Archive for December 2017

Advent IV 12/24/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

If you were not familiar with our Christmas story, today’s Gospel reading would be one of the strangest things you’d ever read. It would never sell, even as fiction. Nobody would believe it.

We get this “angel Gabriel creature”, whatever it is, being sent by God to a little backwoods town in Galilee, to a virgin, – probably better translated “young woman”, –who is committed to marry a man named Joseph. They didn’t have engagements then. Marriages were arranged by families. Well, we learn that the young woman’s name was Mary, and this “angel creature” appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Oh, come on now. That’s not even realistic. A young woman, and this thing in the air saying this to her? And how do we know its name? The whole thing makes no sense.

Well, it says Mary was “much perplexed.” That’s got to be an understatement. Now, the “angel creature” tells her that God likes her, so she is going to have a son. No way! Gabriel then tells her what name she is to give the child, and that he will be called “the Son of the most high”, or “the Son of God”, and that he will inherit the throne of King David, and his kingdom will never end.

None of this makes sense to Mary. She questions the whole thing, especially since she is young and has not had relations with a man. Gabriel gives her this bazaar description of how the “Holy Spirit” is going to inseminate her. The whole thing would be absolutely terrifying to a young country girl, in this little back woods town. It’s sort of terrifying to us, if we think about it. Then Gabriel tells her that her elderly relative, Elizabeth, who had been barren all of her life, was now in her 6th month of pregnancy.

You may remember a homily that I did a few months ago when I talked about the verb “to be” being the “key” that opens communication with God. If you don’t remember, in the Bible, any form of the verb “to be”, used as a response, unlocks communication with “the Holy.” “Where are you Adam?” “Here am I.” “Who shall I send?” “Here am I, send me.” And here in this text, Mary responds, “Here am I, the servant of God.” Mary uses “the key” to open herself directly to God, pledges herself to God, and Gabriel disappears.

As I said at the beginning, this is all too fanciful to be believable. But it is the beginning of the story of the birth of God in human form on this earth. It is the beginning of humankind’s new relationship with God. And that new relationship with God is going to be just as “messy” as our story this morning from the Gospel of Luke. The fact is, that when God moves in this creation, it is always “messy.” We like to think of God as doing sweet, nice, sunshiny, pastel things in our lives: clouds, and sunsets, and flowers, and puppies. But it doesn’t work that way. The wonder and beauty of God is somehow revealed in pain, and confusion, and big messes.

The birth of a child is a beautiful act of God, but it is painful and messy. Death is probably a beautiful act of God, but it is painful and messy.

I like almost all musical forms, except for a few like Acid Rock. I’ll never quite understand it. But one of my favorite forms would be a contemporary piece with a lot of gentle discord, that at the very end finds the resolving chord in just the right key, and pulls it all together. We’re listening to this confusion, and dissonance, and it’s building tension, and it might even be getting a little bit ugly, and then, suddenly it is all resolved with a beautiful chord that pulls the discord together, and all is well. And when we hear that resolving chord, we relax and smile.

I look at God as that “final chord” in the dissonance of our lives. There is the pain. There is the misunderstanding. There is the birth. There is the death. There is the war. There is the illness. There is the Holocaust. There is the Crucifixion. AND THEN, there is God resolving the whole thing.

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according the your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.”

The discord has begun. God has acted, and it is messy. We’ve had this irregular pregnancy that could have resulted in Mary’s being stoned to death. We’ve had this census. We’ve had this horrible trip to Bethlehem, in the final days of pregnancy. We’ve had no decent place for them to stay, when they arrived in Bethlehem. They’ve ended up in a dark, dangerous cave stable under the village of Bethlehem, probably one of the worst places on earth. The whole thing has been a big mess, from the beginning.

And that’s where we stop today. If you want to hear the “resolving chord”, you have to come back to church tonight.

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

 

Posted December 26, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Advent I 12/3/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

As I think most of you know, Julia and I attended the Fall Clergy Conference this past Tuesday. As I mentioned in Clergy Clatter, our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry was our guest speaker. I’ve met all of our Presiding Bishops since the 1950s. And I’ve attended Clergy Conferences for 50 years, but this one seemed special. I’ve always been impressed with our Presiding Bishops. You might not know that they are elected by our General Convention, which meets every 3 years. They are already bishops who have shown special skills. Bishop Curry was Bishop of North Carolina, prior to his election. He is our first African American President Bishop. They are called “Presiding Bishops” because they “preside” over the House of Bishops. They are elected to a 9 year term. Their job is an awesome one, and by the end of 9 years, I’m sure they are glad to “hang it up.”

Well, Bishop Curry is known for his preaching and teaching, as well as his candor and energy. We got to see it all, and I was very impressed. You may have heard me say that I don’t listen to a lot of sermons. I’m afraid my mind kind of wanders, except for Julia’s homilies. I listen to hers. I’d better. She might test me on one.

Well, Bishop Curry has a number of “catch phrases” that become sort of mantras for him. He’ll say one of these “catch phrases”, and them build on it. I’m sure he says a lot of the same things to every group with whom he meets. So – he’s well practiced. But he’s still very effective. I jotted down several of his mantras, and one that I particularly liked was, “Focus beyond the reality to the dream.” That kind of brought me up in my seat and got my head spinning.

I began to relate it to our present political climate. Bishop Curry didn’t mention that. In fact, he carefully avoided current politics. But he did relate it to Dr. Martin Luther King, who certainly focused on “the dream.” Even if we don’t know much about Martin Luther King, we know “I have a dream.”

And Bishop Curry talked a lot about the Book of Isaiah, from which our Old Testament readings will be taken throughout Advent. We know that Isaiah was written by at least 3 writers, at different times. The first 39 chapters were written prior to the Exile, but predicted the fall of the nation and the exile to Babylon. We refer to that writer as 1st Isaiah. Chapters 40 thru 55 are referred to as 2nd Isaiah, and were probably written while the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon. Chapters 56 – 66 are referred to as 3rd Isaiah, and written after the Exile. Now, a lot of other writers and prophets apparently inserted their ideas into the Book of Isaiah, as well. Many a doctoral dissertation has been written on identifying various writers in Isaiah.

But, as Bishop Curry pointed out, there is one common thread through all of Isaiah, “looking to the dream.” And that’s why it’s read throughout Advent. “Prepare ye the way. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Prepare! Look to the dream. And today’s reading from Isaiah begins: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.” Looking to the dream.

And our Gospel for this morning, from Mark: “THEN they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds.” “THEN he will send out the angels.” “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.”

Looking to the dream.

And that’s what Advent is all about. For the child, it’s looking to the dream of Santa coming on Christmas. To the merchants, it’s looking to the dream of brisk sales and fat register tills. To our neighborhood, it’s looking to the dream of a successful Home Tour next Sunday. To students, it’s looking to the dream of Winter Vacation. But to Christians, it’s looking to the dream of the birth of a baby who will be the human face of an unseen God, and dwell amongst us. It’s looking forward to the dream of the lion and the lamb lying down together. It’s looking forward to the dream of peace on earth, and in our streets, and in our homes.

“Focus beyond the reality to the dream.” Advent identifies “the dream” for us. It’s a different dream for different people, but it makes us look ahead. It holds up “the dream” for us. And the dream is always “beyond the reality.” If we’re bogged down in the reality, we can’t experience the dream. The present, the reality can paralyze us. If I’m discouraged, nothing is going to happen. My life becomes a downward spiral in the reality. If I’m going to accomplish anything, I’ve got to look ahead – look to the dream look to what I want to see happen.

These are not very happy times in the life of our nation. I could list the chain of concerns for you, but you know what they are. But Advent tells us to look beyond that. Focus on the dream. There’s power in dreams, because they show a better way. And we all have dreams. And they can be achieved. That’s the Good News of the Gospel.

“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

“Focus beyond the reality, to the dream.”

Amen.

Posted December 5, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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