Monday, December 6, 2010

Welcome to the Journey, pilgrim brothers and sisters!

Sermon for Advent 1

Wake up, pilgrim brothers and sisters!

Having just celebrated Thanksgiving,
if I were to say the word ‘pilgrim’ to you,
I imagine you would think of the first immigrants who
shared a bountiful meal with those native to our country.
The word pilgrim, however,
has another meaning that we are less likely to immediately consider –
it’s the religious significance of pilgrim and pilgrimage:
a pilgrim is one who undertakes a pilgrimage or journey toward
a destination or people that is significant,
often referred to as a religious pilgrimage.
Today, we begin a pilgrimage of our own.
We are pilgrims not like those in 1621,
but pilgrims on a journey of big and bold hope.

Big and bold hope, you might ask?
Yes, big and bold hope.
With these readings today?
All I hear is doom and gloom, judgment and destruction,
carrying away and left behind.
Yes, we are pilgrims setting out in big and bold hope…
Because Advent is about readying ourselves for the
coming of the One who is Lord of heaven and earth
as the One who will set right all that is
twisted and distorted in our lives and this world.
We are readying ourselves to welcome God’s plan coming together.
That, dear friends, is a journey of big and bold hope .

Isaiah is bold as he proclaims God’s judgment and anger
turned to care and salvation for the world.
It is written that all peoples will awaken to LORD their God.
They will make a pilgrimage to the house of the Lord to
learn God’s ways and
walk the pathways of God and
they will turn their warring instruments into agricultural tools.
Those are, indeed, visions and words of big and bold hope.

In Romans we encounter Paul –
confident and sure in his bold claims that
the early Christians knew what time it was!
The time to wake from sleep!
“People!” he says,
“What God is doing in Jesus Christ is nearer to completion
than when you first believed!
Get with it!”

In our gospel, Matthew, appears to have been surrounded by
sleepy people who have long since stopped
expecting and preparing for the return of their Savior.
They tend their fields and complete the grinding but
falter at watching and praying for Jesus to return.

Perhaps, as time passed without their Savior’s return,
it got hard to hope big and bold.
Perhaps they were persecuted or
ostracized for their belief in Jesus as the Savior.
Perhaps they suffered under oppression of
those governing their cities and territories.
Perhaps they suffered hunger or homelessness,
illness or judgment and wrath.

It’s hard to know what really was going on,
but using Jesus’ dramatic, startling words
Matthew warns his community to wake up.

Our Advent Journey invites us and calls us to wake up, too.
Our pilgrimage today begins with a jolt – wake up!
All around us we see people going through life as if sleepwalking.
Sometimes that person is us.

Wake up, God insists, from the dull, numbing routines of life.
Wake up you who have faltered and no longer pray.
Wake up, God insists, oppression mounts on your hungry and
out of work neighbor.
Wake up from despair, grief, resentments.
Wake up and mend your relationships.
Wake up and reflect on the ways in which we use our time,
fret over time or feel like it’s not even ours.

Wake up, God says, I surprised the world as a baby and
I continue to surprise now.
It is into your everyday, normal, mundane lives that I
break in with judgment and mercy and grace.

That is the promise in Scripture –
A God who doesn’t stay distant but comes into our everyday lives.
A God who doesn’t stay mad,
but whose judgment is turned to mercy and care and salvation.
We hear it in Isaiah, in Paul and in Matthew.

And, yet, for us, too, it gets hard to hope big and bold.
Like the ancient peoples of scripture,
we look around us and see little
rescue and redemption of all creation reflected in this world.

Bold hope that weapons might be turned into plowshares seems
naïve and foolish with
Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine and
North and South Korea now lurching maniacally toward war.

Bold hope for all peoples to know that God is their God
flies in the face of the declining numbers of people who
gather as a community to participate in the spiritual practices of
prayer, praise and table fellowship.

Bold hope for all peoples to build healthy relationships with
one another, themselves and their bodies breaks apart when
girls and boys are bullied from a young age because
of the way they look, talk, and act or don’t look, talk and act.

But, we are called to be people of big and bold hope,
not because of what we do,
but because of the One who Promises,
the one who does not fail.

Our hope is rooted in a God who attends to the needs of humanity –
a God that does not stay distant.
We are able to hope big and bold because
the risen Christ comes to us and
holds the hope for us when we falter under its weight.

About 4 months ago, God surprised me.

It was an ordinary weekday here at First Trinity,
I don’t remember which.
There were several people coming and going and the doorbell kept ringing.
And, I found myself getting annoyed by the interruptions.

One time I answered and I recognized the voice of
one of our community from the homeless shelter across the street.
She said she needed a Bible and I said, ok, I’d bring her one.
I stopped in the parlor and grabbed
One of the New Testament Bibles that we give out when someone asks.

I met her at the door and she showed me how
hers was being held together by rubber bands and
it was breaking down because she had to role it up to keep it safe.
I handed her the new one which she looked at and she was clearly unhappy.
And she says to me, “This won’t do, this isn’t the Bible…”

I could feel things start to escalate and I said to her,
“well, that’s all we’ve got and besides,
you should take a look in there, I hear it’s really good stuff”.
It was just enough and the next thing I knew she was laughing a little and leaned in to serendipitously give me a lovely little kiss on my cheek.

I have no doubt that I was kissed by Christthat day
and it all happened in the
mundane, ordinary and interruptedness of everyday life.

Advent is a pilgrimage of the heart and mind that holds
big and bold hope every day.
A pilgrimage that opens our eyes and awakens our heart to
the continual return of Jesus in and through our neighbor.

Wake up, pilgrim brothers and sisters, let us be on our way. Amen.

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