waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 7, Saturday, December 9, 2017

 

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Wind. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, yes, righteous in the manner of the knowledge of God’s Law, yet aware of his lack of understanding of You and of God, came to You under the cover of night. So, I, by earthly standards, learned and practiced in the fields of theology and ministry, oft lie awake in the small hours of the morning seeking You, awaiting Your coming to comfort me in my waging, warring struggle against the principal question that rages within me: Why, in a world wrought from nothing(1) by Your benevolent-almighty-all-gracious-giving Father’s will, does evil dwell? As You spoke to Nicodemus, so You speak to me: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above…The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(2) Yea, O Lord Jesus, as I believe, so I know that only inspired by the Wind, inspirited with the breath of Your Spirit can I be…am I reborn so to behold, to know the mind of God and, thus, to know this truth: I, even I am to stand for the light of right in the shadow of wrong. I, even I am to be an active agent for good, lest evil prosper. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) The idea of creatio ex nihilo (Latin, literally, creation out of nothing; as opposed to creatio ex materia, literally, creation out of material, that is, pre-existing elements) postulates that God formed the universe from nothingness.
(2) John 3.3, 8

 

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keep awake!

a sermon, based on Isaiah 64.1-9 and Mark 13.24-37, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 1st Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017

Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming” – the Christian season of preparation for the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus. Take note how Advent begins, how Advent calls us to prepare. Not with the cheery optimism of our annual preparations for our yuletide celebrations, but rather with Isaiah.

Isaiah (1896-1902), James TissotThe prophet, on behalf of a long-suffering people, cries out to God for divine intervention (“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”) and confesses to God the people’s sins (“our iniquities, like the wind, take us away!”) and confronts God for being the cause of the people’s sin and suffering (“You were angry and we sinned; because you hid your face, we transgressed!”).

Isaiah, as a herald of Advent, speaks for us; we who live in this long-suffering world of manifold misfortunes of both natural and human origin.

Isaiah, as a herald of Advent, also speaks to us, clamoring to catch our attention, rudely interrupting our holiday planning to remind us that whatever the causes of the world’s tribulations, this world remains in need of redemption.

Would that we could turn to Jesus for a hopeful word. But no. Answering his disciples’ question about the end of time, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple and their coming persecution.(1)

Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple, Alexandre Bida, 1874

Then he says, “In those days, after that suffering.” One might expect things would get better, but no again! Jesus prophesies the destruction of the cosmos: “The sun will darken, the moon will not give its light, stars will fall from heaven, the powers of which will be shaken.”

apocalypse

Yet there is good news: “The Son of Man (will come)…with great power and glory.” Jesus, having come once in his birth, according to centuries of Christian theology and tradition, will come again to set things right, to inaugurate God’s kingdom in its fullness when, in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”(2)

But there’s a catch. No one knows when he’s coming. Not the religious enthusiasts who disengage from the world to watch and wait. Not the numerologists who make periodic predictions of the day, time, and place of his arrival. Not Jesus himself, though he promised, “Truly, I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Today, as truly I tell you that many a generation has come and gone and nothing of this prophetic word has been fulfilled.

Perhaps those who first heard it were suffering the sort of persecution of which Jesus speaks. For them this was a word of comfort, advising them to “keep awake”, to wait with hope that divine help, swift and sure, was on the way. However, for us, centuries later and fairly comfortable with life as we live it, thus, not longing to see the upheaval of the cosmos, “keep awake” must mean something else.

“Keep awake” is our Advent call of how to prepare for Christmas and every day after…

“Keep awake” is a cry that we renew our care about our work as Christians and the church in our generation, which has not yet passed away…

“Keep awake” is a command that we, the comforting hands of divine help, swift and sure, in this world, revive our concern for our sisters and brothers who dwell in great, grave want and need, who suffer at the hands of all the wicked -isms that we cannot or will not resolve, do something tantamount to tearing open the heavens, something akin, to paraphrase today’s Collect, “to casting away the works of darkness”(3) that those who live in life’s shadows might see light.

On this First Sunday of Advent, this first day of a new Christian Year, it is a good thing to be reminded that Christianity is no avocation, no hobby, calling for our free, spare time and efforts, but rather – as the first Christians were called “followers of the Way”(4) – a full-time vocation, a daily manner of being in the world, of being ourselves. Therefore, “keep awake” is Jesus’ call, cry, command to every one of us every day to do something to brighten the light of love, to fan the flame of justice in this world.

 

Illustrations:
Isaiah (1896-1902), James Tissot (1836-1902)
Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple, Alexandre Bida, 1874

Footnotes:
(1) See Mark 13.3-23
(2) From Revelations of Divine Love: Number 13 (1413), Dame Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)
(3) Full text of Collect for the First Sunday of Advent: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(4) Acts 9.2, 11.26

a death of my unconscious

My friend Melinda McDonald, reading my post of yesterday, a World AIDS Day tribute (reposted from December 1, 2016), really, a poem in commemoration of my brother Wayne and his courageous facing of his dying and death at the insidious hand of AIDS, wrote to me, in part: How you have been formed in the refining fires of love and loss and grief. These are what make us what we are, hopefully better and more pure of heart.

On this morning’s reflection, I realize that I read her words as a question – How have you been formed in the refining fires of love and loss and grief? – and recognize the irony that Melinda’s comment stirred and brought to light (to life?) something, a thought, an idea that, doubtless, for some time, since Wayne’s death in 1995, had lain in the recesses of my unconscious. That is, what happens after people die; not only to them, but for those who live on?(1)

I responded to Melinda, writing (again, now it is clear to me something I had been pondering unawares, but now, due to her gracious word, has died to my unconscious, flowering fully in the light and life of my consciousness): Wayne’s death has taught me that grief – though, yes, there are stages – has no end. I will mourn his death until I die. Something else I believe I have learned… I used to think that when a person died s/he remained frozen in time (that is, as s/he was at the time of death) in the memories of living loved ones. In Wayne’s case, I, amazingly, have discerned that he has continued to be and to become – perhaps, yes, as I would have imagined and envisioned his development; nevertheless, o’er the years, I have heard him speaking to me of things in my ongoing experience. Perhaps, for me, this is proof, tho’, by faith, I need it not, of the life everlasting.

Thank you, Melinda. Thank you, Wayne. Thank you, God.

Wayne & me

Footnote:

(1) In this, I think of the Apostle Paul’s grand assurance to the living both about those who have died and those who live on: We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18).

Photograph: Wayne and me, c. 1956/7

a World AIDS Day tribute (reposted from December 1, 2016)

WRA 1976

Wayne Roberts Abernathy, December 21, 1950 – March 20, 1995

numbered among the 1st generations of martyrs slain
by a killer, then, by most, barely known,
tho’ still, by some, bravely named,
Wayne,
with mind and heart, soul and spirit,
weathered the firstly gradual, then rapaciously fleet
& inexorable descent
into death’s shadow;
yet neither cursing nor clenching closed his eyes to the enveloping darkness,
rather gazing fast at his Lord’s, his greatest Love’s Light;
Whose promise of eternal keeping
he ne’er spent a moment doubting;
tho’ some – e’en family and church,
oft misunderstanding and unaccepting –
questioned, given his “lifestyle” choosing,
which he boldly, surely knew
was no more his free electing
than any other manner of God’s creative bestowing…

in this, aye, verily, Wayne, in his dying,
damning not the imposing, yet impostering darkness,
loved, longed, lived into Life’s unbounded Light
and now forever walks by blessed sight.

“we are clay, and You, O God, our Potter”

a homily, based on Isaiah 64.1-9, preached with the people of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Clinton, SC, and Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, at the joint Advent service on Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On the threshold of Advent, as we await the celebration on Christmas Day of Jesus’ first coming in his nativity and his second coming, whenever that will be, “to judge quick and dead”, we read Isaiah who asks God to “tear open the heavens and come down”…“as fire” to deal with adversaries; nations and peoples who don’t do right.

Truth be told, this year with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and wildfires in the West, I believe that we’ve had enough of the heavens torn open and fire!

Yet there is a shift in Isaiah that the prophet bids, begs we consider: God’s people can be God’s adversaries; the ones who don’t do right. As Isaiah declares, “We sinned…we transgressed…(becoming) like one who is unclean…”

Back in proverbial day when I was a child growing up in All Saints’ Episcopal Church, St. Louis, when the American societal establishment honored religious observances and before we, in our culture-wide commercial and consumer haste to get to Christmas began to see holiday advertisements, first, soon after Thanksgiving Day, and now, any time after All Hallow’s Eve, Advent was considered “a little Lent”, a season of penitence in recognition that there can be no true celebration without repentance, no true festivity without reflecting, yes, upon our blessings, yet also our failings.

Isaiah, as a herald of Advent, calls us to examine our relationship with God and, in our earnest, honest examination, to confess again that it needs healing and to profess again that we, as clay, can’t fix it and to confirm again that God, as our Potter, is the only One who can.

potter hands

This means we cannot contain or control God to do our bidding, not now, not ever and that we can commit our lives, our minds and hearts, our souls and spirits, placing them in God’s hands to mold, shape, and fashion us into something glorious, which is, Who is the image of the One whose birth and second coming we await.

May the words of that grand spiritual be our Advent prayer:

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on us.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on us.
Melt us. Mold us. Fill us. Use us.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on us.

thanksgiving forgiving redux

What happens – and, I am bold to say, I believe this to be a common (universal!) human experience – when one you have forgiven for past indiscretions continues to behave indiscreetly?

I asked myself this question when, during our Thanksgiving Day gathering, I took rueful note that one I had forgiven,(1) continued to act, in my view, in ways that immediately refreshed my memory of prior indiscretions.

Before retiring, as Pontheolla and I recounted the wondrously pleasant day, I relayed my observations, saying, “It almost makes me want to rescind my forgiveness.”

As I seek always (well, chiefly) to be honest with myself and with others, I hasten to add, no, not “almost”. For, given how I felt, I did desire to retract my forgiveness. And, no, not “makes me”, for I don’t believe anyone can compel me to do anything against my will (barring, I think, confronting me with a credible threat to my existence). Rather I would withdraw my forgiveness as a matter of self-righteous choice (which, I confess, is not beyond me) and, thus, at minimal best, not hold the other person responsible for my act of conscious volition.

However, I cannot, did not, and will not revoke my forgiveness…for a host of reasons.

I cannot – I am unable to – withdraw what is not mine, though, paradoxically, yes, I did possess it to give. Jesus teaches, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”(2) Yet the truth, his truth is that God always acts first to forgive us, thus, empowering us to do the same, therefore, in the words of the Apostle, we are to “forgiv(e) one another, as God in Christ has forgiven (us).”(3)

I did not withdraw my God-given forgiveness because of what I believe to be an existential truth of all human living: No one arrives at any place of good or ill without, in the former case, the helpful hearts and hands of countless folk, known and unknown, seen and unseen and, in the latter case, without the labors of hurtful hearts and hands. Believing, knowing this to be true, only God knows (surely not, never I) and, thus, can judge the measure and consequences of the influences of good and ill on another.

I will not withdraw my God-given forgiveness because I look “in a mirror, dimly,”(4) unable to see and know myself fully.(5) Thus, the plea of the psalmist resonates within me: “O God, who can detect their sins; cleanse me from my secret faults.”(6) As only God can know and, thus, judge the measure and consequences of my self-awareness and self-ignorance, as I pray the blessing of divine mercy, withholding the just punishment I deserve, so I ought and do pray the same for others.

 

Footnotes:

(1) See my previous post, thanksgiving forgiving, November 25, 2017
(2) Matthew 6.14
(3) Ephesians 4.32b
(4) 1 Corinthians 13.12
(5) Indeed, as I live and breathe, I ever am in the process of being and becoming. All I am is greater (at least, different) than what, who I was. And all I will be is greater (again, at least different) from what, who I am.
(6) Psalm 19.12. On immediate reflection, I have enough difficulty dealing with my sins and faults of which I am aware, let alone the ones of which I am not conscious, that is, that are “secret” to me.

thanksgiving forgiving

One of the aspects of my living…my being with which I most have wrestled and do wrestle is forgiveness. For reasons, at least those of which I am conscious – harkening back to formative years’ absences of acknowledgment and acceptance from those who mattered most; those lacks imparting wounds of the soul hard to heal – I have a heartfelt sensitivity to and an elephantine memory for slights and a spirit-deep capacity to bear a grudge. Interestingly to me, as I’ve aged (grown?), I find that I tend to harbor animus more, most against those who have harmed, rather than myself, those near and dear to me.

(Here, there is an inherent irony and an unpleasant truth. The loved one for whom I carry the blazing torch of retribution to right the wrongs committed against her/him may not – usually doesn’t – embody by character or embrace by choice a vengeful disposition. Hence, I, in wielding, without having been asked, the axe of reprisal for one who would not, am forced to face afresh the resident reality of mine own anger.)

Two days ago, on Thanksgiving Day, I stood face to face with one who, in my view, brought grave hurt to a dearest loved one and against whom I, through the nurturance, in my mental rehearsal of the rota of wrongs, had stoked the fire of my anger. In the instant of our meeting, after weeks, months since last sight, I noticed something different. An aging. A weakness of flesh. A brittleness of mind. A weariness of spirit. Equally instantly, I felt soul-searing sorrow and sympathy. Enough to do what I, by virtue of my faith in the One Who hath forgiven me, ought to have done weeks, months before. Forgive.