physical presence that we meet. So what is it? Here, revealed, is the relationship of the Holy Spirit, being one with God the Father and Creator; and one with Jesus the Son of God, fully human, fully divine. Here is where one becomes three. It’s here in these last two or three weeks of the Easter Season where we are told we have nothing to fear even though Jesus is no longer walking among us. For what we have now – is what we have always had – it’s that part of God, that “person” that was from the beginning, that was breathed from the lips of God to bring us into life. It’s that Spirit that moves like the wind; we don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. It’s that part of God that Jesus commands to lead us and trust in while we are on this journey together on earth. Our Advocate: The breath of God: The comforter…

In this period of the life of our church, I have witnessed how St. Luke’s has been listening to guidance of the Holy Spirit. Not only have we dealt with our internal matters in a prayerful and spirit-led way, but not one of our ministries to those outside these walls who need our help has been left unattended. We are alive with the Holy Spirit and She has kept us focused and strong.
Speaking of strong, this is also Memorial Day weekend – the time we spend honoring those who gave their lives during times of war in service to our country. There is something to be said about a person who stands up for his or her beliefs to the point of being willing to die for them. And that’s what this holiday is about. It started out being called “Decoration Day” because the graves of the fallen soldiers were to be marked with decorations of flowers. Today it has become to many a time of reflection, thanksgiving and a prayerful memorial. One of my favorite memorials is a song by Edwin McCain called “Prayer to St. Peter.” It’s a song about where we find souls lost in the conflict of war, and how they should be treated in heaven. Here is a portion of it: “Let them in, Peter. For they are very tired. Give them couches where the angels sleep. And light those fires. Let them wake up whole again… to brand new dawns. Fired by the sun. Not wartime’s bloody guns. May their peace be deep. Remember where their broken bodies lie. God knows how young they were. To have to die.” Likewise, may our peace be deep as we continue our journey together in prayer, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

scripture references: Romans 5:1-5 and the Gospel of John 16:12-15