This sermon has three parts: a short first part which is preceded by an introduction, then a middle part, and finally a long part when the short part brought back for a rousing finale. There will probably not be a test following.
First, an introduction. I have been dealing with retirement for the last two years and find it to be tiring. I’ve always tended to be given to rumination and review far too frequently, have a fatal tendency to fill up time by thinking about things, and there’s been a lot to think about the last two years, even in the last two months.
To start with the world. I don’t mean to worry you, but I’m scared shiftless (according to my spellchecker) by what I see as the political list to the far right; to punitive, quasi-parental, punishing models of government by the rich and mighty and for the rich and mighty — and so much of this in the name of people who call themselves followers of Jesus, the same guy who said “Blessed are the poor” and “love your neighbour as yourself.” I’m afraid of what’s happening to my neighbourhood and to the other friends of Jesus.
Plus there’s the church: I know enough church history to know that over the past 2000 years we’ve had some downward spirals, when we weren’t the best look in the neighbourhood, when we didn’t show the moral high ground, weren’t the flavour of the month, didn’t pack them into the pews. But something is different now; the world has changed so much in the last fifty years and the church has stayed so very much the same. So my question is how do you love the neighbour when the neighbourhood has moved so far away?
In both the world and the church we need to ask more questions; we need to go back to older ideas and reevaluate them in light of what now might be most important, whether it be love or justice, compassion and community, neediness or neighbourliness. I think the big question is, what does God’s love look like here and now, and how can we deliver on that promised good news?
Then there’s getting older. I turned seventy last April and, though I’m told it has its advantages, it isn’t an awful lot of fun. I’m dealing with a couple of chronic health problems which seem determined to stay the course, I can’t eat or play as much as I used to without disastrous consequences, I need to exercise more and I want to less, and there is one other thing on the list, but I forget what it is.
So there’s the preface and here’s the short answer followed by the long part: I’ll talk you through it and then we’ll do it together.
In our celebration of the Eucharist this morning there are four parts, take, bless, break, share. That’s what Jesus did, and we are here to learn to do likewise; with whatever elements of life are closest to us at any given moment – whether that be bread or wine, love and hate, hope and fear, beginnings and endings, politics or personalities, education or ecology, neighbourhood or nation. The task is to take whatever is around and let it be blessed by the possibilities of God (You can as easily say that we bless God with these possibilities – other side of the same coin, I think). So as the manual act at the altar is to raise the bread and wine, lifting them up to God’s level, as it were, we do the same with the stuff of our lives, lifting them high maybe so we can see them more clearly and see their God given possibilities and potentials, see more clearly where love might raise them up and how we might take part in these actions.
And it is in light of the possibility of love that we break them apart, seeing them like God might, like food and drink for famished people, new visions and vehicles for grace and grit, for God knows who or what or where or where; to file the vision that, like C. S. Lewis’ Aslan, God might be “on the move,” open and willing and determined to share love and life and light with all the work that entails.
So take, bless, break, share: that’s the short path, now the longer bit…
A monk I knew in California 35 years ago said the big question was this, “Are you in it for the long run or the short run?” He left his order not long thereafter and I here confess I’ve since looked in that direction myself more than a few times with some envy, but the question and its answer are still valid – Why and how do we stay in it for the long run? I think if the actions of the Eucharist offer us the the basic choreography, the box step of belief, then it is in the shape of the seasons of the church year where we can see the way to make the long run home.
Advent means beginning to see the fact of Christ, to see the promise of God’s presence that each and every one of us holds and carries in our daily lives, in the life of the world, in every place in the planet. To be even more excessively cute I’ll say that each and every one of us has a particular and peculiar gift of God to give — a unique and special Christmas present that is wrapped in the midst of each of our individual lives which is calling to be given away, to be taken, blessed, broken and shared with an unready and increasingly ambivalent world.
And now it it gets more complex. For that not only means that we need to regard ourselves with honour – being God bearers in the very style of the Virgin Mary, but we really need to look to others with some awe as well; because who knows what holy message what, what good word, what gospel, they might carry, what a company we might become!
So Mary and the shepherds and the Magi accompany us, with our individual Christmas presents, into the light of the Epiphany, into the brights and strident lights of the common culture of consumerism and capitalism and chaos, “Where the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” That’s William Butler Yeats but T.S. Eliot even said it better, “In a world of fugitives the one going in the opposite direction will appear to be running away.” where “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness.”
It isn’t always easy. There are repercussions from carrying message of unbounded love into gated communities, people will try to pin you down to simpler solutions. And remember in the centre of the gospel somewhere it says that Mary and the shepherds and the Magi and you and I are not going to get out of this alive. Yet they still call it Good Friday. Because there is something that is larger-than-life and that is the life and love of God that lives in each of us by grace.
The Easter acclamation is that Christ is risen from the grave and some days I find that difficult to believe, to live into; and if you find it easy then, I’ll have what you’re having with a twist! But for me it often takes time to get there from here, and maybe that’s one of the reasons that the season of Eastertide is longer than then Lent. Because eternal life is deeper than death and takes more time to dive into this new dimension of existence, where the old confusions and new clarities to all come together in what one medieval theologian called “a coincidence of opposites,” a different way of being, where a new creation requires a new kind of vocabulary, an articulated language of love that can last for the long run (even though it usually doesn’t).
Some lectionaries call the season of Pentecost “Ordinary Time” and this has to do with letting our lives be ordered in the light and by the gift of the spirit, becoming “Children of the Most High” amongst all the ordinary aspects of our daily tasks and times. Then it is no coincidence that Pentecost is the longest season of the year and it is no surprise this morning that it finally deposits us once again in the season of Advent to begin again.
For there is always room for a new vocabulary, a larger reality, a new birth. There is always the taking up of these actions so that God’s love may be born here and now in the task at hand. so today and always, take, bless, break, share what you have been given, all you have received, everything that is. And let Christ’s Advent come all of the way into our less than luminescent lives and our half-broken hearts.
For to us a child is coming. Amen.