Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sermon: Advent II, Year A

I preached at St. Aidan's this morning.

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12


When Tommy asked me to preach during Advent,
he said to me,
“You’re good at the feminine perspective.”

Uh, yeah. This is not Mary week.
We’ll hear her story two weeks from now.
I’m not going to talk about the sweet, strong,
courageous girl
with God growing inside of her.
I get to tell you about the Baptist.
The wild man in the wilderness,
one of God’s bad kids,
preparing the way of the Kindom.

The word Advent is Latin;
it means “coming.”
The coming of the Christ child;
the coming of the Reign of God.

It is a time to examine ourselves,
our world
and the way we live in it.
It is a time to be still and quiet,
to ponder the meaning of Christ living with us,
to true ourselves
to the vision that God has for our world
and for us.
It is a time for deep and patient listening.

There are all kinds of ways to do that.
When I found myself needing an Advent practice,
far away from my computer,
I asked some friends for suggestions.
They told me everything from Ignatian exercises
to bubble baths.
Stillness is the key.
We need to be quiet to listen.

Sometimes the voice of God in this season
is as soft as that young girl’s whispered, “Yes.”
This morning, it’s a shout,
a throaty yell clothed in animal skin,
eating locusts and wild honey,
soaked through and dripping with the water of eternal life.

“Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

Did I startle you?
I meant to.
The message startles me.

Repent?
Turn around?
Choose a different path?
Stop doing what I’m doing?

But I thought I was all right.
I pray,
I’m involved in my church,
I have a socially responsible job
(or I’m an interminable graduate student),
I have great relationships.
I recycle.
I live a good life.

“Yes,” John says,
But clean your house.
Clear your heart.
Be mindful. Be ready.
The Kindom is coming.

Just how near is this Kindom?
It’s as near as the man standing next to you,
who’s going to get baptized at the end of this chapter.
It’s as near as the hope in all of our hearts
for love, justice, wholeness, and redemption.

John continues.
“You brood of vipers!”

That’s what he’s calling the religious establishment.
Pharisees were the ancestors to the rabbis.
They observed the law, and interpreted it.
Sadducees advocated for the written, Mosaic law only.
Some of them were quite wealthy.
All of them were comfortable, enough, financially,
though they felt the pressures of living under occupation.
Both groups were religious lawyers.
They made their living from talking about faith.

That sounds like a lot of people I know, and respect, and love.
And it sounds like me.

Remember, these people had come to John for baptism.
They’re seeking the help he was offering.
They want to be cleansed from their sins.
John doesn’t care.
He’s not going to be polite about it.
He calls them right out.

He says to them, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
Your words, your wealth, your clothing mean nothing to me.
I don’t care what you talk about all day.
Humble yourselves.
Be people of God.
Do justice.
Love mercy.
Live your faith.

To all of us,
Don’t feel safe because you’re not a Pharisee, or a Sadducee.

“Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”

The Baptist’s words are for all of us.
It doesn’t matter where you come from,
or who your family is.
It doesn’t matter how you support yourself.
What language you speak,
what color is your skin.
It’s who you are, and how you live, that matters.
We are all children of God.

John calls us to prepare for the Kindom.
What is the Reign of God?
What is this wondrous, frightful vision?
John tells us to watch for it. Isaiah paints the picture.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge
and the fear of the Lord.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea."

This is peace, my friends.
Righteousness is not piety,
and justice is not punishment.
This is life in the reign of God.
We are to live together, all of creation, in love.
The One who rules us is the Incarnation
of kindness, equity, fearlessness, and truth.

What can we do, in our community?
How can we respond to the Baptist’s call?

We can take one answer from Romans.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Be open. Be loving. Be inclusive of everyone.
Embrace one another’s joys, sorrows, thanksgivings, triumphs.
Worship together. Celebrate together.
Do what this community is already amazing at.
Do it mindfully. Do it more. Give extra energy to outreach.

How can we embrace both welcome, and justice?
Bishop Marc spoke to us a few weeks ago
about the Millennium Development Goals.
They are an initiative of the UN
that 189 nations signed onto seven years ago.
Signatories agree to give 0.7% of their GNP,
which sounds like absolutely nothing,
to end poverty in the world.
The number comes from the percentage
of the wealthy nations' Gross National Income
that development economists and world leaders agree
it will take to accomplish the MDGs by the target date of 2015.
The US has signed onto them in principle only;
this nation is not giving our share.

But the church is, and we all can help. The goals are these:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger .
2. Achieve universal primary education.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
4. Reduce child mortality.
5. Improve maternal health.
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Create a global partnership for development with targets for aid, trade and debt relief.

We started a working group here, last month;
X and I are the contact people.
We had a meeting a few weeks ago,
and we talked about using green energy
to heat and light our building,
partnering with other parishes,
to do cooperative work with them,
and how to educate one another on these issues.
If you want to be involved with this,
come talk to her or me.
We welcome everybody’s participation.
The initiative may be financial,
but human time and energy are crucial to the work of God in the world.

We are beloved by God, always,
wherever we are, whomever we are.
We are human.
We cannot fully keep to the perfection that this gospel demands.
We trip, we stumble.
We fall all the time.
God knows.
Still, we are called always into wholeness.
This gospel doesn’t cut us any slack.
It shouts at us to get our acts together.
It also reminds us who we are, and whose we are.
We are the people of a just and gracious God.

I’m going to close with a poem that I found the other day.
It was written by George Ella Lyon.
It strikes me as a modern, and feminine and feminist,
rendition of the Baptist’s call.
It’s harsh, in places, but it’s tender, too.
And it expresses the hope God has in us.

God signs to us
we cannot read
She shouts
we take cover
She shrugs
and trains leave
the tracks

Our schedules! we moan
Our loved ones

God is fed up
All the oceans she gave us
All the fields
All the acres of steep seedful forests
And we did what
Invented the Great Chain
of Being and
the chain saw
Invented sin

God sees us now
gorging ourselves &
starving our neighbors
starving ourselves &
storing our grain
& She says

I’ve had it
you cast your trash
upon the waters—
it’s rolling in

You stuck your fine fine finger
into the mystery of life
to find death

& you did
you learned how to end
the world
in nothing flat

Now you come crying
to your mommy
Send us a miracle
Prove that you exist

Look at your hand, I say
Listen to your sacred heart
Do you have to haul the tide in
sweeten the berries on the vine

I set you down
a miracle among miracles
You want more
It’s your turn
You show me

12 comments:

lj said...

Great way to end. Nice way to work in the Goals. Well done.

Kirstin said...

Thank you, lj! I'm pleased with it.

FranIAm said...

This is gorgeous preaching. Wow. Really beautiful.

I am fortunate to be in a great parish (i think you know i am Catholic) with really inspired preaching; much better than average.

However, how would it be to have a woman doing the preaching?

It is Advent, I watch and I wait. And I know that John, appearing as the craziest and potentially scary homeless man has something important. Change will come.

Thank you. And I love the poem!

Kirstin said...

Thank you, Fran.

One thread I was thinking of, but didn't say, is how the Kindom breaks in, in really strange ways. A child born in humble circumstances. A homeless, raving lunatic. But it breaks in. Again, again, always.

We don't have to know where to look; just how to see.

FranIAm said...

Just how to see... that may be my prayer for today.
Thank you!

What great fortune is it to have fallen in with all of you? It is kind of the same though- the Kingdom breaking in.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Kirstin, what a fine sermon.!

I especially like this:

Righteousness is not piety,
and justice is not punishment.
This is life in the reign of God.
We are to live together, all of creation, in love.
The One who rules us is the Incarnation
of kindness, equity, fearlessness, and truth.


And the poem. I love the poem.

Kirstin said...

Thank you, Grandmere. That was there because I needed a transition. God speaks to you when you need it. :-)

I love the poem too. So did everyone who spoke to me afterward.

Mother Laura said...

What a preacher you are, woman. Thank you.

Kirstin said...

Wow, Laura. Thank you.

Diane said...

hey, I like this... and I suspect that it is on purpose you call it the "kindom." I like that too.

Kirstin said...

Thanks, Diane--and yes, it's absolutely on purpose.

Eileen said...

(((K)))

Awesome. You are AWESOME.