Sometimes I'm not sure it's OK for a preacher to admit they liked a sermon ... but I liked this one. And yes, I was preaching to myself a big chunk of the time. Particularly in the staying-hopeful-in-spite-0f-it-all part. Happy Advent, Everybody!
Watch the video or read the text:
Recalculating 2.0: Navigating the New Normal
Happy New Year, Church! We knew it was coming … the signs of the “end times” that lead to new beginnings are popping up all around us … and of course I’m talking about the – “Rose Parade Parking Here” signs -- have brought us once again to this new beginning … a new church year on this First Sunday of Advent.
We know that Advent is a time of waiting …the hymns and lessons are full of the language of waiting and yearning and anticipation: O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Singing Songs of Expectation – Keep you lamps trimmed and burning … and every year I’m reminded that Advent waiting is its own special animal.
A friend of mine once described how "waiting" during Advent is different than some of the other kinds of "waiting" we do -- waiting for a bus, for example. Waiting for a bus is both boring and anxiety-producing. Will it be on time? Will I make my connection? Am I waiting at the right bus stop . . . what if I looked at the schedule wrong? Where IS that bus, anyway? That's waiting in anxiety.
Waiting in expectancy is more like being seated in the concert hall, waiting for the curtain to rise. We know something wonderful is about to happen: and everyone else is waiting with the same expectation. We may know what to expect -- we've bought the tickets, looked over the program, checked out the performers - but the experience is yet to happen. And so we wait -- we wait expectantly; we wait in the tension of both knowing and NOT knowing -- open to the experience about to unfold: expectant rather than anxious.
And I believe that is exactly the kind of "Advent Attitude" God calls us to aim for: to live in both trust and tension as we prepare, once again, for the coming of the One whose birth turned the world upside down as certainly as the preparations for his birthday turn our schedules upside down every year at this time. For the righteousness Jesus offered - the love he proclaimed -- was too radical, too inclusive, too dangerous to survive without creating chaos for the status quo -- then or now.
It is an amazing irony that the very Jesus who gave his life to show us how to love each other been co-opted by those who understand the Reign of Christ to be not about the Lordship of Love but about obedience to orthodoxy. And – unfortunately – the signs of that irony are as ubiquitous in the culture as the Rose Parade parking signs are in Pasadena … including our own Archbishop of Canterbury who was behaving badly again this week. Bless his heart.
But instead of just talking about what Advent is NOT I wanted to talk this morning about what it is: to look at not just the waiting but what we’re waiting FOR.
My second image for Advent this is Advent as an ADVENTURE. I’d like to be able to tell you I hit upon the connection in the root words of both Advent and Adventure through some kind of impressive original-language word study like the rector does but actually it was the 2 freeway southbound last week. I was stuck in traffic on my way the Cathedral Center behind a U-Haul truck – and their current ad campaign is “U-Haul … Adventures in Moving.” So after a few minutes of staring at the back of the truck I started to think … hmmmm … Advent. Adventure. Advent. Adventure.
And here’s what I came up with The Advent Adventure is NOT just a commute to Christmas – it’s the beginning of another year of our spiritual journey into God’s future. And this year we’re taking that journey into what people keep calling “the new normal.”
Now, I “get” that 50 is the new “30.” (I don’t actually BELIEVE it but I get it!) But I’m still trying to figure out the “new normal.”
Part of my confusion is this. Here’s a quote I read in an editorial the other day:
Sounds familiar. It’s exactly what everybody else seems to be saying after this bruising election cycle in this challenging economy facing global climate issues and rampant polarization. Except this is a quote in a now-defunct magazine called “The Episcopalian” – and it was published in October 1969.
Helpless anger is a familiar sensation today. We all feel that way at times about government and helplessness seems to be a daily part of life on many levels. Americans who pride themselves on their ability to get things done are bound to feel a deeper sense of frustration in the face of events they cannot control.
I’m not bringing it up this morning to in any way dismiss the very real challenges we face as a congregation, as a nation and as a global community as we figure out what this “new normal” thing is. I bring it up to remind us – to remind myself – that “helpless anger” is, in fact, a classic response to fear and anxiety – and that just because it’s part of our history doesn’t mean it has to be part of our future.
I had an email from a blog reader last week thanking me for something I’d written and in the process saying “I don’t know how you can stay so hopeful in the middle of all of this.” And I thought for Pete’s Sake … we belong to the God whose love was powerful enough to fix even Good Friday! As Christians we are people of hope – hope that is NOT the same as optimism -- but hope that is grounded in the promise of the resurrection –the promise that the love of God more powerful even that Good Friday can empower us to overcome the challenges we face.
As we begin this Advent Adventure that is NOT just a commute to Christmas we can choose to be grounded in that hope -- in the ancient values that have guided the journeys of the faithful down through the ages. The route may differ from years past. The obstacles may shift and change. But the journey is the same.
And the values are the same. Love, Peace, Compassion, Justice. Ancient values for the “new normal.”
And so what I’m wondering this morning is if the 2010 version of the old Advent “keep your lamps trimmed and burning” hymn might not be “keep your GPS charged and programmed.” I can’t remember the last time I ‘trimmed a lamp’ – the closest I ever came was reading about it in “Little House in the Big Woods.” But I sure depend on my GPS! And some of you may remember when I shared the “GPS epiphany” I had during the “Excellent European Adventure” Louise and I had last summer. Here’s the long story short:
We were on a month-long European adventure with the most patient GPS on the planet. She never panicked. She never raised her voice. She never freaked out when the road signs suddenly changed from Italian to German and then back to Italian. She never said, “How many times do I have to tell you?” She never said, “I cannot believe you missed that turn.” And she certainly never said, “No! No! the other left!” Instead, no matter how clueless or far afield we got, her patient, persistent refrain was, “Recalculating.”
I think it is fair to say it took us a little while to trust her – and we can pinpoint the moment when that happened. It was as we were arriving at our hotel on Lake Como, in Italy – which is absolutely as fabulous as everyone says it is, and you can totally see why George Clooney wants to hang out there. I’m looking at the map, and Louise is looking at the GPS, and she’s saying, “This can’t be right. We’re going to end up in the middle of the lake. Our hotel is on the other side of the lake. There’s no way this could be right.” So we’re driving along – and the tension is mounting -- and suddenly our patient, wise, persistent GPS says … “In 500 meters, board the ferry.”
Who knew there was a ferry? Well, the GPS did, and we never doubted her again.
The “epiphany” for me was that the way the GPS guided Louise and me on our Excellent European Adventure is how I believe the Holy Spirit guides each and every one of us on our Excellent Earthly Adventures as followers of Jesus. She is patient, she is persistent. No matter how clueless we are or far afield we go, her patient, persistent refrain is, “Recalculating.”
And it is my brothers and sisters, an ancient refrain. Like a GPS connected to the satellite that keeps it on course as long as it is plugged in, we are connected to the love of God who will keep us on course if we stay plugged in and keep our lives in alignment with God’s justice, with God’s love, and with God’s compassion.
And we “plug in” when we come here, to remember that we are both loved and called to walk in love -- come to be fed a fuelled and go back out into the world and witness to that love. “Do this in remembrance of me” – we will say in just a few minutes, when we gather around this table to share the bread and wine made holy. “In remembrance of,” to remember – as the rector says, to reverse our amnesia – that we are loved by God and called to go and to return, to plug in our GPS.
Old road maps may not navigate us through a new normal -- but we can keep our GPS charged and programmed – and She will see us through. And there’s no time like the present to start trusting our Spiritual GPS the way Louise and I finally started trusting our European GPS.
Because the truth on this First Sunday of Advent in the year 2010 is that the world we’re called to navigate is not an Advent world – and I’m not just talking about the Christmas carols at the mall or the Christmas Blend at Starbucks we’ve been drinking for a month already. It is not a world waiting in eager anticipation for the curtain to rise – it is waiting in anxiety for the next shoe to drop.
There’s the helpless anger of people who “want their country back” and the hopeless hunger of people who wonder where their next meal is coming from. The saber rattling is escalating in Korea while the combat continues in Afghanistan and the AIDS pandemic continues in Africa as health workers combat cholera in Haiti. Hunger and homelessness are on the rise and violence against women and the bullying of LGBT youth are rampant.
And the church – the Body of Christ on earth that is supposed to be helping people make sense of all this – make a difference in the middle of all this – navigate through all this – well … it seems to have unplugged its GPS altogether and just keeps driving around the same old block: from “Keep-gay-couples-from-getting-married Street” to “No-women-bishops Avenue” to “The-Bible-said –it-I-believe-it-that-settles-it Boulevard” to “Protect Christmas by emailing everybody you know and telling them not to let anybody wish them “Happy Holidays” Road.”
And then there’s shock and dismay when yet another poll shows more and more people find the church irrelevant.
Yep. It’s time for some Advent Recalculating, alright. So here’s the breaking news for the First Sunday of Advent 2010:
All Saints Church is not committed to making God’s love tangible 24/7 and turning the human race into the human family because Ed Bacon had a glory attack one day and said, “Church – here’s what we’re going to do.” All Saints Church is committed to making God’s love tangible 24/7 and turning the human race into the human family because we are committed to the ancient values that fuel our journey into “the new normal.” The values of prophets like Micah … do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God; and apostles like Matthew … love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
So as we begin this Advent Adventure 2010 that is NOT just a commute to Christmas let us do so guided by the ancient values that have guided the journeys of the faithful down through the ages.
Let sing the familiar hymns and pray the familiar prayers and keep our lamps trimmed and buring AND our GPS charged and programmed as we wait the coming – once again – of the one who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to walk in love with God and with each other:
Come, O Christ and dwell among us! Hear our cries, come set us free.Set us free to be the change you call us to be.
Give us hope and faith and gladness. Show us what there yet can be.
Set us free to live your love.
Set us free to be your justice.
Set us free to journey into the adventure of God’s future this Advent and always.
Happy New Year! Amen.