Friday, December 22 2023
“What’s in a word?”
This Sunday, which is firstly the Fourth Sunday of Advent, there is great emphasis in the lectionary readings about the “word” or speech in general. A word from the Lord comes to Nathan who instructs him to tell David to build a permanent tabernacle. Psalm 89 is sprinkled with references on words or speech. “My mouth will proclaim…” “Oath” “Spoke in a vision…” We should be well to remember that the Lord spoke all of creation into existence. “The Lord said, let there be light…” And then Mary proclaims one of the hardest and most humbling words we as Christians, and anyone to anyone else for that matter, can say. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Difficult if only because our human nature wants to follow our will, my will, what I want to do.
If you were at Spirituality Group last week, you heard me talk on hope using my favorite theologian and thinker, Jacques Ellul. In another book of his, titled Humiliation of the Word, Ellul makes the distinction between reality, which is seen and has to do with sight, and the truth, which is spoken and heard through word. God reveals himself as Truth to all of reality (the reality he created by his Word) through the Word made Flesh. In today’s world, we seem to be more interested in what is seen. We demand proof and evidence (like St. Thomas!). Television, social media, advertisements have created what seems like a vortex of our attention. We spiral into binge watching our favorite TV shows or stay up late watching TikTok reels. We know that attention spans are decreasing. While many of grew up with television, we didn’t grow up with so many choices of screen time. Phones, tablets, televisions, video games, etc. I don’t wish to critique any parenting styles and know how convicted I am in my participation of screen time.
All of these images, however, can have the power to disconnect us from the source of all goodness and truth, God, who in his mighty power, came down to us, as a baby. (I’ve always wondered about those initial sounds baby Jesus made, those sweet coos, the yawn, the little grunts babies make when they stretch, just like the rest of us). Ellul does not argue that word and truth are superior to image and reality. Both are needed for the fullness of understanding who we are. So, what’s in a word? Everything else needed to make sense of what is in front of us. Jesus Christ will soon be here, the truth of God in the fullness of our reality. We are more than consumers of media or images.
Do you listen for a word from God? Sometimes this Word isn’t what we want to hear. Sometimes it’s exactly the answer to a prayer. It’s amazing who we can be and what we can do when we stop and listen and wait for the Word that creates us anew and allows us to say, “You called me, God, let it be done according to you.”
I hope you had a blessed Advent and have a Merry Christmas!
Sunday, December 17 2023
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us. Let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us, through Jesus Christ our Lord… (Collect 3 Advent)
When I was studying for my M-Div. degree my professor recommended that when we open a book for his class, we should first read the last chapter and then begin the book. In the case of the Gospel, we start every year knowing how the book ends. Our church year begins in Advent with lessons from the last chapter of Mark. In the second week, we start at the beginning of Mark with the prophet John the Baptist. This week we go to the first chapter of John. In verse five, John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We will now get to see the serum light enter into humanity.
The Gospel goes on with the story of John the Baptist on the river Jordon near Bethany. The first century historian Josephus wrote: "John, that was called the Baptist… who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.” We begin Advent in the darkness of the world with the second coming of our Lord and then go back to the time and place in history when the prophet, John the Baptist pointed to the light. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). Jesus enters our story in Mark as he begins his ministry. Our lectionary experts have given us a head start on the disciples. We will watch them struggle to understand who Jesus is. Mark points us backwards to what God has promised to us through the prophets. The prophet Isaiah says, ”The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified (Isaiah 61:1-2).
It is time to prepare some space in our heart for Jesus Christ. Last week, Deacon Claire promised that God is searching for us and we merely need to turn towards God to accept him in our life. This week we are asked to look for the light coming out of the darkness. Jesus came to bring the good news of the love of God. We have this hope in Jesus Christ that carries us through difficult times. God’s grace and mercy will surely come to those who wait.
In Christ’s love,
Sunday, December 10 2023
Advent conjures up lots of words, thoughts and questions. As I spent time pondering what to write for this week’s Chalice my mind was overrun with many questions Perhaps you have some also:
· What do we most need this Advent?
· What are we waiting for?
· Who are we waiting for?
· Where is our wilderness?
· In the busyness of our lives, are we able to hear the voice that cries out to our hearts?
· If God is coming to bring us peace, how and where can we find it?
· How do we prepare a home in our hearts for the one to come and come again?
So, we come to church – a place where we can worship God, to be inspired and grounded, to be part of a community, to be blessed and find support in the timelessness of Holy Scripture, maybe even to become better people. Church can also be for many of us a place of peace – a respite from our daily challenges – a place to retreat from the world and slow down as we search for answers that will endure.
As I looked at the word art that is at the top of this message, it took a long time for me to find the one word I was desperately looking for – something I need: Peace. I know I am not alone in this need. See if you can find it! It is barely noticeable. Yet, peace, comfort, patient waiting and even a call to turn our hearts to God, to seek forgiveness, are among the many themes found in our lectionary for this Sunday. Psalm 85 verse 8 tells us:
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Where is this peace to be found? Henri Nouwen tells us, “The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there, our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there, we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest, the peace which is not of this world is hidden.” (emphasis added)
I pray that you will all join us this Sunday – for a time of peace – perhaps to get some answers to the deeper questions that are challenging you. Maybe even to find peace.
Friday, December 01 2023
“May he whose second Coming in power and great glory we await, make you steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love” (Advent Blessing).
Advent is a season of faithful action, as we wait in joyful expectation for the coming of Christ in the world. As we heard in last week’s Gospel, we can look for Jesus in the oppressed of the world. We see Christ through caring for the sick, feeding the poor, and welcoming the stranger. We give thanks for all who gave to our Thanksgiving Baskets. To some of us, this year has had its share of difficult times and we ask the Lord to come into our hearts and sustain us. Please join us for Blue Christmas Healing on December 14th at 7 PM. To others, like the persecuted church of the first century, we just hope that God will help us endure to the end. Regardless of where we are right now, we know that our redeemer will come one day and put things right. Since we do not know when, we want to always be alert and ready. We come to church each Sunday to thank and give praise to God. In this Advent season, let us with steadfast faith, open our eyes and hearts to the coming of Jesus.
This Advent, let us keep awake, to see what really matters. In the words of Isaiah, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…we are the clay and you are the potter; we are the work of your hand.” Let us be clay in the potters hand on that day when the sky darkens, so that we might not fear that day, but be ready for it. Isaiah tells us that we will all fade like a leaf and wither like the grass. While we are here, let’s focus on the eternal, the things that shall not pass. Let us give testimony to the Gospel. Advent is a time when we wait for the revealing of Christ. Advent is a time of waiting and preparing. Advent is a time when we align our lives with the will of God.
Last week in my sermon, I spoke of bringing friends, family, and our community to all the wonderful events we have at this time of year at St. John’s. Please keep a holy Advent and plan to come to church these next four Sundays. Worship and prayer are what we all need to do in these troubling times as we prepare for the coming of Christ.
Our Advent calendar is a little different this year because Advent IV happens on Christmas Eve. We will have our Christmas Pageant rehearsal and the greening of the church on December 16th. On December 17th we will have a Rite I service at 8 AM and our Christmas Pageant at 10:00 AM. On Sunday December 24th we will have our Advent IV service at 9:00 AM. We will have Christmas Eve services on Sunday, December 24th at 4 PM, 7 PM, and 10 PM. Christmas morning service will be at 9 AM. I am so thankful for the dedicated folks at St. John’s that will be giving a little extra this year to make this happen.
This weekend, our youth group will be selling Christmas wreaths and flowers. Please contact Fr. Zach or Ford ASAP to reserve your wreath. Please join us on Tuesday, December 5th and 12th at 6 PM for Evening Prayer, supper, and our Advent program. Bishop Wolf will join us on December 9th at 9:00 AM for an Advent Retreat.
In Christ’s love,