This sermon relies on the work of John Philip Newell in his book, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. On this, the first Sunday of Advent our readings included “The Star Within” a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman and Rev. Sarah Griffith, Luke 21:25-36, and John 3:1-9. A deliberate choice was made not to use the traditional Advent reading from Jeremiah so as to avoid the trap of the false Christian appropriation of the Hebrew prophets as foretellers of Jesus as the Messiah. Listen to the sermon here
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Outside the world is hurtling toward the Christmas; toward the celebration of the birth of a baby. While the world prepares for the birth, the church says, “wait”. Wait, keep watch, and beware, for the world is ending. While the church cries out:
“Signs will appear in the sun, the moon and the stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish, distraught at the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth.” the world sings: “You better watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry, Santa Clause is coming to town.” And all the while we declare the mystery of our faith, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
Somewhere between our deepest fear and our deepest longings we wait, the world prepares and we wait and watch, knowing all the while that, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” knowing that because the world will end, our hope lies in the knowledge that Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, will come again.
Advent, the very word means come; tis the season of coming. Advent is not about waiting; waiting for Christmas, or waiting for the birth of a baby; Advent is about coming, the coming of Christ. In the darkness of the end, we long for Christ to come. Yes, we will have to wait for Christmas to come; but Christmas will come as it always does. The point is not the waiting, the point is in the midst of darkness, in the trials and tribulations of the end, Christ will come; the point is Christ will come. In the midst of the darkness of the end, our deepest longings are stirred up, our longings for hope, for peace, for love and for joy.
All around us we can see the signs of the end; death is everywhere. Galaxies collide and stars die, and there is darkness, the end. Dreams die, and there is darkness, the end. Barriers go up, bullets fly, bombs explode, people die; there is darkness, the end. Words are spoken, promises broken, hopes are dashed; there is darkness, the end. The work dries up, the job ends, funds are exhausted, the bills pile up; there is darkness, the end. Illness overwhelms, shadows on x-rays frighten, scans scare, falls break us, dreams are dashed; there is darkness, the end. In the darkness of the end, we long for hope, for peace, for love, for joy.
I remember, when I was a kid; I was about thirteen, we’d just moved to the West Coast and I can still remember it as if it was yesterday. I set off on my bicycle in search of the perfect Christmas I was as moody and emotional as any thirteen year-old could be. I was lonely, because we’d moved around so much that my only close friend was my younger brother; and what thirteen year-old girl, wants to admit that her only real friend is her eleven year-old brother. My parents were worried sick about money. We’d moved, Dad’s job was unstable and Mom’s job barely paid anything. About the only good news in my life was that I was twelve and back in those days, at twelve you were considered old enough for babysitting and babysitting meant money. Every weekend, I would babysit. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe that at thirteen, I was actually left in charge of little children. I remember getting a couple of bucks for babysitting on Friday and Saturday night; and I do mean a couple of bucks, two dollars for two nights of babysitting.
I remember, calculating that by the time Christmas arrived, I should have $27 dollars saved up. Twenty-seven dollars should be just enough to buy presents for my Mom and Dad, my brother, my aunt and uncle, and my two little cousins. I still remember heading off on my bicycle, into the bustling metropolis of Ladner. Ladner was just a small fishing village back then. There were just three stores worth looking for Christmas presents in: Perry’s Department store proved to be far too expensive for my blood. So, I headed off to the 5 and 10 store. For those of you who don’t know what a five and ten store was, just think dollar store, only back then it was the 5 and dime and you could actually get stuff for five and ten cents. I spent hours in there trying to figure out the perfect gifts for my brother and my two little cousins. I left thinking that I could take care of their gifts with about five dollars. So it was off to the drug store to figure out what to get for my Mom and Dad and Aunt and Uncle. That took another couple of hours as I agonized over the various Old Spice gift sets. I could just about afford a 3-piece set for my Dad that included saving cream, after-shave and a soap-on-a-rope. Surely my uncle would be happy with a soap-on-a-rope. Then it was a Yardly gift set for my Mom, dusting powder, perfume and soap all for about six dollars; which would leave enough left over for a small bottle of perfume for my aunt.Continue reading →
Rather than the recent church tradition of celebrating the Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday, on this the last Sunday of the church year, we chose to celebrate our complex relationship with Jesus the Christ. Our readings included the parables of the lost form Luke 15:1-32.
Last year, we at Holy Cross began our quest for the Cosmic Christ on the last Sunday of the Church calendar; traditionally the festival of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. Our readings: John 1:1-6; Colossians 1:15-20; and Matthew 9:16-17. The sermon was the first in a series of sermons on our Quest for the Cosmic Christ which anticipates the season of Advent’s waiting and hoping for Christ to be born in us.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth onto an old cloak, because the patch will pull away from the cloak and the tear will get worse. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins—if they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out, and the skins will be ruined. No, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17
My one and only experience with old wineskins was not a pleasant one. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m not exactly sure that the offending wineskins were old when I encountered them. They were however old-fashioned. Indeed, I do believe that if Jesus tried to tell this story in the in this century instead of the first century, he would have cautioned us against putting new wine into old-fashioned wineskins. Few people use old-fashioned wineskins. The only time I’ve ever come across old-fashioned wineskins was about 35 years ago when I myself wasn’t so very old. I was backpacking around Europe on a very tight budget. In order to extend our stay we had to stretch every penny. So, from time to time we camped out. I remember one particular night, after securing our campsite and pitching our tent, we walked back into the nearest village. I don’t remember the name of the village, I only remember that we were somewhere north of Florence, Italy. After a cheap dinner in a local taverna, we were wandering back to our campsite, when one of us, I don’t remember who, decided that we needed some more wine. When you are travelling in Italy on the cheap, some wines are less expensive than bottled water. So, I’m sure my travelling companion was just trying to save us some money, when he came out of the shop and encouraged us all to go in and take advantage of the great deal he had just bought. For not much money he had purchased two wineskins full of what promised to be a charming little vintage. I do love a bargain, so in I went to purchase my first and my last old-fashioned wineskin full of a very decent little chianti. The rest of the way back to our campsite, we speculated over the source of the wineskin, but as to whether sheep, goats, or cattle had given up the ghost for these skins, I’ll never know. I do know that we consumed a great deal of wine over our campfire. Sometime during the early hours of the next morning, most of us ended up down by the riverside, tossing the contents of our own stomach. Later in the afternoon, convinced that we were dying, some of us managed to drag our sorry-selves to a nearby clinic where we discovered that we were not hung-over at all; we were in fact suffering from a type of poisoning. Apparently, if wineskins are not cured properly, bacteria that are normally generated in the stomach of the animal, whether it’s a goat, a sheep, or cattle, morphs into some kind of poison, which can in some cases be fatal. My friends and I got away with about four days of hugging a riverbank in a kind of agony that some would say we deserved for trusting old-fashioned wineskins; something the locals are loath to do.Continue reading →
I usually have the presence of mind to book my vacation or some sort of continuing education event that takes me far away from the pulpit on Reign of Christ Sunday. Formerly known as “Christ the King Sunday” an attempt to move beyond exclusively male imagery for Christ (in whom there is no east nor west, male nor female) some church-folk have attempted to change the name of this festival to Reign of Christ Sunday. But merely changing the title fails to get beyond the struggles I have with this festival of the church year!!!!
Born in an age that was birthing fascist regimes, this particular festival of the church clings to it’s christian imperialist past. Instituted in 1925, by Pope Pius XI, (you can read the full proclamation here) the festival was designed to remind the world that Christ is the King of the World. The irony of proclaiming Christ as “King” when the life of Jesus of Nazareth positively denies “kingliness” seems lost on the church. The appropriateness of asserting Christ over the religions of the world lacks the kind of humility embodied by Jesus of Nazareth. So, this year I am not prepared to celebrate Christ the King or the Reign of Christ Sunday. Last year, we took a leaf out of Matthew Fox’s book and crafted our worship around the theme of the Quest for the Cosmic Christ.
Years ago, long before I ventured to seminary, Matthew Fox’s book Original Blessing opened me to the wonders of Creation Spirituality. So, I eagerly worked my way through his book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. I confess that my first reading of Fox’s tome left me in the dust of my own lack of understanding of traditional Christology. But even back then, without the benefit of theological training, I sensed something of the MYSTERY that I had always trust Christ to BE. I have returned to Fox’s work many times over the years and over and over again I have discovered a WISDOM that moves me beyond the limitations of the historical Jesus toward a more holistic vision of Christ which like Fox I believe has the potential to move us to a more wholistic relationship with Creation. I trust that the WISDOM of the Cosmic Christ can lead us into the Season of Advent so that we can be about the work of birthing the Cosmic Christ. (you can check out last year’s sermon on the Cosmic Christ here) This year, we at Holy Cross will begin our quest for the Cosmic Christ by looking back to remember our treasured relationships with Jesus as we explore the relationship of Jesus, both our own personal Jesus and the historical Jesus, to our visions of the Cosmic Christ.
The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.
While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people. She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies. You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars.
The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London.Continue reading →