“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
This morning’s lessons are full of great and powerful images. Many of the phrases from today have appeared in works of art of all types such as poetry, paintings, and cantatas, throughout time. Let’s listen to a few of these images again.
From the Old Testament: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together.” And the psalm: “He shall come down like the rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth.” The epistle: “May God grant you to live in harmony with one another, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And then from the gospel we hear from the eccentric John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And these are just a few of the gems we have heard this morning. I want allow those images and that poetry to spin in the air a bit today, but before I do that I have a quick side bar.
I have a close friend who is a textile artist. She is well known professionally for her weavings, rugs, wall hangings and tapestries. For close friends she also makes scarves and stoles and even socks! She has a fine eye for creating beautiful things from wool and linen. Her reputation is built on large pieces of bright, vibrant colors whose subject matter is often taken from nature.
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning! That’s more than a friendly greeting because it is the morning of the first day of the season of Advent: the first day of a new liturgical year. We don’t get any fresher than this, folks! In Advent, all Christians are morning people -- at least by grace if not also by nature. But the night is indeed far gone, the day is near. It is now the moment of Advent. It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
St. Paul is not alone in his choice of sleep as a metaphor; it’s one that we’re quite familiar with in our own figures of speech. When we are not fully present in a conversation, we’ll apologize for our lapse of attention with sorry, I was totally asleep; what was that again? Then there’s its cousin going through the motions, which you might say when confiding to a friend that you’ve been disengaged from your tasks for awhile, living on autopilot.
“Not a hair of your head will perish; by your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Have you ever watched young children go off a diving board for the first time? Some of them (the very brave) will walk to the ladder and go up needing just a little verbal encouragement. Maybe they’ll walk to the end of the board, close their eyes, and step off. Then there are the reckless few who seem not to understand the risk, who bound up the ladder, run to the end of the board and leap into the air. And of course there are the others, the fear filled ones, who may need a helping hand or to see a trusted adult ready to catch them in order to jump into the water. And we all know those who are paralyzed by the thought of even going up the ladder and if they get that far may need someone to help them back down. Diving boards are a place of fear from thrills to terror. As a child I did not like the idea of even looking at a diving board. My fear froze me. And yet, now, I do go off diving boards and have even taught others to do the same.
What makes the difference to get through fear and terror is having some trusted person there to coach, to encourage, and to strengthen by their presence. Fears are more bearable when there is some trusted one with you, alongside of you all the way. Think of something in your own experience that has caused you to fear, on the side of being fully terrified, and then remember what or who helped you to get through that fear. With that in mind let’s turn to today’s gospel.
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have no doubt that at some point as kids, sitting in the back of the family car during one of those boring road trips, we all asked our parents are we there yet? Besides being a sure-fire method for pushing mom and dad into complete delirium, it was also a rather odd question to ask. Because it was already perfectly self-evident that you had not yet arrived at your destination — you were still uncomfortably buckled in your seat and your sibling was still poking you in the head. But, of course, that’s precisely why you kept asking if you were there yet, despite the abundant evidence otherwise. You had been on the road long enough that surely you had to basically be there by now. How could you feel so ready to get out of the car if the time to do so had not yet come?
I have no idea if William How was thinking of today’s Ephesians reading when he wrote the hymn “For All The Saints,” but if he wasn’t, he should have been. Paul prays two things for the Ephesians this morning. He asks first, that they would know the hope to which God has called them, the riches of their inheritance; and second, that they would know the power of Christ for us who believe.
The hymn “For All The Saints” does such a great job of depicting the connection between those two things. There’s all this imagery first of struggling to walk the way of Christ now, in the face of a world which is blind to wonder, which stands in opposition to mercy. And then there are these moments where the future hope, the inheritance God offers in Christ, breaks in and becomes his power for us who believe.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, - there’s the present
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song - there’s the future
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. - The future hope comes back into the present to become the power Paul is praying for, applied to what we’re going through.
“For All The Saints” actually has several more verses that aren’t usually in modern hymnals, and here’s the one about martyrs:
For Martyrs who, with rapture kindled eye, - there’s the revelation of insight from God that Paul prays for
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky, - there’s the future, the hope of our inheritance in Christ
And (here comes the present), And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
And seeing, grasped it. The revelation of that fullness, that hope, that inheritance, that future, taken hold of and welcomed into the present as God’s power for us who believe.
Learning through the generations of this community.
Relationships developed during lectio divina.
The Pentecost Parade
Bananas from the ALS Walk for sack lunches
Michael Fisher’s playing
RIP Medical Debt
Great discussion of the Gospels in the Men’s Bible Study
The awesome sermon by Deacon Chris on the completion of the cycle of thanks
Building a whole new life thanks to the Emmanuel community
Fr. Caleb and his coffee meetings, emails, and Common Table
The ability to increase my giving every year
The offertory anthems at the second service, which offer something new every week
Coming to Bible stuff to learn more about the Bible
Light from the stained glass windows on the walls
I’m sure all of you know where that list came from – it’s your words, all of you who have been taking time to notice God giving to us here at Emmanuel and to cultivate the joy and wonder of putting it into words and sharing it. In the life of a healthy church, everyone gets room and space to speak about their experience of God and what Jesus has done for them. We’ve tended to be a little timid about voicing our faith at Emmanuel, and I’m grateful that the chance to post cards on the Wonder in All board has seemed to help some of you take that risk. Thank you to everyone who has participated so far, and we’ll be giving another chance today. I’m grateful, also, for the eight laity who agreed to share experiences for the display of Wonder in All stories – thank you, Michael, Joyce, Cathy, Ray and Megan, Hope, Adam, and Lisa. It strikes me, as we hear today Jesus’ very pointed text about the Pharisee and the tax collector, that what those eight Emmanuelítes did, and what each of you is doing as you name God’s activity and write it down, has the potential to help us respond very directly to what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel.
Some of the most ancient passages in the Bible are the most fruitful and profound when we spend time with them. Back in the early 90s, Genesis was the theme of a PBS series with Bill Moyers in which he simply let different people debate their reactions to the material. Whatever you make of Jordan Peterson, his psychological Genesis podcasts have a million subscribers. The Guardian ran an 8 part series on Genesis in 2011, with Anglican theologian Jane Williams leading readers through topics like the dubious morality of the characters, the darkness and complexity of stories some of us carelessly dismiss as cutesy Sunday School material, and the damage that has been done when these texts were used as if they sanctioned oppression and patriarchy. There’s a lot in there. A lot.
Today’s passage from Genesis focuses on a mysterious encounter that Jacob has in the middle of the night. As darkness falls, Jacob is coming from one in a long series of manipulative schemes designed to put himself on top in encounters with family members, and he is on the way to another manipulative scheme designed to put himself on top in an encounter with a family member. Along the way he has done some noble and kind things, and he has turned to God and then away again; in other words, he has been as bad and good as any of us, and rather more calculating than most of us.
“Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.”
Merci, gracias, arigato, efharisto, yadow, a basket of fruit, a bouquet of flowers, a hug. These are words and gestures to express gratefulness to others. Learning to say thank you is often one of the first phrases mastered in a new language. It is a part of good manners, of course, but it really is more than that. Expressing gratefulness is a part of being in a relationship; it is a way of connecting the giver and receiver. It makes a circle of sorts, giving and receiving, receiving and giving.
Brother David Steindl-Rast in his book, Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer, says this about the relationship of giver and receiver. “The interdependence of gratefulness is truly mutual. The receiver of the gift depends on the giver, obviously so. But the circle of gratefulness is incomplete until the giver of the gift becomes the receiver: a receiver of thanks. When we give thanks we give something greater than the gift we received, whatever it was. The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving…In giving thanks we give ourselves. One who says thank you to another really says, ‘we belong together’. Giver and thanks-giver belong together.”
Who do you belong to? I don’t mean by that who is your spouse or your parent, or with whom do you feel a sense of connection. Those ties are important, but not what I’m talking about. Nor do I mean belong in the sense that people say they belong to a particular gym or alumni association. I mean, who do you belong to? Whose property are you? Who owns your life, your very being?
I’m sure there are more than two, but there are at least two for profit businesses in Champaign-Urbana that have positioned themselves as selling opportunities for spiritual growth. Neither of the two I’m aware of is led by someone with any actual formal training in theology, and neither of them has the safeguard of being accountable to a disciplined school of thought like Buddhism or Christianity or Judaism. They just select free-floating activities and themes to market to potential customers. It’s hard for me not to be worried about the possibility of serious spiritual malpractice happening. But you know, the most visible of these for-profit places already has more Facebook followers than most of the houses of worship in Champaign-Urbana.
But honestly, that’s not surprising, because they frame the spiritual life as something that it isn’t, but that is much easier for a contemporary American to understand. Places like these, that let people select their preferred "spiritual" activities divorced from any context, just feel right in a way a parish no longer does. Because if we know how to be anything in 2019, it’s consumers. We know how to be in control of what we choose to own. We know how to graze through offerings and select the thing that seems most attractive, enjoy it for a short time, and then go on to the next option that catches our fancy.
Abraham said to the rich man, “between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless you reject the belief in any kind of reality beyond what is brutely material, death is not so much the end of life as such as it is rather the end of one phase of life that simultaneously marks the beginning of another. While death may permanently separate these phases from each other, there is nevertheless a mysterious continuity between them, for it is the soul of the same individual that continues to live from the one to the other. Speculation abounds as to the specifics of it all, of course, but that’s the gist of it.
But throughout Scripture, death not only divides this life from the next, but it also inverts them. The character of one’s life in the future is often depicted as the opposite of the character of one’s life in the present. And so in today’s passage from Luke, we find that the circumstances in which the rich man and Lazarus respectively find themselves after death have also been radically inverted. You can almost think of their lives after death as like the photo negatives of their lives before death. I know, photo negatives -- not exactly the most current metaphor -- but when I was a kid, I loved holding those creepy strips up to the light after my mom brought home another envelope of pictures from Walgreens. Anyway, when you look at a photo negative, you clearly see its continuity with the original picture -- more than continuity, actually, since it’s the same image as the original picture -- but all the colors are weirdly inverted; what was light in the original is dark in the negative and vice versa. As we’ll see, there’s something similar going on in this story of the rich man and Lazarus.