Sermon from Advent 4C

I'm a bit later than usual in posting this. In a way, it's a good thing that my first Advent / Christmas Season were such that Advent 4 and Christmas Eve occurred on the same day - it can't get any worse than that. . . can it?!

Sermon Preached on Sunday, December 24, 2006
Church of the Transfiguration, Palos Park, IL
Advent 4C

Arzlee Drown was my 11th grade English teacher and her favorite expression of delight was, “That’s enough to make your socks roll up and down!” Mrs. Drown was quite a character. She introduced us to some great English literature --- Keats, Hardy, Achebe, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. But what I will remember most is the time she had us memorize the opening 26 lines of John Milton’s Paradise Lost – including the punctuation marks!

“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit / Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste / Brought death into the world, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man / Restore us, and regain the blissful seat, Sing, Heavenly Muse . . .”

That’s all I can remember – just 5 ½ lines and I’d have to cheat to put the punctuation in the right places. But on this last Sunday of Advent I recall those words – “till one greater Man / Restore us, and regain the blissful seat . . .” and I pray more fervently the words from this morning’s Psalm, “Restore us, O God of Hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”[1]

Perhaps you’ve heard the news. At least 8 churches in the Diocese of Virginia, voted to leave the Episcopal Church this week aligning themselves with 4 other churches in that diocese who have already departed to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) – a missionary offshoot of the Anglican Churches of Uganda and of Nigeria. The votes are these congregations’ responses to the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 and the election of Katherine Jefferts Schori as our new Presiding Bishop this year.

On Thursday morning, I was flipping through National Geographic over breakfast and an insert fell-out. It was a promotional piece for a new film called “God Grew Tired of Us.” The film is about the young men from the Sudan – known to us as “the Lost Boys” who traveled barefoot 1000 miles across a dessert without food or water in order to escape the bloody civil war in their country. During their travels they faced attacks by hyenas, lions, and bombings by the Northern Arab government who wanted them dead. 3800 of these Lost Boys have been resettled in the United States since 2001. In the film’s trailer, one of the Lost Boys, describing this treacherous journey says, “I thought God got tired of us.”[2]

We live in a world of brokenness, a world of isolation, a world of violence, of denigration and of degradation. Where are the broken places in your lives? Where do you feel isolated from your neighbor, from your family, from your friends? When have you felt belittled? When have you felt disrespected?

This morning I would like for us to take a walk through a brief portion of our Catechism - it is located in the back of The Book of Common Prayer. If you would like to follow along, I’m going to start midway through the Catechism at the top of page 855 in the red books in the pews. The Catechism is a great resource for those looking for a brief summary of the Church’s teachings.

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worship, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

You see how this works? Each answer to a question, leads us in to another question. Let’s go a little bit further now.

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. And you and I, as ministers of the Church, are called “to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.”

So, if small factions within our own denomination are splitting off (and I realize that in the great scheme of things this is small scale stuff) but if in addition, bloodshed in the world causes even one person to wonder if God has grown tired of us or if you, in your own life, ever wonder, “Has God grown tired of me?”, then we have lost sight of our mission. Our mission of continuing Christ’s work of reconciliation and restoration.

A moment ago, I asked you to think about the broken places in your own life and now I’d like you to think the ways in which you have tried to comfort yourself – by lashing out at someone else, by pulling back from loved ones, by binging on food or alcohol or other disruptive behaviors. How has that worked for you in the past?

We need a savior. We need a savior today as surely as the Hebrew people needed one to get them out of slavery in Egypt. We need a savior today as surely as the Jews longed for one as early as the eighth century BC when the prophet Micah was writing. We need a savior today as surely as one was needed at the beginning of the 1st century. Because my brothers and sisters, while the church’s mission is to continue Christ’s work of restoration we are still dependent on Christ for that restoration to occur.

Advent is a season of hope-filled expectation. A hope-filled expectation that God has not grown tired of us, that God has not abandoned us, that God is still present in the world and that God has dreams for us that we cannot even imagine for ourselves. Hope is that experience of knowing, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God will restore us.

As the prophet Micah writes, “And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.”[3]

And I will continue to recite those words of Milton – “till one greater Man / Restore us, and regain the blissful seat . . .” AMEN.

[1] Psalm 80:7.
[2] Film trailer and additional information about the Lost Boys of the Sudan can be found here.
[3] Micah 5:4-5a.


JRN said…
Yes, factions of our denominations are splitting off . . . and yet the far bigger split is the Episcopal's church departure from millions of Anglicans worldwide and Billions of Christians throughout history. It was to these that those who left the denomination wed themselves. Far from being divisive, then, they are united with the vast majority of Christians throughout history and throughout the world. It is TEC that has abandoned reconcilliation in favor of novel doctrine.