Posted by: dacalu | 5 December 2011

Acceptance and Gifts

St. Philip’s in the Hills, Tucson was kind enough to ask me to join them this morning.  The sermon changed from service to service, but here is my working draft.

Readings:

Isaiah 40:1-11 (“Comfort, comfort ye my people”)

 

Psalm 85 (“Mercy and truth have met together”)

2 Peter 3:8-15a (“The Lord is not slow about his promise”)

Mark 1:1-8 (“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness”)

 

Sermon:

Being an idealist, I’ve always found Advent slightly frustrating.

It’s a season that can’t seem to make up its mind.

Are we celebrating the messiah who came?

Or anticipating the messiah to come?

We get readings about both in the lectionary.

Weren’t Jesus and Isaiah talking about the end of the world last week?

Isn’t that what Peter is talking about this week?

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,

and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise,

and the elements will be dissolved with fire,

and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.”

I’m pretty sure that’s in the future.

We get to the Nativity by the end of the season, don’t we?

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,

and you will name him Jesus.”

I’m certain that happened in the past.  Maybe 2000 years ago…

And this week…

Well this week, we hear about John the Baptist – who came before.

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way;

What are we to make of all this back and forth?

It is both the end of the year and the beginning of a new one.

It is the same Jesus who came among us once and will come again.

I can preach a good paradox when I have to.

I’m not sure that’s where we want to go in the end,

but let’s start there.

Let us start with the paradox of John the Baptist.

Was he a Christian?

I think not.

I think he was a Christian in becoming.

A step on the path; leading up to, but not all the way there.

A fore-runner.

We get these hints in the Gospel of Mark.

John proclaimed the baptism of repentance, but was that real baptism?

Yes and no.

Jesus, he said would bring baptism of the Holy Spirit.

We even hear of some getting this second baptism in the book of Acts.

So we  have the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus.

John had knowledge, but Jesus had truth.

John was righteous and holy, but Jesus was the God Himself.

 

We get hung up on questions of definition.

It has become rather popular to ask who is

and who is not a Christian these days.

Do they baptize right?  Do they say the creed?  Do they do good works?

Do they confess the truth?  Do they take the Bible seriously?

All good questions, and all slightly missing the point.

We are, most of us, Christians in becoming,

just as John was;

not entirely there,

but, with a little grace, trying.

I think we need to accept this ambiguity, this ambivalence,

just as we accept the ambivalence of Advent;

the already and not yet of it all.

If the messiah has come,

why is the world not perfect?

If the coming messiah will set right the wrongs of the world,

why has he not come?

We live in an in between time, just as John did.

We know part of the truth, or, as Paul said,

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

In high school, I learned the Anglican response to

“Have you been saved?”

“I have been saved.  I am being saved.  I hope for salvation.”

And in seminary they put it a little more academically, as

“the already and not yet of Christianity.”

The old Eucharistic Prayer tells us:

Christ “made there by his one oblation of himself once offered

a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction

for the sins of the whole world.”

So does that do it?  Problem solved?  Death conquered?  Evil vanquished?

Yes and no.

We still sin

and yet we are coming to fruition.

We are ripening.

“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness,

but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish,

but all to come to repentance.”

Aha!  There’s that repentance again.

Good enough for John, but not quite good enough for Jesus.

We come to repentance,

but God, in response, gives us new life.

God gives us the Holy Spirit.

We live as a people promised life, and living into it.

 

Were Jesus dead, that would be the end of it,

but we don’t believe that Jesus is dead;

we believe he died.

It’s that constant continuing life that allows us to see Christ in ourselves

and in one another.

It’s that constant and continuing life that makes me a Christian,

in relationship with a Jesus who was and is to come,

but more importantly, is now.

Look around you.

The person to your left: that’s Jesus.

The person to your right: that’s Jesus.

Your spouse, Jesus.

Your kids, Jesus.

Your friends, Jesus.

And yes, your enemies: Jesus once again.

But don’t stop there.  Even those people you don’ t even think about

(And most importantly, those we are unaccustomed to think about),

Jesus.

We did say Christ “made there by his one oblation of himself once offered

a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction

for the sins of the whole world.” (also 1 John 2.2)

“they are now justified by his grace as a gift,

through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)

It is not idolatry, blasphemy, or sacrilege to say that Christ works through us

(though it would be to say that Christ works only through us).

Christ is alive in the world,

in the church,

in us,

and in countless others.

In engineering, we’d call him a prototype,

the first and most pure example,

a proof of concept if you will.

But significantly, a prototype becomes more and more valuable, the more copies are made;

its greatest value is revealed in its legacy.

A single flight at Kitty Hawk – amazing.

Three hundred thousand aircraft in the world borders on miraculous.

One pocket computer is a neat toy.

74 million iPhones is a revolution.

So Jesus was a human being in Israel 2000 years ago.

He died, but did not end in dying.

He returned and will return again.

And somewhere around 2.5 billion people are part of that –

if not more.

 

So, I think we can move beyond the paradox.

Advent is about what we have and don’t yet have,

about Jesus who was and is and is to come,

but we can think of that very concretely.

What is it you can only have by not having?

A gift.

I would challenge you to think of Advent as a time of giving and receiving gifts,

that wonderful occasion of acceptance,

when we delight in giving things away and receiving them –

not for the sake of ownership or reward, but for the sake of relationship.

It can be so easy to get caught up in having or not having

(I do it all the time).

So much in life can be enjoyed by realizing

that the important things take on value only when they are shared,

when they pass from one to another.

We are Christians, and this is where our wealth is,

in one another.

Think of Advent as a time of gift giving,

when God calls us to reflect on the gift given us in Christ Jesus.

It is not just a gift we received just once, long in the past.

(Although it is that, certainly.)

It is not just a gift we wait for longingly,

like a child shaking packages under the tree.

(Although it is that, too.)

It is a gift we are receiving,

and perplexingly, it is a gift that grows in value the more we share it.

Ask yourself,

“What do I have that would mean more if I gave it away?”

“What might I make, not for myself,

but for the sake of Jesus Christ in me reaching out to someone else?”

“What might I do, for the image of God seen in the face of another?”

That is participation in the economy of God.

That is a response to Jesus Christ, who died, but is not dead.

That is building the kingdom of God.

 

If that’s too general, let me be more specific.

I sit on campus every Wednesday with a sign that says,

“God bless everyone. No exceptions.”

I’m working to build a community of love among those faithful on campus,

a fellowship of understanding among those who cannot understand faith,

and humility, curiosity, and affection among all.

You too can build the kingdom of God,

with the gifts given you.

You have grace, joy, and faith.

You have understanding and wisdom and time.

You have one another.  All gifts.

This Advent,

find a stranger and give them the gift of your time;

they will become an acquaintance.

Find an acquaintance and give them the gift of honesty and compassion;

they will become a friend.

Find a friend and give them the gift of your silence;

listen to them and they will become a confidant.

I guarantee you will be far richer come Christmas.

The already and not yet is not God’s attempt to keep us on our toes.

(Well, maybe, but not just that.)

It is not simply a paradox and a frustration.

It is the very real experience of living the middle of a gift –

God’s gift to us,

and through us,

God’s gift to the world.

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Responses

  1. Thanks, Lucas, for your thoughtful words.
    Blessings,
    a friend from far away and close at hand


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