Saturday, November 27, 2010

sunday's sermon--Matthew 24:36-44

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Reminds me of the prayer in Compline that lots of people love:
Keep watch, dear lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night…
Keep watch—remember, don’t forget about
or stay awake, don’t fall asleep, wake up!
You may have heard something else in today’s gospel reading
“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding meal together;
one will be taken and one will be left.”
What does that mean?
That isn’t what I think it is, is it?
Is it like those bumper stickers you see:
“Warning: in case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned.”
Meaning what?
That the driver (and presumably the other riders)
are saved/forgiven/righteous
And therefore will be taken up to heaven in The End
Leaving the rest of us behind?
There’s a little problem here
How do you know your car will be unmanned?
I work at the Edge Campus Ministry House at UC
Our housekeeper says she grew up in a church where
only the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation
could take communion—and she wasn’t one of them
How do you know when it’ll happen when Jesus explicitly says you can’t?
How do you know YOU are righteous and others aren’t?
And if you DO know that your righteousness is so great,
Isn’t that the sin of pride,
landing you smack back in the driver’s seat?
I’m not joking here
A substantial portion of Christians believe that
one day, all the believers will be caught up into the sky,
leaving their families and lives behind to fend for themselves
in the coming Tribulation.
Is it real?
Can we pin it down to a date or plan of action? Not really
There isn’t much in the Bible and the concept
and term Rapture came into being in 1800s
what’s Jesus talking about?
Since the story of Noah and his family being saved from the flood
Comes right before
Maybe the ones who are spared are the ones left behind
“taken” might mean punished rather than spared
I’m not going to tell you what it means—surprise, surprise…
The point ≠ knowing the time or who or what is happening
The point is to focus on the here and now
Keep awake, keep watch, pay attention, wake up!
God is on the move
Like Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
God is working and will surprise you
“you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”
You don’t even know what God will look like!
When you see God, it will not be as you expect
It will not be to exclude the unrighteous like the Rapture
And it won’t be all love and peace and harmony like we want either
God moves when you least expect it
A lot of folks were upset about The Golden Compass, a movie based on the book by Philip Pullman
Some are concerned that it has themes of atheism
and downright hostility towards the church
They’re right
But I met God in reading the books nonetheless
We don’t expect to see God in atheists or in movies
and then God shows up saying, “pay attention—wake up!”
maybe you’ve heard someone say
“Christians don’t want to see murderers and rapists in prison
being entertained, using fancy gyms or libraries,
or being given comfort and compassion.”
In the words of St. Johnny Cash,
“then maybe they ain’t Christian”
The experiences these men and women have behind bars
Are beyond our knowing
And God lives there with them
Looking at us through the bars saying,
“pay attention—wake up”
most of us really don’t expect to see peace in the Middle East
we pray and hope but deep in our hearts,
we don’t see Jerusalem ever being at unity with itself
as the Psalm says
yet we keep trying, multi-laterally, for a solution
no matter what boats get fired upon
or who moves into the West Bank
what do you see in that as you keep watch this Advent?
My youth group used to volunteer at the Comm. Land Co-op in the West End
We spent hours hours loading a dumpsters with broken bricks and concrete
Demolishing a wall in a dark, scary basement
And removing a water-damaged ceiling
All to help prepare a house as affordable housing for a low-income Cincinnatian
if you’ve ever spent much time doing demolition on an old, dirty house
you know it’s hard, filthy work
We all ended up with black soot streaking our faces and clothing
face masks keep it out of your lungs
but also make the air you breathe hot and moist
Fogging up your glasses
The basement is moist and smelly and not a little creepy
And then you take a break—go outside for a moment
Emerging from the dust and muck and darkness and closeness
the cold air is crisp and focuses your mind immediately
wake up!
What Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s gospel is waking up
Waking up to the world around you
The relationships, the arguments, the beauty
How aware are you of your contribution to a problem?
How aware are you of another person’s feelings in a given moment?
How aware are you of the presence of God, of the movement of God?
God is on the move
Nudging us towards what is right, sometimes shoving us
Think about when you’re driving
And you drift a little into the next lane, not really paying attention
And something pulls you back
Your skin prickles unpleasantly
You sort of “come to”
You pull over into your own lane
And a car whizzes by within inches
Or seeing into the hearts of those you consider your enemies
School adversaries, your boss or co-workers, even political radicals
Have you had a moment when you suddenly saw them
In their vulnerability
Doing or saying something that you yourself have done?
Suddenly understanding their motives
No matter how much you disagree?
This is awareness—this is being awake, keeping watch
This is what Advent is for
We are waiting for the birth of our savior
And even though we know the end of the story
—Christmas and stars and sheep and the baby—
We can’t forget the process of getting there
Advent is about waiting and keeping watch
Mary’s still pregnant, remember
As are we—pregnant with possibility
Expecting the unexpected
Observing for a moment what we’ve done so far
and letting the things we might do next unfold gestate
this Advent season,
I invite you to keep watch each day
Take 10 minutes every day just to sit and watch
And be aware of who you are
And whose you are
Take 10 minutes every day
to ask yourself what you’re waiting for
take a step back
breathe in that crisp, cold air outside of your busy, close, dark life
look for patterns
look for God moving in your life and in the life of the world
Keep awake therefore Pay attention Wake up!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

sunday's sermon--Luke 21:5-19

As usual, please pardon the bizarre formatting. I can't be bothered to fix it.
* * *
“Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
[lift sign: “THE END IS NIGH”]
did you hear that?
Earthquakes, famines, plagues, signs, portents?!
How is this apocalypse not now?
[begin pacing]
Haiti wasn’t that long ago, you know
And Chile, and HIV in Africa, and the Gulf Coast
And suicide rates for teens are going up
And our food is more chemicals and murky ethics than food…
And I’ve read the political blogs
Our kids are going to grow up to be
debt-saddled, sex-crazed, sheltered,
free-thinking, bigoted hoodlums
because of big government.
Or small government.
I can’t remember which.
“do not be terrified” he says—must be easy if you’re the Son of God
this apocalypse is clearly now, clearly now is the end, or soon!...
Dear God in heaven [stop pacing]
I don’t want to worry y’all but I am Freaking. Out.
[calming breath] Ok. Moment of clarity.
Earthquakes, famines, wars, signs—when is this not the case?
Right. Maybe St. Douglas Adams was right [advance slide: “Don’t Panic”]
So, what’s the point of this, if it’s not to scare us?
Jesus actually says, “Do not be terrified.”
Maybe, like the scriptural appearances of angels
We’re told “don’t panic” because we already are panicking
We’ve already freaked ourselves out
assuming we know what’s gonna happen
[reverse slide: black]
this story Jesus tells
about disaster and war and politics and doom and gloom
this story has been told before.
many times.
Daniel of Daniel and the Lion’s Den told it
Malachi and Isaiah and other prophets told it
Jesus told it
Mark wrote it down and Luke borrowed it from him…
And it has pretty much the same words every time
This story is called Apocalyptic
Or, if you like $5 words, Eschatology
Eschatology is the study of the eschaton—the end—
and it’s not what you think [advance slide: “Don’t Panic”]
Apocalyptic is not what you think
It’s not telling the future in a Nostradamus kind of way
And it’s not a puzzle for us to try to figure out
Partly because that’s never worked
Partly because it cannot work
People for centuries have confidently claimed
the last days were upon us
people for centuries have pulled numbers and notations
from the text
and figured out the code that tells us the date of the end
but that’s not the point [reverse slide: black]
Jesus himself in the text says
“the end will not follow immediately”
Violent events “do not signal that the end is near”
“all attempts to figure out the texts…
make us master of the word rather than vice versa”
plus, Jesus says we’ll never know the hour or the day
And apocalyptic is not meant to scare you.
Well, it’s meant to scare you a little, but we’ll get to that.
Apocalyptic means “a drawing back of the curtain”
It’s a revealing of another truth
Apocalyptic literature is, at its base, a literature of hope
To the Jewish people who are ground under the heel of Rome
To a people who,
have been waiting for God to fulfill
the Great Promise for centuries
To a people who feel completely helpless
Apocalyptic is a story of deliverance, of justice, of hope
What this story of earthquakes and famines
—and the rest of it that we didn’t read—
is about is the oppressed being freed
and the oppressors being brought to justice
and, more importantly, about who’s really in charge
apocalyptic literature said to the Jews [advance slide “Don’t panic”]
“hang in there, don’t freak out
it stinks right now and it’ll probably continue to stink for awhile
but they’re not in charge
Be faithful” [reverse slide: black]
But what does it say to us now?
Here in America, most of us in this room are not the oppressed
We are the middle class,
the mostly educated, civic-minded,
and yes, upstanding Lutheran folk
Certainly we have our struggles—
the wealthy are not exempt from misery and sin
by any means
but we are not the garbage-pickers of Brazil
we are not the despairing gay kids who commit suicide
we are not the mothers trying
to nurse their cholera-ridden children to health in Haiti
we are not the housekeeper
struggling to survive on $140/week
or are we? [advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
this apocalyptic literature has been misinterpreted for so long,
it’s hard to say what it means to us now [reverse slide: black]
but I wonder if it’s saying that it’s not about Us and Them?
It is not about We, the righteous of Good Shepherd,
being embraced and redeemed
while They—the sinful, oppressive
…Episcopalians? Athiests? Muslims? Whatever…
are judged and burned, much to our satisfaction
Lutherans know better than that
We are, in Luther’s words, simul Justus et peccator,
both saint and sinner
We are all both us and them.
We are all oppressed. And we are all oppressors.
We are all beloved. And we will all be judged.
But we don’t know when and we don’t know how
Roberta Bondi, one of my favorite devotional authors, says
“…if you think you know when it’s coming,
the very fact you think so is proof that you don’t.”
so, what are we supposed to do with this lesson?
[advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
it seems to be saying both, “don’t panic” and “the end is nigh”
and so it is
we need an apocalypse
for the parts of our lives where we are beaten down
where we are self-hating or bruised by the world
we need a revealing of God’s love
we need an apocalypse of hope
we need an apocalypse
for the parts of our lives where we are complacent
in our current good works,
in our easy political fixes for complex problems,
in our justification of what we have
we need an apocalypse of justice
we need an apocalypse
we need a pulling back of the curtain to reveal Truth
because it means a chance to remain faithful [reverse slide: black]
because here’s where it’s supposed to be a little scary
God is not saying “time to panic” but “time to participate”
This is what we promise in our baptism
That we will commit to the Word of God
That we will work for the revealing
of God’s peace, hope, justice, and love
That we will be faithful to our brothers and sisters
no matter what it costs us
One commentator on this passage writes:
“Those who wish to find a more vibrant religious experience, should look not for signs of the future but for signals that it is time to live by Jesus’ call for obedience here and now.”
So _____ and _____ who are baptized today, this is my prayer for you:
“… let your responses to the hype and horror of accumulating disasters not be determined by the one-liners of media editors or religious demagogues, but by the same Spirit who is now the centre of your life.”
babies cry when they’re being baptized
and, once, when my friend Bonnie was being baptized
she cried, too
because this Christian life is hard and scary
every baptism is an apocalypse
every baptism is revealing of a deeper truth
every baptism reminds us of God’s call to faithfulness
and of God’s infinite faithfulness to us
you should cry
and you should shout with laughter [advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
because God is moving,
doing a new thing, says the prophet Isaiah,
“God is doing a new thing, now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?”
Do you not want to be a part of it?
It’s big and scary and exciting and it’s change and it’s nigh.
Don’t panic, be faithful instead.
Don’t panic, God’s in charge.
Don’t panic, participate.
[advance slide: black]
[end of sermon slides]