Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent 1-B, 2017: Journey into Unknowing

I ws blessed to have celebrated and preacehd for a second week at Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, NC, where the people are lovely, joyful, faithful, and welcoming. Below is my sermon.

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Lectionary: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Welcome to the season of Advent. There’s nothing like a little apocalyptic terror to get the season started, right?

I confess, I love the power of the apocalyptic language in our Scripture today. Let’s hear again from Isaiah: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down… to make your name known to [those who oppose you], so that the nations might tremble at your presence…” Then in the gospel of Mark, Jesus said, “Then they will see the ‘Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”

What I love is that God is so powerful in these passages! All of heaven and earth quake and tremble in the presence of the Almighty God. For some this may sound ominous, even threatening; and it is, but only to those who oppose God, that is, those who believe in their own power and privilege, and who lord that over others, for surely they will quake and tremble in the presence of the true and divine power of God.

We can be comforted by the words in today’s Scriptures, and here’s why: no matter how dark and difficult our experience of the world is, no matter how much we think we may have messed things up, Scripture assures us that the Son of Man is coming with great power and glory! Scripture assures us that God has the power and the desire to come and set things right.

We can be comforted knowing that God’s love for us is beyond anything we can imagine and for some reason, God desires relationship with us just as we are, in all our sin, our shame, and our weakness. St. Teresa of Avila describes this beautifully in her poem entitled, “He desired me so I came close.” Here is that poem:

“He desired me so I came close.

No one can near God unless He has
prepared a bed for you.

A thousand souls hear His call every second,
but most every one then looks into their life’s mirror and
says, ‘I am not worthy to leave this

When I first heard his courting song, I too
looked at all I had done in my life
and said,

‘How can I gaze into his omnipresent eyes?’
I spoke those words with all my heart,

but then He sang again, a song even sweeter,
and when I tried to shame myself once more from His presence
God showed me His compassion and spoke a divine truth,

‘I made you, dear, and all I made is perfect.
Please come close, for I

And that is what compels our Advent journey - God desires us to come close, to make room in our hearts and our lives for the light that is coming to us again at Christmas: Emmanuel - God with us. In order to do that we have to break fresh ground in the soil of our souls; and journey into the “unknowing” that state of receptive, open-heartedness to God who is beyond our understanding, our concepts, and even our imagining.

It’s called “unknowing” because, as the author of the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing” says, “since the human senses and intellect are incapable of attaining to God, they must be ‘emptied’… purified in order that God may pour his light into them… When the faculties are emptied of all human knowledge there reigns in the soul a ‘mystic silence’ leading it to the climax that is union with God…” (p 26, 27)

Our Advent journey, then, isn’t learning more about God, but less, emptying ourselves so that God may fill us. Then our unknowing strengthens and enriches our knowing and we are awakened to an awareness that Jesus is with us at all times.

It is important for us to develop the prayer discipline of unknowing because the redeeming work of Christ continues to this day, and as his disciples, we are his partners in that work. As Jesus’ disciples, we choose to step into the darkness of people’s lives bearing the light of Christ that is within us that God might transform their nightmare into God’s dream as our Presiding Bishop, ++Michael Curry often says.

As Jesus’ disciples, we choose to confront evil in the systems of the world – those systems that oppress and exploit the poor, the powerless, and the helpless, the ill, the elderly, women, children, immigrants - just as Jesus did in his time - knowing the consequences we might face and trusting the redeeming love of God for us and for the world.

This is why we must keep awake. If we are not being oppressed or exploited, it’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel and not notice that our neighbor is.

And this is the message Jesus is giving his disciples in today’s Gospel: They will see the Son of Man coming. This word, ‘coming’ literally translates as: I am come. I am here.

Before you all die, Jesus said, all these things will have taken place and you will know that ‘I am come. I am here.’ Heaven and earth may pass away but God’s word will never pass away because… He is come. He is here.

Jesus repeats his caution to his disciples: Beware. Be alert. Keep awake. Watch for what God is doing and each of you do your part in that work. The means by which God will act to redeem will surprise you. So, keep awake!

I mean, really, who could have anticipated that the redeeming plan of God would be accomplished by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus? Certainly no one using human senses and intellect, for these, as we know, are “incapable of attaining to God.”

That’s why practicing unknowing matters. We can’t anticipate how God will redeem now any more than the disciples could then. What we can do is unite our hearts to God’s heart and surrender our wills God’s will and choose to trust in God’s power and desire to redeem the whole world.

I close today with another favorite prayer – this one from St. Brendan. I pray it will be of assistance in the Advent journey before us.

“Lord, I will trust You.
Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.”


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