Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Sermon 2018

          What a strange and compelling story, our Gospel, this story of Christmas. It is a story of great reversals, and no one behaves as we’d expect them too.
          Right off the bat the Empire is sidelined
—the main story of the day can be summed up by the Priene inscription:
“Praise Augustus a Savior who has made war to cease and who shall put everything in peaceful order.”
Gaius Octavius—called Augustus (meaning the Revered One), had won the Roman civil war, beating out 7 other would be emperors, winning a peace through superior fire power, and therefore seen as entitled to be the center of every story
… but not here, Luke nods at the emperor and moves on… this isn’t his story!
The Good News, the story of peace and salvation, of the Savior of the whole world
—it isn’t Rome’s story, it is a story that starts somewhere very different… it starts…

          It starts with a sojourner, Joseph, who comes home.
          Comes home along with his fiancĂ©, Mary, a virgin who bears and births a child
a strange story indeed.
          This child is wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger, no place for his head
such an out of the way place and space for this child who we proclaim to be the center of all that is!
God with us.
          And a heavenly herald comes to proclaim his arrival… and he chooses shepherds, those outside the city walls, those who spend a little too much time with animals and not enough time with people
you know, they’re a little off
… and yet these outsiders are the ones brought in on the biggest story ever announced…
          Good news, and yet it terrifies them…
          Good news sung by a heavenly host
—a military unit of angels
—singing peace…
warriors singing peace in a society where warriors weave only strands of chaos.
          And finally, these shepherds, called to watch their flock, leave them, so that they may watch and see this new thing
—the heights of heaven knelt low to gaze upon the infant nestled in a manger.

          Sojourners finding homes, warriors singing of peace, watchers abandoning their post to see something truly special
grand reversals, the world flipped on its head by the birth of Jesus…
          All of this marking a new world, one where God dwells with humanity, Creator with creature, God born in the flesh.
          And there is a terrible logic to it
—the mystery of God made flesh meets the logic of mortality—the logic of the grave…
once you are born you start dying
—so to with Emmanuel, God with us
—God becomes vulnerable for us, for our sake
for you…
God among a people occupied by Rome.
God wandering with his parents, first to Bethlehem, then on to Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod.
God with outsider shepherds and stranger Magi.
God lost on pilgrimage as a boy. God baptized at the Jordon.
God three long years teaching. God scourging the temple.
God rejected by the religious and the politically powerful.
God crucified.
God dead and God alive again.
          God vulnerable like us, that we may be like him—beloved children of God.
Grand reversals not just in that story long ago, but now, today, including in our own life
—Gospel, life, peace, and salvation, for you!

          And, in the spirit of the vulnerability of this night, I’m going to ask all of you to be vulnerable too.
In our society that is obsessed with the perpetually new and never takes time to sit with something
—I would ask you to take some time to be like Mary
—Ponder and Treasure the mystery of God’s vulnerability.       And not just ponder, but like the shepherds share, talk to folk about what you come up with
—perhaps with your family over dinner, or with a friend when the moment feels right.
          In the back of your bulletin you will find some prompts for your pondering…
          -what false peace, saviors, and salvation are on offer these days?
          -Surely God reigns everywhere, yet where is God reigning for you and yours this Christmas?
          -Take a moment to think about the last time you were vulnerable, what did that feel like? Do you think that’s how Joseph and Mary and the Shepherds felt?
          And also, as you sit with the vulnerability of God that we celebrate this night, take some time to pray this Christmas.
An example of the prayer you could pray is this:
 O Holy One, heavenly angels spoke to earthly shepherds and eternity entered time in the child of Bethlehem. Through the telling of the Christmas story, let our temporal lives be caught up in the eternal in that same child, that we might join shepherds and all the heavenly host in praising the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and uplifts the lowly

          Imagine it, you’ve been strip-searched, your equipment taken apart and put back together, and after a secondary pat down the Secret Service ushers you into the Oval Office and tells you that you have 10 minutes to capture the heart and soul of the president on film. This is your one shot to take a portrait that will adorn super market magazines and art galleries alike…
How are you going to get the right shot? How are you going to succeed? How are you going to get it right?

          Well, Platon, a British photographer…
you know he’s good because he doesn’t even go by his last name any more…
Platon figured out a formula for just such a scenario.
          He’s taken photographs of every sitting president from Carter to Trump, as well as world leaders, both famous and infamous—Aung San Suu Kyi, Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel… not to mention singers like Bono and Yoko Ono and so on…
and he has one surefire technique.
          His portraits always manage to show something more than press secretaries or image consultants want to project
—they shows something more, something real
          You see, he brings with him a decrepit, falling-apart, white painted crate for his subjects to sit on… somehow 10 minutes, or 7 minutes, or however long he’s got, on that humble little box, displaces the leaders, brings them down from their throne and shows them for who they really are, just another person, another portrait in black and white.
          And so too the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and uplifts the lowly.

          He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and uplifts the lowly.
          It’s one thing when the fall is of obviously bad actors
—mass murderers drug out from their holes disheveled and done,
tyrants terrified by their own people,
gangsters who kept the whole block on lock down themselves locked up,
bullies brought to the principal’s office.
          But, what of our heroes?
-All those well spoken of men revealed to be cads and worse on account of the #MeToo movement
—Cosby and Clinton, Garrison Keller and Neil Degras Tyson…
-or think of all those women who were excited about the first female president and ended up disappointed by Hillary Clinton’s loss…
-or think of the controversy when “Go Set a Watchman” the sequel to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird” was released
—in it the heroic father, Atticus Finch, was revealed to be imperfect
—a bit racist in his old age even…
and just this month poor Atticus has just received similar treatment by Aaron Sorkin’s broadway re-write of “To Kill a Mocking Bird.”
Another deflated hero.

          When your heroes, those whose opinions or character you put some stock in
—when they fail, when they fall, what do you do? If they cannot stand, what hope have we?
          After all, we too have our failings,
battered from the outside,
conflicted on the inside,
we are human, so very human.
We too are flesh and blood.

          And the Good News, which Elizabeth and Mary testify to, is that God is as well
—God is with us
and God has come in that very battered, conflicted, oh so human material that encompasses us
—God has come in flesh and blood.
God is with us, and God has even come in the flesh.

          Mary sings about God acting in her life and in the past,
God has acted with both mercy and justice
leveling mountains and raising valleys,
scattering the proud and gathering the humble
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and uplifts the lowly…

-He supported Slaves against Pharaoh and brought exiles out from captivity.
-He worked through such flawed people as King David and Samson.  
-Raised up Judges like Deborah and faithful women like Ruth and Naomi,
and even offered second acts for elders like Elizabeth and Zechariah.

Mary sings “Yes we are O’ so human, but the Story of God’s people is the story of God continually with us none the less!”

          In fact, God not only stayed in the story with us, but came to dwell among us
—Mary’s child is God with us, God in the flesh for us!

          Now, when Platon takes those pictures, he de-thrones the leaders, but he also reveals more clearly who the person is…

          And that’s a way to think about Jesus
—God made man
—we can see God more clearly, more fully, because he has sat down with us, stooped onto that white box, so we know him outside the trappings of power
—we can see into his soul. Receive a portrait in black and white…
The invisible God made visible in his Son Jesus Christ.

          This portrait gives us a glimpse of proper humanity, proper heroism, proper power, it is a picture of the flesh as it ought to be, proper creatureliness.
          But it is so more than that. We are also brought close to the Creator, lifted into a greater reality still, lifted up into the reality of God.

          And Eva—I pray that for you today… that you will come to know Mary’s words:
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and uplifts the lowly…
that you will find hope in the midst of a fallen world,
hope in ambiguity, disappointment, and even danger…
for in your baptism you will come face to face with God among us, leaning kindly upon that white box, and you will be united to Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God!
Amen and Alleluia.