Category Archives: Sermons by Staff

Rev. Maggie’s sermon for 1/13/19: “The Baptism of Our Lord”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus is baptized? John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River as a sign of their turning away from sin, a purification ritual to symbolize a fresh start in life. But Jesus is supposed to be without sin. He doesn’t need to start over. Why would He be baptized? Just as with the Eucharist, which Christ instituted in His last night with the disciples, Jesus established Baptism as a practice for, a sign of, of His church, in other words, He is does this because he wants it to be something for us to do. So what are we doing when we are baptized? What happens?

As with the Eucharist, there are different ways people understand it or try to explain it. One of the things that we talk about in Baptism is the washing away of sins, just as John the Baptist preached. If we wondered why Jesus would need that, it can also make us wonder, why babies would need it. What could be wrong with a beautiful little baby, that would need to be cleansed? How could she have done anything wrong, in her short life? Perhaps we should wait, until a person has accumulated some sins. What we’re talking about in the Sacrament of Baptism is not merely a person’s individual sins, but the sin of the human condition. Our dividedness, from each other, and God. The complex web of circumstances that mean some babies are born in hospitals, with good homes to go to, and parents who can read to them and feed them, surrounded by whole families and communities around to help them as they go through life. And some babies are born to addicted parents, abused as children, given a sense that they are worthless, in communities torn apart by war. That is what “original sin” means—the sin into which we are born, the sin of an unfair world. We pray in the prayer of confession about the sins we have done, but also the sins done on our behalf, the injustices and inequities that we would not have chosen, but affect us, and that no individual can undo. I simply cannot, no matter how much good will or earnest effort I expend, take all of the sin out of the equation of my life: from the way things I buy are made, to the food I eat, to the education I received and the way I am treated, to the mere fact that I grew up with a loving family in a peaceful, prosperous part of the world while others did not. It’s not a level playing field. Even when we work hard, some of us do well, and others come up against circumstances of illness of misfortune that make a mockery of their labor. And even the good things that we try to do can have unintended consequences, that do harm, when we wanted to help. You might wonder how we presume to more people into this world, that we can’t really seem get right. And yet, we are called to do exactly that—the thing we can’t do, in faith, and it takes large measures of hope and love.  One image of parenting is of being given a small child’s very imperfect drawing or craft project, and accepting it with exclamations of love, but parenting is just as much presenting this very imperfect world to our children and wishing we could have done better. We ask, through this sacrament, that God will take that burden of sin from them, will not look at them as just parts of the mess we’ve made, but as God meant them to be. As if God reached his hand into a muddy river, swirling with all the litter we put there, and drew out a grimy stone, polished it, and held it up to the light—all along, the diamond He had made.

Another way we think about Baptism is as a sign of joining the church, the community of followers of Jesus. In the liturgy of Baptism, we promise to raise them in the faith, asking for the help of those around us because it takes all of us to raise our children. We give them godparents, friends and mentors to accompany them on the journey of faith. This part is what we affirm for ourselves in Confirmation—that this community is what we want for our lives, that we still need others as we become adults.

So Baptism is both a sign of the washing away of sins, that we need because we can’t do it for ourselves, and joining the community of faith, that we need because we can’t go it alone. And yet it is something even more. It is the mystery behind both of those things—for how are we freed from the inescapable web of human sin, and how is the life of the community created? Baptism is an acknowledgement, a confession, that it is not our own choices or efforts that accomplish these things, but only a fundamental connection to the person of Christ. We can only become the unique individuals that God created us to be, by finding our being in Him. That involves a death, just as his life involved a death—we must die to the other kinds of life, to be born into that life of freedom and connection. We have to die, to be born again—because the first birth brings us into this world, full of love, if we’re lucky, but full of hatred, too, we can’t deny it, full of pain and fear. To born into the true life, the life in which we will only give and receive love, we must become part of God’s new Creation, of which the risen Christ is the first born, and into which he brings us through Baptism. We ask, in the Baptismal prayer, that we will be united with Christ in His death and resurrection. Again, it is weird to think of a baby being brought through death. We worked so hard to bring them safely through birth, through the difficult newborn stage. Baptism sounds almost like chemotherapy, like taking poison to kill every cancer cell, before the patient is killed, we hope. Except that in Baptism, the patient does die. Dies to the dead end of that human reality. On our own, we couldn’t survive it—it would just be suicide, escaping the horrors of the world we’ve made, yes, but to no purpose. One fewer potential sinner is no victory, and this is to be a victory. So we don’t do it ourselves, we don’t do it alone, we go through the journey of death and rebirth with Christ, hand-in-hand, he gives us his death and life to be our own, as a gift. What is born is not one less sinner, but a new member of the community of love, peopling the new Creation as God intends it to be, with those He has made and loves. Freed from the weight of human sin, joining the community of saints, we are redeemed: ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven—gotten back and gathered in, to the life of love for which we were made. As we read in the Book of Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you.”

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Rev. Maggie’s Epiphany sermon: “Strangers Here”

The Three Wise Men are here. They are surely the most eccentric part of the story, adding exotic style to the manger scene, which was a believable tale of a hard time faced by poor people, until these magical kings showed up. Obviously, they are the ones with the coolest costumes, scarlet silks, fur caps, and they have camels. When I was a child, appearing in Christmas pageants, year after year I was a woolly sheep, or a scrubbed-clean angel, and my sister was a shepherd in our mother’s blue bathrobe. But what we really wanted to be (and tragically, never got to be), were the Wise Men in their gorgeous finery, with some sort of ersatz, improvised camel alongside. We look forward to their coming, on Twelfth Night. Some of us make a cake to mark the end of the Christmas season. But what are they doing there? There must be some reason, beyond making the story more exciting. The celebration of their arrival is called the Epiphany. Epiphany means revelation or manifestation, something being shown. The appearance of the Three Kings begins the revelation of the news about Christ to the Gentiles. We hear a lot about the Gentiles in the New Testament; they are often disparaged, so that you might think Gentiles means bad people, but in fact it only means all of the people who are not Jews. Those who first heard about Jesus were members of the family of Abraham, the people of the Covenant: Mary and Joseph and their family, the shepherds, even the innkeepers. These three men, whether they were really kings or astrologers or both, whether they really got there while the family were still in Bethlehem or sometime later, they were the first people from the rest of the world, to witness Jesus’ incarnation. Why is that important?

If Jesus was just a wisdom teacher, giving us an example of a good life, why do we make such a big fuss about the revelation to the Gentiles? The other cultures of the world have wisdom teachers who interpret their traditions and reform them. The peoples of the world are perfectly aware of how to live a good life, they have ethical and moral codes that have shaped their civilizations, evolving to suit their circumstances of history and geography. If that is all that Jesus is, then there is no point in making him known to them, and it’s actually kind of patronizing, to say he’s the best wisdom teacher, what makes his teaching any better than that of Confucius or Buddha, who certainly also advocated kindness and self-sacrifice? There must be some reason, other than a kind of nationalistic pride in our man, for the news of his birth to be meaningful, not just to those around him, but to these visitors from far away.

The presence of the Wise Men is a statement, from the very beginning of the story, of Jesus’ divinity. The mere fact that they are there means that he is different. He is not simply reminding those he met to lead better lives, as countless other men and women have done, in every time and place. Jesus comes to make something new and different possible for everyone, universally. He is making an offer, not just of the very best way of living your life, because there are lots of good ways, and they shape they take is culturally dependent. Jesus is making an offer of relationship to God. And it’s not a relationship based on getting good grades on the behavioural code. It’s based on love alone.

The Magi are the strangers in the scene, on purpose. There is a point to those spectacular clothes, not what we’re used to, not what we had in the closet. They are here to show us that strangers are welcome, in this place. Their incongruent, brilliant colours practically shout the question, what are they doing here? Which begs the question, if we think about it, why should we be here? It wasn’t our story, or our people, for most of us. Not many of us, probably, are descended from the tribes of the ancient Middle East. Our ancestors wandered to North America from all over the world, probably without ever having walked beside the Sea of Galilee. But we are welcome, just as those first strangers were. Not just welcome, because they didn’t just stumble in, did they, bored tourists seeking a more interesting evening than the open bar at the annual astrology convention. They were more than welcome, they were invited, summoned, by a star set in the heavens for this purpose. Called, just as we are called.

What are we being invited for? It’s not a comfortable thing. Forgiveness. We live in a society in which, as Tish Harrison Warren writes, everything is permitted, and nothing is forgiven. Think of the barrenness of that. We inhabit a world of disposable connections, disposable selves. You can walk away from any relationship anytime, and invent or buy another self. There is no need for forgiveness, if you don’t have to stick around, if you’re not beholden to anyone. This, what we do here, is all about restoring relationship, because it’s not a thing to throw away. We are not things God wants thrown away. How hard that is to believe, for us. It must be, given the way we treat ourselves and others. What all of this is meant to do is address the need, our need, to come back to something that lasts, and say sorry, for things we can’t escape, and ask to be taken in. It is the hardest thing in the world, for a proud people like us, stubborn humanity. And yet something in that promise, the promise of return, of finding the prodigal son’s welcome home, calls to us, calls us from every corner of the globe, so that we stand, too, at the dark edges of the scene, and wait, for the light to enfold us.

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Rev. Maggie’s Christmas Day sermon: Stories and Ghosts

This Christmas we have been telling stories—Frederick and his fellow mice, sustaining themselves with stories of light and colour, in the dark of winter. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, about how one community retold the Nativity story, with an unexpected cast of characters. The Magician’s Nephew, about the Creation story of another world. The long Christmas lived by one Roman soldier, until he found himself in the story. All of these stories share something in common—they weren’t just entertaining, in each case, the story changed those who heard it, you could even say that the story called them into a new kind of life. The is what the story of Christmas does.

There is one more story, perhaps the most famous one, of how Christmas changed the life of someone who opened his heart to the story. Charles Dicken’s beloved classic, A Christmas Carol, tells of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, visited in a single night by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The ghosts show him, not the beginning of Christ’s life, but the account of his own life, into which Christ has never been allowed to be born and to live. Scrooge witnesses how it has affected him, how keeping Christ out has shrunk and twisted him into a creature of things, not soul. And he sees how he has affected the lives of those around him, year by year. I think that the story of Scrooge resonates with us so profoundly because Christmas makes us think about time.

This festival that comes just at the ending of another year reminds inevitably of the ticking of the clock. Going through familiar rituals calls back memories of the past, holidays we have known with loved ones, here or in different places. The poignancy of those memories can be overwhelming, as we think of those we have lost. Christmas can never be shared in exactly the same way, twice. Our celebration, exchanging gifts and enjoying feasts, draws our attention to those who don’t have such abundance in their lives right now. Even as we gather for a holiday dedicated to peace on earth, goodwill towards men, we know that the present reality of much of the world is that peace and good will are scarcely to be found. There is so much need—need for us, for who we are, and who we can be. That is the promise of Christmas future—what new things could be, because we let the story change us? None of us knows how many Christmases we have remaining to us. That’s what Scrooge realizes. We don’t know how many more chances we will have, to give to others, to give of our substance and ourselves, in ways that will make a difference. That’s why Scrooge’s story ends with a resolution to keep Christmas every day. Not to reserve generosity for one day in the year. When he really let himself experience the story, once isn’t enough. He wants it to transform all of his life. He wants to live in the story, because he has discovered that Christ’s story is real, and true, in a way that the life Scrooge had made for himself, with himself as its center and goal, wasn’t.

This can the day when we get off the hamster wheel of our tawdry reality, if we dare to, and enter the true story. We can, you know, at any moment. One way to enter it, of course, is to be summoned from it in the way we can’t escape, the end that calls us all, eventually, from this world of shadows and distortions, into the truth. But we don’t have to wait. We can welcome Christ into our lives each day, and celebrate his birth by letting it call us to a new kind of life—a life that reaches out and lights the way for other lives. A life that tells the story of that birth. What part of that story could you tell, every day? There are so many interesting pieces: with the innkeepers, making room, when we thought there wasn’t any to spare. With the wise men, looking up at the stars and finding a mystery. With the donkey, bearing a heavy load, or walking beside someone who is. With the Evangelists, remembering the past, letting it speak to present and future. With the shepherds, keeping watch, over little ones. With Joseph, helping to raise someone else’s child, mentoring and teaching. With Mary, p

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ondering all these things in your heart. There are so many ways, and one of them is yours. How will you live in the story, and tell it, this year?

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Rev. Maggie’s Christmas Eve sermon: The Three Kings’ Ride

Here we are at last—the stable, with the young girl and her special, magical child, the shepherds and their sheep, summoned by angels, the wise men from the East, who followed a star to this very spot. The whole story fits together so perfectly, like a fairy tale. Perhaps, too perfectly, too magically. We may have come to think of the story of Christmas as a beautiful story for children, like Santa Claus and the reindeer, the elf on the shelf, Frosty the Snowman. Christmas is something you outgrow, as you get older and wiser, as you read the scholarship, you realize, of course, it wasn’t like that, really—not in December, no wise men for years. We are much too grown up to believe in such things. But this version is charming. It makes us smile, we might even laugh, we are so sophisticated. Since we’re in the mood for stories, I have another for us to share, on this storied night. It’s an old one, called The Three Kings’

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Ride. It was first told by Ruth Sawyer—I pass it along to you, with a few additions.

Once upon a time there was a Roman soldier, named Aelius Antoninus. He lived a century or so after the life of Jesus, and he had heard of him, vaguely, as a troublemaker from the other side of the empire, who was executed, like so many others. He heard that some people thought this Jesus was the son of God, the savior of the world, and he laughed. Aelius spent his career on the northern and western frontiers of the empire, keeping the barbarians at bay. When his army days were done he retired to sunny Spain, where he supervised gladiatorial games for the local governor, coaching new fighters. An easy job for one of his skills, pleasant enough. Maybe a bit boring, compared to the adventures of his youth. So sometimes he would go out riding by himself, into the countryside just above Grenada, where Europe touches Africa.

One night, towards the close of the year, he was out riding like this, and he saw three figures approaching, on what looked like camels. He rubbed his eyes—who travels by camel in Spain?—but they came closer, and there they were, greeting him, asking them if there was a town nearby, with a place to water their animals. Who are you? he asked, and what is your business? We are travelling East, they replied, to see the new king that is about to be born, the One the stars have foretold. We bring him gifts, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Aelius laughed. Are you crazy? That’s out of a story, that all happened years ago, when my grandfather was a boy. Your “king” grew up and was killed by Rome, like every other rebel, and dreamer. End of story.

He was killed, they answered, and he rose up again—death could not defeat him. He comes into our world with new life for all, and we ride to meet him every year through the ages, to witness the birth of our hope, and the hope of all Creation. Would you like to join us, and kneel with us at his feet? For everyone who seeks him, will find what he seeks. Aelius laughed again. Nice try, he said, save your fairy tales for children—I live in the real world. The gold of Rome and the spices of the market are all I trade in. Then it may be long, until we see you again, said the traveler. God bless you on your way. And the three rode off, into the darkness. Aelius shrugged, and returned home.

As the years passed, his friends and those he knew in the city grew old, and died, but Aelius himself did not change. After decades he finally left, unable to bear the talk and the stares, and the memories of all those he had lost. He roamed around the empire, which was changing, even as he did not. He fought in battles again, but no blade or arrow ever seemed to reach him. He sailed the seas, and no storm ever claimed him. Down through the centuries he wandered, like a living ghost.

In Italy, more than a thousand years after he talked with the three travellers, he heard of a young man named Francisco. Everyone said he had been born rich, but had given it all away to the poor, and now lived on the streets. Aelius found him in the square one day and asked him, you fool! why did you give up all that gold? Francisco laughed and said, I can hear God so much better, now that gold is no longer jingling in my ears all the time. And look at what a beautiful palace I have built! And he sat down, next to a group of beggars and animals, who had gathered round to hear him talk. Aelius frowned, and wandered on.

A few hundred years more, and he heard of a young woman named Magdalena, a teacher. He found her in a little schoolhouse at the edge of a small town in Germany. He could hear singing coming from inside. As he looked in the window, he saw Magdalena, leading little girls as they chanted lessons out of a book. Afterwards, as the children left, Aelius asked the teacher what she had been doing—hadn’t these girls better save their breath to chat up the boys, and find husbands, he smirked. Husbands and wives will always find each other, the teacher smiled, but these girls are learned to read, so that they can learn about Jesus, and tell his message to others. They can lift their prayers to God in song, and know that God hears them, just as much as anyone else. Aelius scratched his head. He  asked if he could take a book with him, and went on his way.

For centuries more he traveled, through the world and through the words, as he puzzled his way along. He crossed an ocean, and found new horizons to explore. In a city on a river, one hot summer, a terrible fever raged, striking down so many, old and young. Untouched as ever, Aelius walked into a hospital, where a few nuns tended the afflicted. Why don’t you leave, he demanded of the Mother Superior, whose name was Constance—you can do no more for these, they are dying—save yourselves! Constance’s eyes shined at him as she spoke—we were told to care for all, each and every one, as if they were Jesus. If all I can do is prepare them for burial, with love, then that is what I will do, and I myself will die crying Alleluia, Hosanna. Aelius said nothing, but he noticed that the room was dirty. He picked up a cloth and bucket and kneeling down, began to mop the floor as the women worked.

Aelius Antoninus did not have much farther to travel. As the year drew to its close, he found himself wandering again at night, in a desert. Three riders approached, just as they had, almost two thousand years before. This time, Aelius laughed with joy, to see them at last. Let me go with you, he said, that I may kneel at the coming of the new king! What changed your mind? They asked. I have seen how the gifts you brought were signs and tokens of the ones he would give—the freedom from gold’s tyranny, the courage for all to pray and be heard, the love that lays down one’s life for one’s friends. I would offer my poor gifts, too, and see what treasures he can make of them.

So Aelius wandered no more, but entered into the story, in which, to tell the truth, he had a place all along. So do I, and so do you. I wonder what it will be?

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Rev. Maggie’s sermon for 12/9/18: “Mountains and valleys”

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Today we get to spend some time with the fascinating story of John the Baptist, who, I’m afraid, is all too obviously the hipster in the Gospels. Bearded, wearing only natural fibers, eating locusts and wild honey, living in that tiny house in the desert, apparently able to make a living from his blog without compromising his principles—I confess, I secretly envy his life. There is less information about him in the other Gospels, but in the account in the Gospel of Luke, John was the cousin of Jesus. He was born in his parents’ old age, and in fact when an angel had come and told his father, Zechariah, who is a priest in the Temple, that he and his wife would have a child, he didn’t believe the prophecy, and the angel took away his voice until John’s birth. Only when the boy is finally born does Zechariah regain the power of speech, and immediately he sings the canticle that we sang this morning. Just like Hannah, welcoming the birth of the prophet Samuel, and Mary, proclaiming the coming of Christ, this new life is marked out from the beginning as having a special destiny, in the history of God’s people. This baby will be bound up, somehow, in God’s plan. His vocation echoes a promise that the people have long remembered in their worship and prayer, from Isaiah and Baruch: he will be a voice crying in the wilderness, warning the people to prepare the way for God, to make mountains low and raise up the valleys, straighten out all the crooked things, and make the rough places plain.

It’s a beautiful vision, familiar to us from Handel’s Messiah. But if we think about it as reality, not poetry, it seems like humanity’s fond and foolish wish, of what we could do for God, when the opposite is what we do. It’s the Instagram version, when real life is in the chaos on the other side of the room. Whether it’s getting married or having children, or just inviting someone over, we want to make everything perfect for them, don’t we? – the tv shows all educational and earnest (that’s if we’ll even let them watch tv), the songs on the radio all uplifting, the books free of unresolved conflict, the toys all handmade, our home clean and smelling of freshly baked bread, etc., etc. And then it happens and it’s real—we’re tired and cranky or scared or sick, there’s a mess we couldn’t get to, something breaks, we swear and stumble. We’re never what we hoped we could be for each other.

Maybe perfect isn’t what we’re supposed to be going for—maybe that’s not what the vision is about, the call to repentance. What happens in John’s prophecy—why are the mountains being made low, and changing places with the valleys?  Maybe the “valleys,” the small and the vulnerable, are helping to keep those of us who are strong, the “mountains,” on track, by lifting up their voices, and bringing us down close to listen. His newborn son had to cry, before Zechariah could find the words to express his blessing. When we’ve got our heads in the clouds, when we’ve hardened ourselves against life’s assaults, we may be mighty as a mountain, but we’re missing something important. If we will listen, our children will be our prophets, reminding us that it doesn’t need to be perfect. That’s not what repent means. It does not mean doing right all the time, it doesn’t even mean feeling sorry or guilty. It just means to turn around, so you can see what you couldn’t see before, so you can pay attention. Just show up, you don’t have to get it right, you have to be there. Not perfect, but present. Right where you are.

What’s important is there, in the wilderness, but the wilderness is all around us. What makes a wilderness? It’s a place, any place, where things are not going according to plan. It’s not a neatly laid-out garden, or a well-designed day, structured down to the half hour. It’s everything else. It’s in a home with a stressed-out parent, alone with young children. On a dementia ward, with yesterday’s high mountains, whose proud façade is crumbling. On a highway, with so many people needing to get where they’re going, needing not to be where they are. It might be with anyone, in a moment of decision, at a crossroads, wondering how to move forward. The wilderness is in the space between two people in anger, who cannot get past the hurt they have caused each other. It’s not necessarily bad to be in the wilderness, and it’s not a place we run away to, to escape from reality. It’s a place we find ourselves in, where we’re brought up against the truth, with no escape, no shade from the blinding glare of it, no comfort, no hiding. The wilderness might be just where we need to be, even though it’s hard, or because it’s hard.

But it’s honest. And, if we’re being honest, did we make the way straight, for God? How did we do, with achieving John’s vision? When He came, did He find a beautiful room ready at the inn, or a parade, led by the king and the high priest? We know the story didn’t go that way. He came, and found us unprepared. He came, and almost no one noticed. The high and mighty stayed on their thrones, and the poor and weak, the sick and the children, were down there in the dust, where he sat down with them, as he grew. His way wasn’t smooth, ever, and in the end it was the rough wood of the cross, the bite of the nails, the tearing thorns and the ragged cry from his own dry throat.

So it was always a fond and foolish wish, of what we could do for God, but wouldn’t do, and never did, and still don’t do. Could we do it for each other, I wonder? Mountains might not fall, but we could kneel down to listen and look at those who need our attention. Jesus wasn’t really interested in the kings and the high priests, anyway—he didn’t need our ambitious visions or our good intentions. He asked for our presence, our time and patience and love, for those who need it.

To go out into the wilderness that others are experiencing, is part of John’s call to us. But perhaps even more challenging is to invite others into our own wilderness. To share, not just our love, but our weakness, takes strength. To let go of our pride, to admit our own need for what our neighbours’ time and patience and love, that may be the greatest gift we could bring. There is a prayer we say during the Wednesday healing service, that struck me especially this week, as being a good prayer, to offer by the manger, by the rough cradle of the Christ who came to us as a helpless baby, to minister to us, not from the mountaintop, from here, in the valley of the shadow of death. God of all mercy: help us who minister with the sick and dying to remember that though we may appear healthy, we, too, suffer from the universal human condition in a fallen world. Flesh withers, and we must all die to the life we know. Therefore, O God our help, teach us to be aware of our own infirmities, the better to make others understand they are not alone in their illness. Restore us all in the love which is our true health and salvation. Amen.

 

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Rev. Maggie’s sermon for 12/2/18: “Darkness and light”

Happy December, Happy Advent! Happy New Year! Just as we’re settling in to the warmth and coziness of the Christmas season, we’ve begun buying gifts, lighting candles, singing carols, and hoping that we can listen to some affirming readings about God’s love all wrapped up in the sweetness of a baby, we are confronted with this text, for the First Sunday of Advent—doom and gloom if ever we’ve heard it. Instead of gathering around the manger, we meet the angry, adult Jesus, warning us about the end of the world, and the suffering to come. Wait, hold on a minute. Where is my jolly peace on earth, good will towards men? I don’t think Frederick, that dear mouse in the story we read last week, would have terrified his friends with dire visions like this, in their dark, wintry cave. Where is the vision of comfort he was offering? When I worked in campus ministry, we used to talk about the difference between Happy Bible, and Scary Bible. Today’s Gospel is definitely Scary Bible. What’s it doing here, when we’re trying to welcome in the new year and prepare for the birth of our Saviour?

The cycle of stories that we share through the church year is an ancient one, given shape through the Middle Ages, and pieced together from these texts handed down to us from the Jewish tradition and the first century of the Jesus movement. The communities that produced these documents knew incredible hardship. They were constantly under threat from invasion, enslavement, persecution, as well as disease and natural disaster from which there was no security, and with little help—imagine a world with no Red Cross, no UNICEF, no hospital, nowhere to turn, in a crisis, and nothing to do but lament. Theirs was a world of, to us, almost unimaginable darkness. If God’s story was to make any sense to them, to have any integrity with what they experienced, it would have to acknowledge that reality.

So as he speaks to the crowds about distress and confusion, fear and foreboding, Jesus is not really predicting a distant future, but describing the present that his listeners knew only too well. These dangers were all around them—the nearness of death and misfortune was just the constant of life, that accompanied them from birth, through every day. It wouldn’t have been a surprise, to hear that upheavals were in store. No, it was the nearness of joy, of mercy and release, that was hard to hear, that was practically incomprehensible. For those who’ve grown accustomed to the dark, the light can be blinding.

In Jesus, darkness and light are intertwined. This was new. In the stories that the people had cherished and retold for generations, human suffering and God’s glory were so different, so far apart. The tradition contained accounts of the people’s struggles, over and over again, against great odds. Seeking a promised land through decades of wandering the desert. War after war. Capture and exile, the destruction of their homeland. Always, it took so long to return to a peace and safety that had become only a legend, the long-vanished Eden, or Canaan, or Jerusalem, that a previous generation had known. And all the while God’s truth existed, majestic and remote, so pure that if mortals were in God’s presence they shone like the sun, or were maimed or even perished because they came so close to such power. They set up a whole structure of temple worship to maintain a safe distance between the ordinary, everyday world and the Word of God, with the holy of holies sequestered in its own chamber, behind curtains and smoke, approached only by the priests at special times, surrounded by ritual.

And now, in Jesus, all at once, that careful distance between God and humanity is collapsed. The Word that spoke all things into being is coming now in a human voice, eternity is unfolding in this human life, a hard-working life, with laughter and jokes, alongside grief and heartache. In art there is a word for this closeness, chiaroscuro, that intimate play of darkness and light across the canvas. You can see it in the beautiful painting that hangs near our altar—look at it, as you come up for Communion. See how the faces of Mary and the infant Christ gleam forth from the dim background, their love radiant, human and divine, next to each other, within each other. Looking at them in their happiness, we remember the rest of the story, the day when the darkness will overwhelm the light, snuff it out, so that it can return with a brightness that is still truer, for its hard-won acquaintance with the night.

In the story of Jesus, Happy Bible and Scary Bible come together—when the terrors of death are the harbingers of resurrection.

This prophet’s dark tidings are not a warning to work your way back into God’s favour, over the decades or generations. It happens now, in a moment of grace, of liberation. Look at what Jesus actually tells the people, after the acknowledgement of suffering. Don’t be weighed down, by distractions and the worries of this life. All of this stuff, it’s heavy and it’s real, God knows, God knows, it’s pulling you under and it’s killing you, you’ve got to set it down. To let go of it. The promise of hope that Jesus offers is the strength to stand before the Son of Man. To stand up—not bowed down because we’re terrified. To stand beside him, not separated by anything.

That strength doesn’t come from what we do. It comes from what we have the courage not to do. Not to be defensive. Not to pile up stuff around us so that we don’t notice our loneliness. Not to build ourselves up in anger or pride because we are, at heart, afraid of the dark.

What can we do, to get ready for the coming of Jesus, into our lives? Perhaps the less we do, the more room we make for God, to be revealed to us and within us, for others. So what less, could you do? What could you set down, that is so heavy, that it’s pulling you down with it? What might you let go of, to take the hand that Jesus is offering, to take your place before him?

Perhaps, this Advent, we could practice saying no, to what is not God. To what is not the freedom and grace of God’s welcome to us. It might be a little no, “No, I can’t do that today,” or a big one, “No, that’s not who I am.” But hear this, now: you get to say it. You get to put those burdens down, if you choose. They are not the stuff of forever. No matter what happens, we know what lasts: God’s Word of love, of forgiveness, of grace, remains. Heaven and earth, darkness and light, will pass away. But my words will never

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pass away.

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Rev. Maggie’s sermon for 11/18/18: “Leaving a Legacy”

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As many of you know, my family and I live in Brookline. My oldest daughter, Rose, is a senior in high school there this year, and we wanted to let her graduate with her friends, and finish her program with the teachers and mentors she’s gotten to know. So, until we move down here next summer, I’ve been commuting. Driving back and forth between Cohasset and Brookline these past few months, I’ve been seeing a lot of things on the various routes, learning a lot about Hingham and Weymouth, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain. There is a rotary that I often go through on my way home, very near where we live, and the other night I noticed that it has a name, on a little green sign in the middle of the chrysanthemums planted in the center. I saw that it is the Paul Pender rotary, and I thought to myself as I drove around, I really would not like anyone to name a rotary after me. To have my legacy be one of those focal points of frustration, confusion, waiting while getting more and more anxious—anything but that! A plaque on a park bench or my name on a brick in a path, even a memorial cart at the grocery store, ok, just not a rotary. But we all want to leave a good legacy, to contribute something, to do and be something meaningful for others.

Hannah wants that, in this morning’s Old Testament lesson. Her story is perhaps less well-known in our Bible, certainly less well-known than the Annunciation and Nativity story of Mary, even though that later story followed this one as its pattern, in many ways. Hannah is a young woman, who wants to take her place in the tribe, as a mother of the next generation. In that time and place that was a woman’s primary role, indeed, in a world where mere survival was extremely hard, that was every person’s role and hope for life: to be the ancestor of multitudes. In the shorter term, families needed to have healthy children to tend the land and take care of their elders.

But Hannah hasn’t been able to do this. She is married, they’ve been trying, but no children have come from their union. Because of this, Hannah is mistreated and mistrusted. In the understanding of the time, infertility was presumed to be the woman’s fault. Given the dangers of childbirth and high infant mortality, ancient societies ensured family survival by allowing men to have more than one wife. With such value placed on reproduction, competition naturally occurred between wives. Peninnah resents Hannah, probably thinks of her as less important and valuable in the household, and not deserving of the place she has in their husband’s affections. Hannah also faces the judgment of the priest, in the town where they’ve gone to attend a religious festival and make ritual sacrifices. She is clearly in distress, and he decides that she must be drunk. He doesn’t know her, but he doesn’t ask what’s upsetting her, he assumes that she is in the wrong. So by peers and authority figures around her, Hannah is assailed. Her situation is not all bad, however. She obviously has a tender, loving husband, who doesn’t criticize her or cast her aside, but talks with her, and wishes that he were enough, to make everything better. He asks, understandably, isn’t the love they share enough, to make her happy?

She loves him, and knows that he loves her, and that is a great blessing. But she wants to be more than loved. She wants to be useful, to be able to give. To be part of something larger than herself. That is what she asks the priest for, with breathtaking courage, and the promise that if she is able to have a child, he will be dedicated to God’s service, to the welfare of the community. And that is what she receives, when Samuel is born. It is her song of rejoicing at his birth, which we sang in place of the usual psalm today. She sings and prays, not about God granting her individual wish, but about God’s care for the whole people, which includes justice, and provision for the poor and vulnerable. Look at Hannah’s song, as I read the Magnificat, the song Mary sings in celebration of the coming birth of the Messiah.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

 

They are almost identical; you can see Mary’s song is an imitation or repetition of Hannah’s, both giving voice to the shared desire of these women, as individuals not important or valued, to be part of something greater than themselves, to be a small but crucial piece in God’s vision of justice and hope, to give themselves to God’s good will for all of Creation.

This Sunday we’re concluding our stewardship season, a time when we’ve been asked to think about our places in the community, about how we can be part of a bigger story than just our own, how we can contribute, and provide for the coming generations. We are grateful for the pledges that have been received, which we lift up in thanksgiving this morning. Now is the exciting time, for those pledges to take shape, in plans for the coming year. So learning about the name of that rotary made me go and look up Paul Pender. He turns out to have been a rather lovely person. He was born in Brookline during the Depression, he was a scrappy street kid who made his way out of poverty by becoming a boxer. He joined the Marines, and served them as a boxing coach. He became a firefighter, and continued to coach boxing at Norfolk Jail, helping inmates rebuild their lives and return to society. Paul Pender contributed so much, and touched so many people’s lives, leaving a legacy of service to the community in Brookline, which honoured him with that little green plaque in a garden in a rotary, right where it needs to be, a still center in the midst of this vibrant community he helped create. There is a community, a church, here in the center of Cohasset, because of the people on the plaques on our walls and in our memorial garden, and also others, known and dear to us in memory. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to build, and plant, what lessons do you want to teach, what stories do you have to share, what will live here, because of you? Let’s give thanks together for the chance to contribute, and let’s get to work!

 

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Rev. Maggie’s All Saints’ Day sermon: “Pay Attention”

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In my other life, when I am not rectoring, I am a historian. I’ve always loved the past—when I walked to school, as a child, I walked on the grass, not the sidewalk, so that I could pretend I was a pioneer girl, walking through the meadows to a one-room schoolhouse. I’ve never really felt that the past was passed—I can feel it all around me, all the time. I love to dive into the sixteenth century and not come back for hours. Part of the attraction of the work of research and writing about these distant centuries, I confess, has been the thought that you can’t hurt anyone, doing it. No matter what you say or what you get wrong, you can’t hurt them, because, to put it bluntly, they’re all dead.

It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that. It’s not a pain-free endeavor. There are moments, in reading about what we have done to each other, to our fellow Christians and to those of other faiths, when you have to stop, when your heart is broken. For me that moment first came when I was studying the religious wars in France between Catholics and Protestants after the Reformation. There were massacres, and people who claimed to be following Jesus’ teaching murdered one another by the thousands. I read about one case in which a group of religious zealots killed the parents of a little girl, the same age as my own daughter, at the time I was reading, and they bathed her in her parents’ blood, to teach her a lesson, the lesson of how to hate in God’s name. There are people who have learned that lesson well, and who still teach it in our world today. It is the sacred work of the historian, never to let those evils be forgotten. We owe it to the victims of hatred and violence to stop for a while, to stay with them, and then to take up their story in its completeness, even when it’s as hard and harrowing as that little girl’s story, to be their witnesses.

I listened, this week, to an interview with one of the Jewish rabbis in Pittsburgh, whose responsibility it is to collect every part of those who were killed at worship last Saturday, down to the last drop of blood. It is part of their practice to lay to rest each person in their fullness, just as God made them, insofar as they can. That is the work of witnessing, to which we are also called, as people of faith. God has promised us that nothing will be lost, nothing wasted—every part of Creation will be gathered in, known and remembered, literally re-membering what the world has torn apart, until it is whole again. As a historian I get to do that work, putting together scraps of papers and images, words brought back from the silence and pictures from the darkness, until the story of a life, a community, is revealed, not completely, but more fully.

My vocation is therefore to be a pastor whose congregation includes the dead. People I’ve talked to about this have thought it’s weird, admittedly. Our world is so much about moving on, after a loss, aren’t we counseled to make that our goal, after a trauma? When is she going to move on? Is he ready to move on, yet? But the life of the church, God’s church, is not limited to those who happen to be alive right now. We have this enormous gift, of honouring those who have gone before us, and knowing them to be with us. They are always there, encouraging us with their examples, inspiring and comforting us with their stories, and calling out our grief, because they deserve it. All we have to do is pay attention, and they are around us all the time.

Paying attention is a good way to describe the job of the historian. It has also helped me in thinking about the work of being a pastor to living people, as well. When I first began to visit people in the hospital, as part of the training you do during the ordination process, I was intimidated by the prospect of going into a room with someone who had just lost a child, or been told that they were dying, or that their lives would never be the same. I came to realize that what I was being called to do in those rooms was not fix people or situations, which I couldn’t do, but to be a historian again, for that living and dying child of God in front of me. To listen to them, to let them know that their stories were not lost or forgotten, not unimportant, but heard, understood, and cherished. That’s my job, I would argue, the best job in the world, getting to be the steward of all this life that God has made, its witness, its chronicler, even of the small part that I get to see, of eternity.

The eternal life talk in our faith can be challenging. Our world teaches us to go forward, even our churches can insist that we focus on moving toward salvation, or building God’s kingdom on earth, depending on their theological orientation. But eternity is not really something we go forward to; it’s backwards, and sideways as well. It’s all time and none at all, and getting out of that rat race altogether. Sometimes Christians are disparaged as thinking about eternal life as “life after death,” in this linear way, as some kind of pie in the sky when you die fantasy, as if we weren’t brave enough to admit that people die. It’s hopelessly old-fashioned, nobody talks about death anymore, it’s morbid, and defeatist. Modern medicine doesn’t address the possibility until all options have been exhausted, and then it’s an after-thought, a profoundly uncomfortable, unaccounted-for thing, a final mistake, that nobody knows how not to make. We’ll make them feel bad, if we pay too much attention, so we have to pretend it’s not happening, or hasn’t happened. Focus on the living. Move on. Look away.

Paying attention is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. When he reaches the tomb of his friend—never mind the smell, the gruesomeness of the place, Lazarus is here! From the silence and darkness of the grave, call him back, hear him speak, make a place for him again at the center of his family, his community, the place of a beloved brother. His story isn’t over, even if they all thought it was.

Eternal life is not about avoiding death. It’s about paying just as much attention to the dead as to the living. Jesus is always reminding us to notice what the world ignores, to value what the world discards. Pay just as much attention to rich and to poor, to adults and to children, to those on the bottom and to those in power. What’s small is not insignificant. What’s last is not even late, but right on time. What’s gone is not gone at all, but here all along. What Jesus tells us is that in him, our death and our life are one, in the heart of God. God is the historian of us all, every life, every story. “See, I am making all things new.” “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

 

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Rev. Maggie’s sermon: “Two Love Stories– The Book of Job and The Princess Bride”

For a few weeks now, we’ve been reading the Book of Job as our lesson from the Old Testament. It’s the story of a prosperous, good man in the prime of his life, with a family and a large farm, and because the devil wants to tempt him, and talks God into going along with this plan, everything is taken away—Job loses it all. Hearing about the terrible things that happened to him, it doesn’t seem like the kind of book that could be described as a love story. But it is.

In a way, it’s like the story of the Princess Bride—you may have seen the fabulous movie, or read the even more wonderful book. It’s a fairy tale. Young Westley is a poor farm boy, who loves the beautiful Buttercup. She lives on the farm and generally makes his life miserable, telling him what to do from dawn to dusk. All Westley would say to her, when she was rude to him was, “as you wish.” He goes off to make his fortune, and loses everything. He is kidnapped by the Dread Pirate Roberts and his gang, who make him work for them and threaten him with death every morning. He is separated from his beloved Buttercup, who, in fact, becomes engaged to Prince Humperdink. In these desperate circumstances, when the pirate captain is about to put him to the sword, Westley only asks humbly, “please, I need to live.”  Why, asks the cynical pirate? True love, replies our young hero. Even when, in disguise and unrecognized, Westley is pushed off a cliff by Buttercup, he simply says again, “as you wish.” That’s when she realizes it’s him, and throws herself off the cliff, too. As you can see, it’s just like the story of Job.

The story of Job is so hard to read; it’s one that resonates with us so profoundly. It speaks to us of the randomness of loss. Sometimes when faced with the onslaught of illness, or work we depend on being taken from us, or the death of a person we love or death, plucking people from the world when they should still be here, we can feel as if someone were playing with us. How else can we explain our suffering, or that of others? And then there are the different ways in which we can respond to life’s tragedies and misfortunes; our responses can be as harmful as the events themselves. Most of the Book of Job is not a description of what happens to him—that only takes a few lines. The majority of the text is a series of conversations between Job and his friends about what has happened, and why. It goes the way it so often does, when we confront our fears—cancer or dementia, failure, violence, betrayal. Trying to be helpful, the friends come up with interpretations that force Job’s losses into some meaningful shape, to ease his pain, and perhaps their own anxiety. You caused this when…, you deserved this because…, you’ll do better if you just… Don’t those little voices whisper in our own minds, when something happens to someone we know, even if we don’t say them out loud—we’ll I’m safe because I eat better than she does, or I exercise, or I would never act like that, thank goodness my family isn’t like theirs. We need to shore up our own sense of security by explaining why it happened to them, why it won’t happen to us. But none of their pat explanations is enough for Job, and he insists, with terrifying honesty, on the injustice of what he’s suffering. He rejects their rationalizations and demands an explanation from God, the only one who could give it. Are we afraid, to look the unfairness of the world in the face? To admit the frank horror of life—even of natural processes, aging, the vicissitudes of love, the passage of time, much less the evils we do to each other on purpose. To be alive, to understand something about how the world is for people, is to be angry, at this condition we find ourselves in. Do we doubt, or give up on God, when faced with the unanswerable questions of suffering and evil? Or do we allow anger to have its time, trusting that God can take it?

At different times in our lives we can understand different things, make sense of things differently. Sometimes we are Job getting crushed by life. Sometimes we are looking back, reflecting on our ignorance or confusion, with new insight. We may look back and despise our former selves, wish we could have been otherwise, been the right person for that time or for those people, made the right choice. We long for fairness, for conditions we could try to live up to, and hold other people to, even hold God to. We are limited, and small of mind and spirit. We would settle for a conditional love, if it would be something we can count on. That is what we find ourselves doing in life, if we don’t believe we’re worth much. An “I’ll love you if,” is good enough, is all we can manage. But God is so much more than that. Love that doles itself out according to conditions is not love, it’s a way to control. And God is not interested in controlling us; God doesn’t need to. God’s love sets us free.

At the end of Job’s story comes his final conversation, with God. God’s response to him is not, you deserved it or there was a reason, but, I am wild, unknowable, not on a scale you can comprehend. Don’t try to explain or control me. We might want, or think we want, a conditional relationship with God, but we don’t get that. What we get is unconditional. What we get, is Westley and Buttercup—a comedy, a tragedy, a fairy tale. We get a God who jumps off a cliff for us. We get a God who acts incomprehensibly, always offering that “as you wish,” and listening to see if we might say it back. What we get is true love. As Job says, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

As Westley says: I told you I would always come for you. Why didn’t you wait for me?
Buttercup: Well…you were dead.
Westley: Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.

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Hear this now: I will always come for you.
Buttercup: But how can you be sure?
Westley: This is true love-you think this happens every day?

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Rev. Maggie’s sermon for 10/21/18: “Humility”

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord our strength, and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

Humility is not very fashionable. A few minutes spent watching television, or on the Internet, will tell us that. What do we share on Facebook—updates to our “status.” We share pictures of beautifully curated lives, we follow the achievements and retweet the pronouncements of the wealthy and provocative. There is an entire genre of self-portraiture, self-promotion, that has democratized the kind of self-absorption of a Louis XIV. There is even an anxiety over not participating in this competitive arena, a fear, of missing out on other’s experiences, or our own, if they are not sufficiently publicized and influential. But humility never was fashionable. That’s sort of the point, really—if it were popular, or a way to gain power and influence over others, it wouldn’t be humility.

Jesus makes the contrast plain, between His way of humility and the world’s infatuation with fame and power. The world’s values are not subtle thing, even if it walks softly, it’s always got that big stick ready: domination, being first, getting whatever you want by the necessary means. I sometimes wonder if the whole unfolding of evolution, survival of the fittest, is the working out of original sin, a sort of existential Hunger Games in which we are forced into a battle to the death with the rest of Creation. The coming of Christ into our world begins the unworking of that evil, the redemption of God’s good will. It starts, though, so small. It starts by just doing the opposite. Jesus’ way, as He has to explain over and over again to His followers, is so different from what we’ve been taught about surviving, adapting and succeeding. He had said it so many times, how unexpected God’s invitation to new life is: come to me like a little child, don’t labor to impress God with your perfection, but still the disciples are trying to fit Him back into the world’s reassuring, predictable box. It’s the world’s most predictable box, of course, a coffin, but they can’t see it.

Walking down the road one day, James and John come to Jesus and make a bid for recognition, in the vocabulary of their time and place. They want to prove their loyalty, and secure his, in return. Give us what we ask for, put us at the places of honour, make us your right and left hand men. They want this to be the kind of movement that needs a hierarchy of authority, a shadow-cabinet, ready for the revolution and the establishment of a new power structure. With infinite tenderness, and not a little grief, Jesus sets them straight. It’s not going to be like that, this is not just another regime change, taking one party in power (them) and putting another in its place (us). This is a subversion of the whole idea of power itself.

They had thought they were making progress, getting somewhere, as they gained followers and momentum. Jesus stops them in their tracks, and asks, where do you think we’re going? What do they think He’s been talking about, along the way? When He asks them, can you be baptized, with the Baptism that I am baptized with, what does He mean? He doesn’t mean a special ceremony, a celebration. He means His death—and it will not be a glorious death in battle, ushering in the victory, but a shameful death, a public execution, a humiliation of his movement and his followers. When He asks them, are you able to drink the cup that I drink, what is Jesus’ cup? Suffering. Not the noble suffering of an athlete or a warrior in training, building from strength to strength, but the pitiless, pointless suffering of a terminal case, the moment-by-moment poisoning of life and hope. All of this is going nowhere they expect, nowhere they want. But it is going, in a way they cannot understand, towards us, to a changed future, to life. Because the road they were on, the road they thought was speeding them on their way to power, the shortest distance between them and success, was carrying them inevitably to ultimate alienation from God and each other.

Power over others is isolating, we set ourselves against others and we end up alone, fearful of losing what we have and unable to trust anyone. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, the saying goes. When you’re at the top, you’ve got to watch your back constantly, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, sleep with one eye open. God doesn’t want that for His children. Would you want it for yours? Jesus knows there is no possibility of peace, when we set ourselves in opposition to, in competition with one another. What ends that cycle, what brings us together, is humility. To serve each other truly, not just handing people things we think they ought to want and congratulating ourselves, but asking, listening, to find out what others really need.

Wonder of wonders, in this crazy, mixed-up world, there is a place where we get to do that. This is the place where we get to practice Jesus’ way, for our own healing, for the good of our community, and as a witness to the world. This is where we try out Jesus’ model of humble service, of coming together. We learn how to do it in our Godly Play story circles and youth groups, which teach us how to pay attention to our children’s needs and discoveries. We practice it in offering our members pastoral care, taking time with those who are dealing with illness or loss, making sure to include them in our common life so that they know they are not forgotten or alone in their struggles. We follow Jesus’ way in praying for and with each other in worship. He told the disciples that they would share in His Baptism of death, and His cup of suffering, and so will we. We share them in transformed ways in this place, in washing that leads to new life, in food that nourishes and brings us together. Then we take His way out into the world, feeding and clothing and visiting and teaching and testifying.

Sometimes you hear the state of our world lamented as a race to the bottom, a corruption of our standards until we reach the lowest common denominator of civilized society. But I think that Christian life, as Jesus talked about it, is its own race to the bottom. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Before we are too quick to claim our lifestyle or even our faith tradition as honorable or enviable, as exemplary or divinely approved, let’s think about how we can take our places at the back of the line, with those fortune hasn’t smiled on much lately. As Christians, our call is not, “Faster, better, stronger,” but “Slow it down, make it smaller, come close.” Slow down until we’re alongside those who can’t keep up with the world’s feverish pace. Admit, with humility, how often we fail, how we see ourselves in one another’s weaknesses. Come close enough to hear quiet voices, to take someone’s hand in love and help, to share what we have. We often hear, when we encounter stories of hardship, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” No doubt that is true. But perhaps we could also say, and make it our prayer and our action: “Here, thanks to the grace of God, go I with you, my neighbor and friend, the last and least, together.”

 

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