Monday, December 3, 2007

The Sermon

Sometimes I wonder if my sermon-writing process must include at least one utter crisis of confidence. Seems to happen almost every time, when everything grinds to a halt and I feel like a fraud with absolutely nothing new or interesting or helpful to say. Sometimes these moments are brief and I can spot them, name them, keep moving, but occasionally not. Occasionally I am just banging my head on the keyboard, wondering why in the world I am doing this.

And then everything turns out all right.

I'm not sure I like this process. It's frustrating and painful, even if the result is good. But if that's what it's gonna be for me, is there any way I can do it better, so I'm not finishing sermons at 1:30am on Sunday mornings, getting up at 6:30 to edit and print, and collapsing after church from exhaustion?

On that note, here is yesterday's sermon, preached well, well-received, and given high praise by my favorite professor who was in attendance doing a site visit for my field ed. I'm sure part of my anxiety was knowing that she would be there, and that part of my sermon was on one of her favorite texts from her specialty, Romans. Anyway, enjoy. And thanks for the kind comments.

December 2, 2007
1st Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by any din of drums,
Nor his manners, nor his airs,
Nor by anything he wears.
Not by his crown or by his gown
but his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming makes in thee.

Sometimes I can barely stand to read the news. I don’t watch the news because it’s just too many heads shouting at each other, but I do try to read the news, stay up on what is happening all around the world. I try to keep up every day.

But some days it is just too hard. Just too much.

Do you ever feel that way? The news just seems to be a litany of death and warmongering and corruption and lies and spite and every which kind of violence and oppression you can imagine, and some, frankly, you wouldn’t ever want to.

And that’s just the news. What about in our own lives? All the losses, the hurts, the griefs, the disappointments, all the little niggling fears and anxieties that live just inside your ear and never shut up...

Living this human life is so hard. Sometimes I look at our two cats curled up together in their basket in front of the heating vent, and I’m a little bit jealous...wouldn’t it be nice to be them, even for just one day? No worries except where to take a nap next?

Living this human life is so hard. So hard just to live my own life, and then to care about other people’s lives, and the life of the whole world...I just get tired sometimes...

Do you ever feel that way? When everything seems so heavy and cloudy and uncertain and it all just seems too much, and you begin to wonder if anything will ever makes it hard to feel awake sometimes, hard to put our feet on the floor and keep moving...

And so we arrive on Advent’s doorstep, exhausted, hurting, afraid...and longing. In our deepest of hearts we are longing for something better, something different. We are longing for a new day, a new time, an inbreaking of...something...something glorious and tender and beautiful and peaceful and kind and...I was going to say quiet, and yes, quiet sometimes, but also loud with laughter and raucous joy. We are longing, for all of that.

I am longing, for all of that.

This morning’s texts for the first Sunday of Advent speak to that longing – and infuse it with hopeful expectation: There IS a new day, a new time on its way, an inbreaking of something that seems just on the verge of about to happen....advent longing...

Isaiah gives us a vision of all the nations of the earth streaming to the Holy City, not to worship God interestingly enough, but to be taught by God, taught the Torah, taught how to follow the path of the One God, to walk in the light of the loving God. The result of that teaching is a peace that must have seemed absurd to the people of Israel as they were being trampled by invading armies – and perhaps even more absurd to us, with our seemingly ever-present wars and threats of wars. But this is what the teaching leads to: swords and spears beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks. Weapons of war transformed into tools for the harvest, so that all might be fed. Weapons of war transformed into tools of peace.

Isaiah can see it: all the nations of the world being taught by the loving God and living together in peace. Isaiah can see it, is longing for it, and is fully expecting this day to come. This day, this peaceful day, will come, and soon – it’s not in “the years” to come, or “the millennia” to come, but the days. Expectant advent longing.

I wonder if Paul thought that day – Isaiah’s day – had come, or was about to. You know what time it is, he says, – and you can feel the expectant longing bubbling up in his words – you know what time it is, time to wake up...and then we remember that Paul is the apostle to the gentiles, the apostle to all those nations Isaiah talks about. Paul’s whole ministry is teaching gentiles to walk in the light of the loving God and I wonder what he sees, as he goes from town to town, preaching how Jesus teaches the love of God, watching the gentiles turn towards the One God, watching gentiles and Jews break bread together, watching himself be welcomed in strange towns...

In fact, the whole letter to the gentiles in Rome reads like an expansion of Isaiah’s vision, as Paul reminds the gentile Romans that they are joining the people of Israel to walk together in the light of God. Paul must be seeing Isaiah’s vision coming true, even in what may seem like little ways, small, quiet ways maybe: breaking bread together, radical hospitality, people who aren’t “supposed to” just living in loving kindness with each other...right smack in the middle of the death-dealing Roman Empire.

It’s those small ways we need to be on the lookout for. I think that’s what Matthew’s gospel is telling us – that the Son of Humanity, that the Christ can come even in the smallest, most ordinary of moments, moments we can never expect or plan for, moments sudden, surprising, startling, an inbreaking of God’s beloved community into the ordinary and therefore unexpected. Like --

Preparing a meal together. Helping a friend to heal a broken heart. Joining arms to stand up for justice. Knitting an afghan to help raise money to make a building more accessible to all. Welcoming to the table one who everybody says you shouldn’t. Transforming weapons into tools of peace. Singing gloria in excelsis deo to a little baby born under a strange star.

But we have to stay awake, we have to keep watch and remember that the inbreaking of God’s love can happen at any moment. When we stay awake, the everyday inbreakings infuse our longing with expectation. We expect, we know, that someday the beloved community will come, because when we can stay awake, we can see glimpses of that community, here, now, we can see what is possible when we walk in the light of God, when we follow in the loving and just ways of the Holy One.

The program I used to coordinate for the Presbyterian Church held a reunion of sorts in Antigua, Guatemala in 2000. Every year the program brought together church folk from the US and Central America and Mexico to try to talk about how to live together in ways that were more helpful, more healing, more like community, than in the past. Sometimes the discussions over the years were very hard but there were breakthrough moments as trust was gained.

On the next-to-last night of the event, our partner organization in Guatemala invited a marimba band to play for us. Now I want you to imagine this. We were meeting in the cathedral of an old Spanish colonial convent. The band set up in the otherwise empty chancel, marimba, drums, percussion, all different sizes of guitars and wooden flutes, singers dressed in matching Mayan vests. We turned down the lights, so the flickering blaze from giant Mayan candles illuminated the whitewashed walls and brick-red tile floor.

The band began to play. As people recognized the songs they began to sing along. And then, slowly, people got up to dance. Gradually, everyone was up on their, singing when they knew the words, and dancing in circles together. Some of us climbed into the chancel and played with the band. Someone hollered out, Play something from Nicaragua! And so the band did. From the States! And the band did...they played something from almost every country we came from.

Because we were from all over – all over the US, from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicargaua, Costa Rica – even a special guest from South Korea. We were young and old, indigenous, black, chicano, latina, and plain old white folk. We were men and women, poor and wealthy. All of us, all these people who by the world’s logic should not be doing so, singing and dancing and laughing and celebrating, until we could hardly stand.

Perhaps not such a quiet and small moment, but an inbreaking nonetheless, a glimpse of what is possible.

We arrive on Advent’s doorstep weary and numb, but with our hearts full of advent longing.

Keep awake. There is a new day coming.

Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by any din of drums,
Nor his manners, nor his airs,
Nor by anything he wears.
Not by his crown or by his gown
but his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming makes in thee.