Sunday, December 31, 2017

Xmas 1: Contemplating the Word

I loved celebrating as supply and preaching at St. Mary's, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Morganton, NC. Such a great, easygoing, friendly church filled with faithful people! My sermon is below in audio and text.

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147 or 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

(Note: if the audio player above doesn't work for you, click HERE for another audio format. You will be relocated to my website)

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I’d like to begin today by sharing with you the wise words of an often under-employed theologian: Calvin, from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Waterson. Calvin says, “You know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing changes, but pretty soon, everything is different.”

I doubt I’ve ever heard a better description of the journey to Christian maturity, what we like to call: lifelong Christian formation. As we enter this season of Christmas, Calvin’s wisdom urges us to step back and notice the big picture for ourselves as individuals and as a church community… taking a God’s eye view, we might say.

Thankfully our gospel reading on the first Sunday after Christmas offers us a way to do that. The language in the prologue John often sets people’s minds spinning: “The Word was with God and the word was God…” But that’s because this prologue was meant to invite us enter a mystical divine experience; but in order to do that we must step out of our comfort zones and listen anew - with open hearts, open minds, and open ears.

To facilitate this, I will share with you a prayerful translation of this Gospel which I did directly from the Greek text. Don’t worry… I’ve had it checked it for accuracy by people much better at Greek than I am, so I promise - this won’t lead you astray.

(Note: This congregation didn’t have a printed lectionary. but please feel free to look at your lectionary as I read this translation.)

1. In the first place, a living voice (a conception/an idea) happens and this living voice (this conception/idea) is God; and the living voice (the conception/idea) implies the ultimate purpose of God.

2. This existence was in the first, most dignified position with regard to God.

3. Everyone individually and all things begin to be, to appear in history on account of him and without him not even one thing begins to be or comes to pass.

4. Every living soul who begins to be and all that comes to pass through him is the absolute fullness of life and apart from him no one comes into being and not one thing comes to pass.

5. Indeed, this truth shed light on the darkness, which was due to ignorance of divine things, and the darkness (the ignorance) did not apprehend it or join itself to it.

6. A human being came into existence, sent from God, and his name was John.

7. He came to tell people about future events; and he knows these things because he was taught by divine revelation about the true and sincere light in order that those who hear him, each one individually and everyone, might be persuaded and have confidence in him.

8. He is not the true and sincere light, but he exists in order to be a witness, to implore people on account of the true and sincere light.

9. The true and sincere light is present among human beings and is the one who causes saving truth to become clear to each one, to everyone, and to all things. This true and sincere one comes into the harmonious order (the world) for human beings.

10. He is present in the harmonious order (the world), and through him the world happens but the world did not learn to know or understand him.

11. He arrives to what belongs to him, and what belongs to him does not accept him, it does not allow him to join them to himself.

12. But as for as those who take hold of his hand, who are persuaded about his true name and everything that that means, to them he gives the gift of the power of choice, the freedom to begin being children of God;

13. children who are born of his blood (his seat of life) not from human action; children who are brought over to his way of life by God.

14. And the living voice (conception/idea) began to be flesh and lived for a while among us; and we look upon him with attention, we contemplate and admire him as the unfolded fullness of God, complete and sufficient in kindness and assistance towards us and reveling everything as it really is.

15. John affirms what he knows by divine revelation and cries out in a loud voice saying, “This one exists, and his existence affirms what was said: that the one who comes after me is the one who is first in time and place and rank.”

16. Because he himself is the fulfillment, we - each one individually, and everyone as a whole- take a hold of goodwill and carry loving-kindness because of his grace.

17. While Moses supplied the law and customs which helped us live in a way approved by God, grace and a true understanding of God happened (came to pass) through Jesus Christ.

18. No one and no thing has ever seen God with their eyes and understood what they saw. It is only the presence of God, the one who partakes of the same blessedness of the founder of the family, who unfolds by teaching and reveals God. (John 1:1-18)

Our journey as Christians is a lifelong process of making the choice to live as children of God or to live in the darkness of ignorance about divine things. Our tradition is important to us in this because it grounds us, supports us, and holds us steady as the Spirit of God moves within us, leading us beyond our comfort zones into mystic union - what I call the breathing in of God; and the earthy ministries that manifest as a result of that - what I call the breathing out of God.

But the Spirit isn’t confined by any law or custom or tradition. We are justified by faith, as we heard in the letter to the Galatians. So any law or custom or tradition that impedes the free movement of the Spirit, becomes a prison of darkness which shuts out the true and sincere light of truth who is Jesus the Christ.

If we are to claim our inheritance then, we must be willing to be changed by God. I say this knowing some people hate that word, “change.” But we must be willing to be changed by God, again and again so that we can be formed into bearers of goodwill, and carriers of loving-kindness to the world in Jesus’ name.

Franciscan priest and theologian Richard Rohr says, “Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, …what we call ‘spirituality’ …spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go…”

That’s what the Christmas season offers us: time and support to build our spiritual lives by practicing the spiritual discipline of letting go… stepping outside our comfort zones and letting go what we think we know about God, ourselves, and our neighbor, and making room in our hearts and our lives for the Christ to reveal to us everything as it really is.

As we contemplate the Word, the Logos of God, presented so beautifully in this Gospel from John, I pray we open ourselves to hear with new ears, that we might allow the Spirit of God free movement within us, to change us, to guide us, and to motivate us to be sincere lights of the truth in our world. Then we shall be as Isaiah prophesied: a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord… a royal diadem in the hand of [our] God. (62:3)

I close with a prayer from another of my favorite theologians – so you’ve had three today: Calvin, Richard Rohr, and Bishop Steven Charleston. Bp. Steven is the retired bishop of Alaska, retired Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and a member of the Choctaw nation. Let’s pray his prayer together: “Give your heart to love today, not to old thoughts of who you were, but to the new idea that your kindness could change another life. Give your mind to hope today, not to the usual list of impossibilities, but to a single faith that goodness is the purpose of history. Give your spirit to peace today, not to the anger of the moment, but to the welcoming road of grace that leads to the home for which you have longed. Give your hands to the work of justice today, not in resignation but in certainty, knowing that what you do will make an enormous difference.”


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