Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sermon: The End

I missed posting this sermon from a few weeks back, because I went straight from Church to Pinecrest where I taught "Smart People, Wise Faith."

         On this, the final Sunday in our summer sermon series “8 Question from the Pews,” we end with a rather appropriate question… or rather an appropriate request “Talk about what ‘the end’ means.”
         To do this we’ll:
1.   Consider two meanings of the word
2.   And look at what today’s gospel readings from the Gospel of Mark look like in light of those two meanings of the word

Let us pray.

The End.
         When we talk about it theologically, we often think about the book of Revelation, Millenialism of various sorts, the Late Great Planet Earth, and the Left Behind Series.
         What all these things have in common is an assumption that the definition of “The End” we’re using is “The conclusion” or “Termination.” “Ceasing.” “Stopping.” A period or exclamation mark, as opposed to a comma or semi-colon.
         And this is probably what the questioner meant.
         They’re likely wondering what it’ll all be like when the earth ceases to exist, or this particular epoch, this particular time period, stops.
         Yet, I would suggest another one of the 7 definitions of “End” is worth considering when we look at scripture—the end defined as “Goal.” The end of something is its direction, where it is going.
         By way of example, our Episcopal brothers and sisters confess: “The Chief End of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
         So, instead of “The End” being a period, or point ending a line, it’s an arrow pointing toward a goal.

         Let’s consider Mark’s Gospel in light of these two meanings.
         A more literal reading of Mark’s Gospel points us toward the first definition of Endà “The Passing away of heaven and earth,” the evaporation of the world.
         In this reading Jesus is warning us that at some unknown time there will be a period of cosmic darkness, and the Son of Man—this figure from the book of Daniel, will arrive and we ought to look for signs and keep awake so we know when it happens and are not caught unaware.
         Some read this as pointing toward the destruction of the temple, or more commonly, as pointing toward the destruction of the world. In this case, they say, Jesus is telling us to look around and read everything as a sign, to be anxious for the coming cosmic thunderclap that will end it all.

         But let’s consider option B—the End as an arrow pointing toward a goal.
         To do this we can look more particularly at a pattern in Mark’s Gospel—his dealing with fig trees.
         Yes, Fig trees, it might seem a weird place to go into order to talk about the end—with a plant… but Jesus himself describes the coming of The Son of Man as being announced like a fig tree announces summer.
         So, let’s consider the Fig Tree.
         Jesus enters Jerusalem the first time, his humble act of riding a donkey, which proclaims the kind of Kingdom we are called to, is met with leaves galore—it at first seems that there is a fruitful acceptance of the Kingdom of God.
         But, at the gates of Jerusalem, just outside the city limits, back in Bethany, Jesus sees the truth, writ large on that small Fig Tree, there are leaves but no fruit, and so he curses it. As in Jerusalem, so too the fig tree, both unfruitful.

         Then he again passes the threshold between Bethany and Jerusalem and enters to see the Temple, and attacks it, turning tables expelling sellers, and mightily kicking out moneychangers.
         And again he returns to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, he sees this fig tree again, this time withered.

         Then, a third time, Jesus, in Jerusalem, declares that there will be a time of darkness in which the Son of Man will be reveled, he will be at the very gate of Jerusalem—at the threshold and his presence will be announced like a fig tree announces summer.
         Then Jesus encourages us to stay awake for the Son of Man, for he might show up at:
 or at dawn.

         Again, lots of people see this as Jesus explaining what it will be like when the earth ceases to exist… but, what if this is a goal he is describing? What if it describes his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and is telling us where we might find our Master?
         After all, on two previous occasions the events in Jerusalem paralleled the sign of the Fig Tree.

         The Son of Man is coming Jesus tells the high Priest—and then Jesus adds that, he, Jesus, is the Son of Man.
         We must keep alert, stay awake, to see him—look at the Disciples at Gethsemane, who fail to do so.
         That evening, the Last Supper, they meet the Son of Man in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine.
         At midnight those in power are judged by the Son of Man, even as they put him on trial.
         When the cock crows, Peter makes a fateful choice and denies the Son of Man.
         At dawn, the women meet the resurrected Lord.

         What if the point of talking about the end is not some deathwatch for the world, or a waiting for everything to be over… what if instead the end is a goal, to stay awake that we might experience again the saving story of Jesus Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection…
that we might trust in his resurrection,
recognize when we deny our Lord,
eschew the powers of this world that judge falsely,
meet our Lord in the Holy Meal of Communion,
be awake in prayer,
and confess to all that Jesus is our Lord.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sermon: Christmas in August

          You may remember back a month or so South Plainfield held it’s 3rd annual “Christmas in July.” Paintings of Olaf the Snowman from Frozen adorned shop windows, good old St. Nick made a surprise appearance… in general we as a town came together to celebrate some parts of Christmas in July instead of December.

          Well, today we have a similar opportunity. Today’s readings all point us to the basic, blood and guts point of Christmas,
that God has been born to us,
Emmanuel, God with us…
Christmas is about the scandal of particularity!
God made flesh, in a particular man, in a particular time, in a particular place.
Yes, today we read about the scandal of particularity—and in so doing we are celebrating Christmas again. Just as there was Christmas in July, today there is Christmas in August.

Let us pray.

          In order to frame the scandalous particularity we proclaim this day, let’s think briefly back to Christmas…
The stories we tell—Joseph and Mary and Angels and all the rest… and for that matter the stories about Rudolf and Red Rider BB Guns, and the time Uncle Hank embarrassed the whole family but made it up to everyone with a soulful ballad from the old country.
The songs we sing—the Christmas carols, the Choir gathered at the Old Danish home around Tom’s homemade wine, the hymn sing the Sunday after.
The Decorations—Advent Candles, Wreaths, Poinsettias, Trees with Tinsel, maybe torn down by little terroristic cats.
The meals—Turkey and stuffing, yams and pie and Figgie Pudding, Seven fishes the night before…

          Yes, the particularity of Christmas: Stories, Songs, Decorations, and Meals… So too the particularity we find before us today.

          The specific story of Joshua, remembering how God has acted, brought God’s people out of Egypt, protected them along their sojourn to freedom, defended them and brought them to a land that became there own.
          This is not some universal story of a god doing good things in general, but Our God acting against oppression and bondage, a special story for a special people—a particular people chosen by a particular God.
          The specific song of Psalm 34—a weird one, about God’s body parts—a God with eyes and ears, a face and an astonishing closeness. A God embodied in the world—yes Metaphorically, but a face that points to God’s closeness with us, eyes and ears that can hear our cries and see our lives!
          Not some God that steps away or does not care, but a God intimately involved and concerned with God’s people. God for us and with us!

          The odd decorations we wear upon ourselves—the very actions and attributes of God, putting on God’s truth and righteousness, his peace and faith, his salvation and spirit, holding tight to the very Word of God!
          Not some far away and far out deity acting in theory but not in fact… When God acts, those actions become so real that we can wrap them around us, the character of God so solid that it is our sure defense.

          That meal Jesus tells us about! The bodily-ness of it all, the icky intimacy of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood. A call to abide with him, to reside with him, to follow him all the way to the end.
          Not some Gnostic escape from the flesh, from the world in which we live, not a pie in the sky savior—but one you can sink your teeth into—literally… one who isn’t about escape, but instead about staying put where you are and finding life there with Him!

          So yes, in stories of specificity, songs sung about the face of God, decorations made from God’s actions, and a holy Meal of the flesh and blood of Christ, we are confronted with Christmas in August.

          And this means so much. God is with us in one particular human being, Jesus—and since then He’s been entering into our personal peculiar particularities every since.
          God’s story sanctifying our story.
          God’s song the tempo our life.
          God’s reality wrapping us tighter than swaddling clothe.
           God’s banquet in Christ Jesus’ flesh making us Holy and his blood making us drunk on his divinity!

          God in the newborn baby’s cry, the mother’s joy and the father’s worry.
          God with a toddler clinging to her uncle’s neck as they wonder at the meteor shower.
          God lazing in the sun, back to an old sad poplar, just taking in the goodness of the day.
          God with us hungry by a restaurant dumpster, waiting for the day-old-bread and bagels to be deposited.
          God in the hospital with a man quarantined and questioning the meaning of life.
          God joyfully smiling at the wedding banquet and clapping at the family reunion.
          God a solemn sentinel in the nursing home and a mourner when things fall apart.
          God entering into the thin places between heaven and earth, making holy the particulars of our lives.
          God, on this particular day, celebrating Christmas in August.  A+A