Posts Tagged ‘anticipation’

Ancient awe made new – Epiphany 3 C 2010

January 23, 2010

When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of the ancient capital – there was, in the ruins, a treasure trove.

The scrolls of the law – long thought lost – were recovered intact.

It had been years – perhaps an entire generation –

since the people had heard the words directly from the page.

They had heard about the law – they had been encouraged by the memory of the law –

but no one could read them the words;

they couldn’t experience the law.

Their experience of the law becomes a festival of celebration – it became worship.

Ezra reads from a platform in the midst of the people.

Everyone who is old enough to understand is present – and they are stunned by what they hear.

Many are moved to tears.

Can you remember the last time Scripture moved you to tears?

Has there ever been a time when worship overwhelmed you –

that a full day of worship wasn’t enough?

It’s just the Bible, isn’t it.

It’s only worship (and please, can we be done by (10:30/noon)

we enjoy one another’s company – we like the music – the chance to pause and pray

(or at least listen to prayer) – but we always keep one eye on the clock.

Every one of us has somewhere else we need to be –

by Tuesday this is all a fairly distant (and mostly pleasant) memory.

For the people under Nehemiah’s care, the chance to re-connect with God’s promises to them was one that they couldn’t take for granted –

what precisely has happened to our experience of God…?

For starters, we have declared our experience of God to be intensely personal;

I can worship in my own way, after my own fashion – we say.

We are reluctant to admit how much worship means to us – how deeply Scripture affects us –

we’re too practical for that…

And the Bible is such a difficult text – so ancient – so awkward – so full of the unknown

and no two people (clergy or otherwise)

seem to be able to agree on what it means, or how it’s principles might apply to our lives.

So we talk about the Bible – we debate its history and hope against hope that some day we might unravel its “true meaning”…

And as far as worship is concerned, well it’s all right

but the old music is falling out of favour with the clergy

and the new music is difficult for the congregation to learn

and the choir just wants to sing…

Prayer is necessary, of course, but does it have to take so long?

And those rituals that we have, we don’t really understand.

Is this what God needs to reveal God’s self to us?

We are not far from the thinking of those faithful few gathered on that Sabbath in Nazareth, really.

Sure that God was somewhere in the muddled mess of what worship had become,

they had gathered yet again as a vaguely familiar figure stood and took the scroll to read…(Luke 4: 16)

Jesus had been making the rounds – teaching to high praise in the surrounding countryside –

but here at home (Nazareth) we witness a change.

He stopped explaining the lesson and became the lesson. (Luke 4: 21)

He claimed more than the promises of God – he claimed to be the promise.

This was an altogether different experience of God –

an experience that filled the people with fear and dread.

Next week we will read how they treated Jesus

as he confronted them with this God experience

but know that it was traumatic.

And that, dear friends, is where we are.

No one who visited us could question our faith – our long years of constant witness do not go unnoticed.

And I pray that no one would doubt that we are hopeful in our gathering, in our worship,

that God might be revealed – might break in to our lives and confirm our faith

in spectacular and tangible ways…

but it’s not happening, is it.

Here we wait – for God to work – for the earth to move –

for the kingdom to be made plain to our eager eyes –

but it’s only words – It’s only worship.

It just doesn’t make sense to us.

But our world is changing – the church is changing –

and that moment of wonder may be closer than we think.

We will not be able to have that “Jesus” experience –

the one where he literally brings the text to life as he did that day in Nazareth

but we are invited to take the Word into us –

to give life to the text by our changed lives.

Every week comes the chance to be moved to tears by the majesty of God’s being –

to stand in awe of God’s lasting promises, revealed in Scripture –

to linger over the worship that it is our privilege to offer.

We have that opportunity, because we follow the one who stood and said

today, this word has come true in your hearing – this is the year of the Lord’s favour.

Today, the Word stands among us – risen and perfected –

today, we have heard again the promise of God’s kingdom –

relief from oppression, freedom from bondage.

Today we have another chance to experience the God of our salvation –

stand in awe of the revelation of God and Rejoice

for that ancient treasure is ours today

by grace, through Christ, who still demands our attention and claims our hearts.

Amen.

Christmas +1

December 26, 2009

The build-up, as always, was difficult.

Four Sunday’s of waiting – weeks of being told “we’re not there yet”

Four weeks of the prophets, and their harsh assessment of our sorry state.

Though Christmas was breaking out all around us –

decorations and music and holiday cheer manipulate our celebrations

and try to push the “Christmas season” on us before we were ready

but we were patient, because we are different.

We were waiting to welcome, not a season, but our Saviour.

And today our patience is rewarded by an isolated story

of Jesus as a twelve year old boy, running away from his parents.

…75 or 80 miles over difficult terrain – three days of hard travel.

From Nazareth to Jerusalem – every year – without fail.

This is how they give their son an appreciation of his history – his traditions – his roots.

And how are they repaid? He gives them the slip – loses himself in the city

while Joseph and Mary search frantically among the camp.

They are one day towards home before Jesus is even missed –

that means a very frantic day just to get back to the last place he was seen (the city) –

and once there, more searching, wondering and worrying.

And where is he found? At the temple – with the elders and teachers –

not just listening (he should know his place) but conversing – talking back!

Answers that left the teachers (old venerable men) amazed!

(Whether by his nerve or his grasp of the issues…).

Mary and Joseph are not amused- “Child, why have you treated us like this…”

He doesn’t understand their problem (what 12 year old does)

their worry makes no sense to him – he believes that he has found his vocation

“This is my father’s business (my father’s house) – I must be here, busy with these pursuits…”

now his parents are dumb-struck.

What does he know – what can he know

How can a child speak so confidently of the Law, the things of God.

They had certain expectations of their son – he would learn and become familiar with the faith, with tradition – he would honour God as their people had always honoured God – indeed Luke tells us:

“the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom

and the favour of God was upon him.”

but he was growing in a way no one could imagine

here was a child who expresses a need to be about his Father’s business –

who has a sense of calling –

who has a strong desire for the things of God.

We, like Mary, Joseph and the other “adults” in the story, are unsure how to deal with this –

we have conditioned ourselves to the words of Jesus, the man – the teacher – the rabbi.

We expect to marvel at the words of mature, trained professionals,

and are quick to set aside the words, deeds and desires of those who don’t “fit the mold.” –

and that includes the adolescent Jesus.

Perhaps this brief tale is also Luke’s way of helping us understand

that God does not work according to our expectations, understandings or desires.

In spite of how everyone heard and understood the prophecy of the past,

this child – this “soon to be king” from Nazareth

will never behave according to our designs.

So how are our understandings and expectations changed now that Christ has been revealed?

Are we ready for the changes God is calling us to through this bold young man?

are we prepared to open our eyes to the unexpected,

to see that God’s business calls to everyone – whatever their age or ability?

We are entering to the season of Christmas – the celebration of the Incarnation.

God-with-us is more than just an encouraging motto –

In Jesus this phrase has become reality.

God has proved, to us and to all, that our idea of God –

high and mighty – lofty and distant –

is not the way God prefers to work.

While we sing songs and weave stories,

and do our best to keep God at a distance,

God arrives as a child –

wanders the streets of the city without an escort –

surprises and delights the ‘so-called’ God experts,

and challenges us to follow in his footsteps.

Are we ready for that?

Are we ready for the presence of the One announced by angels,

welcomed by foreign dignitaries,

pursued by jealous heads of state?

We may have lived in ignorance of his reality while the shopping season raged about us;

we may have missed the presence while we raced through our Christmas dinner,

and lounged exhausted after all the company was gone.

The cards have stopped coming and the special services have ended,

but there is no denying that the presence is certainly among us –

the presence of grace and mercy, of love and forgiveness

that signals God’s continuing engagement in our lives.

We have welcomed God into our midst again this week in the person of the Christ Child.

May we now find the courage to follow where He would lead us. Amen.

“What, then, should we do?”

December 11, 2009

Once more this week we are confronted

by ancient voices singing songs of God’s promise;

voices fairly bursting with anticipation

The day of disaster will be removed – of that, Zephaniah is certain;

not because he says so, but because of who God is.

The nation is in a shambles – exiled and defeated – doomed to become a historical footnote.

But God, being God, will sing songs of joy over this ruined people and their ruined cities.

“On that day” – the prophet promises…

“in that time…” God’s people are assured –

your salvation will stand in your midst – your shame will be a distant memory.

These are images of impossible hope.

It is cruel to be told, over and over again, that you must wait –

but anticipation, it seems, is a hallmark of God’s people.

John’s audience is still waiting – Centuries later.

Though the people returned to the land, their oppression continued.

The promise of return had been realized – the promise of freedom remained elusive.

So they gather at any whisper of hope –

at the feet of one who seems just dangerous enough to have been sent by God –

they flock to John at the Jordan

and get a rude surprise.

“you’re a bunch of snakes! You think the promise is your birthright!

You want the promise? Start living as though you believed the promise!”…

…and with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Good news, is it, to be threatened and frightened

and told that you have missed the point?

Good news, that you must share all you have,

stop insisting on more than is your right,

and be satisfied with your lot?

Does it sound like good news to you?

Just in case we are feeling too distant from the time of John and Jesus

we are reminded in this season of impatient waiting that

though our exile may be over, our freedom has not yet come.

Promises that have sustained us for centuries still seem impossibly distant.

The stories intrigue us – we will gather in overwhelming numbers on Dec 24th to hear them told –

to be assured that they are still for us –

but John’s harsh words meet us first.

Let’s be honest; somewhere along the way,

we decided it was enough to be Children of Abraham

(or, in our case, members of the Church) –

that somehow the promise would find us and save us

and land us on our feet in God’s golden courtyard –

and it hasn’t happened, and we are impatient.

We stand in the marketplace and demand that “Christ” be part of Christmas –

yet “Christmas” as we have it now thrust upon us

does little to speak of God’s promised deliverance.

We buy more than we can afford,

we refuse to wait for what we think we need.

We jostle for our place in line, and rush the season to a premature conclusion.

We trample the needs of others to make room for our own celebrations,

and don’t seem to notice that the only ones who benefit from our celebrations

are corporations that feed our desires

at the expense of workers who are no better than slaves to the system.

We are in fact, participating in the same system

that Jesus fought with his every breath – to his last breath.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin 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.

Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees;

every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The ragged baptizer accuses us, and we are left to wonder what in the world we should do…

Are we still content to sit and wait for redemption to find us?

For deliverance to work itself out before our eyes?

For God’s reign to be revealed as we sit and wait – confident that the outcome will be in our favour?

I certainly hope not.

I hope, along with John – in light of Jesus –

that we are willing to actively anticipate the promises of God.

That is, after all, what Jesus ministry was.

To a people who were waiting – passively, impatiently, imperfectly –

Jesus came to show them – to show us – how to live God’s promise in the present tense.

Share what you have with those who have not;

don’t cheat one another, be content with what you have.

Love those who hate you – open your eyes to the presence of God in your midst –

Jesus embodied all this and more.

These are things we can still do, even as we wait.

We are encouraged – compelled – to live lives filled with hope,

lives brimming with anticipation ,

For the promise is still before us.

Our redemption is near – our Salvation is at hand.

Let us live in full awareness of that promise –

waiting for those things God has given us in Christ,

the promise incarnate.

What are we waiting for…?

November 28, 2009

To be a people of faith is to be impatiently patient.

We are always waiting, aren’t we…

waiting for God…waiting for understanding…waiting for peace…for justice…waiting.

We can always see a need for improvement in our current situation – that’s the impatient part.

Our numbers are small – our bank account low –

our profile in the community is not what it once was.

We can always find something to ask for – to strive for – to pray for.

But because we are people of faith,

we know that we’ve already been granted all we need in Jesus Christ.

We have grace, mercy and peace –

we have communion with God through Christ –

we have hope in “this world and the next” as the old hymn says.

There is no need to panic once we have decided to take to heart

the promises of God revealed in Scripture.

So why do we panic?

We panic because our impatience – driven by the world we live in –

will not let us believe what is before us.

The world we live in says that success needs to be measurable

so we despair when our numbers fall.

The world we live in tells us we don’t need to wait for anything

we should be able to have what we want right now;

whether what we want is pleasure, recreation, employment, assurance, information

all of this and more should be ours – so says the world.

We panic because the ways of God are slow and mysterious and filled with the unknown.

We panic because, in spite of what we read in the meaty, messy bits of scripture,

God has no intention of ‘tearing open the heavens’ and setting things right

according to our understanding.

Panic interferes with our willingness to wait – to be amazed by the slow and subtle ways of God – and that is why Advent is such a problem for us.

Christmas is here, you see;

the decorations say so – the music says so – the frenzied advertising says so

everyone says so…

except the minister – except the church.

The ‘establishment’ wants us to wait –

no Christmas carols (not right away) – no talk of angels and shepherds (not right away)

instead we hear ancient promises in Scripture warning us of gloom and disaster (as in the gospel)

and assuring us that God has not forgotten God’s people,

but the time seems not yet to have come for our redemption.

for God’s people still suffer

we are still mired in worldly thinking – selfish thinking –

stuck in systems that teach us impatience and feed our insecurities.

Jeremiah’s revelation mocks us:

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord…”

Why can’t you come now, God –

reach out to us in power and glory and change our minds, our circumstances?

Why, when the signs of change are all around us –

signs of doom and despair –

why does your kingdom still seem so distant?

These are our questions – thousands of years after the promise…

Even now, we forget that we are people of FAITH – people of HOPE.

We have fallen into a trap, and Jesus words from Luke’s gospel are meant to free us:

“Be on guard” – Jesus says – “don’t get weighed down with the worries of this life.

Be alert – lift up your heads – don’t get caught unawares…”

We would rather be terrified by these words –

it is easier to make them sound like the prelude to disaster

than it is to hear them as a call to patience – a call to expectant living.

You will see the Son of Man coming in power and glory…

the powers of the heavens will be shaken…

stand and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

These are not descriptions of particular events

so much as they indicate a change of attitude that is necessary to our faithful waiting.

God’s people have always been called to a special kind of watchfulness

invited to see things that others will not (or can not) see.

To be aware of opportunities to serve one another

to be ready to bear burdens that are not our own

to be willing to work for peace with an open hand, rather than a clenched fist.

Jeremiah encouraged people in the midst of a war zone that this was possible;

that this was God’s desire.

Jesus taught among people whose land had been occupied by the power of the day

promising redemption – calling the crowds to watch for the coming righteousness…

righteousness that was not to be found in political, economic or social gain

but in that mysterious re-connection with their covenant God.

And our impatience still blinds us to that righteousness.

Today we begin a cycle again – a cycle of teaching and reading and worship and celebration

that is meant to slow us down – to open our eyes – to lift up our heads and make us aware

of the nearness of God’s promised Kingdom – the reality of God’s righteousness.

We will work against the grain –

we will resist the call of instant gratification –

fight the urge to jump to the end of the story

and together savor the slow, subtle ways of God;

patient, against all odds.

Waiting for the promise to delight us

Waiting for our Saviour – who in truth is here among us.

Amen