Traveling the Way of Love – Turn: Thistle Farms (S1:E4) (trigger warning: Thistle Farms works with women coming out of prison and off the streets who have suffered sexual and physical abuse)
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
When I worked in retail, there was a rule that we lived by…”If it doesn’t happen in December, it won’t happen.” In the bookstore where I worked that meant that some huge percentage of our income, and any profit we had always came during the Christmas season. That was our rule of life.
So last Saturday, at Diocesan Convention, when we walked out of the Eucharist at Emmanuel Church downtown, and I noticed the store across the street was already bedecked with glittery lights, a ginormous red bow, and it was clear that the annual buying spree was already in full swing, I thought, “there it is.” Since then, I’ve noticed Santas and reindeer and candy canes going up all over the place. Yes, it’s barely after Halloween, but all of those retailers out there are living fully (and desperately) into their rule of life… if it doesn’t happen in the next seven weeks…it’s not going to happen. That’s their rule.
What’s your rule of life? What are the guiding principles that you live by…shape your life around…hope to pass on to your children or grandchildren or just spread more broadly in the world?
If you don’t know what your rule of life is…now is an excellent time to be thinking about it. And if you do have a rule of life…now is an excellent time to review and revise it. (And here are some resources).
The basics of discovering or revising your rule of life all start with just being aware of where you are. Because…we all have a rule of life…we’re just not always conscious of it. So the first step is to take stock…to see where you are…What rules are you living by…are they ones that really give life…or are they ones that drain life…If you want to know what your financial rule of life is…take a look at your checkbook, or your bank statement. If you want to know what your temporal rule of life is…where and how and with whom you spend the bulk of your time, take a good look at your calendar. What ever is there…is your de facto rule of life…is it the way you want it? Or do you want something different?
For the next seven weeks, as the days get shorter, the wind gets colder, and the leaves continue to fall…the world is going to go slightly more insane that it normally is…trying to try to seduce and browbeat you into this retail rule of life…striving to convince you that you need to buy, buy, buy…
…Also for the next seven weeks, all of our readings are going to be about endings and beginnings…prophets warning about the end times…and promising something new just on the horizon…Haggai, and Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and Paul, and Jesus and John the baptizer, and Mary and all the rest, will be reflecting on the current battered, crumbling state of the world, and seeing God’s promise of a new and better tomorrow…The message we’re going to hear over and over and over again in these weeks is …. hold on! Be strong! Don’t give up. “Do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.” Don’t Panic! But get ready. Because God is coming. God is here. God is with us.
And so for the next seven weeks…while the retail world races for profits… I’m going to invite us to heed the words of the prophets…be strong…have faith…be awake…get ready. Take stock…where are we in our lives…what feeds our spirits? what gets in the way? What we might want to set down, or what we might want to pick up, in order to live more fully into the Way of Love.
The Way of Love is our Presiding Bishop’s initiative to invite us back into ancient, time-tested practices of following Jesus. Practices that Christians have been using for hundreds and thousands of years. Practices that I talk about here a lot. For these weeks of our long Advent we’re going to look at one practice a week. There’s material about it on the welcome table, and I’ll be sending out podcasts and videos each week in the e-news that focuses on one of the seven practices of the Way of Love. Turn. Learn. Pray. Worship. Bless. Go. Rest. You can start with any of them, but we’re going to start with Turn.
The prophet Haggai is focused on turning and returning. Now, all of you get a pass for not understanding a word of this reading…Haggai comes up only once every three years…He’s never going to be on the Greatest Hits compilation…he’s a “deep cut” if ever there was one. But here’s what’s happening: Haggai is one of the last books of the Old Testament, what is traditionally considered the end of the prophetic line (endings). We’re told exactly when it takes place: the 2nd year of King Darius, which was 520 BCE. So this is when the Israelites have returned from exile in Babylon. The days and months it mentions means it takes place largely over the time of the Jewish New Year (beginnings). And what is going on? The Israelites have retuned from exile in Babylon and are looking at the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem. “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now?” (Not so good). They have returned…and are looking over the destroyed temple and are faced with “what now?” How is God ever going to want to come live in this rubble heap again? And taking stock of where they are, they hear the voice of God saying, “I am with you…My spirit abides among you…do not fear…”take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you.”
That’s an example of turning. Turning—or the more churchy word “repentance” doesn’t just mean turning away from destructive things…it primarily means turning toward God. Like a flower turns towards the sun. That’s why with a rule of life, you start with where you are. Where you really are. And you turn toward God. Sometimes that’s a big turning point (like Haggai, and the Israelites)…you’ve reached a point in your life where you have to go back and clean up a mess, or you’ve hit a spot and feel, “I’m so small, and broken, how will this ever be right?” But you turn towards God, and find a light and a path that leads you out. Sometimes its a big turn, more often its just a course correction…I’m here, but I need to be over there (more like the Thessalonians or the Sadducees receive).
In the season one podcast on “turning” Bishop Curry says, “To turn, is to turn into the direction of that which is loving, that which is liberating, and that which is life-giving, that is to turn in the direction of God….
So, if you’re going along with your daily life… raising kids, going to work, paying the bills…all of that vital and absolutely necessary stuff for daily life…Sometimes, Bishop Curry says, “when that is all that you do and [that becomes] all that you are, that which is necessary may not be loving, may not be liberating and may not be life-giving.” And that’s when you need to stop and turn back to the source. The way of Jesus…the way of love, which is really about learning to live unselfishly, or really remembering how to live unselfishly.
We all have rules that we live by…whether spoken or unspoken…following Jesus…doing justice…loving mercy…walking humbly with God requires that we have a map…a framework…a set of guidelines that help us navigate…help guide us back when we get off track…This week, I’m inviting you to take some time and discover what your spoken or unspoken rules for living are…are they life-giving…are they liberating…are they loving…of God, of others, and of yourself. Take stock…hold on! Be strong! Don’t give up. But get ready, because something new is coming…