Tuesday, December 23, 2014

We must look back, to Move Forward

The time is almost here! 

So far this Advent we have felt hope.  That even though we may have lost our way, God will always follow through with the covenant made with Abraham.  So even when times are dark or times are tough…we look the future with hope knowing that as long as we bless him, we will be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:1-3).

We have prepared.  Just as the prophets foretold and just as God has promised…one will come baptizing in the name of the Holy Spirit; the Messiah! (John 1:19-28)  To be ready for this, we must be prepared for this.  Instead of waiting for another John…we need to do the work ourselves.

We have felt joy on Gaudete Sunday!  We rejoiced as the shepherds learned of the announcement of the birth of the Messiah.  Letting us know that you do not need to be big and powerful or a king…God works through us to make these amazing moments happen.  Let us allow God to work through us so that we may be Christ to others.

This week, we light the last purple candle on our Advent wreath…this one stands for love.

Why is all of this happening?  Because of love…

“For God so loved the world…”  I think that is a verse just about everyone knows.

God loves us…that is why all this is happening. 

Advent four, we have the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her that she is going to become pregnant with the son of God.  Not big news at all!

Advent is a difficult time to fully grasp, because we are looking backwards in order to move forward.  In our time, we have spent the past four weeks preparing for the coming of Christ, an event that has already occurred.  But as we do this, we are also looking to the parousia or the second coming of Christ.

During this time we hear a lot from Isaiah, a prophet in Jerusalem that is lamenting for his people who have become so lost and so separated from God.  We have King David and the covenant God made with him.  Through all of this you hear these things about one that will come and make a new Kingdom on earth, one that will come and save everyone, one that will come and establish a new Jerusalem…  Many would argue that these people had no idea that this was Jesus they were talking about, that God was working through them, and they did not fully comprehend what it all meant.

Jump forward like 400 years!  If you think the 4 weeks in Advent takes too long…imagine if it were 400 years!  Throughout this whole time, we still have the people of God being separate from God.  They are still looking for the one that will come and save them.  Hoping for a warrior king to raise up and lead them against the Romans!  For 400 years, they waited.  Hoping that God will fulfill his promise.  Preparing for the time that this might happen, being joyful that that time may be coming soon…then we get to Advent 4…it is happening!

Mary has received the message…After years and years of waiting and preparing….the time has come!

The Messiah, the great warrior that will set them all free…has finally come.

But the leader they were expecting would not be the leader they would receive.

The son of the God that gave his only son because he loved the world…would not be a warrior, but would be a loving, caring God, one that would lead in a different way.

As we look back at these stories in the Old Testament…let us use the lessons in them to help us out today, as we wait for the time Christ will return.

As we near the end of Advent, we look back and celebrate the gift of love from God in his son Jesus Christ and we look forward to the second coming.

Happy Advent everyone and I hope you all have a very joyous Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Presence of the Lord is Here

This past Sunday, we observed what is known as Gaudete Sunday.  We lit the pink candle on our Advent Wreaths and listened to a reading from 1 Thessalonians.  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Rejoice always it says… very fitting when you learn the word Gaudete is actually Latin for rejoice…it’s where the name comes from, actually.  You can read more about Gaudete Sunday and its origins by reading  Rejoice in the Lord Always! A blog written by our very own liturgist and organist, Dr. David Ouzts.

So this past Sunday, we lit that pink candle on the Advent Wreath.  This candle is for rejoicing, for joy!  We are beginning to get excited for the arrival of Christ.  We are still preparing…but we are know a little bit more excited. 

Here we have the birth of a King!  The King of Kings!  Now, let’s think back to not long ago…when the world anxiously awaited the arrival of the Royal Baby… There was no where that you could look without seeing or hearing about Prince William and Kate Middelton’s child.  It was everywhere!

Now that is just the child of a Prince…imagine what the commotion would be like for a birth of the Messiah, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Alpha, the Omega…it must have been EVERYWHERE!  Everyone must have been talking about the birth of this miracle worker…

But no.

What sort of announcement does Jesus receive…

Angels appear to “…shepherds living in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8)

That was it.  That was the announcement that Jesus received; Angels appearing to the shepherds in the field.  That is also why the candle we lit on Sunday is called the Shepherd’s Candle.

Instead of sending word to the authority figures and the higher ups…God chose to send the message of the birth of Jesus to these shepherds!

As you may know by now, I have worked at numerous retreats and camps for children and youth over the years.  One activity that we do at some of these retreats is called an Affirmation Circle.  In this exercise, each person will go around in a circle, make eye contact with each person, one at a time, and say ‘In all places, at all times, I see God in you.”

It is always one of the most powerful yet eye-opening things we do. 

Do you really see God in me? 

Do you see God in others?

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to have dinner with some old friends and catch.  One of these friends is one that I have stayed in touch with, for the most part, but the other was one that I had not.  It was a terrific time, being able to visit and see that no matter how long it has been, that we were still all friends.  These were not my friends from school or college.  These were my friends from youth group.  From being involved with the church.  Those are the friends that I still remain connected with to this day.  This really made me think about why…why was it so easy to just pick it back up and still feel that great bond of friendship…I realized…it was because when I needed them…when I was in the dark…they were God to me. 

It is easy to say that people or friends or family are there for you…but when you change that to saying…When I was lost….you were the living presence of God in my life.

As I looked at the friendships that I have maintained over the years, there always seems to be one common denominator… the friendship I work on keeping, and care about maintaining…they have all been there for me in my life…  In all places and at all times… I saw God in them.

I was so moved this past Sunday during a free concert we hosted here at the Church of Holy Communion.  Fran Mckendree, a wonderful musician and an even better person, performed and entertained everyone with his words, his music, and his engaging personality. 

His performance was so packed with energy, that one of our youth was so moved to even try to participate in the concert.  Something typically not done during shows…but he was determined to play piano alongside Fran and really wanted to perform Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton…”the master of the 20th century” as he put it.

Worried that some people in the audience would maybe not appreciate the occasional breaks during the show, I rushed out to try to get him to join back in our seats…but before I was able to… I heard Fran saying, oh yea, let’s play!”  What happened next was a truly amazing moment.  Watching as one of our youth played an impromptu duet with this pretty well known musician….In all places, at all times, I saw God in Fran that night.

When you open your eyes and really look around….You can see God in the most amazing and unexpected places.  All you have to do is look.

If you ask me, this is why the Angles of the Lord appeared to the shepherds.  This is why we remember that act by lighting the Shepherd’s Candle on Advent 3.

God didn’t proclaim the birth of the King of Kings to the ones who were “worthy” of the message.

The message was given to the common people.  It was these “common” people that spread the good news. 

And to be honest…I don’t think much has changed.

You do not have to be “worthy” or “deserving” to receive the message of Christ…

God used the shepherds then….the people, back then….

God still uses us, the people today…

In all places…

At all times…

I see God in you!

Now go and be Christ to others.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The World Doesn't Need Another John

As promised, we will continue with our Advent reflections.  Last week we lit the first purple candle on our wreath.  This was lit as a symbol of Hope.   

A symbol that said although I am not perfect and free of sin…I am hopeful...

Although I am lost…I am not forever gone…

We looked to the future with hope!

This past Sunday we lit the Bethlehem Candle.  This candle symbolizes what it is to prepare the way for the coming of Christ.

What can we do in today’s society to prepare for the way for Christ?

If we look at the readings from this past Sunday, one may think that the acceptable answer is to live in the wilderness, eat locusts and honey, proclaim that you are merely a prophet preaching a message of repentance preparing the way for the Messiah…

Now, let’s be honest…  If a man dressed in rags, lived in the trees by Tom Lee Park, ate bugs, preached about the coming of the Messiah saying that everyone must repent for their sins, and be baptized in the waters of the River Mississippi…  I would go out on a limb and guess they are more likely to end up at 201 before being able to amass a large following of people.

This past Sunday, our Priest-in-Charge The Rev. Sandy Webb shared his thoughts on John during his sermon.  “…the world does not need another John…”.

When I look around at everything that is happening in our world, I would have to agree…we do not need another John.  I would be afraid of how we would respond to him anyway.

Father Sandy continued by saying that “…the world needs the one whom John prepared the way.”  Again…I would be fearful of how we as a society would treat this person.

Last week we were hopeful.  Hopeful for a better future and asked the question of whom shall the Lord send?

“Here am I” we said.  “Send me!”

But what does this look like for us in today’s society…

I remember when I was younger, some of my favorite days where days that you walked into school and saw that you had a substitute teacher…In my na├»ve mind, substitute teacher meant free day.  Just about 99% of the time I was wrong.

The teacher would always have prepared a lesson plan well in advance.  A lot of the time the teacher had spoken with the sub and had fully prepared them for what we were working on in class that day.  And more often than not, most of these subs were either former teachers or were perfectly qualified to be full time teachers…they just stepped right in and continued on just like if the teacher had been there.

Of course, as students, we would push the boundaries of what we could get away with a little bit more but we would still always end up getting busted. 

Now that I am older, I can look back at those situations and understand better what was going on during these times.

Your teacher would do their best to make sure that the substitute was fully prepared to keep things going as if the teacher were still there.  It would always have a different feel because each person has a different teaching style and a different way of dealing with certain situations. 

Now if you ever had a substitute teacher for a long period of time…then this was most likely how that would go down…

At first the sub is trying to continue on with what the teacher had prepared.  After a little while they will begin taking what the teacher had prepared and tweaking it a little bit so that it fit to their style of teaching.  Perhaps if they were there long enough they would just be teaching their own lessons.  They were no longer necessarily on the path the teacher had set from the beginning, but they were trying to keep things going with what they thought they should be doing.

Now, most of you may be reading this and thinking….yes, we understand how the school system works…what does this have anything to do with Advent!

Let’s look at this scenario again…but change some things. 

Instead of teacher what if we say Jesus.

What if instead of substitute we said ourselves.

The longer we are without Jesus, the further off his path we get and the more on our own path we get.

We also do not carry the same amount of credibility as Jesus so a lot of people think the exact same thing that I did back then..Free day!

The job of the substitute teacher was help things carry on while the teacher was gone.  It was not to press play on a movie.  They would continue teaching, class would move on…and that is what we need now.

But we do not need to look to one person to accomplish this.

Each Sunday as we send out our Eucharistic Visitors we say this line, we who are many are one body; because we share one, bread, one cup.

We are all one in the Body of Christ. 

The world does not need another John to come and prepare the way for Christ.  We have plenty of Johns already on earth.

We just need the Johns to stop teaching and living from their own agendas and lesson plans.

We are the ones that need to prepare the way.

John has done his part in preparing the way.

His message is with us.

What can we do to prepare the way?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I am Lost, for I am a man of unclean lips...

If I had to choose one word to describe what life is like between now and Christmas it would be “busy”.

Thanksgiving, as a holiday, has nearly disappeared and has become the unofficial starting date of the Christmas season.  The spirit of “shopping” has taken over this holiday so much that stores are now even open on Thanksgiving Day!

Now, I must be honest with all of you…I have been Black Friday shopping…twice to be exact.  Neither time was done so willingly nor neither time I enjoyed it…but there is not much arguing with your older siblings.

Sadly, due to this, we are skipping one of the most beautiful seasons!  Advent! 

Many families will put their Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving…begin decorating and listen to Christmas music nonstop from November 28 until after New Year’s.

Personally…I love Advent.  The more I learn about it and the more I read scripture during Advent…the more I fall in love with it.

Starting today, I will offer my own Advent reflections all the way through Christmas.  These reflections will correspond with the meaning of the candles in the Advent wreath.

This past Sunday, we lit the first purple candle on our Advent wreaths.  This candle is known as the Prophecy Candle or the Candle of Hope.  It is lit on the first Sunday of Advent….the day the church begins its new year on the liturgical calendar.   So….Happy New Year!

Now, while we are on the subject of New Year’s…let’s think about all those things we do for New Year’s.

Many of you may be thinking things like, watching the ball drop, Auld Lang Syne, eating black eyed peas, going to Winterfest (that is where I will be and you can sign up to be there too just by clicking here!)…

Something else that you all probably thought about is making a New Year’s resolution.  Now, just for fun, how many times have you made a New Year’s resolution?

How many times have you followed through with your New Year’s resolutions?

My guess is that second number is pretty low. 

Did you know that in the United States, less than 12% of people actually follow through with their resolutions!  Just 12%!!! So let’s say that everyone who comes to church this past Sunday made a resolution…so that is 494 people…making 494 resolutions… less than 60 people will keep those resolutions.

So what is the point?

Why do we make the “promises” to ourselves and then not follow through with them?

I may be wrong, but to me the purpose of making a resolution is to do something to better yourself. 

Eat healthy, work out more…Most of the time, it is a way of making ourselves better people. 

We are hoping that we can better ourselves as we enter the New Year.  Who doesn’t want to make their next year better than their last year?

I compare this same concept to Advent.  In Advent, we are preparing for the parousia, the second coming of Christ!  We are looking forward and hoping for a better time.  We are preparing ourselves for this.

But this can make ourselves ask some questions about ourselves…

A few weeks ago we heard the scripture about the owner of the house who would have stayed awake all night if he knew the hour that the thief was coming…but we do not know.  All we are told is that we must “…Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” -Matthew 24:42.

Whenever I hear this story, I can’t help but think of the movie Johnny English.  Now in this 2003, comedy about a mediocre spy (Rowan Atkinson, better known as Mr. Bean) tries to stop Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) from taking over England.  Hilarity ensues leading up to the almost coronation of Mr. Sauvage.  Johnny English breaks up the ceremony and accuses the Archbishop of Canterbury of having a tattoo on his butt that reads “Jesus is coming, look busy!” 

Now if you had to simplify Advent down to 5 words…this may be close…but there is so much more to it! 

We can’t just look busy.  I do not think that when Christ comes again we can just start doing everything right and Jesus will be like…Ah, well look at you!  Good Job!

I believe that Jesus actually got mad at the Pharisees for doing very similar things and called them the following names… blind guides (Matthew 23:16), fools (Matthew 23:17), whited supulchres…full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27), serpents, (Matthew 23:33), generation of vipers (Matthew 23:33), hypocrites (Luke 11:44), and even compares them to unmarked graves that people walk on without knowing (Luke 11:44).

Ok so I think it is safe to assume that we do not want to be like them.

But as we sit back and look at all the things that are going on in the world around us, we look at our own lives… maybe we struggle to see the hope.

We may think that we are not living a life that is worthy in the eyes of God, we may fall short and now during this time of hope, we may find it difficult to fully allow ourselves to do what we are suppose to.

What good can we do as a just another person who is living in this world full of such anger, sadness, despair…  What can we do?

If you find yourself asking this question…then you will find that you are in good company.

In the Old Testament, there is a prophet who struggles with this same thing…

“Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…”

In this passage we hear about a vision in which the Prophet Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on a throne.  Isaiah feels something that I think many of us may feel if we were in that situation or may even feel now as we look at our purpose as Christians.

But immediately after Isaiah admits his shortcomings, an angel takes a coal from the fire and places it to his tongue and tells him “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin blotted out” (Isaiah 6:7).

After this, Isaiah is willing and ready!  The Lord then commands him And he said, “Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
10 Make the mind of this people dull,

    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
    and turn and be healed.”
-Isaiah 6:9-10

So again, I ask what can we do?  We may feel weak…


We may feel that we are the wrong person…

We may feel like Isaiah.

This week’s candle is known as the Prophecy Candle.  A symbol of hope.  We are looking forward to the coming of Christ…we are called to go out and spread this message…but I am lost.

I am a man of an unclean tongue…

I live among people of unclean tongues…

But still the Lord asks, “Whom shall I send…”

“Here am I; send me!”