Overheard on the plane from O'Hare to LAX yesterday:

"I like Jeffersonian, concise, to the point; not like using so many words unnecessarily - like clean. Yea, that's what I like."

As for Jeffersonian, the context suggests the individual was referring to 'constraint' and yet, the syntax of the sentence (or, were those sentences? I couldn't quite settle on the punctuation) suggests a preference for Jeffersonian expansion . . .

Amusing nonetheless.


In the Power of That Spirit

Sermon Preached on January 21
at Church of the Transfiguration

Going to synagogue in Jesus’ time was not quite the same as church-going is for us today. The leader of a local Jewish congregation would invite an appropriate person to read and comment on the scriptures. So, for example, the leader might look around and say, “Bruce – your turn this week.” And all eyes would be on Bruce as he approached the front. An attendant would hand him a scroll and Bruce would open it up, read the passage, provide a translation for us – in Aramaic – and then explain the passage to us. Are you up for that today Bruce? I only ask because I’ve been up all night with 13 confirmands and I’m feeling a bit tired this morning.

O.k., the point is that this is the context in which Jesus reading of the scroll in Luke’s gospel appears. And, because people at the synagogue in Jesus’ time were more biblically literate than you and I are today, they were probably doing what we all do when someone begins to recite a text that we know extremely well – they listened for mistakes! So here’s what could have happened in the synagogue in Nazareth that day:

Jesus began, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”

And someone in the congregation whispers to his buddy – “Hey! I know this one. . .it’s from Isaiah”

And Jesus continues, “because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.”

Now another voice in the congregation speaks quietly to his neighbor – “wait, he got it wrong! He forgot the part about “binding up the brokenhearted.”

“Oh, let him finish anyhow.”

Jesus continues on, “to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Now the friend leans over to his buddy again and says, “he didn’t finish the verse. The verse in Isaiah ends with “the day of vengeance of our God.”

So maybe Jesus didn’t get it quite right. He misquotes Isaiah and, what the hecklers didn’t notice, is that he actually combined three verses of Isaiah that don’t normally get read together. But that’s not the impression we get from Luke’s gospel. Instead:

The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.[1]
And, what’s more, this didn’t just happen in Nazareth. It has, in fact, been happening throughout all the surrounding country. Whenever he began to teach in the synagogues we are told, he “was praised by everyone.” Later in Luke’s gospel we are told that people are astounded by “his teaching, because he spoke with authority.”[2] What is it about Jesus that even when he misquotes scripture, people are awestruck, amazed, and filled with praise? Where did this authority come from?

It is significant that this passage comes just after Luke’s account of Jesus’ 40-days of temptation in the wilderness – a passage we usually associate with the first Sunday in Lent. During this period of temptation, the devil says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus does not. Next the devil offers Jesus the opportunity to rule over all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshipping the devil. Again, Jesus refuses. Again the devil tempts Jesus saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” from the top of the temple because God will protect you. Jesus, once again, does not take the bait. [3]

The devil offers Jesus leadership filled with magic tricks that serve to impress and to frighten, leadership based on power and domination over others and Jesus refuses it all. Jesus refuses this model of leadership and chooses instead to claim his authority by lifting others up – by bringing good news to the poor, by proclaiming release to the captives and the oppressed and recovery of sight to the blind. Jesus rejects authority that is based on smoke and mirrors, rejects authority that is a selfish power trip and finds instead authority that is rooted in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s gospel reading opened with Luke reminding us that this is Jesus, “filled with the power of the Spirit” and, in fact, the portion of scripture which Jesus chooses to read in the synagogue begins, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.” [4] And let’s recall what happened at Jesus’ baptism? Luke tells us, “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”[5] This then is the clear source of Jesus’ authority – the strength behind Jesus’ ministry in the world. And this is what those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth and those gathered in the synagogues throughout the surrounding country - this is what they saw when Jesus began to teach and all eyes were fixed on him.

Having just spent the last 12 or so hours with our group of young confirmands, the service of confirmation is at the forefront of my mind this morning. The examination of the candidates for confirmation begins with the bishop asking the candidates to reaffirm the baptismal vows which have been made on their behalf.[6] This is immediately followed by a question to the rest of the congregation asking us, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”[7] We then join with the confirmands in the renewal of our own baptismal covenant.[8] This is followed by a prayer said by the Bishop which includes these words: “Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their Baptism. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them. . .” – in the power of that Spirit – this phrase refers back to that moment in our baptism when the sign of the cross is marked on our forehead and we are told, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” [9]

Just as Jesus is marked by the Holy Spirit at his baptism so too we are marked by this Spirit and just as Jesus draws his authority from the power of the Spirit so too we draw our authority from the power of the Spirit and, like Jesus, we too are bound for service – a service like Jesus’. Not a service of authority over others, nor a service of false authority through trickery, but a service of raising up those around us who are in need of the good news, who are in need of a healing word or touch, and who are in need of freedom from oppression. May God send each of us forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service set before us “that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of [God’s] marvelous works.”[10]

[1] Luke 4:20b-22a
[2] Luke 4:32
[3] Luke 4:1-13
[4] Luke 4:14a, 18a.
[5] Luke 3:22a
[6] BCP 414-5
[7] BCP 416
[8] BCP 416-7
[9] BCP 308, 418.
[10] Opening Collect, Third Sunday after the Epiphany, BCP 215.

Photo Credit: From "Power and Hegemony," Islam from Inside, November 30, 2005 accessed online on January 23, 2007.


Introducing Feminist Theology

Last Thursday night, seven women gathered at the Borders Bookstore and Cafe in Orland Park for our monthly Voices Found women's theology book group. We concluded our "in person" discussion of Anne Clifford's Introducing Feminist Theology but invite any additional conversation to take place here.

The question that seemed to generate the most discussion was, "What qualities do you associate with a saint for our own time?" We all agreed that 'spunkiness' was key . . . what are your thoughts?

We ended the evening with a brief discussion of ecofeminism which we will pick up again next month when we begin reading Sallie McFague's The Body of God. The group is open to all women whether or not they've read the book being discussed. Our next meeting is Thursday, February 15th at 7:30 p.m. at Borders in Orland Park. Hope to see you there!


It's a Miracle - of Abundance

Sunday, January 14, 2007 - Epiphany 2C

Six stone water jars each holding twenty or thirty gallons and, we are told, the servants filled them up to the brim with water. To give you some perspective, I did a little math this week: one gallon is the equivalent of 3790 milliliters and a bottle of wine contains 750 milliliters. So, six jars holding twenty to thirty gallons gives us somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of water which Jesus changed into wine. So Jesus’ now famous miracle at the Wedding at Cana involves the production of somewhere between 6 and 9 hundred bottles of wine. And, as if this weren’t amazing enough, we learn from the steward’s conversation with the bridegroom that this is not some cheap, inferior wine. No, this is good wine.

On the one hand, I suppose we could look at the details of this story that John is so careful to provide and conclude that Jesus’ first miracle – “the first of his signs” as John tells us – overshoots the mark and, in fact, is wasteful. After all, the guests are already drunk. What possible use could they have for good wine and what possible use could they have for 6 to 9 hundred bottles of good wine? But this, of course, is not a story about a miracle gone wrong nor is it a story about the way in which Jesus was wasteful of resources. Instead, it is a story that provides this kind of detail so that we can see and appreciate the abundance of God’s grace in the person of Jesus. The abundance of gifts we receive through the incarnation. We are invited, in hearing this story, to look for the abundance in our own lives, the richness we have received as God’s children.

There’s another message here as well. Let’s take a moment to examine the scene in more detail. First, Mary, the mother of Jesus, lets Jesus know that there is no wine left and she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Jesus tells them to fill the jars with water and they do. Imagine that – 6 stone jars to be filled [this image hardly does it justice!]. There is no garden hose, no faucet. This is no easy task. But the servants do the job – filling the jars up to the brim. Next Jesus tells them to take some out and give it to the chief steward. They do so. The steward tastes the wine and calls out to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Mary, the servants, the steward, and the bridegroom. Each has a part to play in this miracle. This miracle of abundance is the culmination of a process that unfolds through the work of many persons each with their own role to play – their own gift to contribute. The wine doesn’t just appear. Could Jesus have made that happen? Maybe he could have just waved his hand over the jars of water and ‘hocus-pocus’ Wine! A miracle! Maybe he could have – but he did not.

Something similar occurs at the Eucharist. It is not the action or the words of the priest. Lane and I, standing behind the altar, saying the words we say, do not make the wine become the blood of Christ. That too is a process that unfolds. The altar guild prepares the bread and the wine and sets it on the table in the back. Then, the ushers carry forward the bread and the wine as our offering to God while John and the acolytes prepare the table. And then, Lane or I stand before you and begin the opening dialogue of the Great Thanksgiving and all that we say and sing from that opening “The Lord be with you” through the doxology and the great amen is part of a single prayer of consecration which Lane or I lead on behalf of all who are gathered here. But the moment the wine becomes the blood of Christ is not some magical moment – there are no magic words that must be spoken to make it so. In fact, all of us together are the celebrants at the Eucharist. For this reason, in the Anglican tradition, there is “no celebration of the Eucharist unless at least one other person is present to receive communion with the presiding priest”.[1] “God consecrates in response to the whole Great Thanksgiving prayer” which includes both the words of the priest and the words of you – the gathered community.[2] It is a process that unfolds before us and we are the servants who prepare the table for the great miracle and we are the stewards who then taste the body and blood of Jesus Christ – the abundant gift of grace given to us as God’s children. Or, as the words of ours Psalm this morning expressed, “We feast upon the abundance of your house; you give us drink from the river of your delights.”

Through this abundant feast of the Eucharist and beyond, we continue to be called forth as God’s servants and God’s stewards. The words of our post-communion prayer make this clear: “Now send us forth . . . that we may proclaim your love to the world and continue in the risen life of Christ our Savior.”[3] Last week, Lane spoke to us about the meaning of epiphany [using this analogy] – as that time of the church year in which we celebrate the ways in which Jesus is manifested in the world – after his birth, by the arrival of the magi with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; at his baptism, by the Holy Spirit descending as a dove while a voice declares from the heaven’s, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”; and today, by the first miracle – turning water into wine – all of these signs that Jesus is the Son of God.

But there is another aspect of the Epiphany which today’s reading and the words from our opening collect this morning point us to. From the Opening Collect, “Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” Just as the magi, Jesus’ baptism, and the wedding at Cana were all signs that Jesus was the Messiah so too, you and I, through the way we choose to live our lives and through the way we minister as God’s servants and stewards are signs that Jesus is the Messiah. Through the miracle at Cana, his disciples believed in him. Through our own lives – shining with the radiance of Christ’s glory - who else might come to believe?

[1] From A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoat, p. 517 quoted in Bosco Peters, Celebrating Eucharist: A Guide and Supplement to the Eucharist in A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoat, p. 85 accessed online on January 10, 2007.
[2]Peters, p. 85.
[3] Standing Liturgical Commission 1997, Enriching Our Worship 1: Morning and Evening Prayer, The Great Litany, The Holy Eucharist (New York: Church Publishing, 1998), p. 70.


Spiritual Discipline

It's a shame really that spiritual disciplines have such an ominous moniker (technically, I should say "nickname" as I suspect the disciplines did not name themselves). In any event, the word "discipline" conjures up such an array of negative images: punishment (in fact, discipline's first definition in Merriam Webster), rules and regulations (though I'm not entirely convinced these are always bad), enforcement, control. Regardless, we have spiritual discipline. Sadly, one of the words original meanings, now obsolete, is simply "instruction" - a definition which ties disicpline closely to its Latin roots 'disciplina' (teaching, learning), from discipulus (pupil). [Again, my thanks to Merriam Webster].

In the adult forum at Transfiguration this morning I was introducing the idea of developing a Rule of Life as a viable alternative (an improvement?) to New Year's Resolutions. I suggested, as I did in my sermon last week, that resolutions start from sin and try to work us toward grace by our own volition or will power. An endeavor that will always call us up short (cf. Romans 7:5ff - notice how I avoided the messy bit about women being bound by the law to their husbands).

The disciplines, on the other hand, begin from the abundance of grace that God has given each of us through Jesus Christ. Because of God's grace, working within us, we desire to know God more fully. But, just like playing basketball (or tennis or curling, for that matter), if we want to become better at knowing God, to have a deeper experience of life in Christ, we must practice, practice, practice. And practice isn't always fun.

When I was in high school, I joined the curling team - I'd never curled before in my life. Before I showed up for practice that first day, I didn't even know what curling was. What I did know is that a girl who was a junior - and I only a freshman - asked me to join. I thought she was cool. Therefore, I said yes. If you have ever known someone who is spiritually grounded, who seems really connected to God, you might have asked them, how did you become this way. I suspect that their answer will be through prayer (or its variants: journaling, meditating, walking a labyrinth, reading the Bible, volunteering in a homeless shelter, etc.). You want what they have (in a spiritual sense), so you become willing to go to any lengths to get that for yourself. The lengths that you go to are your spiritual disciplines, your instruction to developing a deeper relationship with God and learning to live out of God's abundant grace rather than living a life based on human will power (cf. Galatians 6:8).


Education Linked to Longer Life

Some thoughts in progress . . . (i.e., rather rough and sketchy):

While there are any number of factors which impact the duration of a person's life and there are at least as many theories as to why this is so, one factor that keeps turning up at the top is education. The more education an individual has, the longer their life expectancy. According to a New York Times article published yesterday, Dr. Adriana Lleras-Muney was the first researcher to explore this link directly -to strip away all the extraneous variables (e.g., do more educated people simply seek out better health care or do they simply have more access to healthcare or ???) - and look directly at how the number of years of education directly impacts the length of a person's life.

While I do find this to be interesting, I continue to be fascinated by our fascination with living long lives. If we spent as much time (and money) exploring the ways to have a good life as opposed to just having a long life, I wonder how our world might be changed. To be sure, education is a part of having a good life - nearly half of my 37 years have been spent attending school full time and those have been good years, by and large. So, I am definitely not knocking the importance of education.

Perhaps our fascination with longevity is related to our fear of dying. Dying is no longer viewed by most as "normal." But, dying is as normal as living and as normal as breathing. Even those whom God considered righteous died (cf. Genesis 6:9, 9:29; Hebrews 11:4).

Why Religion Matters. In its introduction Smith talks about the rampant materialism of our time and argues that this pop-science view of the world is responsible for the loss of faith or the embarrassment of faith. I suspect this same materialistic understanding is what has us so fearful of death as in dying we are clearly taken over the abyss of the material to the realm of the spiritual - the speculative? -and this is a realm that is not considered to be as "real" as the stuff of our material world. So we are right back to our earliest fears --- the fear of the unknown.

"I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)


The Living Christ

Sermon Preached December 31, 2006
Church of the Transfiguration - Palos Park
1 Christmas - Year C

I spent the second half of this week in Wausau, Wisconsin where 6-9 inches of snow covered the ground. The pine tree branches were weighted down with the white stuff, roads were ice covered and slippery and, in my opinion, all was as it should be in late December. I always struggle to find Christmas when I look around and see green blades of grass, crocus pushing out of the ground, and new buds on the trees. I don’t fare too well in Florida at any time of the year, but I will always remember the one time my family decided to spend Christmas with my grandparents in Vero Beach as the greatest disappointment of my childhood. Somehow, unwrapping a shiny new sled under the tree only to realize I wouldn’t be able to use it for at least a week just didn’t cut it for me. “O, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful” or “Dashing through the snow in a one-horse, open sleigh” - my imagination simply falls short in times like these.

At breakfast on Friday, my niece, Olivia, asked me “what are you going to preach about on Sunday?” I responded, “that’s a good question! I’ll probably say something about Jesus . . . and throw in a thought or two about Christmas.” Her response was typical 4th grader, “well, duh!” She’s usually a little more profound than that. My sister was a bit more helpful. She suggested I talk about the let down of the week after Christmas after the rush leading up to the day.

The snow, conversation with family, and the inevitable return to the not-so-white suburbs of Chicago provided the backdrop to my reading the Prologue to John’s Gospel throughout the week. I was grateful for the white Christmas around me. And, I have to confess, just the thought of returning to the dull greens and browns of suburban Chicago was a bit of a downer. But all of this formed the backdrop to the words from John’s gospel washing over me.

John writes, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.” John’s gospel takes out the shepherds and the wise men, there are no angels or bright stars, there is no manger, no mention of Mary and Joseph. All that which we think of as the Christmas story is stripped away in this gospel and what we are left with is “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” And to have this reading one week after we’ve celebrated the birth of a baby Savior is perhaps exactly what we need to remind us that “the incarnation binds Jesus to the ‘everydayness’” of our experience.”[1] And that everydayness of our experience includes our moments of boredom – our experiences of let down and disappointment – as well as our experiences of joy and elation. Our everydayness includes grieving for those who are no longer with us and celebrating the lives of those who are with us only a few times a year. Our everydayness includes our annoyance at those with whom we work and live and play. And our everydayness includes accepting that there simply is no snow in the Chicago area this December. Through the incarnation, God enters this everydayness that is our lives. And it is through the incarnation that we recognize that God shares in all of these intimate, earthy, and very real bits of our humanity.

I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, this week. In it, he offers a very simple exercise:

“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.” [2]
These simple phrases repeated while you concentrate only on your breathing remind us that we can only live in the present moment and, according to Hanh, this is our most important task – to simply “be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, that the only moment to be alive is the present moment.. . . and to enjoy the present moment.”[3] Wherever you and I are in the present moment, we can know with certainty, God is with us. Whenever you and I live in the present moment, those around us can see Jesus living within us. The living God, the living Jesus – this is the power of the Christmas miracle. One commentary expressed it this way:

“The incarnation changes God’s relationship to humanity and humanity’s relationship to God. The incarnation means that human beings can see, hear, and know God in ways never before possible. . . . The relationship between divine and human is transformed, because in the incarnation human beings are given intimate, palpable, corporeal access to the cosmic reality of God.”[4]
And in the season of Christmas, all we are asked to do is to accept Jesus.

Tonight or tomorrow, many of us will engage in that age-old practice of making New Year’s resolutions, making choices about how we will live our life in the New Year. Top on the list for most of us will be to lose weight and to quit smoking. But whatever our resolution, a common supposition undergirds nearly all of them - something is lacking in us; we are not good enough as we are. And, so we make choices to change ourselves, to make ourselves more acceptable. But rather than the New Year’s resolutions we make that are largely about what we don’t like about ourselves, the incarnation calls each one of us to make a different kind of decision for our lives. Our celebration of the incarnation during Christmas invites us to choose once again to accept or to reject Jesus Christ. To all who accept Jesus – to all who choose to make a positive response to the God who loves us unconditionally – today’s gospel promises, we will be given the “power to become children of God” and “From his fullness” to receive “grace upon grace.” God accepts us. We respond by accepting God.

Noted Latin-American theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez says of acceptance - “Acceptance is the foundation of communion among human persons.”[5] The proof of this, he continues, “is expressed by the very fact that the Eucharist was instituted during a meal. For the Jews a meal in common was a sign of fellowship. It united the diners in a kind of sacred pact.”[6]

What will you decide? Will you accept or reject Jesus Christ? This morning, as we take communion together, I invite you to make anew your decision to accept Jesus as the Christ. I invite you to make anew your decision to accept those around you – with all their quirks, with all their differences and dissimilarities, with their hurts and their joys – to accept those around you, as they are - as brothers and sisters in Christ. I invite you to accept the living Jesus and to live into God’s gift to you – “grace upon grace” –through the Word made flesh.

“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.” [7]

[1] Gail R. O’Day, “John” in Luke; John, Vol. 9 of The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, edited by Leander E. Keck, Thomas G. Long, et. al., (Nashville, Abingdon Press: 1995), p. 526.
[2] Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), p. 16.
[3] Hanh, p. 17.
[4] O’Day, p. 524.
[5] Gustavo Guitiérrez, A Theology of Liberation, 15th anniversary edition with a new introduction by the author, (Maryknoll, Orbis Books: 1988), p. 113.
[6] Gutiérrez, p. 149.
[7] Hanh, p. 16.

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.