Sunday, November 28, 2021

1 Advent, 2021-C: Welcome the redemption

Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36 

En el nombre del Dios, que es trinidad en unidad. Amen.
The familiar Advent theme of keeping awake or being on guard, as Jesus says it in today’s gospel, derives from apocalyptic literature about the end of times, a common fear among humans found in most cultures throughout history. For Christians, however, the feared and dreaded judgment has already happened -- and it was redemption. God chose to come among us as Jesus, the Christ, who is always coming, always redeeming.

This is our Good News to share - that there is nothing to fear about our personal deaths or the end of the world as we know it, which, as I said recently, has already happened over and over again in our history, with new life emerging from the present death. Each time it happens, however, the distress among nations and cosmic signs of doom and destruction impact the people in that time and they “faint from fear and foreboding.”

When that happens, Jesus says, stand and look up, and remember the promise of redemption. Then he told the parable of the fig tree. You know how to read the signs, he says. When you see the leaves of the fig tree sprouting, you know that the warm, fruitful season of summer is coming. Likewise, when you see the tribulations on earth and the cosmic signs of destruction, YOU will know that it means the kingdom of God is drawing near.

These things are the signs that the promise of redemption, new life out of death, is about to be fulfilled again. It always will until all of creation is reconciled to God. So, stand up, look up, and welcome the redemption, be part of it! Don’t miss the opportunity by numbing yourself into a slumber of denial. There is nothing God can’t or won’t redeem.

Everyone who lives on the earth will face these moments of choice so be alert and pray that when it’s your turn, when you see the cosmic signs of destruction, you don’t lose hope. When you see the distress among nations, you don’t bury your head. Look up! Stand up – for you stand in the presence of the Son of Man.

Our humanity guarantees that there will be times we’ll be going through life as if in a slumber. Many of you have heard me talk about our COVID reawakening as we cautiously reopen our churches and ministries. It’s as if we’ve all been in a slumber on many levels. The shutdown put a stop to all of our busyness at church, at school, at work. As ministries began to open back up we had to figure out how to pick up these ministries and do them in the world as it is now – which is different than it was before, and thanks be to God for that!

Our COVID slumber gave us the gift - or burden - of time to look deeply and critically at ourselves and our world, and some of the revelations have been unsettling and led to tough questions like: how do we establish fair and living wages for all? How do we teach a history that is honest and doesn’t revise or eliminate inconvenient truths? How do we adapt our practices to honor and respect the limited and sometimes dying resources in creation?

It isn’t news to anyone anymore that people of color, particularly African Americans, are arrested, convicted, and imprisoned at much higher rates than whites. It’s also not news anymore that there is a real thing called the school to prison pipeline which the National Education Association says has “resulted in the suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of tens of millions of public school students, especially students of color and those with disabilities or who identify as LGBT.” (Source) How do we change this? 

 How do we make amends to today’s descendants of slavery or to the indigenous peoples forcibly driven from their homelands? We haven’t even figured out how to talk about this yet without shame, blame, recrimination, and defensiveness. These revelations of our reality seem too big, too complicated, too impossible to solve – and they are for us, but not for God.

I submit that the problem we face is not that we have fallen into a numbing slumber of denial or dissipation, but that we choose to remain stuck in it. We can’t or won’t “wake up” out of self-interest, or fear, or a sense of powerlessness, or guilt, or dread. We choose to numb ourselves with dissipation and drunkenness to escape dealing with the tribulation in our world, our responsibility for it or our continuing complicity in it.

In the season of Advent, we are called to wake up, stand up, and look up because the coming of Christ isn’t a thing to dread or avoid. It’s a joy, a relief, a gift!

Jesus said, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17). He also said that he would not leave us orphaned (Jn 14:18). He will stand with us always until God’s plan of redemption is fully and completely accomplished.

This also isn’t something that happens once on some mysterious unknown day. The Spirit of Christ is alive, eternally alive, and dwells in us, so of course, Christ is always coming, always redeeming.

The trap Jesus warns us about is hopelessness. When we forget the compassion and love of God for us, when we think we are left alone to deal with the tribulation around us, we will, of course, descend into hopelessness.

So our mission during Advent (should we choose to accept it) is to remember and reconnect with Jesus who is our hope. We do this by choosing to stop, pray, and awaken to the eternal truth that Jesus is coming, that Christ is always coming, entering a troubled world and our wounded hearts, bringing peace, mercy, love, and healing.

God bless us all as we practice a holy, transforming Advent. Amen.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

25th Pentecost, 2021-B: A new relationship with God in Christ

 Lectionary: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8 

Our Collect today is one of my favorites because it speaks of a fully embodied reception of the grace offered to us in Scripture. We pray that we will listen with the ears of an open spirit, to read with the full

power of our intellect, to mark the preeminence of our Holy Writ, and – here’s my favorite part – to inwardly digest them. 

It’s such a Eucharistic turn of phrase. We pray to God to support us as we take in the Scriptures and make them part of our bodies and souls just as we take in the nourishment of the holy food of Communion.

The fruit of doing this is that we are enabled to embrace the hope of everlasting life and hold fast to it, no matter what we see and experience in the world. This reminds me of a short poem about embracing hope: 
“Hope is a state of mind not
dictated by what appears
to be: a promise
built on faith.

We look beyond
fear. And begin to trust
what we do not yet see. 

We listen
for though we prepare
and plan
and strive to organize, Love
will take us in
a new direction, a re-birth
beyond our comprehension.

In prayerful surrender
we can be true
to who we are
and trust and continue
and become
truly ourselves.”     © Valori M. Sherer, 2009. All rights reserved
Hannah had a gift for prayerful surrender, and by it, she became truly herself: a daughter of God, a mother, and a model for us all on perseverant prayer. The continuing BLM Vigil of Solidarity on Friday nights is a perfect example of this in our community.

Hannah was barren and though her husband adored her, she was tortured and nettled by his other wife who was able to bear him children. This went on year after year, yet Hannah kept praying.

What’s interesting about this story is that Hannah was praying silently - something that just wasn’t done. Back then all prayer was said aloud. In fact, Hannah’s prayerful behavior was so strange that Eli thought she was drunk! The clarity of Hannah’s reply to him, however, convinced Eli that Hannah wasn’t drunk and he joined his prayer to hers.

This is where the power and importance of corporate prayer were revealed for us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. When Hannah and Eli joined their prayers together, the mountain was moved, so to speak. The impossible became possible. The hope became a reality.

Corporate prayer always dispels the loneliness of suffering. This is something we learned all over again during the worst of the COVID shutdown last year. When the opportunity to pray together was taken from us, we realized just how much we missed it – how much we needed it.

Hannah prayerfully surrendered, joined her silent prayer to another’s, and clung to the hope of a reality she couldn’t yet see. It wasn’t long before Hannah found her life heading in a new direction as the mother of the prophet, Samuel.

Her proclamation of faith and joy in the response to our Old Testament reading is so powerful it gives me chills. It also may seem familiar – it is the source from which Jesus’ mother, Mary, borrowed her prayer – the one we call the Magnificat found in the gospel of Luke (1:46-55).

“My heart exults in the Lord…” Hannah exclaims, by whom the weapons of the mighty are broken… the full are left wanting and the hungry are beyond satisfied… by whom empty wombs are filled and the poor are made rich… by whom the needy are celebrated, honored and respected. It’s the foundational social justice prayer in our Scripture.

That last bit of Hannah’s prayer, the part about the wicked adversaries, was probably added on later by an editor – a bit of Biblical mansplaining. Their goal was upright anyway, declaring the power of God to judge and to empower the anointed, in other words, the king of Israel, whom Samuel would one day anoint.

All of this points to a new way of being in relationship with God, which is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the gospel. As Jesus and his disciples are leaving the temple in Jerusalem, the disciples marvel at the spectacular temple complex with its huge foundational stones. One commentator reports that “Archeologists… uncovered individual stones as large as 42 x 11 x 14 feet… weighing as much as 500 tons… The white marble is adorned with gold outside and shines blindingly in the sunshine. The inside is adorned with gold, silver, crimson, purple, and finely polished cedar. Great columns support a high ceiling. It is truly one of the wonders of the world. Even more significantly for the Jewish people,” this commentator says, is that this temple “is the place where God makes his earthly home.” (Source: Dick Donovan,

In response, Jesus clarifies for them the new way of being in relationship with God he is inaugurating by his life and impending death and resurrection. See those great stones, he asks? They’re all about to be destroyed.

Some believe that this statement cost Jesus his popular support. His prediction of the destruction of the temple may be why Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem turned into an angry mob calling for his crucifixion.

But Jesus wasn’t kidding. The temple would be destroyed. God, however, isn’t in the temple so the people needn’t lose hope. God is in me, Jesus says, and because God is in me, God is now also in you.

Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, reconciled all humanity to God, removing the barriers between God and us. The barrier we must remove is our unbelief.

This was prophesied long before Jesus showed up, yet somehow, folks had trouble connecting the dots, so the author of the letter to the Hebrews does it for them quoting the prophet Jeremiah (31:33): “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

In the New Covenant, given to us by our Savior Jesus Christ, God dwells within us, in our very bodies and souls. At every Holy Eucharist, we remember this by eating and drinking the holy food of Communion and literally digesting it. The spirit of Christ is literally and spiritually in us. We are the dwelling place of God.

Does that mean temples and churches are no longer needed? Not at all! Hannah’s story makes abundantly clear the necessity of gathering for corporate prayer and our experience tells us that we need continual nourishment of Word and Sacrament.

What’s different now is that whatever suffering we witness or experience: war, famine, earthquakes, racism, a pandemic - we know it isn’t the end. The “end of days” so habitually understood to be the end of the world as we know it, doesn’t exist. The world as it was known has ended and been reborn over and over again – and thanks be to God for that! That’s what resurrection is: new life from death - in Christ Jesus - and therein is the hope we hold fast to.

Jesus said, do not be alarmed, … all of this is just the beginning of the birth pangs of a new life, a new world because the redeeming love of God is never absent from our circumstances. How can it be when God dwells in us?

So, with prayerful surrender, we trust, and continue in God’s love in every situation, every personal and global suffering, clinging to the blessed hope of everlasting life, given to us in our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.