Saturday, November 26, 2016

Finding a Season

My head is humming with snowmen, meadows and Parson Brown who, in my opinion, has a lot to answer for. A morning of thrift shopping with some of my teenage children revealed that I am wrong – Christmas does start the day after Thanksgiving. In previous years I have compared secular culture and church culture with all the zeal of the righteous but something else has struck me.
If Christmas is about anything, it is about a God who deeply embeds Godself in a culture and a time and a place. The challenge for Christians, especially in this world of fluctuating culture, is to seek out those things which are leading towards the light and love of Christ and to do what we can to bring this Good News of a baby born in a stable to those dark parts of our society which, often, most need to hear it.
Perhaps the message is more about discernment, about understanding glitter and sparkle which reflects life and joy and seeing that which marks deep sadness and death. Christmas, for us, is a tale of the unexpected. Of all those throngs flooding into Bethlehem for the census, who would have guessed Mary and Joseph. God’s ways are not our ways. We cannot abandon the world we are called to live in by slightly pious whining, but we can look at it through God’s eyes. We can journey towards Bethlehem as those who have said “yes”, with great joy, those who carry a great treasure, and those whose eyes are opened,daily, to the world in new and Christlike ways.

Monday, November 14, 2016

After the storm?

God said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 1 Kings 19:11-13
Listen, all of you, for the Lord is always passing by, hanging around, wanting us to hear. Out nation is full of noise. Remember how, yesterday in the Gospel, Jesus said to ignore all those voices which claimed to have definitive answers to the Disciples question about the end times - He is also speaking about all that noise which is going on around us.
Now, don't hear me wrong. We cannot remain in silence in the face of oppression and inhumanity - but we can start there. Elijah did not get to stay on his mountain - he was sent to finish the work which he had been given to do. These moments of retreat and silence allowed him to listen to the answer, from God, to the question - what are you doing here Elijah.
It can be hard, over all the pressure groups and media interests, and even our own internal dialogues, not be caught up in yet another wave of anger and fear. Vilifying the "other" is becoming so normalized in many circles that we no longer even see it as unreasonable. Truth has become relative to stance and there are many deceivers in this age. The god we find in this chaos might feel comfortable, might look like us and sound like us but will become unreliable with the ebb and flow of national life.
Take time to breath. Take time to fact check. Take time to try to understand, to listen, to talk with and not about. These are activities where the voice of self must be silenced. Where the chaos of emotion must be quelled. These are activities of the Holy Spirit in the soul. As we pass from the earthquake, wind and fire of our current national report, we may enter the silence of God's answer. What are you doing here?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

don't let panic rule your lives

Image result for sandwich board man
Luke 21:5-19
Years ago, I was helping with an interim at a parish in Southwest Virginia. It was about 25 minutes’ drive from where we were living so every Wednesday lunchtime I would jump in my car and head for the noon Eucharist. With four small children at home I should confess that I was sometimes a little less than focused on where I was going and what I was going to do than I might have liked to be.
Anyway, on that day, there was a man with a sandwich board standing on the side of the road. I had actually seen him several times before but had seen the words “Prepare to meet thy maker” on his board as an invitation not to engage in conversation with him, at any point. I did not stop this day, I did not talk to him either, but I did find a whole new meaning in his message. Before I had always seen a kind of scary get saved quick because tomorrow you die thing. Distasteful, preying on fear – not something we Episcopalians say at all. But I was on my way to Church, trying to glue a coherent prayer together. I was indeed, trying to prepare to meet my maker. Not at the end of time, but at His table and His invitation. It was actually a profoundly reassuring message or God’s presence – and, even though my general sense of distraction made me feel terrible, I knew I was welcome in God’s presence.
Now, I have no idea whether that man had thought about our day to day encounters with God rather than what happens after death. I did not see him again. But today this passage reminded me of him and his sandwich board. This Gospel seems to be offering a sort of final prognosis – when this and that and those happen then everything is finished. But if we take a moment to breath and allow, we might find it a salient reminder of God’s presence and care.
This conversation happens shortly before Jesus is arrested and tried. The disciples are, no doubt, beginning to guess that something is up – that things are not going to turn out quite the way they might have expected. They start by admiring the Temple, like any good tourist in Jerusalem. Jesus cuts them short – it won’t be here, he says. By 70AD we know that this was to be true – the Temple was gone together with the Jerusalem of the Jews.
The disciples seem to have a bit of a panic at this point – when, they ask. Now, this bit is important to listen to carefully – there will be false prophets and they will tell you this is the end – do not listen to them. Jesus does not say there will be anyone who will tell them when the end is coming – take note.
But….bad things will happen. There will be all the same sorts of things which there always have been in human history. Wars, uprisings, kingdoms rising and falling, natural disasters. Jesus does not say God is doing this. He does say they should not read too much into these things.
But the news gets even worse, not only do all the bad things which have always happened continue to happen but now the disciples themselves will be persecuted. Sounds like a great gig, I might have gone home, made some hot chocolate and snuggled up in a blanket and kept my head down at this point. Except I wouldn’t and the Disciples didn’t because there was something bigger going on. The Kingdom of God is going on.
And Jesus answer to all of this – do not try to be a clever clogs, do not think that you are going to win the argument. I will speak, not you. I will make you wise, not reliant on your own cleverness. This is not about it being easy about heaven here and now, this is about trusting that you have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven because you are children of God and that means everything.
So, whilst all this sounds scary and we might ask, well what is the point of this religion thing if it does not give us some sort of protection status? Jesus is clear that living in some sort of fantasy bubble is not the point. Living in the real, complicated, messy and hostile world is the point. Living in the real world and witnessing to the truth of God’s Kingdom.
When I was a child there was a TV series called Dad’s Army. It was about the Home Guard in England - that was a group of folk who were older or medically unable to serve in the regular armed forces who came together to provide a sort of home army - the idea being that in the event of a German invasion, every available person would be needed and having trained units who knew the layout of their local area in detail would be a plus.
This was a comedy. Lance Corporal Jones was an older man who had served in the Army in the Boer War but he had a catch phrase - don’t panic. It was funny because when he was saying don’t panic he was usually running in circles waving his hands around, panicking. Had there been imminent danger he would not have been the sort of person who you wanted around to help.
That word which Jesus uses - terrified - also means do not let panic overtake you. After this election season this should be something we pay a lot of attention to. Panic, allowing fear to rule us, is a dangerous and ugly thing. For months we have had scaremongering and personal attacks. This election has been the most angry and polarising which many of us have experienced.
So what do we do. Jesus is clear to the Disciples - life will not always be easy, but don’t get caught up in spinning your own wheels. Listen to me so that I can speak for you.
This sort of reasoned response takes disciplined enough to stop and listen, to calm our own fearful voice in favor of listening to God’s. It is something which we, as Christians, are called to learn. We are called to be peacemakers, not hard negotiators and there is a difference. We are not here to find clever ways to make out faith fit our belief system we are here to face God, all together, with those who agree with us and those who do not. Learning that my neighbor who had opposing views to me can still love God as much as me is a hard lesson - because it points me to something outside myself.
That is not to say that everyone is always right - it is to say that we have to strive to be the non-anxious presence - to stop our own internal anxious dialogue long enough to engage in real conversation.
To whom are we looking to for our voice? To whom are we listening to for our wisdom? Where have we twisted God into a version of our own needs and desires and forgotten that is not how God works at all? I would hazard a guess that there are not many people in here who did not feel angry at some point over the past few weeks about some aspect of politics. My guess is there are some here who might have had some interesting (and loud, perhaps) conversations over the candidates and parties.
There are always going to be tough times and times of argument, but as we go through life we have to learn who we are and how we react in those times. Do we panic and flail and fall back on the worst possible version of ourselves or can we learn to pause and put ourselves aside, if only for long enough to ask God to come in. When I pray for God’s help I am not writing off my values and opinions, I am just turning myself in the right direction. That is what all of us do week by week when we come to the altar – we turn ourselves in the right direction – the trick is to keep ourselves that way as we go through our day to day life.
As we move forward together, listen. Become a safe and holy space for a world which is confused and hurting. Hold that direction which you find here before you. Try to pay attention to how you are feeling, how things are affecting you and stop long enough to breathe a prayer.
“Do not prepare what you are going to say,” said Jesus, “I will speak for you.” Create a peace into which Jesus can speak and pray always for God to calm you and guide you in all your ways.