Courageous work—sermon for Advent 1, 3 December 2017
December 3, 2017, First Sunday of Advent:
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
I’m glad you’re all here.
It’s great to see you.
It’s very courageous of you to be here.
Has anyone ever told you that? That you were courageous for coming to church?
It’s an incredibly brave and risky thing to do.
It’s brave and risky because coming here…participating in these ancient, beautiful rituals is actually dangerous.
It’s dangerous because this will change you.
That I can guarantee. If you keep coming here. If you participate in the sacraments…if you really join the community…if you start to reach out and serve others…if you open your self just a little bit to the power and the working of the Holy spirit…you will not be the same.
Do you believe that?
Some of you who have been coming here for a long time know this…know the change you’ve experienced.
Change is hard.
Most of us don’t like change.
We resist it.
We think other people should change. But not us.
“We would rather be ruined than changed,” said W.H. Auden more than half a century ago in his work The Age of Anxiety. “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.” [Auden, Age of Anxiety, p. 105]
But that’s what happens here—that’s why it’s dangerous. That’s what we are about. Climbing the cross of the present, letting our illusions die…letting God and our fellow travelers work on us and with us…allowing our eyes and our hearts to be opened to the radical all-inclusive-no-exemptions welcome of the Holy Spirit…Committing to learning the radical all-inclusive-non-violent-rhythms of God’s peace and justice and mercy…Following in the radical all-emcompassing-all-demanding love of Christ.
That’s what happens here. You know that, don’t you? If someone asks me what I do, I’ve started saying, “I’m in the transformation business.” We are about the business of transformation…Transforming ourselves first and foremost, but not just for ourselves, no, our transformation is for the sake of the world. It’s a long, slow process. It’s hard work. It’s risky work. And the stakes could not be higher.
That’s why this first week of Advent always starts with these dire warnings of a darkend sun, stars falling from heaven, powers shaken…[those passages are sounding less predictive and more descriptive all the time].
Advent always starts this way…setting up the stakes that are involved. It’s sort of like those movies or tv shows you sometimes see (a lot of shows do this) where the scene opens and the hero is running for their life, and the cataclysm is about to happen, and you really have no idea what’s going on (“I think the guy in the hat is about to do something bad.”). It’s like you missed the whole lead up to this and somehow are only seeing the climax, and then the screen goes black and you see “Six days ago…” and the rest of the show is about catching you up to that climatic chase scene you know is coming. The first week of Advent is like that. Here’s just a glimpse of the exciting climax…”the Son of Man coming in clouds…sending out angels”…”what is going on?” we wonder…then you have to imagine a screen… “Some Time ago…” and next week starts with John in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Christ…and the rest of the year is building back up to this climatic moment.
So welcome to the beginning of this journey (again). And again, I commend your bravery in being here, in committing to this. I hope that we can all draw on each other’s strength and courage this year, because we’ll need it. The stakes are high, and the road ahead doesn’t get any easier.
I mean, just look around at the world today…so much transformation needed…but in order to really collaborate with God in God’s work…in order to be true agents of transformation and not just individuals adding to the noise and chaos…we have to be transformed ourselves…first…By the grace of God. By the slow and courageous work of climbing the cross of our present and dying to our illusions, and doing the work of transformation together.
Some of the work that I hope we will engage in:
It is my hope that in the coming year we will engage in a sustained and intentional conversation about…and continue to do more work on repenting from…the sin of racism. Plans for a series of conversations on race and privilege are in the works, and if that sounds like work you are willing to commit to, I encourage you to talk to members of the Adult Education Committee and the Vestry and express your commitment. I should be clear, it will be hard work. It might be messy, and it will undoubtedly be uncomfortable and even painful, but I believe it is absolutely vital for the health of our souls and our communities.
It is also my hope that we will continue to deepen our work and our relationships with those on the margins through the Brookline Food Pantry, MANNA, and others…again, I guarantee that if you participate in those ministries you will be changed.
It is my hope that we will continue to have conversations about the transformative power of music, and the critical importance of children and youth in our common life, and that we will collectively make decisions ensuring the vitality of those ministries which are so core to the mission of this parish.
It is my hope that we will continue to build up our community partnerships and ensure that this building continues to be a lively and vital place for artistic and communal engagement and transformation.
With all that is going on in the world, there are undoubtedly many other tasks and ministries that one of you, being transformed by being here, might sense a call to—a need that is crying out for you answer. I hope that we as a community, can continue to provide you with the courage and the spiritual resources to go out and respond to that call.
It is hard, courageous, and desperately needed work, and I am absolutely awed by your capacity to do it.
I want you to hear again Paul’s words to the Corinthians, because it could equally be said of all of you, “I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been (and continue to be) enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind– so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Hear that? You are not lacking—we are not lacking—in any spiritual gift…yes, it’s a difficult road ahead, but we have everything we need. Believe that. And by continuing on this path…by working on our own transformation for the sake of transforming the world, “[God] will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
May it be so. May it be so.
And let all the brave souls here gathered say, “Amen.”