Sunday, December 8, 2013

Watching just beyond the candle light


I haven't posted here in many weeks, instead focusing on my book project in my early morning writing time. I am close to finishing a first draft, so it is getting time once again to come back to this space.

A few kinds folks asked me this morning to post my sermon, so that seems a good way to start. The day is icy, and sleet is covering the sidewalks. More than 100 hearty souls braved the weather to make it to church. We improvised a few things, and it was a more intimate worship than we typically experience.

I  was not slated to preach today, but put something together with a major inspirational assist from Steven Charleston. The readings for today are Isaiah 11:1-10Romans 15:4-13 and Matthew 3:1-12.

Here it is:

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         Good morning. Thank you for being for braving the elements and being here this morning. Not everyone could get here, including our scheduled preacher, and so our prayers today are with everyone who isn’t here. And we are here to pray for them.
         I had not planned to preach today, so forgive me, I haven’t had much time to prepare. That of course, goes a bit against the admonitions of Advent, a time when we are told to be awake because we don’t know what is coming next.
         But I am an old newspaper reporter, and I can still do a few things on deadline.
         This morning I could give you a little biblical background about John the Baptist, but I’d rather save that for another day.
         Today might be a day to be a little more low key, a little quieter than John the Baptist calling us a brood of vipers. Today I would rather John’s unquenchable fire stay in the fire place.
         So, I’d like to read you something that a friend of mine wrote the other day on his Facebook page. This is from Steven Charleston, who is the retired bishop of Alaska.
         Here is what he wrote:
         When the hour is late and the world is quiet, when prayers are being said and dreams are being sought, then the space between this life and the life to come draws thin, and if you look with eyes of the Spirit you will see your ancestors watching over you, watching just beyond the candle light, keeping their gentle vigil through the night, offering their wisdom in words too still to speak.
“You are being blessed by those who loved you most. You are safe in their care. The air around you is filled with a ceaseless benediction, your life held secure in hearts as pure as holy.”
Advent is a time of being awake the holy that is so near us. It is a time of waiting for the holy, but also noticing the holy already here. It is a time for noticing our dreams, looking with the eyes of the Spirit into the candlelight. It is a time for remembering our ancestors, and feeling their presence.
I am always struck by those individuals who feel this more clearly than I do, more clearly than the rest of us. John the Baptist was certainly one – it is why people flocked to the river to hear him and be washed in the river by him. He told them to repent – the word means “turn around.”
The word “repent” has gotten so laden with guilt and judgment that it has lost its meaning with us. But in its classic meaning, repent means simply, turn around to see God once again.
All he was really doing is telling people to turn around, go home, what you seek is already with you – God is walking with you. If you can see that, feel that, your life will be changed.
We’ve had people like that in our own time – and some have been prophets and sages. We know them because we can see how the Holy Spirit changed them, and then how they profoundly change the lives of others, and even change entire nations.
We know them by how they march in the light of God, and how they base their life not on hatred, violence and revenge, but on love, hope and reconciliation.
St. Paul himself was a man of violence and hatred until the Holy Spirit filled him the joy and peace of believing.
We lost one of those giant figures this week – Nelson Mandela. He transformed himself from a prophet of violence to a prophet of love and forgiveness. He changed a nation and changed the world.
At communion today we will sing the hymn, Marching in the Light of God, that became the unofficial anthem of those in South Africa who brought down apartheid.
We are blessed by so many other people still living. And we are still blessed by those who are gone from us but whose lives we can feel in flicker of the candle light, the breath of the wind.
Most of them aren’t famous, but they somehow touched our lives deeply. Who are they for you?
Some are our ancestors, and they watch over us, whisper to us.
May this Advent be a time for you to remember those individuals in your prayers, give thanks for how they changed you, and then be awake to how they still walk with you.
And soon, we will remember again how long ago, God came to be among us as a human being, as Jesus, and how by his life we are changed, healed and made new forever.
There really is more to this life than what you see now.
No matter what bruises and bumps we encounter along the way, healing does come, sometimes here, sometimes in the next life – but healing comes.
Life eternal begins in this place and dwells with each and every one of us. The One who comes is already here. The dawn soon arrives, and the blessing is ours forever. So be awake, look for the salvation that is already yours forever.
And may we always march in the Light of God.

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