Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thine is the Parlor!

Thine is the Parlor!

We began our journey together two weeks ago during this Advent season thinking about God's Winnowing Fork. Last week, you may remember, I shared some thoughts with you about being "Grounded in God". This week let us remember what we can of those first moments we had with God back whe we were much younger. My thoughts go to the front parlor in our modest working class home in Somerville.

The front room was saved for special. My grandmother called it the parlor. The “divan" and the overstuffed chair in the corner were covered except for company. They needed to be protected for special, especially the chair in the corner.  We were not allowed to sit there.

When the Minister came to our home that one unforgettable time, we hastily prepared the parlor and of course, the covers were quickly removed. Soon the kettle was pipin’ hot, the biscuits and baked goods were fresh out of the oven and smelling of savory goodness. It was such an honor for us to have him come to our home. He sat of course in the corner chair and spoke to us one at a time and then he came to me. He asked me to come to him, sat me up on his knee and he said; “And you, young man, how are you doing?” I’ve never forgotten it.

It was as if God had spoken to me. 
It was as if God cared how I felt. 
I was filled with awe.

When we said that special prayer in church, you know, the one Jesus taught us, it was before I could read or write, but I knew the prayer by heart nonetheless. I prayed what I heard. When we came to that magnificent doxology at the conclusion of the prayer, I said it with reverence along with the others, “for thine is the kingdom, and the parlor, and the glory.” Yes, I said “parlor”. That's what I heard when the others said it and it made sense to me. The parlor is such a very special place. For it was in the parlor that the Priest took me up on his knee to ask how I was. It was as if I had been touched by the hand of God.

You can imagine my disappointment when I learned to read and discovered that the word was “power” and not “parlor”. Good heavens, what a letdown. To me the kingdom of God must be a very special place like our parlor where God sat enthroned in his overstuffed chair in the corner. Imagine such a special place! This is still how I dream of God. 

When our collect for this day says “purify our conscience by thy daily visitation”, that makes sense to me.  (~Book of Common Prayer page 212).  It goes on to say "when Jesus comes to us may he find in us a 'mansion' prepared for himself". That makes perfect sense too!  May we make our souls pure and ready for him just like we do our parlor in Somerville, or your parlor in Dorchester.

The human soul is the perfect dwelling place for God. St Augustine tells us that the human soul cannot come to rest until it comes to rest in God. We are to be more than a parlor. We are to be a "mansion" prepared for him so that by that by God’s daily visitation we may be made pure. 

“In my Father’s house there are many Mansions” aren’t there! That’s what John’s Gospel proclaims in fourteenth chapter. Isn’t it a glorious thing to know that Jesus visits us every single day and not just when the Priest finds time in his or her busy schedule to stop by for a cup of tea and fresh baked biscuits. 

This business of God’s daily visitation makes of us, each one of us, something holy, something beautiful for God. We may or may not be so beautiful to the human eye, especially in my case; but in the eyes of God we are a magnificent work of art! You and I are in God’s Museum of Fine Art just over there on Huntington Avenue in the Fenway! It is as if Jesus has all the time in the world to take us each one of us on his knee to ask; “And you, how are you today?”

Truth be told, some days I have to confess the truth; “Not so good Jesus”. There is much sadness in this world. There is injustice. We see our loved ones suffer and then taken from us. The tears pour from our eyes. Our hearts are broken so many times. Often, we see our hopes dashed by the cruelty of history. We see the poor ground up by oppression. The greed of injustice seems to reign even in this land. We are supposedly dedicated to “freedom and justice for all”. The pledge of allegiance we make in our schools is for all. Why then is it that so often it seems to apply only to some?  Sometimes we simply have to tell Jesus the truth, “You want to know how I’m doing? Not so good, Jesus. Not so good.” Today the Psalmist puts it this way (Psalm 80, BCP page 702);
“5 You have fed us with the bread of tears; *
you have given us bowls of tears to drink.
6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”

But God will not abandon us will he? The Prophet comes into our midst and reminds us that God is with us. Using unforgettable imagery, Isaiah tells us today; “God will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Immanuel; that means God is with us. It is as though God were to come right smack dab into the front parlor of our souls. The souls we have prepared for him. He comes in and sits down in that overstuffed chair by his daily visitation. He calls us each by name and sits us right up on his knee and says; “How are you, Child?” “Don’t forget, I love you?” “Let me wipe the tears from your eyes.”

Yes, “Thine is the kingdom and the parlor, and the Glory for ever and ever. Amen” When we become discouraged by reading the newspapers or watching the news, and by God, that can be down right depressing, God comes to us not just as a Child but as a Teacher, a Healer and as one whose Victory on the Cross conquers all sin and all death. 

Plus, I have news for all those who think theirs is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Boy, do they have a rude awakening coming! I’m sure that Caesar Augustus and Herod thought that theirs was the kingdom and the power and the glory, didn’t they? That dark and dangerous world was the same world the Christ Child was born into. Born of a human mother, in a rude little manger, with cows and sheep gathered about. There was no fancy parlor for our Jesus even of the sort we had growing up in Somerville or Dorchester. He had nothing, except for the gifts that were brought to him from the Arabian East. Talk about foreigners!

As he grew up he healed the sick, he cured the lame, he ate with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. He didn’t shy away from the lepers or any outcasts of the day. He even preached to the Good News to the detested Samaritan foreigner. He preached good news to the poor. He spoke truth to the powerful; particularly the biblical literalists the day; Pharisees, Sadducees and the Doctors of the Law. He raised the dead to life and even forgave the sins of many including the woman caught in the very act of adultery. Then, most difficult of all, he told us to love our enemies.

He changed the world, this Jesus did. And so did his followers. The power of his Gospel has reached from that time to this. All the way around the world. His love, his forgiveness, compassion and reconciling power, has embedded itself in the human heart all around the world. The Word of God endures and spreads unabated. 

And where is Caesar now? Or Herod. Isn't it interesting, by the way, that Jesus picked that part of the world to be born, live and die. Rome came and went. So have the Barbarians, Iconoclasts and terrorists of the day. The Carolingians, The Ottomans and The Western Colonial Empires and everything in between. They've all come and gone. Hitler’s heinous hatred and all other hateful ones before and since where are they? 

What of this country? God help us! Have we seen a rise in hatred in recent years in this country? Have we seen the rise of prejudice and fear? The tired old divisions never go away do they? Fears based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender and orientation never go away. In spite of the fact that we have grown up in a land that has taught us to celebrate our diversity, somehow the old fears, the old hatreds rear their ugliness once again and especially during the recent election. 

I hate to be the one to break it to any who set themselves up in power based on hateful speech, but they’ve sewn their own ruin right within the infection of their own hearts. Not to name names of course! But hear this; theirs in not the kingdom, the power and theirs is certainly not the glory.  The more they try to grasp onto their kingdoms, their powers and their supposed glory, the more it slips through their fingers like sand. 

We’ve seen what happens to that pitiful and hateful young man whose violence left death in the wake of his assaults at a bible study in South Carolina. His hatred merely returned back upon himself. Those he tried to terrorize, turned their fear back toward him with the love of God, the power of Christ's forgiveness and the reconciling power of The Holy Spirit. The pitiful one takes his hatred with him to his eternal reward. How sad for him.

As for those who build their power on arrogance, bullying, fear and hatred; they will also have their day. I'm here to tell you, God will have his day too. Jesus said; "By their fruits you will know them!" 

I will not be silent at a time of hatred. I've heard the those ringing words of Martin Luther King too many times to be silent in a time of deep darkness. We must all double down on the work that lies ahead of us to stay true to God's high calling to be faithful; 
Just a few of the things he said...just as a refresher for me at least if not for all of us. I'm sure you are familiar with so many of his words.
For instance;
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that." 
Here's a few that strike close to my heart;
"There comes a time when silence is betrayal." 
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." 
This one I love;
"Only in the darkness can you see the stars."

What we are to do just now may not be clear. That clarity will emerge as we move forward, but forward we must move. Again Martin Luther King said;
"Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase."
And this;
"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward." 

The Gospel tells us that in this dark world of sin a savior is born. In the darkest time of the year, in darkest times of human history, hatred and violence, God will come and dwell among us. He will be born in your hearts again. That’s what Christmas is for. Love came down at Christmas. 
And love trumps hatred all down through human history.
(The word "trump" as used here is a verb not a proper name. Parenthetically, there is nothing 'proper' about that name!)

Empires come, empires go, but the Word of our God endures forever. "For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have beheld his glory, the glory as of the only Begotten Son of God." ~John 3:16. 
"For thine is the Kingdom, and the parlor, and the Glory", as I used to say it as a child.
But then I was corrected, and rightly so.
"For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory for ever and ever." Amen.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

1 comment:

Barry Chitwood said...

Fr. Paul thank you for sharing words of love, hope, and power in this Advent season. God bless you, my friend.