A Diocesan Regional Learning Day will be held at Christ Church in Andover on Saturday, January 12. These events are really worthwhile. If you’d like to participate, please contact Deb in the church office.
This year, instead of one Spring Learning Event in March, there are 5 Regional Learning Days around the diocese beginning in January. Following our successful comprehensive campaign for the diocese, there are now many more resources available to churches for mission, ministry and partnerships. These Learning Days will help your congregation prepare for accessing and using these new resources, but also for building capacity in lay leaders in every parish, regardless of participation in any of these new and ongoing initiatives.
Bishop Shaw invites every congregation’s participation in this mission strategy work. NOTE: Churches that attend one of these Regional Learning Days will be prioritized for the first round of mission grants, green grants, and mission hub funding.
So begins the first lesson we heard from the Prophet Zephaniah. It seems a non-sequetur to the events of recent days, as does the pink candle of rejoicing on our wreath.
Since Friday at about 9:30 am it has not felt like there is a lot to rejoice about in our country. It just doesn’t seem like rejoicing on this day is what we should be doing, with people tragically lost in the terrible shooting at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, CT. I know that this tragedy has hit me hard. All I could think of as I saw the aerial views of the Sandy Hook School was the floor plan of my own children’s school – Newbury Elementary School. I imagine for any of you who have children you love in schools anywhere, or who work in schools, or who have worked in schools, this cut you to the your heart too. And so rejoicing is not the first thing on our minds this morning.
And yet our first lesson invokes joy. “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” So I want to spend some time this morning talking about the difference between joy and happiness. It’s not a happy day. Such loss in our country rattles us to the core. It makes us afraid and sad and uncertain about what is coming next. But that does not preclude joy. Those feelings distance us from a sense of happiness, but joy is different. Joy comes even in the midst of tragedy when we understand – when we feel in our bones – that God never leaves us. That we are not abandoned to the winds of change and circumstance that brings such sadness to us.
Joy is about being held firmly in God’s hand and knowing that all will be well – not because of us, but because of God’s unswerving love for us. God came to us in the incarnation of Jesus. The Holy One – author of the universe – went through 9 months in the darkness of the womb of a young girl who was vulnerable in the world. Not a princess safe in a castle on a hill. But a young woman betrothed to a man working each day to get by. God entered humanity in a vulnerable way, and I can’t help thinking this week that vulnerability of God’s coming is meant to tell us that any vulnerability, any struggle we encounter is nothing less than the fertile ground for the Advent of God’s presence.
That is the joy of this Sunday. That is the step back that we take from the spirit of repentance this week – just enough to say our joy is that God does not leave us there. Our faith is not a myth that evaporates under the heavy weight of our sadness. Paul put it so well in the second lesson for this day:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Our joy today is in the conviction that even in the face of the most unthinkable tragedies, God holds us and is closer to us than our own breath.
At the same time we come here today not just for the comfort of that joy. We come also seeking a way forward; seeking an affirmation of the pain of what has come upon us; seeking to know what to do next. And that is where the Gospel lesson speaks. John refers to those gathered seeking baptism as a brood of vipers. He says to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” – pretty strong words. And then he goes on uses apocalyptic language to describe the Messiah who is coming after him. Perhaps it is his ax that is lying at the roots of the trees that bear no fruit? He carries a winnowing fork, an implement used to separate the edible parts of the grain from that which cannot be consumed – the chaff.
And so John gets the attention of those who wish to be washed clean. Stunned they stand before him and ask him, “What should we do? What should we do to escape this coming wrath?” Their question is not unlike ours – What should we do? We have been brought up short in recent days in this society. We have seen the underbelly of our culture of violence, our culture of weapons – we have seen what it can do. It’s not just theory. And the sad thing it has happened so many times before. Some stats I heard this weekend:
68 people have died in mass shootings in this country in 2012
105 people are shot each day in this country and 83 of them die of their wounds.
What really got our attention this time is that these were the most vulnerable, the most precious – our children. No one who knows children of this age – who has ever loved a child of this age – can even fathom what they must have experienced in those last moments of their young lives. And somehow we all know we have to do something – we are the ones that have to do something.
We are excruciatingly aware now – we must accept that something is wrong. And we have to do something. John said to those who were gathered there. Those of you who have two coats, share one; those of you who have food, give some away; those of you who collect taxes take only what is due; those of you who are soldiers, be satisfied with your wages. The message here is for us in this day also – “Don’t just think of yourselves.” Don’t be so focused just on yourselves that you lose sight of your responsibility to your neighbors and indeed to the whole human race. What you do, on a very practical, everyday plane matters. Take time to do the things that are important. Take time to see the need in your neighbor or your child. Take time to understand what others are going through and how you might help them- how you might share the light and the sustenance of life. Don’t let it pass you by because you are so preoccupied with gaining things for yourself – the endless quest for more that our culture is so addicted to.
What John is preparing the way for is the One who is coming after him. The One who comes to tell us that there is really only One of us – that we are each one members of the other. John is here preparing the way for the One who comes to destroy the forces which isolate us so tragically from one another. The One whose Joy it is to become one of us that he might through the amazing power of God – lead humanity to shed our viper skins and to claim our true identity as children of God.
Today let us pray here for all whose lives are forever changed by the events in Newtown, CT. And as we go out from this holy place let us live expectantly and love courageously, letting our gentleness and faith be known to all around us, as we prepare to celebrate again the rebirth of joy and hope at Christmas. In Christ’s name and for his sake. Amen+
Most mornings now my alarm clock rings at 5:30 am, and I awake into the mysterious time between night and day- when dreams have not fully let go of me and the new day beckons but has not yet begun. It is a liminal time, an in between time, a border region between light and darkness, not unlike the season of Advent.
In the summer season the experience is very different – the sun has lit the sky by the time I am up and life outside my window has begun to stir. Not so in December – the world is still deep in slumber as I light my candle and settle into my chair for 20 minutes of quiet. The whole experience turns me inward. Wrapped in the comforter that I use to keep warm in the early morning chill of the house, I feel like I am in a cocoon waiting… waiting… waiting for some sort of metamorphosis?
This season of Advent that we began last Sunday is a bit of a cocoon too. It is a time between times – our liturgical calendar ended 2 weeks ago with the resurrected Christ ushering in God’s full realm, and in just 2 weeks we will celebrate God bursting into time in the babe, Jesus of Bethlehem. So in these 4 weeks in between we are, as it were, in gestation – in the cocoon, awaiting a new beginning of the whole cycle again.
So what is this time for? What are we waiting for? Our culture has rushed past us and is already in full blown, commercial Christmas mode, but we hold back, at least for a few minutes a day, daring to trust there are important things growing unseen within this cocoon – this womb of Advent.
One of the things that can grow within in Advent is a spirit of repentance – that is why John the Baptist is such a pivotal figure in our readings for this season with his call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But the word repentance seems to stop a lot of people in their tracks. They hear that word and knowing it is associated with the word sin they want nothing more to do with it. In her book Speaking of Sin, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor observes that words such as “Sin, repentance, penance, salvation, iniquity, and transgression… sound like language from an earlier age when human relationship with God was laced with blame and threat.The most obvious solution to the discomfort [these words] provoke is to stop saying them altogether, which is what many of us have done… When we speak of God now, we go straight for the grace.” As Ollie pointed out last week in his sermon to us, grace is not really amazing if we don’t see what we need it for. If we are out of touch with the power of sin in our individual and communal lives, then opening our hearts to the healing grace of God born to us in Jesus might get trumped this season by all the other things on our “to do” list.
The invitation of this season of Advent – extended to us by John the Baptist – is to unlace self examination and repentance from, at Taylor put it “blame and threat”. To redefine repentance so it becomes something we engage in for growth not something we are humiliated by. What we need to claim in Advent is the true metamorphosis of the season – the transformation of our lives through the turning over of our sins to God’s compassionate touch.
Now there are small s sins and there is big S Sin. The small s sins are all the things that we do that are not good for us or for others. Many of these things we do, we know are wrong, but have become habitual ways of behaving for us, or are ways we revert to under stress. Then there are there is the big S Sin, which is kind of like the trunk of the Sin tree, with all the other small s sins growing out from it like branches. The best way I know to describe the Big S Sin at the root of all other sins, is to say it has to do with our disconnection from God and each other, and our default belief that we have the power to fix what is wrong with us. Isn’t it ironic that in this highly technical age where we are so “electronically connected”, I would get up here and say that the root of our Sin is our disconnection from each other and God, and our reliance on our own power. But think about it for all the power we have to communicate with each other do we really know each other? And does the pace of our lives in modern society lend itself to regular daily connection with God? And for all our technical advancements, why is there still so much hunger and warfare in the world? And what about the looming specter of global warming? Disconnection and willful self reliance spell large S Sin in my book.
So what are we to do if we take on this Advent invitation to look at our individual sins and the large S Sin that infects us all? A piece of 12 step program wisdom is helpful here. In the 12 step rooms it is said that in order to recover from what whatever ails us (and I read that as another way of saying Sin), it is necessary to apply 3 a’s – awareness, acceptance and action – in that order – awareness, acceptance and action. Tragically, most of the time, we want to race from awareness of our sins to some sort of action we think will remedy or make up for them. But this rush to action actually short circuits the process of repentance. Without really sitting with the awareness of our sins and accepting the reality of what they mean about who we are and what the world we live in is really like, we are drawn into the illusion that we can fix the sin that ails us by ourselves. But if we resist that rush to action and give ourselves time sit still long enough with our sin and brokenness, we begin to understand that we are part of a world that though fiercely beautiful is also bent and broken in some significant ways. Then we begin to see that our brokenness needs a fix that is well beyond our capacities. This opens us to the opportunity to invite God in and to consent to God’s activity within to bring healing and wholeness that can then lead us to take actions that can bring true healing and reconciliation into our lives and relationships. Then true humility is born in us and we begin to know deep down God’s amazing grace as the root of all real healing.
On this theme Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
“The only reason I can think of [to keep on speaking of sin] is because we believe that God means to redeem the world through us. We have been chosen, in the language of Genesis, not only to be blessed but also to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Our participation in that high calling requires us to understand God’s grace as something more than the infinite remission of our sins. If we want to take part in the divine work of redemption, then we will also understand God’s grace as the gift of regeneration – the very real possibility of new life right here on earth – complete with new vision, new values, and new behavior.
As wary as I am of pious calls to perfection, it does seem to me that too many of us have given up hope of new life for ourselves or for the families of the earth. It is easier (and less painful) for us to rely on God’s forgiveness of our sins than it is to believe that God might support us to quit them. But how can we quit them if we have forgotten what they are called.
Abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience alienation, deformation, damnation and death no matter what we call them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives. Ironically, it will also weaken the language of grace, since the full impact of forgiveness cannot be felt apart from the full impact of what has been forgiven. (Speaking of Sin, pp.4-6)
May the knowledge that this womb of Advent, in which we are being carried, is God’s own womb give us the courage to reflect on, name and accept the Sin that infects us. And may our only action in this season be to lift up our heads and behold the grace that will shower down upon us for our healing, and the healing of all creation.
May we increase and abound in love for one another and for all. And may our creating, + redeeming, and sustaining God strengthen our hearts in holiness. Amen.
Here it is, the first Sunday of Advent again. We’re now in the church year where Luke’s gospel takes the lead. There are lots of great readings in this year’s Gospel. Luke wrote down Mary’s song for us – “my soul magnifies my Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” He told us about Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus in a stable. From him we know the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son. Many of these Gospel passages are appealing to non-Hebrew people like us: scholars believe Luke wrote a Gentile audience. He’s talking to you and me.
So, Luke’s words are appealing to us. But they’re not comfortable words. They’re words about the end of the world, and words about what life is like after the world has ended. Luke wrote down his gospel about fifty years after Jesus’s resurrection, after the Roman-Jewish war had laid waste to Jerusalem.
Today’s Gospel reading is about that post-apocalyptic time in 80 AD. And, it’s also about our time. It challenges me and you personally. Jesus foretells a day of reckoning, a day that’s coming soon. He talks about “distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” We know what that means: we live by an ocean that lays waste to great cities. Jesus says “People will faint from fear … of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” At least some of us know what that means: Do you remember the cataclysmic jihad threatened by certain terrorists from the Middle East?
And Jesus warns us to keep watch for these great disasters. In the language of the Bible translation called The Message, he tells us
Be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap.
I’ve had surprises grab me like a trap, and I know that’s true for many of you. We’ve had life-changing, terrible, disastrous, surprises: accidents, diseases, the sudden death of people we love.
These words of Jesus can hurt. They make it sound like it’s our fault we’re surprised by terrible news. It’s because our hearts were weighed down with parties and drinking and the worries of this world. If we were somehow holier and purer we wouldn’t have been surprised. Ouch. If we read these words that way they really cut us. What’s the truth of these words? Are we reading them right? Let’s think through that question.
Yesterday was World AIDS Day. Each year since 1988 December 1st has been a day used to promote awareness of the AIDS epidemic. As we all know, that disease has been a disaster of Biblical proportions for humanity. It’s killed many more than the Roman-Jewish War. And we’ve used it as an excuse to point our self-righteous fingers at each other and accuse each other of being unclean.
Ten years and a month before that first AIDS day, I happened to be visiting San Francisco. I was applying to graduate school there. I took a cheap standby jet flight and booked a room at the Y. I was tired after my long flight, interviews, and tests. I needed to sleep. But, I am here to tell you, that YMCA was a rowdy place on Halloween night in 1978. People were partying like there was no tomorrow. Dissipation, drunkenness, and the worries of this world were all there. You know the popular song about the YMCA: I think it was inspired by that epic party. Revelers knocked on the thin door of my little cubicle hoping for some anonymous companionship, until I put out a do-not-disturb sign. I spent a few minutes feeling like a stranger and a spoil-sport, then fell mercifully asleep.
As the next few years went by and we all started to hear rumors and then facts about the mysterious disease that turned out to be AIDS, I caught myself feeling a little smug. I was happy that I hadn’t joined in that wild Halloween party. I told myself, “I don’t do ‘dissipation, drunkenness, and the worries of this world,’ so I’m safe. I’m healthy. Good for me.” We know now that lots of people had that kind of self-righteous attitude. Lots of people said to each other “this disease doesn’t affect people like us.” And as a result people with the disease were marginalized and blamed. The disease itself was ignored for a long time. All that is still going on.
The question is this: should you and I be cut by Jesus’s sharp words? If something bad catches us unaware, does it prove that “our hearts are dulled by dissipation, drunkenness, and the worries of this world?” When disasters surprise us, is it our fault? If we do foresee them, does it prove we’re holy?
I wish I could say “no, of course not.” I wish I could say, no, this warning of Jesus isn’t about now, it’s about later. I wish I could say, you and I don’t have to worry about it. Because we’re baptized and we believe, we are all set. Those warnings are for somebody else. But is that true?
Partly, we’re off the hook. For the sake of God’s holy mercy, we must not blame ourselves for being surprised by some disasters. Luke quotes Jesus saying that it was certainly not the fault of certain Galileans that Herod murdered them. When we’re stunned by a family member’s mortal illness, Jesus is NOT saying that we’re to blame. Not at all.
But it’s not that easy, sorry to say. Sometimes the warnings ARE for you and me.
With the hindsight the AIDS epidemic gave us, it’s obvious: some of the people at the wild Y party that Halloween night a generation ago were taking serious health risks. The consequences frightened us. Our life together suffered and is still suffering.
I took a cheap jet flight to San Francisco that year. With the hindsight Hurricane Sandy gave us, it’s obvious oil-burning air travel has helped change the climate for the worse. Our life together is suffering because, partly, of a choice I made.
So yes, both my fellow Y residents and I were, in our own ways, partying like there was no tomorrow. And yes, Jesus’s words cut us. They warn us not to be surprised when our partying has consequences. Still, we are surprised.
We had a funeral here Thursday for Callie, a recent high school graduate. Her death was a catastrophe and it took everyone who knew her by surprise. I hope and pray that the people who loved her don’t feel her death was their fault. It was not. I hope and pray God will guard the hearts and minds of the people who loved her against hearing today’s gospel words as condemnation. They are not. We live in a world where catastrophes have already happened: AIDS, Hurricane Sandy, the death of people we love. The promise of today’s Gospel reading is this: God will never abandon us, even if our world has ended. God was, is, and will be with us. God suffers for with us and with us. God yearns for us to open our eyes and our hearts and love each other like God loves us. God yearns for us to turn from the old world and live in the new. Jesus is coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his realm has no end. I’m not talking just about an afterlife after death. I’m talking about a way of life that overcomes death.
At Callie’s funeral we sang Amazing Grace. The Good News at the heart of that song is this line. “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved.” Those two things go together. Without one, the other is worthless.
Does saying “Be afraid! the sea is rising and it’s because of your cheap jet rides!” to people persuade us to change our attitude to using fossil fuel? No. Guilt is a notoriously bad way to change human behavior. On the other hand, does saying “don’t worry about it! party on!” help anything? No. God uses the two — fear, and relief — taken together to change our hearts.
That’s what our Gospel reading is about: Jesus warns us to keep watch but always – always – combines the warning with a promise to be with us. Each day the old world is passing away, and each day the new world is coming. It’s my prayer for this Advent season that God’s grace will teach your heart to fear and God’s grace will set you free to live in +God’s realm. Amen .
Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Amen
“In India, we have a saying — everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
Name the movie? Hint: Stars Judi Dench/released this year- not a James Bond movie.
(Don’t go to the movies enough. Maybe you should keep some of your money this week and rent the DVD on iTunes).
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel-
A group of 7 British retirees decide to “outsource” their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel, they arrive to find the palace to be a run-down remnant of its glory days. Instead of the luxury and elegance promised on the website and brochure, the place is infested with dust, birds, cockroaches, pipes that leak, and telephones that don’t work
It’s based on the intriguing premise that with so many people living so long, it would make sense for England and other countries to outsource their elders to India where they can be taken care of for less money and no drain on budgets of Western nations.
Each character struggles with important issues: impulse to do life review, health crises, financial short-falls, disappointments, the looming prospect of death, changes in marital relationships, the continuing desire for companionship, and spiritual openness.
The hope of the movie rests in the enthusiasm of the young hotel manager Sonny who encourages each character to become open to new possibilities. All that is needed is an open heart, an open mind, and patience.
Each time they complain about their circumstance or get discouraged he reminds them:
“Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
I like that quote. I think it gives us an interesting lens to view this Feast of Christ the King. So, reflecting on this quote lets look at the Feast of Christ the King:
In our Liturgical Year
In our Gospel
In our lives today.
Christ the King- Liturgical Year
The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas. The encyclical quotes Cyril of Alexandria, noting that Jesus’ kingship is not obtained by violence but his by essence and by nature. Pope Pius added the feast to our liturgical calendar to remind us that our allegiance is to our spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly supremacy, which at the time was being claimed by Mussolini.
Look around the world, still relevant today.
Does the Episcopal church celebrate a feast instituted by a 20th Century Pope? After all, this is not an ancient Christian feast day.
As I continue to learn, the Episcopal Church has a definitive answer: Yes and No.
Yes- Revised lectionary. Last Sunday of Pentecost- The Feast of Christ the King
No- Book of Common Prayer. Calendar- Thanksgiving but no Christ the King. Not officially adopted by General convention.
Purist: Last Sunday after Pentecost
Moderate: Christ the King
Progressive: Reign of Christ Sunday (don’t like language of kingship)
Christ the King is the end of our Liturgical Year. End of story.
Does the Jesus story have a happy ending?
Will everything will be all right in the end? Feast of Christ the King- answer is Yes.
Christ the King- Scripture
Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.”
One of the rules that Pilate was called to enforce was the rule that anyone who claimed to be a king, anyone who dared to set themselves up as an authority over and against the lawful authority of Caesar, was to be executed.
Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate doesn’t get it because Jesus doesn’t fit the image of King.
What kind of king bends down on the ground to be with a woman accused of adultery and leans in close to hear her voice when nobody else bothered to listen? What kind of King dines with tax collectors and prostitutes? What kind of king acknowledges the abundance of a poor widow’s offering as preached by our youth two weeks ago? What kind of king puts a towel around his waist and then kneels on the floor to wash his disciples’ dirty feet
These actions landed Jesus before Pilate and eventually on the throne of the cross – a place where this crucified Christ declares that despite all evidence to the contrary, everything will be all right in the end. Do we have the faith to believe and testify to this truth?
Not naïve belief that everything will be fine- the faith that somehow God will provide.
Christ the King- In our lives today (3 lessons- many more)
I remember once preaching on the Feast of Christ the King. This long-time parishioner (Tom) came up to me and said: “You didn’t mention the last Judgment of Christ.” That’s an important part of the Kingship of Christ. In fact we pray it in the Creed each week: He will come in glory to Judge the Living and the Dead and his kingdom will have no end.
My response: To be honest, I find the language of kingship to be too patriarchal and the Judgment of Christ archaic theology- after all don’t we believe that that God is Love?
Then Tom asked me to be seated and he began to preach to me:
Christ reserves the last judgment to himself because human beings are too judgmental.
Look how often we judge one another- discriminate, set apart, point to that which divides rather than unites. Not just in the world, it happens in church as well. People have judged me my entire life- I’m just glad they don’t have the final judgment!
For Tom, everything will be alright in the end, because he trusts in Christ’s compassionate reign and not the authority of others.
Wisdom in his belief.
So stay awake, be prepared- Non-Judgment Day is coming!
Second, Jesus is a king who never rose so high that he couldn’t see those who were down low. Even today, we see Jesus in the compassionate response from those assisting people who are still waiting for relief from hurricane Sandy. We see Jesus once again walking on holy ground in the streets of Gaza and Jerusalem. A painful reminder that things are not all right. If you want to see Jesus, look in places kings seldom go.
Finally, true royalty is about testifying to the truth. Message of today’s Gospel- Jesus came to testify to the truth. It’s about personal integrity. When we live truthfully and with a sense of personal integrity, we experience the Reign of Christ. There are many in our parish that seek to live truthful lives. Some are parents who make unpopular parenting decisions for the welfare of their children. Some make decisions at work as a matter of personal integrity that leave them outside the group. Some spoke their minds at the Thanksgiving Table taking an opinion contrary to the rest of the family.
This week, I was invited into a conversation with two people in our parish that took a step in their relationship to live more truthfully- they did so knowing they may be judged by others. But, by doing this, they helped make known the Reign of Christ.
So my friends, on this last day of our liturgical year, I welcome you to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel otherwise known as St Paul’s Church.
Like the characters in the movie, our parish family also struggles through health crises, financial short-falls, disappointments, the looming prospect of death, changes in marital relationships, the continuing desire for companionship, and spiritual openness.
When you check in, you will be asked to help create a Judgment Free zone- You will be invited to places that kings seldom go. You are welcome to be yourself and live a life that is truthful to your call.
And when discouraged or facing challenges in life, we can turn to one a familiar message of hope:
In the Reign of Christ, we have a saying,
“Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
This group of women meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month from 2-4 pm in the library at St. Paul’s. We welcome new members at any time.
If you don’t knit we can teach you and give you directions for a prayer shawl. If you are a knitter but cannot join us we would welcome those who would be able to knit a shawl on their own. Donations to purchase yarn are always appreciated. Since our inception we have given out approximately 400 shawls!
November 26 – Joanne Alukonis; December 10 – 6pm – Shirley Walton – Cookie Swap and Soup.
In my Weathervane article this month I wrote about how I had gone to the grocery store on the morning that Hurricane Sandy was due to hit the east coast. It never ceases to amaze me how our hunting, gathering and nesting instincts kick in when we are in some way threatened. How fortunate we are to have been spared a direct hit from that particular storm.
But of course many in the Greater New York City region were not so fortunate. A picture really is worth a thousand words when it comes to taking in the magnitude of the devastation in New York and New Jersey, and so I have covered the front of the pulpit this morning with pictures that have been posted online. The turmoil in terms of human lives disrupted or sadly in some case ended is immense. And then there is the chaos of what happened to people’s homes and possessions. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed. So many there are still suffering to put their lives back together with the help of government agencies and thousands of volunteers carrying donations from all over the country to help give some comfort in these difficult days. We are part of that effort through the collections we are making. Please see the bulletin insert of learn more about what is needed.
These brothers and sisters of ours, suffering in this aftermath of Super Storm Sandy were very much in my thoughts this week as I read our lessons for today. In the prophecy from Daniel and again in what Jesus says in our Gospel passage from Mark, we find ominous predictions of the turmoil, chaos and suffering of the end time transition when the full realm of God overtakes our time-bound reality. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” writes the author of the letter to the Hebrews And how! These readings about the end times evoke alarm because they expose an aspect of God’ that we tend to shrink from or would rather not think about very often – the unpredictable, uncontrollable, cosmically powerful side of God. But the full picture of what those end times will be like remains vague- when we try to focus in on exactly what it is being predicted, it eludes us. There is no real specificity here. It leaves even the prophet confounded. Later in this prophecy, Daniel, himself cries out, “I heard, but I could not understand.” All we can really know about the end time after hearing these readings is that it doesn’t sound good.
What are we to do in the face of this cosmic forcast? How are we to prepare? Hurricanes show us that our human efforts at organization and preparedness often fall far short when it is our neighborhood that takes the direct hit. It is like that with our individual lives too – when someone we love gets sick, or a child is struggling, or a relationship we depended upon disintegrates – our normal coping abilities seem inadequate to the devastation we encounter.
Thank God for our faith. Thank God for our scriptures. Thank God for our churches where we come week after week to find what we need to face the storms of both our personal and collective lives. Here we find hope even among the prophecies that can unnerve us. This morning that hope comes to us from the writer of the letter to the Hebrew.
Throughout this letter this writer continually affirms, yes the end times of judgment and cataclysm are coming, but that we already possess the one thing necessary to survive. In our passage this morning we read: “…we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus…” Confidence is the word to underline here! Confidence is the one thing necessary to weather the storms of the present time and those yet to come. This writer feels that confidence down to the tips of his or her toes.
If we read on in this tenth chapter of Hebrews the writer tells us this confidence does not come from warehouses full of supplies, or passwords that gain entrance to cosmic bomb shelters. Rather, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, tells us, this confidence is hewn out of already having followed Christ into places of need and chaos; from voluntarily being acquainted with the suffering and pain already going on in our world, even in our own lives, or the lives of those we love.
Your relationship with Christ enables you to endure hard struggles and sufferings, even sometimes public abuse and persecution, and to be partners with those who are so treated. Your faith gives you over to compassion for those in prison, and to cheerful surrender of material possessions, knowing your true riches can never be taken from you. You are clad with confidence born out of finding God’s grace alive and well, and very active in the midst of chaos that already grips our world. You are already receiving the riches of the kingdom. So, when the final birth pangs of the kingdom come and the cosmic storm rages, you will not be overcome.
When many others are caught up in terror, you will not be. When many are grabbing resources and running for cover, you will not. Rather this confidence founded on faith in Christ Jesus will lead you to reach out to those who get trampled in the rush. We, as Christians, clad in our confidence that God is strong to save, are called upon to resist the panic and do what we can for those who are suffering and in need – now, and then.
As the prophecy from Daniel predicts, In the face of panic you will stand firm as beacons for others – lanterns of God’s grace in the midst of chaos, even as you already are, here and now. And you should never underestimate the contagious effect of this confidence. When you shine with the confidence founded on your relationship with our Lord, you affect the hold that fear has over others. Your light can help loosen the bonds of fear and bring calm to panicked hearts- hearts that can then join the work of reconciling all of creation to God.
You may hear me and protest; “I feel no such confidence”. But my friends in Christ, it is ours even before we possess it. It is the free gift of our baptism. All we need do is claim it and let it take root within us. It will lead us to live into the strength of Christ that paradoxically comes from joining hands with weakness and need.
This confidence is yours. This confidence is mine. It is ours as Christians. And its reward is this; the reassurance that no matter how terrifying God’s methods, in the end times, or even now, they will prove grace filled. Like a surgeon’s knife, God’s ways often wound before they can heal. Preacher Barbara Brown Taylor has put it this way: “While we would prefer to forgo the pain altogether, our survival depends on our trust in the surgeon’s skill. If we believe that the One to whom we surrender ourselves is competent, then, in the words of Blessed Julian of Norwich, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well, no matter what.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, In The Other Side Magazine, March & April 2000) May this confidence grow in and among us day by day and may God use us to bring hope and light to those who today suffer devastation.