A Song of Praise

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If your house is anything like mine, there are remnants of Christmas everywhere. There’s the tree with a string of lights not quite working. There’s a box of wrapping paper and cardboard waiting to go out to the recycle bin. There’s a not-so-tidy stack of decorations that never made it to the tree. The new gifts sitting out because they haven’t found a place yet. Oh, and the kitchen, well, it’s the kitchen after a flurry of baking and candy making… It’s obvious that something happened here, it’s just not clear what that something was.

It’s just not clear what that something was. For many people, the day after Christmas is the day to put everything away, tidy things up for the new year. In the stores all the Christmas goods are on the clearance shelves and Valentine’s Day products have taken the prime spots. It’s hard to keep up when retail jumps from one holiday to the next without stopping in between. Church is different, though, isn’t it.

The Advent wreath is fully lit as the paraments change to white. Concerts and carols fill the week. How do we keep going with Christmas while the world moves on? How do we linger at the manger, under the star long enough to find some meaning in the annual remembrance of Jesus’ birth?

Isaiah, the Psalmist, Simeon, Paul all provide a clue to meaning making. They all point toward praise. Praising God in the midst of the chaos and the ordinary opens us to the truth of what happened under that star so long ago. Too many people say that they cannot praise God while refugees wander without a home, while people freeze to death for lack of shelter, while children remain hungry, while hatred runs free in our streets, and on down the list of social ills. Perhaps this is part of the reason for everything feeling overwhelming or out of control; we have forgotten how to sing God’s praises every day.

No matter what is happening in the world, God is still God. God created the world. God so loves the world. God became flesh and lived among us. God reveals the way of Love. If the world is overwhelmed with hatred and poverty and fear, it is not God’s doing. God is still God in the midst of the mess we have created. God was God on that first Christmas when Jesus took his first breath. God was God on that first Good Friday when Jesus took his last breath. God was God on that first Easter morning when Christ emerged from death. God is God, even now, when we live in fear, when we struggle for health and wholeness, when Pharaoh and Babylon are on the rise again, when we forget that nothing can extinguish Love. God is still God. God waits for us to recognize God’s presence here and now. God is waiting for us to sing praises to God even when we don’t feel like it.

There is plenty to sing about, really. God loves humanity collectively and individually, even when we don’t seek out God’s ways, even when our sin has lasting effects. Praising God for the goodness of creation should come naturally to our lips. Praising God for God’s amazing love for humanity should be as natural as breathing. We have forgotten to step back and look beyond our own lives, beyond this moment in time, beyond the remnants of this Christmas. We have forgotten to listen to the stories of those who have gone before us. We have forgotten to come before God in awe and gratitude for the gift of life and Love. Perhaps we have forgotten how truly loved we are. If we remember, we can change the world. If we remember, we will become known for our songs of praise.
Spend some time in these days of Christmastide under the light of the star that still shines, surrounded by the remnants of the day, and remember. Remember the days of old that enable the prophets and poets to sing praises to God. Remember the beauty and wonder of creation. Remember those who have shared faith with you. But most importantly, remember that Christmas is all about Love breaking into the world in a whole new way so that we will not forget that we are God’s beloved. That’s what happened in that stable so long ago. That’s what happened just a few days ago.

May we all become songs of praise to the One whose Love continues to reach for us, even now.

If you’re looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – First Sunday after Christmas – December 31, 2017
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Photo: CC0 image by anja

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Bidding Prayer for Christmas Eve

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On this holy night when we remember Jesus’ birth, let us pray for all the children of the earth, and those who parent them.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who claims us all as beloved children, as we remember the birth of Jesus, we pray for all the children of the world – those near to us and those far away. We pray for parents who do their best to raise their children without the resources they need. We pray for those who have no children of their own and still reach out to children in need of love. Grant us the imagination and the courage to create a world in which all children have food, shelter, and care. Let us make room at the manger for all who come seeking Love.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

As we remember Mary and Joseph, and their long journey to Bethlehem, let us pray for all those who are far from home, for those in need of a home, and those who are lost.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who so loves the world, may the light we celebrate tonight, enlighten us always. May we see you in the face of the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the homeless, and the lost. As we think of the crowded in of Bethlehem and those words of “no room,” stir within us. Gift us with your vision of a world in which there is room for all, and no one is turned away. May our journey to this night, have meaning beyond this moment.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

As we remember the angels who spread your Good News of peace on earth for all, let us pray for all those who worship tonight.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who yearns for peace on earth, we lift our voices with countless others in praise to you this night. We celebrate the ways in which you continue to break into the world and reveal your holy ways to us. Shape us into the church that is needed today so that we may truly embody you. May everyone who calls on your name, speak words of peace and work for justice until the day when all live in Love.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

As we remember the shepherds who responded to the angel’s call, let us pray for all people who respond to your call by working to bring the light of justice the world.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God of grace and mercy, we see brokenness and suffering all around us. As we celebrate your amazing love, may we see with your eyes and work with your hands. It is not enough for us to witness suffering and oppression. What would the story be like if something prevented others from noticing the birth in the stable so long ago? We have done so much in this world that interferes with your love for the whole of humanity. So for those who have the courage to cry out for justice, we give you thanks, and ask that you would guide our feet to your holy way.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

As we remember the magi who journeyed far to bring gifts to the new born king, let us give thanks for gifts we have been given, even as we seek to share them with others.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who loves us beyond our ability to imagine, we give you thanks for the gifts you have given to us – those we know and those that are yet unknown. While we are tempted to think that these blessings are for us alone, we know that we are meant to share your abundance. As we remember this familiar story of your birth and all who came to the manger, may we be transformed by power of your light – your hope, peace, joy, and love – that we might go home by another road, a road that is widened by generosity and welcome of all whom we meet.
God who is Love,
Hear our prayers.

Photo: CC0 image by falco

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Be Like Mary

Mary didn’t mean much to me as a child. Of course, there was the coveted role of Mary in the annual Christmas Pageant. Even that was a big disappointment in seventh or eighth grade when it was my turn; there was no live baby Jesus that year. Someone grabbed a doll out of the church nursery and wrapped it in a receiving blanket without noticing that one eye no longer closed and it had turned a cloudy white with age and disuse. It wasn’t exactly the moment of devotion I had been hoping for. I spent my time trying not to make faces of disgust when I was supposed to be “pondering.”

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Outside of Christmas, no one ever said much about Mary and I didn’t think much of her, either. Then I took a youth ministries course during my ThM (Master of Theology), and Kenda Dean introduced me to a Mary in a paradigm-shifting sort of way. I think it was the first day of class when Kenda handed out diaper pins and told us we were all pregnant with the Holy Spirit, and it was our job to bring Christ in the world and step out of the way. In other words, to be like Mary, to bring Jesus into the world and get out of the way so that our story is Christ’s story.

Later in the semester Kenda talked more about Mary. She pointed out the obvious – Mary was a teenage, unwed mother who changed the world forever. The importance of this perspective to youth ministry cannot be understated. (You can read more about Kenda’s youth ministry approach in this book and elsewhere) It has also remained at the core of my ministry with other marginalized and overlooked folks. Someone the world dismisses as unimportant can bring Christ into the world in an extraordinary way. It happens all the time. We never know whom God has chosen in any given moment. Should we not be treating all people as theotokos, bearers of God?

More than 20 years later, I still have the diaper pin and I often think about Mary and her role in changing the world. She did something so brave and altruistic that world has literally never been the same. She was no body special. She was a girl betrothed to a carpenter. Her parents had, no doubt, arranged the best marriage they could. This engagement didn’t elevate Mary. It’s unlikely that she was different from anyone else in an observable way. Yet, through her, the impossible happened and God took on human form.

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If Mary could do such a thing, there’s hope for the rest of us. Because Mary did what she did, we know that God finds favor with all of us. We know that we are God’s beloved people. This is the essence of church, is it not? If we trust this and live out this concept that God has found favor with us, then it is on us, as church, to do as Mary did, to be theotokos. We are to bring Christ into the world, and step out of the way so that our story becomes Christ’s story.

This is why we make the journey to Bethlehem every year. We travel through the wild places full of chaos and joy to kneel before a babe in a manger. We kneel to remind ourselves that we are not God, that our ways or not God’s ways. If we have made the journey, we are aware of the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that is embodied in the Christ-child. As church, we are called to embody these same qualities, we are to bring Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into the world and step back to let Christ’s story continue.

It’s easier said than done, of course. Let’s not forget this call as we return to the wild places. Let’s not get distracted by those with power and the illusions they create to maintain oppression. Let’s remember Mary beyond the Christmas story. May we all make her a model for Christian living – Bring Christ into the world and step out of the way. May the story we live in the coming year be a continuation of Christ’s story.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 24, 2017
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe
The bottom photo is of a print that hangs in my office. If anyone knows who created this beautiful image, please let me know. The print is unsigned and was hanging on the wall when I arrived.

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Joy Awaits

 

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Isaiah and John the Baptist have a lot of company in the wilderness. Have you heard any of these voices crying out:  Tarana Burke, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Malala Yousafzai, Krystal Two Bulls, William Barber, and countless other? We have not paid much heed to the prophets of yesterday. Will we listen to the voices of today’s prophets? The cry is ever the same.

Isaiah told us everything we need to know about responding to the cries in the wilderness. If we are to make way for God, create a holy highway for all God’s people to travel, the process is unmistakable. Bring good news to the oppressed. Not just words, words cost nothing and achieve very little. What do oppressed people want? Justice. It shouldn’t be that hard. Doug Jones shouldn’t have barely one the Senate seat in Alabama; he should have won by an overwhelming majority. But there is something in U.S. culture that resists listening to those wilderness voices and whatever it is has permeated our churches as well. If we are God’s people, then we are supposed to be creators of justice. We must be the good news oppressed people seek.

Bind up the broken-hearted. There really is no binding for a broken heart. We cannot undo death. However, we can stop killing people. We can stop allowing police officers to get away with murder. We can change our healthcare and mental health care systems so that illness does not result in death for those who live in poverty. We can admit to racism and white supremacy that permeates every system and institution in the U.S. If we are God’s people, then we are to be agents of healing. We must be the binding for the broken-hearted.

Proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. Again, proclamation without action is meaningless. Until Congress passes a clean Dream Act, too many young people are at risk for deportation. The path to citizenship is ridiculously complicated and divides families. People risk their lives to enter this country without documentation, not because they are seeking something for free; they want a better life. Why is the U.S. response so often arrest, imprisonment, and deportation without regard for the well-being of individuals or families? Xenophobia flows through our streets and causes us to turn away immigrants and refugees, forgetting that most of our families were once one or the other. Forgetting that Jesus and his family were once refugees. If we are God’s people, then we are to be advocates for liberation and release. We must be the way to liberation and freedom for all God’s people.

Proclaim God’s favor and comfort all who mourn. Imagine a just world for all. This vision is the comfort for those who mourn now. For everyone who is dismissed and devalued by those with power, there is hope for a different future. In this future, all those marginalize voices will be re-membered, re-joined to communities of love and grace. Moreover, these will be our leaders, our strength. Only then will the breach be repaired. If we are God’s people, then we are to be creators of a new future. We must be the hope for those who mourn.

Isaiah goes on to describe the day when God’s people are liberated and filled with praise. Isn’t this what we, as church, want? We have fooled ourselves into thinking that faith is all about the individual. We want to know that we are “doing it right” and feel comfortable in our sense of righteousness. However, the prophets, old and new, aren’t speaking to individuals. Isaiah spoke to the nation of Israel while it was divided and held captive by Babylon. The words about good news and liberty were not empty. They were followed by action.

Today’s prophets speak to a nation divided and held captive by a Babylon we created. Our liberation and re-membering will only happen when we stop thinking only about ourselves and start thinking about our neighbors. You may not be affected by the current tax bill, but is your neighbor? You may have access to excellent education, does your neighbor? You may be able to choose your doctor and get the best healthcare, can your neighbor do the same? There may be enough food in your pantry, how about your neighbor’s?

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Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent. The Sunday of Joy, the Sunday when we turn from active waiting to joyful anticipation of Christ’s arrival. The joy faith seeks holds hands with justice. It will remain fleeting in our lives as long as we think faith is personal and private. (Ask Mary about what it means to live a public faith and realize that faith leads us to serve others and how joy fits into that.) When we risk living our faith out in the world, we draw closer to the joy of life in the Spirit. When we pause to listen to the prophets, hear their cries to prepare the way of the Lord, joy might begin to take up residence in our communities once again.

Christ is waiting to enter into all the broken places in our lives, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our nation, and in our world. The prophets are crying out, telling us what is needed to prepare the way. Isn’t it time we move toward Joy?

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday in Advent – December 17, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Prepare the Way for Peace

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“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God. I have always misunderstood these words. Maybe they became so familiar that I just didn’t hear them. Somehow, I’ve always heard these words as God desiring to comfort God’s people. On some level, I suppose this is true. But these words were spoken by God to the prophet. Isaiah was told to comfort God’s people, to reassure them that God had not forgotten them and that in the present moment there is a call to “prepare the way of the Lord.” The prophet seeks to comfort the people by calling them to action. Get ready. Do it now.

The systemic issues of U.S. society are numerous, though many continue to live in denial. If you’re awake and paying attention, it’s impossible to miss the ubiquitous racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and other fear-based divisions among us. They are all tied together and are now being exploited by (and for the benefit of) those in positions of power who trade in fear mongering and hate-filled oppression. Into the miasma of fear and hatred God speaks: Comfort, O comfort my people. For my sake, remind them that they are loved and forgiven, and could start living in this truth at any time. To do that, tell them to prepare the way for me. Bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly to allow justice to yield equity throughout creation.

I hear the charge to the prophet and the call to the people now in the particular context of the many, many #MeToo stories. Stories shared by white women, women of color, poor women, wealthy women, trans women, lesbian women, bi-sexual women, famous women, able-bodied women, women with disabilities, Christian women, Muslim women, Jewish women, Wiccan women, healthy women, women who live with physical or mental illness, and all other women. Misogyny crosses all racial, economic, religious, and health barriers. We’ve all heard the public stories as one after another powerful man comes under fire, some responding with appropriate apology while others continue to live in denial. There are the lesser known stories that flow through social media feeds. And there are the stories being told that involve pastors and church elders. How can any of us preach peace when we live in a culture that excuses rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and abuse of power as normative. Why are so many people surprised when another politician, entertainer, or pastor is named as a perpetrator? Why are so many of us reluctant to accept the stories women tell as real and true?

Comfort, O comfort my people.

I was raised to be a victim, and I am not alone. I was nine the first time I was sexually assaulted and I didn’t dare tell anyone. My mother would not have believed me. She believed that women were to blame when they were assaulted. She saw it as a woman’s place to give a man what he wanted. Unfortunately, this remains a commonly held point of view. And it became mine for a long time. When I was raped at nineteen by someone I knew, I believed it was my fault and didn’t say anything about it to anyone for years. I had no way to know any different.

From the age of nine on, sexual harassment was a daily event. There were wolf whistles and cat calls as I walked the school hallways or passed construction sites or shopped at the mall. I remember the high school teacher who made inappropriate remarks about my “voluptuous body.” Then there was the boy who broke up with me after a few months of dating because I wouldn’t have sex with him. And the college professor who invited me to sit on his lap when I commented on the fact that it was cold in his office. And the member of the first youth group I had responsibility for who just kept asking me out over and over again for the entire year I worked at that church. And the seminary professor who never focused on my face and somehow always contrived to touch me inappropriately. Later there were the parishioners who hugged too closely or repeatedly asked me out or made comments about the way I buttoned “too many buttons” on my blouses or made it known that they preferred shorter skirts. And I cannot leave out stalkers who showed up at my house uninvited and unwanted, refusing to leave. There were others, too. I was often told by adults who noticed what was happening to ignore all of this unwanted attention. Sometimes my mother even told me to “enjoy it while it lasted” because someday I would be too old for men to find me attractive; I should be flattered that men let me know that I was attractive.

On the other hand, church was a safe place for me as a child, and I’m thankful that I was not victimized in this way by any church leaders or clergy. Yet, some of them did contribute to my victim-identity by their lack of support for me as a woman. When I told the man who was the senior pastor of my childhood church that I wanted to go to seminary, he said, “To be a DCE (Director of Christian Education)? I had grown up a little by then and said without hesitation, “No. I want your job.” While in seminary, I was visiting the college I attended and met the campus chaplain who had been hired after I had graduated. When he asked what I was doing, I told him that I was in seminary. His response was, “Why would anyone who looks like you want to go into ministry?” I was left speechless by the ignorance of this stranger.

Since then, the most frequently asked question from male colleagues upon meeting them remains either, “When will you finish seminary?” or “Is this your first call?” Right. After decades of fumbling for an appropriate answer, I turn the question back on them. I refuse to be the victim I was taught to be. “Comfort, O comfort, my people” becomes “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

A voice cries in the wilderness…

The way of God does not include condoning rape culture. It does not include treating women as sex objects. It does not include dismissing women as somehow less capable than men. It does not include remaining silent when women are being raped, assaulted, abused, or dismissed. It does not include making excuses for men who abuse their positions of power. It does not include blaming victims. It does not include continuing to raise girls to be victims (or boys to be perpetrators for that matter).

What shall I cry?

This second Sunday in Advent is the Sunday of Peace. How do we prepare the way for God while there is so much fear, anger, and judgement everywhere? We begin with ourselves. Our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our churches. We acknowledge how we have participated in the misogyny that permeates our culture. We question the values that have been handed down to us and ask if the way we treat one another honors God, ourselves, or our neighbors.

Perhaps we even begin to recognize that this call to the prophet Isaiah to comfort the people of God is a call we all need to hear. Are we speaking tenderly to one another? If we can hear that in God’s words to Isaiah, then perhaps we can also hear that it is up to us to make a way for God’s presence, God’s peace, to be experienced in the world.

Advent is not a season meant for individuals to engage in spiritual house cleaning. It is a season for faith communities to wake up to the ways in which we have been complicit in denying God’s presence, the ways we have worked against bringing the Realm of God closer. Advent is a time to join hands with our neighbors and recognize the strength found in community that will allow us to claim the liberation that has happened, that is happening, and that will happen again.

Perhaps the apocalyptic proclamations of shaking up the world can be a predictor of God’s people finally coming together and ending the hate-filled, fear-directed ways we separate ourselves from our neighbors. God has already broken into the world. Isn’t it time we live accordingly?

God is here.

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday in Advent – December 10, 2017
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Photo: CC0 image by Melanie

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A Fragile Flicker

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Advent was kind of a mystery to me as a kid. I liked the candles and the music, the special services, and the hanging of the greens. But Advent as a season of waiting, preparing, anticipating was lost on me. It just meant that Christmas was close, and that was a good thing. My junior year in high school, the seasons of the liturgical year became much more meaningful for me, starting with Advent.

As a high school junior, I was planning to graduate in the spring so in the fall I was cramming in SATs and colleges tours so I could make a decision about where I wanted to go. My life was complicated by depression and an eating disorder for which I had been hospitalized that summer. I had hopes for junior year that weren’t particularly realistic. These included that I would be “cured” and suddenly be happy and popular, and that I would have a boyfriend and be the “normal” high school kid I thought I was supposed to be.

By the time November was coming to an end and Advent was beginning, I realized that nothing had really changed. I was still depressed, terrified of gaining weight, and decidedly not whatever my definition of normal was. I felt hopeless and the world around me seemed to reflect that sense of hopelessness. If you’ve ever been to Cape Cod in the winter, then you know that it tends to be gray – gray fog, gray sand, gray trees, gray, rainy days. Where would I find hope?

Then the first Sunday of Advent came and the candle of Hope was lit. It occurred to me then that God might be offering something different, a small flicker of possibility that God had little to do with the pain that defined me at that point in my life. Of course I have no memory of what the scripture readings were that year, but as Isaiah cries, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” I hear the same yearning I felt in my sixteen-year-old self. That sense of exhaustion and frustration with the way things are and the desire for the tiny flame of Hope to grow until the world is warm, welcoming, and transformed.

At sixteen I was consumed by my own suffering and in desperate need of the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love Advent promised those who journeyed to Bethlehem. These days, my own suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of peoples and nations around the world. Isaiah’s words speak of a yearning for God to act, for God to forgive God’s people and free them from their self-centered sins. The world is not so different now, is it?

While I do not believe that the struggles of the world are because God is angry and distant, we do need to repent for our self-focused sins.  The state of the world isn’t because God has turned away from God’s people. It is more that we have turned away from God.The hospitality God asks of God’s people has not guided God’s people for a long time. We are caught up in a system that deifies money and power and fails to recognize justice and hospitality as holy mandates. God isn’t going to tear open the heavens and come down to save us. That’s already happened. We know what God would have us do. We know what brings salvation. When will we live into what we have already been given?

Throughout history, we, as the people of God, have needed the reminders of the Advent Season more often than not. This is one of those years that we need to remember that God has little to do with the pain of the world. God is waiting for us to light the flames that will create change as the flame is passed from one person to another.

Are you feeling that the starless, cloudy nights and the gray dreary days confirm the despair in your heart? Is the future we are imagining defined by the limits of our experience? Then it’s time to do something different. It’s time to light the candle of Hope and cry out to God for forgiveness and mercy so that we can see the Hope will light the path to Bethlehem. Once the candle is lit and the journey has begun, then anything becomes possible because we will have lifted our heads enough to see the plight of our neighbors. We will see their faces lit by the fragile, flickering of Hope and remember that this is where God is. Right here, on the journey with those who suffer and those who reach out with kindness and compassion to share the load.

May we all wake up in time to begin the journey that starts out in the light of Hope.

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

For further sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – First Sunday in Advent – December 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Photo: CC0 image by 41330

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A View from the Edge

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Several years ago I had the privilege of leading a mid-week retreat on Star Island. The island is about 10 miles off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire and it is a beautiful place, rich in history and tradition. It is owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association and is the perfect place for a retreat. I was there twice to lead retreats and the island has a permanent place in my heart.

Overall, the place is pretty rustic. There is running water and electricity, but nothing is fancy. The island is home to more seagulls than can be counted and muskrats that are heard more than they are seen. It’s possible to walk out to the far edge of the island and sit on the granite cliffs and believe that you are the only person in existence. The waves crash, the winds dance, the gulls cry, and heaven is made manifest on earth. There is no place like it.

One of the traditions of the island is the viewing of sunrise. I’m not a morning person and the idea of getting out of a warm bed just to watch a sunrise always seems ludicrous to me. But one morning I made the effort. I pulled on warm clothes, grabbed my flashlight and headed to the east side of the island. Muskrats scurried off the path, making rather loud splashes into the nearby pools of water. One startled me by running right over my feet, ensuring that I was awake enough to experience the sunrise.

I stood on the granite shore with other sunwatchers. And I waited. All of a sudden there was a scarlet line of light separating ocean from sky. The red brightened into orange and reached further up into the night sky. Seals poked their heads out of the water as if to pay homage to the spectacular rising of the sun. It was worth getting out of bed for. I’ve never seen another sunrise quite like that one that began with bright red searing across the horizon. Such a sense of wonder and power and peace flowed through me in that early morning. I came away feeling like all things would come right for me, for those around me.

As we come to the edge of the liturgical year, I can’t help but remember that Star Island sunrise. Standing on a granite edge, waiting for morning light to clear away the darkness. Advent is so close, with its watching and waiting and preparing for the coming of the Light. We anticipate the first hint of light, yearning to feel the hope it will bring. Yet, we know there is so much hidden in the night, so much that threatens to overpower the tiny flickering flame of hope. Perhaps you are with me in wondering if this night will ever end.

Matthew’s gospel is written for us who wait in the deepest hours of the night. The parables Jesus tells in this gospel are more prophecy than descriptive. When the “Son of Man comes…” is a pretty strong cue that what follows has yet to take place. In this case, a king will separate out those who care for the vulnerable and those who do not. I’m not so sure it’s the king doing the separating as it is we ourselves pulling away from the flock simply by maintaining an inward focus. Jesus was pretty clear about what his followers needed to do then, and now. The writer of Matthew’s gospel made it abundantly clear. You cannot claim faith and then keep it hidden or live in such a way as to not see Christ in “the other,” particularly the very vulnerable other. Claiming the name of Christ and not bringing love and compassion into the world will lead to a place where it is impossible to see and the most dominant sounds are weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is quite the prophecy. We tend to busy ourselves with counting up our good deeds or claiming the role of the one needing visiting when we encounter these verses from Matthew. We seldom hear it as a call to action, a call to create a future where Christ returns as we embody Love for those who live in despair, isolation, oppression, captivity, sickness, and other places inhabited by vulnerability and need. A call to action that will mean shifting the world from what it is into the possibilities God creates.

We are on the edge of the season where we remember, celebrate, and honor the coming of Christ, the Light of the world. We can choose to hang out and watch for the displays of holiness that may or may not be visible from where we are. Or, we can choose to be the displays of holiness that the world desperately needs. That streak of scarlet across the night sky was something to witness. What if we each become that streak of scarlet in the life of someone else, that herald of a new day when all things are possible and hope returns to the world?

RCL – Year A – Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday – November 26, 2017
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 100 or
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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