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Posted on Jan 21, 2018

Belonging vs. fitting in—sermon for 21 January 2018

Belonging vs. fitting in

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Photo Credit: cdsessums Flickr via Compfight cc

January 21, Third Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 62:6-14
Jonah 3:1-5,101 Corinthians 7:29-31Mark 1:14-20

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Last week, we started talking about belonging.

What does it mean to belong?

Belonging is something we all want. Something we all desire.

But it’s more than just a desire. Belonging is a deep, and profound need that humans have.

It is “an irreducible need,” [1] says author and scholar Brené Brown.

If you don’t know who Brené Brown is, I’d encourage you to google her, and watch her Ted talks, read her books. She’s a popular author, and a researcher in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston. She’s spent years studying courage, shame, vulnerability, and belonging.

She says that what those years of research have revealed to her is that humans are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.

But belonging is not as easy as it sounds…it’s actually incredibly hard work. Belonging is not the same as simply showing up…or signing up…its not just a matter of transferring membership, or renewing a subscription, or crossing the aisle.

“Belonging,” says Brene Brown, “is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.”

But…she goes on, “Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval.” Which are not the same thing.

We desperately want to belong…to something bigger than ourselves…and we want this so badly that we will do whatever it takes to achieve this…by trying to fit in.

But fitting in, says Brown, is just a hollow substitute for belonging, and actually erodes true belonging.

Here’s the very pithy way she puts it, ““If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”

“Belonging,” she says, “is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other. Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.” [2]

We do this all the time. We want to belong, and we settle for fitting in. Which causes problems. And the church is not immune to this…in fact, it might be especially susceptible to it.

Sometime around the year 50 CE a convert to the new Jesus Movement…a former Pharisee known as Paul…established a community of believers in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul felt strongly that his call was to ministry among the Gentiles. Most likely, these were non-Jews who were very interested in Jewish ethics and may have even tried to patten their lives in similar ways—who were trying to fit in to a Jewish way of life. Paul also felt strongly that in raising Jesus from the dead, God was signaling that the end of time, when all would be gathered under God’s reign had begun. We hear that in today’s reading…”the appointed time has grown short…and the present form of this world is passing away.”

Corinth was, at the time, the most important city in Greece, it was a bustling, multi-ethnic seaport, the capital of its Roman province. Over a year and a half Paul lived there and founded a community, and then left for Ephesus (which is probably where he was when he wrote 1 Corinthians). He stayed in touch with the churches he founded through letters, seven of which we have, and scholars mostly concur that these 7 were actually, and authentically written by Paul—1 Corinthians is one of those. It’s important to note that while we have Paul’s responses to churches in Corinth, Galatia, Thessolonica, Phillipi and Rome we don’t have any of their letters to Paul. We’re always getting only one side of the conversation.

The content of Paul’s letters focus on conflicts that these communities are experiencing. So we can infer that their letters were something like: “Since you left, here’s what’s been happening…what do you think?…Any helpful advice?” And Paul is never short on what he thinks they should do.

And what is the central issue for the church in Corinth? It’s a conflict over belonging.

At the opening of the letter Paul says, “It has been reported to me…that there are quarrels among you…each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’ [Peter], or ‘I belong to Christ.’ (1 Cor 1:11-12). Paul wasn’t the only itinerant preacher going around spreading the gospel, there was Apollos and Peter, and probably others as well. And the good folks at Corinth had started taking sides…desperate for belonging and connection they gravitated to leaders whom they liked, or who said the things they agreed with, or who their neighbors sided with…they started fitting in and insisting others fit in as well and factions were born.

Technology has changed…we have texts and snapchat and tweets instead of letters, but that desire to belong is still strong.…it’s so strong in fact that like our ancestors in the faith we’re wiling to trample all over other people’s desire and right to belong so that we can feel like we belong…We confuse belonging with fitting in. We want to belong, but we settle for fitting in…and we force others to fit in too. Come join us! Be part of the team! We have the answers! We know what’s right! We’re team Apollo! (or insert a contemporary reference). No, we know what’s right, we’re team Paul! You’d better do it the way we do it!”

Paul is clearly flabbergasted by this, responding, “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” What is going on? But once he moves past this, his response centers on true belonging rather than fitting in.

The world couldn’t figure out God through wisdom, he says (and I’m paraphrasing his response), so God decided to reach us through something that sounds totally crazy…the death and resurrection of Jesus. For some demand a sign and others desire wisdom, “but we proclaim Christ crucified.”  That’s it.  Our belonging to God, and to one another, is based on this and nothing else. It’s based on our recognition of what God has done for us. Period. Full Stop. Because we find our true identity in Christ, we are free to grow into our whole selves—our true selves—and to bring that whole self into all of our relationships.

But again, it’s not a easy as it sounds. The rest of Paul’s letter is trying to help the Corinthians work out what this really means in their context. Which is also what we have to do.

It’s not easy for us either. We need to be vigilant about making sure that when we invite people into this community, that we are intentionally welcoming and inviting their whole selves—and not simply asking them to fit in…”you’re welcome to come be just like us” is not the message we want to send. We want people to belong.

We live in a time when true belonging is becoming rarer and more desperately needed. It has always taken a special courage to experience true belonging, and it’s hard work.

In her most recent book, Brené Brown writes, the special courage to truly belong today is about, “breaking down the walls, [it’s about] abandoning our ideological bunkers and living from our wild heart rather than our weary hurt. We’re going to need,” she says, “to intentionally be with people who are different from us….We’re going to have to learn how to listen, [how to] have hard conversations, [how to] look for joy, share pain and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.” [3]

If the church has a call and a mission, it seems to me that this is a big part of it…because we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to some, and foolishness to others…but because our truest identity is found reflected in God’s loving care for us, we are free—and called—to live as examples of true belonging. May God give us the strength and the courage to live into that freedom.

Amen.

[1] Brown, Brené (2010-09-20). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Suppose to Be and Embrace Who You Are (p. 26). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.

[2] Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, p. 160

[3] IBID p. 36.

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Posted on Jan 14, 2018

The puzzle of belonging—sermon for 14 January 2018

The puzzle of belonging

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Photo Credit: joeldinda Flickr via Compfight cc

January 14, Second Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 139:1-5,12-17
1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)1 Corinthians 6:12-20John 1:43-51

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

These are the first two sentences in the parish profile that was used to call me as your rector four years ago.

“When parishioners at All Saints are asked what they most value, the word “community” comes up time and again. It is what brings us to All Saints as well as what keep us at All Saints.” 

Back in 2013, I had to trust the truth of that statement, and four years later, I can say that I have experienced it’s truth. Community is a value we hold here. I value this community that my family and I have grown to be a part of.

I also know that “community” is one of those Big Meaningful Words that gets used a lot in church, like “Mission,” and “Stewardship,” and “Formation.” “Community” sounds less churchy than those, but it’s still one of Those Words that means very different things to different people…but it sounds good so we use it…a lot!

But what do we really mean when we claim to be a community?

Community is really about an experience of belonging…when we say “I’m part of this community”…or when we say, “what we love about All Saints is that it’s a community”… that’s a confession of belonging…

We’re saying, “I feel like I belong here.”

And that’s wonderful.

But it also means that there have to be others who don’t feel that way…who don’t belong…

Peter Block, who has written extensively on community formation and engagement says: this communal sense of belonging is “the opposite of thinking that wherever I am, I would be better off somewhere else.” [1] The opposite of belonging is feeling isolated. We feel like that way too often in our world. There are plenty of places you can go and feel like you don’t belong… to feel isolated…Where are those places where we feel like we do belong? And how do people come to feel like they belong here? What’s that process?

I mean be honest, you didn’t always feel like you belonged here. There was a time when you didn’t belong, and there was probably a period when you weren’t sure whether you belonged or not? But something happened…and you came to feel like, “I belong here.” What’s that process for others?

It’s totally normal to go through periods of feeling more or less connected to various communities. It’s very possible that some of you here today, aren’t sure whether you belong or not. Maybe this is just a place you come for an hour or so a week, and that’s fine, but you don’t really feel like you belong…and when you hear things like “Community is what brings us to All Saints,” you might think, “that’s true for you…but for me…meh.” What do we do with that?

We have an awful lot of people who come through this building every week who fall into that category. The 12 step groups…the kids and parents of the Corner Co-Op, the Evergreen Korean church, all the choral groups, and clubs that meet here…Are they part of our community? Do they belong to us? Do we belong to them?

Peter Block points out that belonging carries a couple of different meanings: Belonging as membership…and belonging as ownership. This iPad belongs to me. Those hymnals belong to the church. To be part of a community…to really belong to a community…means more than simply showing up…it means becoming co-owners and co-creators. It means committing my time, my gifts, my resources to something that I think is important…something bigger than me…something that is necessary for all of us to build and nurture…not just for my sake…but for the sake of others…for the sake of the community…

To be part of a Christian community means more than simply showing up…it means becoming co-owners and co-creators with God, and one another, of the kind of communities that God dreams of. But how do we do that? What does that look like?

Our scriptures over the next several weeks are filled with call narratives…Samuel, Jonah, Phillip, Andrew, Peter, James and John. It’s important to hear those…important to let them resonate with your own call narratives…with your own sense of how God is calling you into this larger project that we’re engaged in…but the lectionary also pairs these multiple call narratives with snippets from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians…which is really interesting.

Because First Corinthians is all about the difficulties faith communities face as they try to figure out what God is really calling them to do and to be. It’s what happens after the call narrative…after we say, “yes”…after we show up…now what? How do we really come to belong to one another? How are we supposed to relate to others in our community? How do we engage a world that doesn’t necessarily share our values? How do we tolerate, or appreciate, or even celebrate differences in our own community? What does it mean to be a community? To belong?

First Corinthians is a great example of a community trying to figure all this out…largely without a map. Remember Paul’s letters are the earliest writings we have of the new Jesus movement. The only scriptures they had were the Hebrew scriptures…none of what came to be the four canonical gospels had been written. Mark, the earliest gospel account was still twenty years or so in the future when Paul was writing to the Corinthians. This letter shows Paul wrestling with these real world questions.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be using 1st Corinthians to help us reflect on these same questions: what does it mean to belong to a community? How do people come to feel like they belong…what gets in the way? How do we hold our differences without letting them tear us apart? What is necessary after responding to the call, after we say, “I believe?” What kind of community does God need us to become?

It’s not necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt if you sat down and read all of First Corinthians. Along with the audio and text of this sermon, I’ll post some really good, short video and study guides on 1st Corinthians.

[Here’s a great, short, series put out by Yale Divinity School]

Peter Block says that there is a third meaning to belonging. It can also be thought of, he says, “as a longing to be. [And] being is our capacity to find our deeper purpose in all that we do. It is the capacity to be present, and to discover our authenticity and whole selves…Community is the container within which our longing to be is fulfilled.” [2] It seems to me, that whatever else we mean by it, that’s a pretty good core definition for what we mean when we talk about “community” here, we want All Saints to be the container for people to discover their whole selves, find their deeper purpose, and share in the co-creation of God’s dream.

[1]  Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging . Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[2] Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging . Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Posted on Jan 10, 2018

Evensong—Celebrating the Ordination of Li Tim-Oi, the First Woman Priest in the Anglican Communion

Sunday, 21 January 5:00 p.m.

The Choir of All Saints, conducted by Christian Lane, leads us in a choral Evensong celebrating the life and legacy of The Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi the first woman ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion in Hong Kong, 1944.

Music of Judith Bingham, Nico Muhly, Gabriel Jackson, and Morten Lauridsen are included. The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden will preach. An organ recital immediately precedes the service at 4:30 p.m.

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Posted on Jan 7, 2018

In the beginning…(again). Sermon for 7 January 2018

In the beginning…(again)

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Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Creation, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

January 7, First Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 29 
Genesis 1:1-5Acts 19:1-7Mark 1:4-11

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Epiphany is bounded by two experiences. Baptism and Transfiguration. One in the river. One on the mountain.

After these astronomers from the East have left their gifts and departed as mysteriously as they came, we suddenly find ourselves back in the desert, staring once again at the haunting figure of John the baptist, with his curious dress and bizarre eating habits…And before you know it, we are plunged into the river Jordan along with a suddenly fully grown Jesus, and then week after week in this season of Epiphany we hear this same Jesus continually calling us…inviting us…luring us…into joining his ministry of fulfilling God’s mission…proclaiming the nearness—the very present reality—of God’s reign…binding up whatever is broken…setting free what has been imprisoned…reconciling all of creation to our creator.

And if we answer that call, and follow…then before we know it, we’re on top of a mountain…with Jesus transfigured before us—clothes dazzling white—is that Moses and Elijah with him?— and we hear a voice…an echo of something we’ve heard somewhere before…”this is my son, the beloved…” Of course, then we are thrown back out into the desert again…the desert of Lent.

Two experiences…two epiphanies…if you will…or really two theophanies…two direct encounters with God…with the divine…one in the river…one on the mountain.

Epiphany is bounded by these two experiences…our entire faith journey is bounded by these two experiences…and what Epiphany asks of us…what our whole faith journey asks…is that we somehow hold them together. These two paradoxically identical, and very different experiences…

The mountain top…the blaze of glory…the sudden clarity of a vista that extends for miles…the lucidity of a vision that propels you forward…it’s that shining star we follow in the dark…

And the river bed in the desert…the dark, chaotic, swirling current in the midst of the dryness…that place where life and death are only a breath apart…that place we go when our hopes have been dashed…when we have lost sight of that star…when our vision is clouded…when the light appears to have gone out…

The river is where we go when our options have run out…when we don’t have many other choices…when we need refreshment…when our only option is recuperation…renewal…repentance…when we need to start over (and we are always starting over, aren’t we?)

The mountain is where we long to be…it’s where we can see the farthest…where our heroes tend to live…it’s where we want to stay…up there with them…up in the clouds of our imagination…but it’s not where most of us live most of the time…and it’s not where we’re called to be…

We always return to the river…to the water…to start again…

The prayer we use to consecrate water for baptism emphasizes that the river water takes us all the way back to the very beginning…when God began creating…and the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…the deep in Hebrew is tehom it’s the chaotic watery abyss over which the Holy Spirit moves and breathes life into creation…

It is through water that God rescues the Israelites…liberating them from the bondage of captivity…and ushering them into a land of promise…

It’s through water that Jesus is baptized…and it is in baptism that we are “buried with Christ in his death, [by water] we share in his resurrection, and through [water] we are reborn by the Holy Spirit” (BCP 306).

However much we might long for the crystalline clarity of that mountain top experience, our journey always takes us back down into those dark, watery depths…the place of mystery…the place of uncertainty…the place of surrender and beginning again…

Or maybe that’s just me and how I experience my life…maybe you’re able to just stay up on that mountain…no need to start over…and over…and over…but I doubt it.

One thing that Epiphany teaches…one key lesson that the bookending of these events in Epiphany imparts is how important it is to listen for that echo…

to remember that both the mountain and the river are encounters with the divine…both epiphanies…and God’s voice…God’s presence…is real in both of them.

What the Epiphany journey—from river to mountain—reveals is that even in the depths of the dark swirling chaos of our lives…God is with us. Always and everywhere.

If we remember that voice… and remember what it says…”you are beloved.” If we remember that…whenever we begin again…then we start to see that everywhere we look, we can catch a glimpse of God at work…and anywhere we go, we hear echos of that voice…reminding us that God is here, and we are beloved.

And as we begin again and gain and again, as we learn how to hold these two experiences together we will start see that the whole of creation filled with that divine light…and that we really do have nothing to fear.

Amen.

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Posted on Dec 25, 2017

Scandalous—sermon for Christmas Eve

Scandalous

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Photo Credit: Julien Ducenne Flickr via Compfight cc

December 24, Christmas Eve:

Psalm 96;
Isaiah 9:2-7Titus 2:11-14Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

It’s probably my age, but I cannot hear this gospel, with out hearing it in the voice of Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas

Watching that was one of the holiday traditions in my family; along with my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Christmas is a season filled with traditions. Traditions some you probably look forward to, others you might simply endure…

Telling this story from Luke, with the shepherds, and the manger, along with the story of the Magi from Matthew, form the core of this traditional story that we all know so well. Is it the most well-known story in the world? I wonder. Maybe Star Wars is more universally known at this point? Star Wars certainly generates more interest and social media activity than this, but both are deep in our cultural knowledge.

We love Luke’s story, but it’s so familiar, and has been so romanticized that it’s really hard to see it or hear it fresh. It becomes this static tableau, with way-too-perfect figures, in a ridiculously sanitized animal stall, gazing in wonder at an unnaturally quiet infant…everything about it utterly devoid of any semblance of reality.

Reality does echo through our readings. “The boots of tramping warriors…the garments rolled in blood,” those things are real, but they’re hard to deal with…just look at this pretty picture of the lady and the baby.

But here’s the thing….

The surprise of the nativity story…

the shock of it,…the scandal of it…has really nothing to do with angels, and shepherds and virgin births…

It’s not even this really bold claim that on this night God came and acted decisively in the world (because God has never left the world, and God has never stopped acting in it).

The surprise,

the shock,

the scandal of this story is that God becomes embodied.

God takes all of the reality of our world including, and especially the flesh, and bone, and blood, and breath, and joins us in it.

God becomes human. Totally.

Becomes us.

So that we might become divine.

People were scandalized by this then…and we’re still scandalized by it.

It’s why we try to sanitize it so much.

Try to preserve it in the amber of nostalgia.

Hidden beneath the cozy candlelit glow of the wonderful story is an utterly shocking reality.

God, who is without flesh…becomes flesh.

God, who is invisible…can be seen.

God, who is timeless…has a beginning and an end…a birth and a death.

As our ancestors in the faith put it…God shares in the poverty of our flesh so that we might share in the riches of God’s divinity. God becomes human so that we might become divine. [paraphrased from Oration 38, quoted from Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, J. Robert Wright, ed.]

That’s scandalous.

That the salvation of the world is accomplished through the birth of a child.

Through the incarnation.

Through the flesh and blood of birth and life.

That is mind-blowing

We are saved because God joins us and becomes one of us… fully human…fully enfleshed…

But what about the cross? The sacrifice on the cross is a price demanded by us…because we won’t understand and continue to reject this kind of absolute, self-emptying love.

The cross is the price demanded by the world, because we refuse to accept that the mode of God’s love is always to join in solidarity with the poorest, the weakest, the most broken…to join so completely and so intimately that God becomes the smallest, weakest, most vulnerable thing we know…an infant.

God acted and accomplished on this day—our redemption—the redemption of the world by becoming weak, vulnerable, and embodied so that we might have the strength and courage to do the same.

The story in Luke is beautiful.

But our world is dark, and frightening, and making a connection between this lovely pastoral manger scene and the hurly-burly of our daily lives is tough…

It’s a lovely picture, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with me…

with my life…

And if it’s only a pretty picture…a nice story…that’s probably true…but tonight, I want to invite you to really open yourself up to the shocking reality that Christmas points to.

That God the transcendent…the uncreated…Timeless…invisible God…By whom and through whom all things were made…has become flesh and blood…has entered the world through a woman’s body…has given up absolutely everything to become a human being…to become one with us…

So that we might finally see and be brave enough to do likewise, and follow where God leads. Amen.

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Posted on Dec 10, 2017

The Messengers—sermon for 10 December 2017, Advent 2

The Messengers

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Sargent, John Singer, 1856-1925. Frieze of the Prophets – study, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=50277 [retrieved December 10, 2017]. Original source: http://www.mfa.org/.

December 10, Second Sunday of Advent:

Psalm 85:1-2,8-13;
Isaiah 40:1-112 Peter 3:8-15aMark 1:1-8

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

God sends messengers.

God sends a messenger…a prophet…Isaiah…to a people in exile.

Toward the end of the 6th century BCE, Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonian empire.

Much of the leadership was marched off to captivity in Babylon.

Where for more than 80 years they lived in exile from their home, knowing only about Jerusalem from the stories Isaiah and other prophets remembered and told.

The picture these prophets paint of Jerusalem before the exile is not a pretty one. It’s a world where only a few prosper through wickedness, oppression, lies, and injustice.

It’s a world a tremendous insecurity…a world where the leaders are bent on feathering their own nests, and maintaining their hold on power at any cost…Especially by currying favor with the wealthy—and those with military power.

These prophets portray Jerusalem before and during the exile as a society that is lost—as a people who had forgotten who they were, and whose they were…It’s not even really a society, more like a collection of forlorn individuals who barely remember the covenant that God had entrusted them with…Who had abandoned their obligations to carry out certain divine responsibilities…caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger, enacting justice, showing mercy…

But, the prophet says, all that is about to change…”Prepare the way of the Lord.”

God sends a messenger…a prophet…John…who appears in the desert calling people to repentance.

Jerusalem has once again been conquered.

People again live under the oppression of severe economic disparity and political corruption backed up by military force.

But all that is about to change….

And the prophet calls people out into that desert…into that hopeless wilderness and joins those earlier voices echoing…“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

In the midst of the darkness of exile, Isaiah emboldens a community to remember who they are really called to be…and to live differently than everyone around them.

To live as a community that proclaims—from the mountains to the cities—“Here is your God.”

John gathers a community around him who repents—who turn from the unjust and unsustainable ways they are living…and who proclaim that there is a different way of being in the world…a way of living with God at the very center…real and present and here.

The prophets call us to turn away from the shallow divisiveness of the world and proclaim that there is a way of living in community that is grounded in hope not corralled in fear…

A way of living as a community woven together by the strong persuasive bonds of love and not simply shackled together by mere coercive power.

A way of building community through sharing resources and celebrating difference rather than hoarding and squandering and dividing…

A way of living with God at the center, and God’s image visible and reflected in each face.

God sends messengers…prophets…to call us to repentance…to remind us who we really are, and what we are called to be.

And here we are…in another (or maybe it’s the same) wilderness…in the midst of world that also seems intent on tearing itself apart.

And the big question for us in this second week of Advent is…can we hear the voices crying out…do we recognize the prophetic messengers in our midst?

Because God into every desert…into every wilderness and experience of exile…God sends messengers…to say, “look around you…It doesn’t have to be this way…it shouldn’t be this way…something better is possible…And not only is it possible… it’s on the way.

Look! Here it comes.

I hear those prophetic cries…in the voice of every woman (and a few men) who have spoken out against sexual harassment and violence…through the #metoo movement—through the Silence Breakers—the brave souls who call us to repent the sinful and systemic evils of sexism.

I see those prophetic beacons in all those who take a knee at football games to raise awareness and remind us that Black lives matter, in the students who walked out of high school classes here in Brookline…and all those who call us to repent of the sinful and systemic evils of racism.

I hear those prophetic messages…from scientists and activists and all those who continually remind us that climate change is real and a pressing moral issue…

I hear it from all those who advocate for the poor, the marginalized, the refugee, the grieving…

Into every wilderness God sends messengers and the questions for us always is…can we hear them?…Will we we hear them, repent—turn and join them…in proclaiming “Here is your God!” ”Prepare the way of the Lord”?

From Isaiah to John and to today…this has been our calling as the people of God—to be the constantly-correcting, ever-hope-filled alternative to whatever system of oppression is in power at the time.

The biblical witness of our Jewish siblings, and the history of the Christian church has shown that the People of God have not always done a bang-up job of this…In fact, we’ve always had a difficult relationship with earthly power…and we’ve gotten it wrong more often than we’ve gotten it right.

Very often our religious institutions fall into the trap of blessing the status quo (however horrible and twisted it is), rather than doing the harder—but more faithful work—of actually being a health alternative to the toxic cultures we find ourselves in.

The prophetic voice always calls us back to our true purpose….to proclaim boldly in word and in deed, that there is a different way of living in this world. A way that rejects fear, and vengeance, and hate, by generating faith, and justice, and love.

There are thousands of prophetic voices around us. And they are growing louder…calling us deeper into the wilderness…deeper into those places that frighten us, deeper into the places where we feel most vulnerable.

But remember…That’s where God meets us…That’s where God surprises us…That’s where the impossible always arrives…

We are called to be the people who follow those prophetic voices into the wilderness…who are transformed, through repentance, into brave souls who turn away from all that is death-dealing and destructive in our culture…who find the collective courage to stand in the face of all that frightens us…and proclaim with the prophets that, “God is coming!”…“That God is here!” That another world is possible…It’s coming…we are living proof. Join us…Prepare the way of the Lord…

Amen.

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