Monday, December 14, 2009

13 December 2009 - Advent 3C Sermon - Rejoice!



13 December 2009
Advent III Sermon
Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Rejoice in the Lord always.
            I was asked by a young theologian recently “what is worship,” and I offered up that worship is what we do at church, we might dress up a bit, we gather, we sing, we pray, we greet one another, we hear about the story of God and God’s people.  We may listen to some reflection on the Word of God.  We confess, we remember Jesus’ work of redemption for us, we break bread, we sing, and we go have snacks.  Actually, my answer was a bit briefer.  “What is worship?”  At the end of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, he offers these words, “rejoice in the Lord always.”  “Rejoice.”  “Always.”  What is worship?  Well, we should rejoice in the Lord always.  Of course, we hope we do this here at church, but when we awake, and we realize we have been offered the gift of this day, we rejoice.  When we drive along the highway and see the brilliant sun shining on the mountains, we rejoice.  When the house is being pounded by rain, we rejoice.  When we are called by a friend in need, we also rejoice. 

And again I say rejoice.
But don’t stop there, rejoice again.  And again.  And again I say rejoice.

Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
            What a profound statement.  Affirming that we are to not only practice gentleness, but that we are to be evangelical about letting it be known to everyone.  It can be easier to be gentle in private, or in polite company, but what about on the highway, or in the line at Target, or in our offices, classes, and homes.  Here is where I can feel the pull to the “non gentle side” of myself.  What about you?  The “dark side of the Force” beckons us all from time to time, and the antidote is gentleness.  Being bold in our gentleness.

The Lord is near.
            Often we think that we need to do a lot of things to get near to God.  Go to a holy place, learn more about the Bible…but, the reality that Paul affirms is that the Lord is near – God is with us.  Just as the Old Testament readings also affirm – God is in our midst.

Do not worry about anything
            If God is with us, then we are encouraged to not worry.  We are encouraged to have courage.  We might say, in our own turmoil and pain, “that’s easy enough for you to say,” to Paul – or others.  And, surely the listeners to Paul’s letter also might have fallen into this style of criticism.  However, Paul was writing from prison, had every reason to worry but didn’t.  He had every reason to give up hope, but didn’t.  He had every reason to wallow in his own suffering, but didn’t.  Instead, he exhorts the church of Philippi to stop worrying.

…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
            When we are feeling challenged, when we are feeling in a low time, when we are going through a rough patch, we can feel like it is all up to us to get through it.  In addition, when we take on a project, we can also fall into thinking that we need to do it all ourselves, and that success is dependent upon us alone.  The writer Parker Palmer has coined the term, “Functional Atheism”” …the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the one who are must make it happen” (p.88)  Paul reminds us that through prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving we are to offer up our requests to God.  Asking for help can be hard, I sometimes think that the use of GPS devices in cars has helped men get off the hook because we never have to ask directions anymore.  To ask for something, to make our requests known can be a great challenge.  We have to admit that the “ultimate responsibility for everything” does not rest with us.  Getting over our rigid feelings of autonomy and extreme individualism is tough work, but is fruitful spiritual work to do.  “Let your requests be made known to God.”

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding
            Albert Einstein is reported in a well-known story to have said of his physics career, that everything he had done, he had done in an effort to know the mind of God.  For him, it was more a matter of design, what was the nature, form and function of the universe (or universes – if you are a reader of Stephen Hawking) that God had designed?  Knowing the mind of God, a worthy goal, perhaps, but it surpasses all understanding.

St. Augustine of Hippo, spent the first third of his life trying to know God through his intellect – and a giant intellect he had.  However, he came to juncture where he could go no further in his knowledge, he could go no further in his understanding.  In his Confessions, he likened it to Moses who was on a high point, looking down upon the Promised Land, but not able to get there.  For Augustine,  he could not get there by knowledge or even understanding – he had to surrender – he had to surrender to the experience.    

For Anglicans, we understand our tradition as being formed by Scripture, Reason, Tradition – John Wesley (and others) reminded the Anglicans of a possible “fourth leg” of this “three legged stool” which is Experience.  But, we are likely a bit nervous about experience.  We are a bit nervous about admitting that we uphold Experience as something that informs our faith – but certainly we have experienced God.  In some ways, we have experienced God or we would not be here this morning.  We may not want to talk about it, but we have had, and will continue to have deep experiences of God’s grace in our lives.  The peace of God is a peace that we can begin to know through knowledge.  The peace of God is a peace that we can begin to understand through understanding.  But the deep and abiding peace of God surpasses all understanding – and yet we do see glimmers of it, we do feel its resonance, we do experience fleeting sensations of it.  “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…”

…will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
            Ironically, perhaps.  But we are guarded by that which we do not know, by that which we cannot understand, and by that for which we only have some brief experience.  We are guarded by the love of God, the grace of God, and the peace of God which upholds us, energizes us, molds us and holds us now and always.  Our hearts and minds are the seats of our thinking and our feeling ~ and are guarded by the peace of God.  We are guarded by the peace of God, but not solely as individualistic units.  No, we are guarded in Christ Jesus ~ that mystical notion that we are one in the Spirit, that we are one with each other in the body of Christ.  The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards our hearts and minds along with one another, binding us to one another in unity and love.

Rejoice in the Lord always.
And again I say rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything
…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding
…will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.



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