Monday, December 05, 2016

The Winnowing Fork

The Winnowing Fork

Please allow me to thank you for your invitation to spend the remainder of this Advent Season, Christmas, and even into Epiphany to be with you. Together with joy let us set forth the Word of God and Celebrate the Sacrament of Christ’s Presence among us. I am delighted to be with you particularly at this time of year.

Allow me to introduce my wife, Cindy. We met each other not far from here in Hyde Park 38 years ago while I was serving at Christ Church. And we are delighted to be in Dorchester where two of our sons were born at the old St. Margaret’s Hospital over on Cushing Avenue. 

Cindy and I have been married 37 years now. We have three grown sons. Our first born, David lives nearby and attends St. Mary’s Church. Our second married recently and lives in Charlotte and our youngest lives in San Francisco. I have been ordained 44 years and have served congregations in this Diocese, in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. I “retired”, after a fashion, 10 years ago this Christmas and in my retirement I have served as interim and “bridge” priest wherever and however the church  needed. I like writing particularly on issues of Congregational Development. I thank God for all these wonderful blessings. And I thank God for you. You are a blessing to one another and to the church as today’s Epistle says; “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another.”

In this very special Advent season we prepare for the birth of the Holy Child. There is a note of urgency in our preparation. We hear it in the voice of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel as he enters onto the stage of sacred history with these words;
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
Make his pathways straight”
We are to make room in our hearts for the Birth of this Holy Child, as John reminds us again with that same note of urgency;
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”

This Kingdom is indeed near, it is at hand. In fact it has already arrived. It is within you. Again and and again, Jesus uses these words “near”, “at hand”, “within”, and “among” to describe the location of the Kingdom of God. His winnowing fork is already in his hand.

We needn’t wait until we die to live it. Nor do we await some cataclysmic event to occur, as some claim, when the earth and the heavens shall pass away. No, dear friends. God’s Kingdom is here, within and among us. That is why it is a matter of urgency that we prepare our hearts to receive The Child again this Christmas.

We are to repent. That is to say, we are to become something “new” again for God in the same way that God is always becoming something “new” to us. We are to undergo a “complete makeover”. I imagine that there are some of you who like those TV shows where they are always gutting out and making over somebody’s home. Don’t you wish you had the wherewithal to do all that you might dream of doing in the home in which you dwell? O well, in the meantime we make do with what we have. 

The dwelling place of which the Scripture speaks, however, is within the human heart. Here is where we can make the kind of metamorphosis that John and Jesus want, right here, within our hearts. When John uses that word “repent” he uses a Greek word “metanoia” which means “a complete makeover”. Much like a grub undergoes a metamorphosis from its cocoon to become a magnificent butterfly, so too we are invited by John and Jesus to make our hearts new again. In point of fact one of the images the early church used to signify who we are to become is the butterfly. Where we now put a cross, the early church often put a butterfly, a very beautiful one, like a Monarch Butterfly. 

Which reminds me, do you have any idea how beautiful you are in God’s eyes? How magnificent? As Shakespeare described humankind 
“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel,
in apprehension, how like a god!” 
~Hamlet; II,2.

And Michelangelo, when he looked at a block of marble, he did not see a formless hunk of stone, he saw the potential for an angel. Imagine the exquisite shill of the sculptor working on the rough corners of your soul to make of you something beautiful for God! Jesus is your sculptor! 

The Holy Child is soon to be born for us. We have now lit the second candle of the Advent Wreath a candle that represents Love; not just a love of God and of one another, it is the love we are commanded to have in our hearts and souls for ourselves. The second of the two Great Commandments is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Notice please that the second commandment is to Love your neighbor "as" you do yourself. It does not say "instead" of yourself” but “as” yourself, that is to say, in like manner.

There are distractions to be sure. There is the incessant “jingle” of “Christmas” bells and piped in music in all the stores and the hectic pace we keep this time of year. There is the din of the news much of which portends ill for many of us and the nations of the earth. This is a danger and a distraction to the proper nourishment of our souls. 

It is an urgent matter for us is take quiet time and prayer to be with God as we prepare our hearts to be present to the Holy Spirit. 

In today’s first lesson the prophet reminds us that a little child born of the root of Jesse, shall come among us. Furthermore “he shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth”.

Just for the record, the biblical narrative repeats the theme of Justice  time and again. Today, for instance the Psalmist says; 
“He shall defend the needy among the people; 
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure.”

Not only is our Advent preparation urgent, it is also clear that God will judge justly for the poor, and will hold the oppressor accountable for any and all oppression. With his fierce and urgent voice John says; “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Be forewarned ye leaders of the world and within our own nation. Repent!

I don’t want to be on the wrong side of God's winnowing fork, do you? Imagine how it would go over if you were the one by whom 20 million people were denied health care! The Gospel, as Jesus says, is indeed sharper than any two edged sword.

Advent waiting is anything but passive. Advent waiting is full of expectation and urgent preparation, much like any expectant mother awaiting the birth of her child. There is much to be done before the moment arrives. 

We have much to do as we await the Birth of the Holy Child this year. Our souls await a complete makeover so that you and I can become the hands and feet of Jesus in and for the sake of the world we live in. In order to repent as John and Jesus would have us repent we will need to undergo such a transformation as will make each of us something very beautiful for God indeed. That transformation is not just a personal one it has its social dimension as well. I would be less than candid if I did not say that I am concerned about any nation, especially our own, when it turns its back on the needy and the poor, the outcast, the sick and the lame. You and I may have to prepare ourselves for further action as we move into the next chapter of our nation’s history.

Teresa of Avila the 16th Century Christian Mystic writes;
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” 

Jesus will come again this year and when he comes all people will be invited to find hope, love, joy, and peace in him, just like Advet words proclaim. God help anyone who prevents the hope, love, joy and peace of God from justly extending to all without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation. We seek to be what Jesus lived and died for. We are to become more and more "A house of prayer for all people". Even now the winnowing fork is in his hand!

We seek to be among those on whom God’s favor rests, during this Holy Season of urgent expectation. My prayer for all is the same as the Scripture proclaims on this Second Sunday of Advent.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In the Name of God, the most holy, undivided, and everlasting Trinity.

Fr Paul.

1 comment:

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