Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Word from God: Love

And Now a Word from God

Paul concludes his great Hymn to Love with these words; “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
~I Corinthians 13:13
Most of us know those words since they are so frequently used at weddings.

John says it even more succinctly; “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
         ~John 4:8

And the Psalmist breaks into song about the matter in today’s selection from the Psalter. “Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever.”
        ~Psalm 89:1,2
We come now to the Fourth Sunday in Advent. In previous sermons this holy season, we have pondered these words in our heart; Great Gospel Words like
And now Love.

Last week we had a visit from our Bishop and you now may see why I use these words in this Advent. Our history with Bishops, Clergy and Laity are filled with a whole kaleidoscope of events and feelings and no one person can have a full view of the whole truth of the matter. Only God can do that. That is why, at least while I’m here with you, I will point you toward the Gospel.

For Saint John’s as well as for all Congregations, Bishops, Clergy and Laity alike, Gospel words are at the very center of our life as we seek to live out our lives in God. These three Great Gospel words were at the center of Jesus’ Ministry in our midst. They are at the very center of our own continuing ministry.

As we wait for the Birth of the Savior this Advent or as we wait for his Second Coming either for each human life or for all human life, I suggest to you that Advent waiting is not a passive waiting like waiting for a bus or a train; or as our new bishop, Alan Gates put it in his Advent Greeting to us; “Advent discipline is unlike our typical experiences of waiting.  We wait in line at the grocery store and in congested traffic.”  "Other times, as in the run-up to holidays or when waiting for a vacation to begin, we fill our waiting with a checklist of frantic preparation.” What a price we pay when our Advent waiting becomes so anxious as to often preoccupy the soul with anxiety, hurry, and frenzy. 

Advent waiting is certainly not like like a meaningless exercise such as we see in the Theatre of the Absurd. In the play “Waiting for Godot”, Samuel Becket suggested, in his brilliant commentary on modern life, that life is merely an absurd disconnected sequence of incongruous events.  Many historians call the time we live in “The Post Christian Era”. Life is to many of our contemporaries “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more” as the Bard once put it. ~Macbeth; Act 5, Scene 5. 

More than once I have argued the case with pleasant pagans and devout atheists in our midst, many of whom, I’ve grown to know and love. In one of my more memorable encounters I spent a few days with the president of the local chapter of atheists from Oxford University in London. He toyed with me with his rapier wit on my quaint notions of faith. He asked me; if I believed in a loving God, how could I account for the suffering of the very people God supposedly so loving cares about. He asked me how I might explain religion’s violent predisposition in history. He noted that in the observable, measurable and predicable physical world, Science is in fact the only reliable explanation for the universe we must live our everyday lives in.

I spent a sleepless night thinking about that all he had to say. Like Jacob wrestling with God I tossed and turned, but then came the next night when it was my turn to pose the questions and his turn to provide the answers.

I asked him primarily what he thought of the Meaning of Life with a capital “M”. He replied that he thought life was Absurd with a capital “A”. Using a strong word from my own Baptismal covenant I said that I renounce that with a capital “R”. I also asked him what we would place in the human heart as a check and balance to the violent predisposition that our nature seems to lead toward. He said we will need good police and strong armies. I said, well, that explains British Imperialism and American hegemony. And finally I said to him, the Church has given this world her best Universities including Oxford, the greatest hospitals, the most beautiful art, music and architecture that history has ever seen. Where is that creativity to come from if it doesn’t come from the genius of our spirituality. That one got to him a bit, particularly when I suggested that we merely bulldoze our great cathedrals since they are merely harboring human superstition.  

Poor man believes his destiny is to be born, “to strut and fret his hour upon the stage, and then be heard from no more”. Is that the sum and total of or days; the ultimate Absurdity of Life.

No my friends, I Renounce that with a capital “R”!

And so says the Archangel Gabriel to Mary in today’s Gospel. “Don’t be afraid because you have found favor with God”. This is more to the point of human life. There is a reason for you to be here. You are not merely an unwed mother. Joseph considered having her put away quietly to save everyone the embarrassment of yet another child in the world born out of wedlock. Not so this child. Not so any child. And the Archangel spoke to her and said; “And the Child to be born to you will be holy.” The Archangel speak to every human life. “Your life is holy to God”.

Advent waiting is a very active kind of waiting where we make room for a new baby. We nest as all of nature does when a newborn approaches. There are so many twigs to thatch into the kind of cradle that will give warmth and security to our young.

Many of us here are mothers and fathers to children. And when it comes time for us to wait for them to be born we do not sit motionless, inactive and inert as we waited their birth. Nor do we sit idly by as they grow and waxed strong in God. We are active agents with them as they discoverer what it means to be loved by us and as we discover what it meant for them to love us in return.

I remember the months before our firstborn son David’s birth. I was a bit bewildered by the whole thing. Not so Cindy. There was painting and decorating to be done, furniture and diapers to buy, and an whole panoply of equipment to make sure we had, as we made our active Advent preparations for David’s birth. We transformed our home in preparation for what we certainly felt was a holy moment and a holy child in our lives. True enough it sent my head to spinning and our pediatrician, Dr. Mary, her name was, said with great wisdom and a knowing and broad smile; “Ah, your life will never be the same again”.

And it wasn’t. Before long there was more love, and Joshua, more love and Michael and the love continued to multiply in our household as the children grew and we taught them right from wrong, told them stories, prayed with them often and brought them into Church for their Baptism and eventually for their Confirmation. 

They are all grown now. They are all churchmen of a sort. David is really into it. Joshua loves to take photographs of the holy places of our church, and Michael loves to sing the songs of God in church.

We now come to this Advent at St John’s Church in Sandwich, Massachusetts on Old Cape Cod. What a pleasure it is for us to be with you. And your new Rector is coming to you and it may take the better part of a year for that gestation period to occur. But your waiting is an active kind of waiting.

Active, not busy. Please do not fill your lives with busy-ness.

Rather make room in your hearts for God. Advent waiting is a movement of the soul in which we make room in our hearts for God and one another. The words Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Love set us on a steady path toward receiving the Christ Child this Advent and this Christmas. This is the steady and true path; where we forgive ourselves and others, reconcile those spirits at odds with one another, and above all fill our lives with Joy and Wonder in all God’s Works because we are filled with the Love of God. And that Child will faithfully bring to fruition the life of this church to its new priest.

If there is room in our hearts for God there is room then for the Spirit of God to to heal and guide us. And that’s what God wants of this dark old angry world. There is much for us to learn in a world where darkness leads so often to such dreadful acts of violence. 

That’s why God needs this church to be strong. God needs a place to teach the world that Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Love is the Way and the Truth and the Life. That’s who Jesus is; the Way, the Truth and the Life.

And that’s who is Coming to Us this Advent. That's who we are actively waiting for!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Paul

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