Monday, December 29, 2014

Practice practice practice

Practice, practice, practice…that’s the way to learn the piano I was frequently told as a child.  Well I did, and my heart wasn’t in it, so I no longer play the piano!
This advent we’ve been talking about Practice, practice practice, as in ways of practicing our faith, and here in today’s Bible story, there’s a lot of faith practice going on….
First, Mary and Joseph: they are clearly devout Jews who practice their faith.  They are faithful to the rituals of their faith, having had Jesus circumcised, they then go to the temple for her ritual of purification after childbirth and at the same time dedicate their first born child and make a sacrifice….these are practices of a faith community, a community that will help them raise this child, help to bring him up to be strong and wise.
Of course it won’t be without pain, Simeon doesn’t tell them anything new in saying his mother’s heart would be broken.  Loving fully is to endure hurt sometimes, we all know that.  But the faith community does help us through those tough times, I know!
Then there is Simeon, another practitioner of the faith—he knows what he believes in, and has spent his life living in expectancy of God’s coming to liberate the people….actively watching for it in fact.   Three times the story says he’s connected with the Spirit of God, and he’s had mystical experiences that have reassured him that he won’t die before God’s messiah comes.  His main spiritual and practical practice seems to be attentiveness, being aware and alert to all the ways God might come.  It’s clearly what gives his life meaning and purpose.   And as he sees this baby Jesus, all his practices pay off, and he says he can now die in peace, with courage, trusting that God keeps promises.
What do you hope to see before you die?   Peace in our world, less violence in our streets, or something more personal in your relationships?   The question then becomes how are you preparing for it?   Are we actively seeking ways in which God still comes, are we peace makers or relationship builders?   Or have we sunk into cynical apathy instead of prayerful expectation?
I believe that when we are open to the Spirit’s work in and around us, and pay attention, we do notice more of God’s activity….how else might Simeon have noticed one family among many in a crowded temple?  He fully expects God to come, so he’s watchful.  Are we?   Can we look at an unlikely source and see hope?
God does still come intentionally into the world to change it.  Sometimes it means changing us.
Then there’s Anna, also a practitioner of the faith….habits of worship, fasting, and prayer gave meaning and purpose to her life.  She too had a vision of the new world God would usher in…..and when she meets Jesus, she’s not proclaiming she’s ready now to die, not like Simeon.  No, Anna’s up and moving and all about living with a new purpose now, to tell people about Jesus and God’s dream for the world.
Both Simeon and Anna could see something beyond the baby in front of them,  and could imagine the possibilities ahead,  probably because they had learned through their practices to trust in God’s promises.
Both give us examples of older people who can age with hope and wonder….people who can be sources of wisdom for younger people raising children.
All these characters, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, confront us with a real question:  what is my life about, what’s my purpose?  Which then leads to the question: does how I live my life match it?
They all teach us the centrality of practice in our faith.
Practice, practice practice
Practice  opening up to the Spirit
Practice paying attention
Prayer and worship
Blessing children and young parents
Seeking elders’ wisdom
Sharing your faith experience
Practice simple rituals in daily life that bring together the sacredness of life and the presence of God in the ordinary….as simple as saying grace before meals eaten together as a family….or as stopping every noon to pray for peace….
Practice, practice, practice, and unlike me and the piano, what your heart desires will come.
Thanks be to God, and watch out, for God does come!

Star Child (Christmas Eve)

Star Child—Christmas Eve 2014 8 pm
Star Child, earth child, go between of God…..what wonderful news!   God has come to be IN human life!  it’s all so beautiful, this story of angels and shepherds and stables and stars. To think that this down to earth child could transform the world into what God dreams it to be, it’s awesome.
And yet…and yet….we only want a baby, not a challenge.  We don’t particularly want to be like the wise ones, whose lives change direction because of this stable child, this street child, with nowhere to sleep but a meagre shelter.  And so we still don’t have God’s dream fulfilled….this year, once again, won’t be the year when Christmas comes for everyone, everyone alive
Refugees still have to leave their homes……strangers still knock on our doors….children still live in conditions worse than stables…..the working poor still have to slave away on their particular hillsides so we of privilege can be warm and well clothed.   Even we, in our comfort, know the depths of fear and anxiety, uncertainty and pain.   This great beautiful story seems more like bad news.
And yet….and yet…it is a good news story, for the midwife God has not only birthed a savior, but has birthed a people, you and me….to continue to welcome the stranger, house the homeless, seek justice for the poor.  The great gift WE receive at Christmas is a calling…an opportunity to have our own longings satisfied, and our emptiness filled, so we may find meaning and purpose.   It is our calling to open ourselves to this god-who-comes, this divine within us, to set the hope-for-peace child free in us….
Then Jesus the street child, the beat child, the old child, the wise child, will become the dream child of each of our lives, empowering us to work for peace, speak out for justice, welcome the stranger, protect the children….then, and only then, regardless of race or ethnicity or religion, or gender identification, then will Christmas come for everyone, everyone alive.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

December 25 and Christmas

Here's an interesting article for the curious who have time on their hands at this busy time!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Joy to the world?

Some of you know I just came back from vacation; a week in Germany, where, secular or religious, they really do celebrate Advent pretty publicly.   Sure, there are Christmas markets and decorations, Santas and St Nickolas’s everywhere (we even received an overnight visit from St Nicholas), but in churches and restaurants and hotels and in town squares there are also Advent wreaths and candles.
I was reflecting on this on Thursday afternoon, when I thought it was about time I started preparing for today’s sermon…..thinking about the Advent theme of joy, when ding, my computer told me I had an email.  I opened the inbox and the subject was
Oh Joy!
Wow, I thought, God you’re good!
So I open it and in flashing coloured letters:  Joyful, Joyful!......40% off your entire purchase!
Well, there you go, another way we’ve cheapened and lightened what is really a deep and significant state of mind.   It might make me happy to get 40% off, but I don’t think that’s the kind of Joy Advent offers us.  Happiness, like sales offers, comes and goes; joy goes deep, and simmers softly in us like a well we can tap even when we’re not happy, when life isn’t all sweetness and light.
For joy is knowing, without logic or proof or cultural affirmation, that Advent means what it says, God comes.  Period.
Many of us of course also cheapen and lighten advent and Christmas—thinking its about the coming of baby Jesus, either remembering it as history, or a little deeper about his being born again in our hearts…..a simple story of long ago, that makes no demands on the soul.    and for children that is so…
Yet it’s really about the coming of the reign of God, the kin-dom of God….in ways Isaiah describes, where the captive are freed, the poor fed, the brokenhearted held, the discouraged lifted up.
But it hasn’t come, not fully yet anyway…..the headlines and our culture of fear tell us that…..
We sing, Joy to the world, the Lord is come, but really?  so we give up and settle for a Hallmark Christmas instead.  we settle for happy.    And miss the joy.
So here’s our opportunity to reverse the trend….look at all our texts for today and we find that God does come, and that’s what brings joy.
In the psalm, God HAS come, and has done great things!   Many who have shed tears now find joy….and we know that’s been true in our own lives.   A moment to consider where you’ve known or seen that Coming…
In Isaiah, God anoints and sends (present tense) people to proclaim  God’s word to reclaim God’s people, to bring about the kin-dom, to release those who’re imprisoned by unjust systems, poverty, or their own inner demons, to offer comfort to the hurting….and many know the blessing of joy once freed…..and we know that is still true in our own life and community.    A moment to consider where you’ve known or seen that Coming…
And in Thessalonians, God WILL continue to support those who are sent…..and that is cause to rejoice always, pray continually in thanksgiving.     And this might be where we fail to see the coming….for who can rejoice always?   It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the bad news and wonder about God’s support and care let alone God’s coming…… a moment to consider how we’ve found it hard to know joy, or even to pray, in the face of our world’s cruelty and greed…..
So what do we DO with that?
The joy of Advent is knowing that God comes.   That promise is one side of the joy coin.  And we can know it with our heads, but it takes work to get it down into our very being.
The other side of the coin is our participation.  Because Joy can’t be complete without Justice, and justice can’t come without our standing up and speaking out, like Isaiah, like John, like Jesus.
And so, we try.   Every time we say no to despair and yes to hope, God comes and releases some of our joy
Every time we say yes to building the world God wants for us, and no to cynicism about the systems…. God comes and releases some of our joy
Every time we participate in an act or a word for justice….. God comes and releases some of our joy
Every day we sit quietly enough to go deeper than the shallow season all around us….. God comes and releases some of our joy
Every time we notice God at work in unexpected places….. God comes and releases some of our joy
Every time we refuse to bury our heads in the sand and escape the world and say yes instead to plumbing the depths of life, good and bad…… God comes and releases some of our joy
Advent comes to break us open to the divine in the human….to see what is beyond the obvious, to see God in all the laces we hae so far ignored, in the world or in ourselves.
Our senior high youth put out a radio show on the internet where all the animals were called to share the good news in their own particular voices…it’s awesome and I invite you to listen to it

But not just listen to it, do it.   For God has anointed us, sends us, to share the joy of knowing what God has done, what God is doing, and the vision of what God will do.
So like our youth, Use your particular voice to speak justice,   like Isaiah                                                                                                           use your particular voice to remember and live in joy, like the psalmist,                                                                                                            use your voice to proclaim how Christ comes to bring joy instead of pain
Use your voice, as Paul says, rejoice always, pray continually and don’t quash the Spirit!
May the joy of this season move from the shallowness of our head, and the cynicism of the season, fill our soul, squeeze into every nook and cranny of our being, so we may watch expectantly for signs of God’s advent and speak out the joy.