Posted by: dacalu | 31 December 2018

The ‘Good Parts’ Version

Today, I joined the people of St. Stephen’s to celebrate the first Sunday after Christmas. Most of us think of the Christmas Season as the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. On the church calendar, it includes four weeks of preparation, called Advent, and a full 12 days of celebration. And so, this Sunday falls within “Christmastide.”

 

Prayer for the Day

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 (“he has clothed me with the garments of salvation”)

Psalm 147:13-21 (“He declares his word to Jacob.”)

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 (“you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”)

John 1:1-18 (“to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”)

 

Sermon



What does it mean to be children of God?
	I have heard many sermons about God’s love for us.
	For me, that is an important piece of it.
		Only by being truly loved, can we learn to love truly.
	But, the more I think about childhood in the Ancient world,
		and the more I reflect on texts like these,
		the more I believe that they have another message in mind.
In Galatians, Paul distinguishes between servants or slaves,
	for whom obedience is the only path,
	and heirs who share in the decisions and power of the household.
Young children live like servants.
	They follow the rules established by their parents,
		until they understand the world
		well enough to blend action with intention.
	They have guardians and teachers,
		who protect them,
		but who also tell them what to do.
As children grow, they learn to make decisions.
	They learn self-discipline, discernment, and creativity.
They have more choices, more freedom, and more responsibility.
They begin to work with their parents
	to navigate the world.

This can be both a blessing and a burden.
	As young children, we want the freedom to eat whatever we want.
	As adults, we often wish we had others to make our food for us,
		to choose healthy, balanced meals.
	As young children, we long for fewer restrictions,
		bed times, play times, meal times,
		who we see, where we go, and what we do.   
	As adults, we wish the choices were easier,
		the consequences clearer,
		and the stakes lower.
	As young children we want to make our own decisions,
		but the older we get, the more we value truly good advice.

This may be why so many choose to remain child-like,
	when it comes to faith, the bible, and the church.
They want a clearly-defined path to salvation.
They want angels or ministers or some other authority figure
	to tell them how to succeed at life,
	the rules to follow and the things to avoid.
I admit to feeling this myself at times.

“Why can’t God be clearer?”
“Why must I wade through the challenges of body and money and community?”
“Why can’t faith be easy?”

To be honest,
	I always want to make the important decisions myself,
		and let someone else handle the details.
	I don’t really want to lose control.
		I just want a simplified world,
		where the important choices are clearly labelled,
			and the consequences clearly known.
	I would like someone else to set this all before me
		and then take care of the trivial bits,
		once I’ve made my decision.
Sigh.
I suppose I want minions,
	servants and slaves who will deal with all the other stuff.

The older I get,
	the more I realize it’s all other stuff.
Life, much like clothing, cars, and computer programs,
	is entirely composed of trivial bits,
	that become something more, only together.
A friendship may have a mountaintop moment,
	a shared trial or celebration,
	but it is, by and large, made up of daily interactions,
	hellos and goodbyes and thank yous.
A marriage may benefit from romance and roses,
	but it is built on the mundane work of helping one another
	with the chances and changes of life,
	the choices we struggle over daily:
		bed times, play times, meal times,
		who we see, where we go, and what we do.

Jesus was both magical and exceptional,
	but that’s not the important part.
Jesus was fully human.
	He worked, ate, laughed, cried, celebrated, and mourned.
	He did not replace the lives of his disciples,
		he entered them.
	He did not forbid food;
		he blessed it.
	He did not eliminate our errors;
		he forgave them.
	He did not force us to love him;
		he loved us instead.
These are the things he could not have done
	from far away or long ago.
They are not abstract rules,
	but concrete, miniscule, daily actions:
	food and drink and money and community,
	messy, frustrating, infuriating, tangible life.
That is the gift of the Incarnation:
	Emmanuel, God with us.

If you have ever had a true friend,
	a loyal partner in work,
	a devoted team mate at play,
	or a true love,
then you know.
Relationships come from the moments in between the pictures.

A friend of mine gave thanks this Christmas for spit.
	This would not have occurred to me.
	She suffered a few years back from an illness,
		that dried her mouth and made eating difficult.
Saliva gets none of the glory,
	but where would we be without it?

Another friend passed away this week.
As I remember her life,
I think about all the times she quietly made church possible.
She cooked and cleaned and voted and gave,
	and led, and challenged leaders,
	and took our love out to the world,
	and brought the world’s needs back.
She worshipped and sang and spoke and listened,
	but above all, she was fully present.

I remember this well because,
	as a young child, few things mattered so much
	as an adult who was fully present.
She did not see me as an ornament or extension of my parents,
	a nuisance, or even a potential person.
She saw me as me,
	another person navigating the world.
 
God did exactly this in Jesus Christ.
He lived with us in our messy, frustrating, infuriating, tangible life.
He treated us as children and heirs.
He gave us power and choices even when we did not want them.

The vast majority of our choices,
	life choices, household choices, true spiritual choices,
	bombard us with their mundane regularity.
The God who is all good and all powerful
	gives us daily moments of grace and salvation.
We ignore the common and ask why God hides from us.
	Perhaps we should be looking for God
		in the minutiae of life.
How could it be more obvious
	than bread and wine, breath and water?


Some of you may have seen the movie, The Princess Bride.
Fans will know that it is based on a book by William Goldman.
The full title reads:
	The Princess Bride: 
S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure,
the ‘good parts’ version.
Goldman tells us that he has abridged the original story,
	leaving in the adventure, comedy, fantasy and drama,
	but cutting out all the boring bits.
This is, of course, a literary device.
Goldman wrote a rip-roaring tale that was only 
adventure, comedy, fantasy and drama.
There never were any boring bits.

This season, I invite you to meditate on the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The man in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
Jesus ate and drank…and all of those other biological functions.
	He led a messy, frustrating, infuriating, tangible life.

I refuse to believe that one minute of that life was wasted.
	Jesus’ childhood was not simply a prologue,
	a set up for the real action on the cross.
Every moment meant something:
every hello and goodbye and thank you.
 
We can live that way as well.
God does not tell us exactly what to do and how to do it.
God does not give us orders like young children,
	incapable of understanding.
We may not understand yet,
	but we are capable of learning.
We have the chance to meet God now,
	in things no less ordinary,
	and no less miraculous
	than spit.

There are no boring bits.
There are fast bits and slow bits, happy bits and sad bits, 
tragedy and comedy and adventure and fantasy.
The crux of our salvation took place in a manger,
	and at a Temple,
	and on a cross
	two thousand years ago.
It takes place today.

Sometimes the dragon is there to be slain,
	or, perhaps, to be discovered, confronted, and understood.
Sometimes we, ourselves, provide the comic relief.
Sometimes, the whole thing gets so intense
	that we must stop and breathe
	and rethink the whole business.
We live in the ‘good parts’ version of life.

Many will try to discourage you.
	They will call themselves realists 
and say that the world isn’t really like this.
There is so much suffering.
There is so much darkness, ignorance, and intolerance.
They look at the world, 
	and hear the good news of Jesus Christ and say
“Inconceivable”

If you’ve watched The Princess Bride, 
then you know the appropriate response.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
 
The world is not limited by our imagination.
Nor is it as predictable as we would like it to be.
This is, after all, a good thing.

The light shines it.
Jesus transformed the world by
	making daily life extraordinary.

 

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