Sunday, December 11, 2016
Grounded in God
Grounded in God
Today, I’d like to talk a bit about being “grounded”. God knows, as a teenager I was grounded more than once. When my grandmother called me by my full name “Buddy Bresnahan”…they called me “Buddy” in those days, since my dad’s name was also Paul, “Buddy Bresnahan”, when she said that, I knew I was in trouble. I’d be sent to my room or worse, I was “grounded”. Anything like that ever happen to you?
Nowadays, my wife keeps me grounded. Every day, while I am saying my prayers and writing in my journal, she will be tending to the household budget, crunching numbers, checking bank balances, making sure that every penny is accounted for. She often looks up to me to say; “Did you even check the balance in your account before you went off spending that money?”. Truth be told, my answer is usually, a weak; “Geez, I thought sure I had plenty of money in there.” She has her hands full keeping me grounded.
But I’m not alone in that regard. Last week, I thought we scared poor Rupert Moore half to death upon entering the church. Cindy lost her footing for just a split second, and went down on one knee. She had no idea of what happened there. And so when we got home, I said to her; “You’re grounded!”
Then there’s the business of going for my daily walk. I love sauntering along city sidewalks. We live near the ocean right off Lynn Shore Drive. Walking by the sea, listening to the call of the gulls and the surf crashing along the beach, breathing in the salt sea air and walking along listening to the quiet echo of my footsteps, all of this keeps me grounded in the joy of being alive, even in the chill of winter.
The Mystery of the Incarnation means that we believe God was grounded. In the holy season for which we joyfully prepare during this Advent, God becomes flesh and blood. Born of a human mother, poor, homeless, in a common stable among the animals, in the chill of winter, there is the Holy Child. And the Mystery of the Incarnation is that to God each one of you is no less holy.
God was grounded as one of us in human form in the person of Jesus. So much does God love us that he became one of us to show it. We cannot help but love the Baby Jesus, lying there in a manger. “For God so loved the world that he gave his begotten only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
A baby born of Mary. Goodness sakes she and Joseph weren’t even married at that time. Talk about being grounded. This family and this mother extended their arms of love to all of us. What wondrous love is this, what joy rejoices our hearts to hear the story told again and again each year!
Today we light the rose candle on the Advent Wreath. The Third Sunday in Advent is called “Gaudete” Sunday in the Church Year. The word comes from the Latin; “Gaudeo” meaning “Rejoice”. Hence the rose candle, blending the joyous white with the penitent purple, represents joy and rejoicing at the nearness of the Holy Child.
You may have noticed that the first lesson today was filled with images of joy and rejoicing. The Prophet Isaiah spoke and said;
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.”
The prophet continues with these promises;
"Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come and save you."
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”
Years and years ago, I visited Betty in the hospital as the end of her life was approaching. She had suffered from spina bifida all her life. After we said our prayers, she said, “Oh, Fr Paul, don’t forget my envelopes.”. She tithed, by the way. I said; “Oh dear Betty, can you really afford to give so much money to the church?” You know what she said to me? She looked intently at me and said; “I’ve suffered all my days with this back of mine, but you know, soon I shall be able to leap like a deer. For all that God has done for me, this is the least I can do for him.” Her witness to God's love changed my life then and there.
In today's Canticle, Mary rejoices when the Archangel Gabriel visits to bring her the news that she shall be the mother of the Holy Child.
“My soul doth magnify the Lord” she begins.
The song appears in scripture as a magnificent poem. As her soul soars she sets the nations straight and proclaims the justice of God.
“God has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.”
This joyous song of Mary! She knows who her son will be and how to answer the question we all have and which John gives voice to in today's Gospel;
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus answers John's messengers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
When shall all this be you may rightly ask? James, the brother of our Lord, tell us in today’s Epistle to be patient. For as “the farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” You too must also must be patient. Sometimes we get a bit tired of waiting. But God’s kingdom is already unfolding among us. As the crop grows there is much to be tended, watered, weeded, protected. Our patience is not inactive. It is rather creatively engaged with the Powers and Principalities by the Power of God exercised in each of us. Remember what Abe Lincoln once said; “You’ll sooner get the chicken waiting for it to hatch than by breaking its shell”. In the meantime, keep that egg warm and protect it with your life!
We remain firmly grounded in God. We gather here Sunday by Sunday to set forth the praise of God with rejoicing. We sing God’s songs, don’t we choir? We carry God’s cross, yes? We read God’s Holy Word and proclaim the Gospel. When we leave this place we apply ourselves diligently to the work of bringing God’s justice to fulfillment, and ministering to those who suffer. Our patience is not grounded in passivity, but engaged in the work God has given us to do.
By the way, we also bring our gifts to God. Being the grounded one, Cindy writes the check and puts it in the plate. After all, I suspect somebody has to pay the bills for the church; the heating bill, the insurance, the upkeep of the building, and if you would like to have a parish priest eventually you’ll have to provide for that too.
Cindy and I do not put money in the plate to pay the bills of the church, however. No we give to God in proportion to what God gives us. We aim at 10% of our income because that’s the Biblical standard for giving. If you do the arithmetic you’ll find out that’s a little bit of a bite on the family budget, but we are working toward our tithe nonetheless.
God is good to us. All of us. When we give, we give to God so that we can build up God’s Church and make it strong. Wherever we are Sunday by Sunday, we give to God because this is God’s church. I understand that you are in the midst of your pledge drive. God is good to you. Like Betty taught me years ago, the least we can do is thank God in our generosity and in our pledging. May I gently remind you to fill out a pledge card if you haven't already done so?
God has grounded you and given you life. God has set you in family, given you friends and work. God has also given you this beautiful church. Last week, in the outpouring of your hospitality, you gave Cindy and me such a warm welcome here at St. Mark’s. We both thank you for that. Your warmth, your affection, your love for God and one another are abundantly clear. If God is to be grounded in this place it will take each one of us doing our part for God. This is what rejoices the heart of God.
Finally we are grounded in prayer. You know the seven principal kinds of prayer, don’t you? The Catechism is worth reading now and again to keep us mindful of and grounded in faith. It is in the Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 845. The part on Prayer and Worship begins on page 856.
According to the Catechism, the principal kinds of prayer are, class? Adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, intercession and petition. The seventh principal kind of prayer, anybody? Sometimes overlooked in a consumer society; it is the prayer of oblation. It is the prayer that says; “You can count on me to do whatever God needs to be done for the work of the Church”. Yes, you can count on me, to serve, to put my back into it, to make provision for this holy place though my generosity, my gratitude, my devotion.
Our prayer and worship are grounded in God. As God grounded himself in Jesus to be among us so we ground ourselves in the service of God and our fellow men, women and children. This is our Prayer. This is our Worship. The Eucharist we celebrate this day is but a joyous foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet. We have all been invited to feast forever with the Communion of Saints. Then as now we shall be forever grounded in the everlasting love of God.
In the Name of God, the most holy, undivided, and everlasting Trinity. Amen.