Advent invitations—sermon for November 30, 2014Access Denied
November 30, 2014, First Sunday of Advent:
Here are some other resources I’ve found helpful in the past week in beginning to think about what a faithful response to Ferguson and beyond might mean:
“12 things white people can actually do after the Ferguson decision“, by Dr. David Leonard
Voices to follow on FB or Twitter: Urban Cusp FB and Twitter, (Urban Cusp is is a cutting-edge online life.style magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness, founded by Rahiel Tesfamariam a Beatitude Society Fellow) ; Rev. Starsky Wilson, and the Deaconess Foundation (Rev. Wilson is co-chairing the Ferguson Commission announced recently by Gov. Nixon. The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis has a thoughtful blog here.
To listen to earlier homilies click here
Draft text of the homily, please don’t cite without permission.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”
After the weeks and months we’ve witnessed in this county and around the world
I imagine there are many who feel this way.
The Long Island Shelter closure.
Where are you God?
Immigration reform that either didn’t go far enough, or went too far.
Continuing gun violence…
How long O Lord? How long?
Ramped up wars and tensions in the Middle East.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…
Make your name known…
We each have our own lists…
A list of things that aren’t right.
That aren’t the way you planned them.
Things that don’t seem fair or just by any stretch of our imaginations.
They might be complex national issues or deeply personal ones—that diagnosis, the relapse, the bad news.
You can’t live for long on this planet and not think that something is amiss.
It’s easy to look around and wonder, quite rightly, where is God?
What have we done? (defensive)
or Look at what we’ve done…(righteously indignant)
Either way we may justifiably wonder:
Why don’t you come and do something about all this?
But the prospect of that is also pretty disconcerting…
“the sun will be darkened,
the moon will not give its light,
the stars falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
Heaven and earth passing away…
Doesn’t exactly sound like a night at the symphony.
It’s one thing to ask God to come and do something about whatever it is that troubles me; it’s something else to accept the changes that I will inevitably have to make in order for God’s reign of peace and justice—Shalom—to come about.
My newsfeed has been lit up by news and opinion about Ferguson this past week.
And I’ve experienced a range of emotions about it, most of which I still haven’t sorted out.
The issues surrounding race, and diversity, and privilege are difficult conversations we still need to have at multiple levels in this country.
And how we have these conversations is as important as any decision we come to.
After years of doing work guiding groups and communities in conversations I’m convinced that we primarily listen in order to respond…when what we need to do is listen in order to really hear someone else’s experience.
And since Advent is this liminal time…
A time of waiting and preparing and repenting…
I’ve been using the news and my own prayer time as an invitation to really listen to those voices I tend not to hear on a regular basis.
The people I know who are most affected by what is going on.
I want to hear their experience.
In their voice.
I need to.
Because one thing I have become very clear about in the last several years of my life is that I do not know what it is like to live as someone else.
As a white person I do not understand the experience of blacks, Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, or any other group.
I don’t know what it’s like to live with that reality everyday.
I need to hear it.
Not so I can respond to it, but simply so I can better understand how they perceive reality.
And just as we can learn from the fig tree the lessons of change, I need to learn from others that my view of reality is not the only one there is.
It’s true in other areas as well.
As a man I do not understand what it’s like living as a woman in this society.
As a straight, cis-gendered person I do not understand the experience of my GLBTIQ or a-sexual fellow humans.
As a well-educated, well-paid professional I don’t experience the world in the same way as someone without those privileges.
It’s not that I don’t want to understand, I do.
But it’s also true that I can’t ever really experience the world in another way.
I will always see the world through my lenses.
And because of that it is vital for me to listen, to see, to be with those who do experience the world in a different way.
Not because their way is right and my way is wrong…but because I can’t grow and change if I’m not open to meeting people where they are…to really hearing and trying to see what their lives are like.
Which means seeing myself and the culture of privilege I’m a part of in a difficult light.
Seeing myself and American culture through the lens of those not in power often feels like the world I know is crumbling…sun darkened…stars falling…powers shaken…
It’s an uncomfortable, but revelatory place to be in.
Sort of like the way I feel if I really let the words of the Great Litany sink into me.
And the invitation I hear in Advent is simply to listen.
To be attentive to what God is doing.
And where God might be appearing.
There’s a Flannery O’Connor short story called Revelation that I was reminded of this week.
It opens with Mrs. Turpin a large, looming woman sitting in a doctor’s waiting room.
She chats politely with the others, as all well-bred ladies do, but O’Connor gives us a glimpse into her thoroughly awful interior monologue wherein she spends most of her time categorizing people into a hierarchy from “trashy” to “well-bred.”
Everyone in the waiting room causes Mrs. Turpin some degree of offense, but none more so than Mary Grace, an “ugly-faced” young woman. A Wellesley student home on summer break.
The tension in the scene builds until Mary Grace filings the book on Human Development she’s reading at Mrs. Turpin striking her directly over her left eye.
In the ensuing commotion Mary Grace ends up grabbing Mrs. Turpin and staring into her eyes and whispering…“Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog.”
Mary Grace is subdued and taken away, but this unjustified message sinks deeply into Mrs. Turpin.
“She had been singled out for the message, though there was trash in the room to whom it might justly have been applied. The full force of this fact struck her only now. There was a woman there who was neglecting her own child but she had been overlooked. The message had been given to Ruby Turpin, a respectable, hardworking, church-going woman.”
She broods on it the rest of the day, and that evening she receives a revelation.
That evening she looks up to the sky and complains loudly to God.
“Why me? she rumbled. It’s no trash around here, black or white, that I haven’t given to. And break my back to the bone every day working. And do for the church.”
She braced herself for a final assault and this time her voice rolled out over the pasture.
“Go on,” she yelled, “…Put that bottom rail on top. There’ll still be a top and bottom!”
We fundamentally miss the message of the gospel if we see it simply as a reversal of the current state of affairs—God isn’t interested in mere reversals.
God is interested in transformation.
Her rage spent, Mrs. Turpin stops.
Looking up at a purple streak in the sky, O’Connor writes,
“A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of blacks in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right…They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away…
“In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.”
Advent is this liminal time. A time of waiting and preparing and repenting. Waiting for God to come among us again, preparing the way of God, and repenting or returning to the way of God.
It’s an invitation to stop and listen…really listen to the voices you don’t often hear, maybe even those you’d rather not hear.
Remembering that it is among the marginalized that God first appears…
It’s an invitation to stop and watch and listen for where God is in the process of becoming.
Advent is a time when we find ourselves in the wilderness—this desert between what we know to be sure and the dark uncertainty of the future…
Between what you know and experience, and who you are really called to be
A time to keep awake—pay attention—to look around and really see that we are all God’s people and we are all marching toward the reign of God…and in doing so we will all be changed.
We all are struggling to follow God’s grace-filled light into that future ablaze with the glory of God—where our vices and our virtues are being burned away until all that is left is love.