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What’s Your Foundation?

(a sermon for February 16, 2020, the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Corinthians 3:10-23)

Along Route One just north of the town of Monticello, Maine there still stands an old farmhouse that is in fact, the Lowry family homestead.  Surrounded by acres of woods and potato fields, my grandparents lived in that house for pretty much their whole lives; it was where my father and his brother and three sisters were all born and raised, and it was the place we gathered for countless family reunions, Christmas Eve celebrations and Oyster Stew suppers, which was in those days the Lowry family meal! 

It was also a place of endless fascination for me as a young child, in particular in the way the house itself was laid out.  Actually, it was and is a quintessential New England farmhouse, in that it exists in pieces that were built over time and are connected one to another.  First there was built the main structure – or the “big house,” as it’s sometimes called in these parts – with the kitchen and living space downstairs, bedrooms and, eventually, a bathroom (!) upstairs.  Then, some years later, a couple of additions were built on:  on one end, an extra kitchen and living room where my grandparents stayed in their later years while my uncle and his family were living in the main house; and on the other side of the building, an addition made into a laundry room.  And then, attached to that laundry room was a shed, or “back house,” that was built primarily for storage and to stack firewood.  And of course, this is to say nothing of the porch that at one time or another was attached to the front! 

Like I said, as a kid I loved that house! I remember it as being filled will all sorts of nooks and crannies, with doors in every room leading to these “mysterious” closets and crawl-spaces. And the thing was that though it really wasn’t all that big of a house, it still just seemed to me to stretch on forever!  These days I like to think of it as in the words of that Schooner Fare song, the “big house, middle house, back house, barn,” built piece by piece and all connected as one; but not only by virtue of wood-framed walls and a shingled roof but in a much larger sense by the several generations of family who have lived there, as well as in and through all the changes in their lives over the years. 

It’s an amazing thing when you think about it: all that history; all that experience; all the stories that grew out of a house that continue to be told to this very day.  But here’s the thing: it all started by the house having first been built on a strong foundation… because whatever else you choose to build on it, a good foundation is what really matters.

Actually, it strikes me that much the same thing can be said about this church building in which we are worshipping this morning. After all, not only is this building one of the oldest – if not the oldest (!) – original church edifices still standing here in Concord, but it’s also quite literally connected to our fellowship hall, which began its life as a residence across the street here on Mountain Road and was physically moved here to become part of the church!  That’s interesting in and of itself, but it seems to me it’s a great analogy – a parable, if you will – for who we are and have always been as a congregation  Truly, we at East Church have always sought to be a congregation that reaches out in faith and love to one another and outward to the people of this community.  And we do that, come what may, because first we were built on a strong foundation… and like I said before, a good foundation is what really matters…

…understanding that while all those rocks and blocks of granite that underpin this building are of great importance, there’s more to it than simply that.  In the words of Brian Peterson, of Lutheran Southern Seminary, just as any building “must fit its foundation, [be] supported by it and shaped to match it,” so it is with the church.  Because the church, you see, already has its one foundation, and as we sang at the beginning of the service this morning, “it is Jesus Christ our Lord.”  And as Paul makes clear in our text for this morning, “each builder must choose with care how to build on” that foundation, because the materials we use in the building will not only be revealed, in the end our construction going to have to pass inspection…

…which, it seems to me, is not only applicable even now to the manner in which we govern and direct the building up of our churches (including this one!) but also to the way you and I seek to build our lives as well!

This morning we return to Paul’s first letter to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth; a group of new believers who were remarkable both for the passion expressed in their new-found faith but even more so for the divisions that almost immediately rose amongst them!  In fact, at the time when Paul had sent this epistle, there was this growing divide amongst the Corinthian Christians over what leader they should follow: Paul, who had spent 18 months amongst them as a “founding pastor,” so to speak; Apollos, this new, well-spoken and apparently very charismatic missionary leader in their midst; or the well-remembered sentimental favorite Cephas, that is, Peter… yes, that Peter! This question of leadership had become, to say the very least, a heated discussion, and it had now gotten to the point where whenever Christians were gathered there were bound to be lots of signs waving and fiery debate (kind of sounds like primary season in New Hampshire, doesn’t it?).

So of course, here comes Paul right in the midst of the fray!  But his response to this conflict is quite interesting:  rather than claiming a pre-ordained victory or spiritual high ground over his central political rival – excuse me, his spiritual partner Apollos – Paul acknowledges that yes, “according to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation” with you in Corinth, “no one can lay any foundation than the one that has been laid; that foundation [that] is Jesus Christ.”  Actually, a couple of things should be mentioned here: first, that this is indeed metaphor, because in these early days of the church there were no temples under construction; Paul is talking here about the building up of the body of Christ (in fact, the Greek word that’s used here for “church” is ekklesia, which is where we get the term “ecclesiastical,” and refers to a gathering of people). And while we’re on the subject of language, the Greek words that get translated in English as “skilled master builder,” actually are better translated as a “wise architect.”  So it’s not so much that Paul’s bragging about all he’s done in building up the church; but rather that “using the gift God gave [him] as a good architect” [The Message] he was able to build on the only foundation that matters: the good foundation, the strong foundation, the foundation that is firm in Jesus Christ. 

So essentially, what Paul is saying here is that while yes, I do have some part in the building up of the church (as does, for that matter, Apollos, or Cephas or any other human leader), ultimately this is not about me; and by the way? It’s not about you, either!  This is about you and I at work together building up the Body on the good foundation that is Jesus Christ; using the kind of spiritual tools and materials that will stand the test of time and show forth the sincerity and passion of your faith.  “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”  Paul asks. Don’t you realize that “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple?”  Like we said before, it all comes back to the foundation on which you build; this foundation on which you are built… it’s the foundation that really matters!

So, then… given all that, the question is… what’s your foundation?

I remember once, years ago as a much younger pastor in a prior parish, I met with some visitors in our church to discuss the possibility of their joining with our congregation as new members.  Now, I should tell you that though I had only recently had the opportunity to meet this couple in person, their reputations certainly preceded them: I was already aware that these were people greatly respected in our community as tireless volunteers, and moreover they were very well thought of by their friends and neighbors.  They’d been coming to worship for a few weeks, they seemed to be hitting it off with everyone, the pastor included, and soon I was having folks in the congregation coming up all excited and telling me we’d be really lucky to have these two be part of the church!

So now we have this meeting and, well, it was interesting to say the least!  First of all, this woman had a literal checklist of questions she wanted to ask, ranging from the program goals and frequency of youth ministries in the church and whether or not we participate in a sports league, to whether or not I would ever preach on things like the virgin birth or the story of Adam and Eve (no joke!); and she took extensive notes on every one of my answers. And some of the questions were rather telling:  If you become a member, are you required to serve on a committee, and for how long?  What about stewardship; how is it decided what we’re to give?  Are you supposed to come every Sunday to worship, or can you just come sometimes?  Kind of odd questions to ask the pastor, I’ll admit, but okay… I’m not exaggerating when I say that this conversation covered just about every aspect of church life, and also that it felt pretty much like a job interview!

But it was all very enjoyable, and when the meeting was done I felt pretty good about our conversation and the prospect of their joining the church; but alas, it was not to be.  After a couple weeks, they were gone and rumor had it they’d started attending another church.  And of course, what I’m thinking – because this pastor is only human, after all – is what did I do?  I mean, I tried to be gracious and welcoming, but also honest and above all, pastoral… so what did I say to these people that was so wrong?  How had I driven these people away from our church?  Well, later on I learned from a fellow pastor that this particular couple who were so well-respected in the community were also well-known by local pastors as chronic “church hoppers” who had gone through the same interview process in virtually every church across the denominational spectrum for miles around and had never settled on any church… anywhere for more than a few weeks at a time. And as I shared my disappointment to this colleague, he said it all: “Don’t worry about it, Michael.  Some people are just far more concerned about all the benefits they get from faith than ever looking at its responsibilities.”

I’ve never forgotten that; and it’s always served as a reminder to me, not only as an occasionally overeager pastor but also as a Christian who is ever and always challenged to grow in wisdom and to always build on a good foundation of faith, that as many and as wonderful are the blessings that come in this life of faith I lead, it is not wholly or even primarily what I get out of the experience that is the most important, but rather the glory of what I am strengthened and enabled to build along the way all with the spiritual gifts I’ve been given, most especially in the love of Jesus Christ, who is and shall always be the foundation of all that I am and everything I seek to do.  The Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford, a Presbyterian pastor from Georgia, says it well: “Good foundations matter… [and] as people of faith, our foundations should [always] be in the promises from God; those outlined by Christ himself and those proclaimed throughout the entirety of scripture. [These] are the bedrocks of our faith that allow us to build our lives in a way that is shaped by our relationship with the Divine.” And what we build on that foundation, both in our work individually as people of faith and together as the church, will grow and expand even as it’s ever and always being tested and refined by God.

In other words, it matters, beloved; what we believe should always translate to how we live: in how we talk to each other, how we reach out to others in need, how we seek to “be” the church in this time and place.  Part of our responsibility, yours and mine – as Christians and as the church – is to make sure that whatever we are doing, we are doing on the foundation of Jesus Christ as Lord.  

What’s your foundation?  Because it matters, beloved… it matters.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2020 in Church, Discipleship, Epiphany, Faith, Ministry, Paul, Sermon

 

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Blessed Foolishness

(a sermon for February 2, 2020, the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

I strongly suspect that within each one of us there exists a desire to be thought of as… wise. That is to say, as one who is considered by others to be intelligent and knowledgeable about things; as someone who’s mature and discerning and filled with all manner of insight.

And on the face of it, there’s certainly nothing wrong that that (!); after all, as it says in the book of Proverbs, it is “the LORD [who] gives wisdom, [and it is] from his mouth [that comes] knowledge and understanding.” (6:2) So to want to be thought of as wise would seem to be a laudable pursuit in life. However, that said, it should be added that one must take care in this endeavor; for wisdom, like beauty, is very often in the eye of the beholder.

I remember once toward the end of my first year of seminary, I happened to be in attendance at a student and faculty reception; a “meet and greet” with the graduation speaker that year.  And as is more or less required in an event like that, together with a couple other of my classmates, I was making my way toward my Old Testament and Hebrew professor – Dr. Stephen Szikszai – to say hello and to meet our seminary’s guest.  Now, to be honest, I was never particularly comfortable in a setting such as that, so my hope was to get in and out of there as quickly and smoothly as possible.  But Dr. Szikszai, God rest his soul, would have none of that; he greeted me from halfway across the room with the same rich and booming Hungarian voice that students at Bangor had long both respected and feared: “Ah!  Here ist vun of my Hebrew scholars now – Meester Lowry!”

Even all these years later, I cannot begin to describe to you how that hit me: he called me Hebrew Scholar!  Michael Lowry: seminarian, pastor, and… Hebrew Scholar!  I’ve got to tell you, that sounded pretty good!  I remember to this day what an immediate ego boost that was.  I mean, I’d had no idea that Dr. Szikszai thought of me that way; I was a pretty good student, I guess, but a Hebrew scholar?  Hey, this was great!  Of course, the thing about a comment like that is that you don’t want to be all puffed up about it – you at least want to appear humble – so I just said, “Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that…” In retrospect, I guess my feeble attempt at humility didn’t really come through, because to this Dr. Szikszai replied, “Dun’t get carried away, Meester Lowry.  Being a scholar does not make you smart!”

Alas, it as a glory short-lived, but oh, so sweet!

Now, I’m not sure if Dr. Szikszai intended for that to be a “teachable moment,” but nonetheless in that rather humbling experience there was a profound lesson to be learned; and not simply that generally speaking, “we’re not as smart as we might think we are!” It’s also that true wisdom is a relative thing, and in many ways might actually have to do with more than one’s course load and academic standing!  The seeds of wisdom might well be nurtured through the proper accumulation of knowledge, perception, intuition and decisiveness; but its harvest comes in knowing how it’s to be used and when!  As one of my seminary classmates said to me at the time, presumably to offer me some small amount of comfort in the face of that minor humiliation, “Don’t worry… it’s not that you’re smart that counts; it’s how you’re smart!”

Oh, well; lesson learned!  What’s interesting about all of this, though, is that the world in which we live actually has some very clear definitions as to what constitutes intelligence and wisdom, and so often it’s equated with other matters of life and living: things like guts, and courage. and the survival of the fittest; the ability to come out on top in a “dog eat dog” world, where might makes right and nice guys finish last. In the words of Scott Hoezee, of Calvin Seminary in Michigan, “This is the way the world works, true enough.  And if you are scrappy and brave and are willing to claw your way to the top of the ladder – no matter how many little people you have to step over along the way – you can and you will achieve success as defined by the wisdom of the age and the savvy of the most intelligent among us.  This is very simply how to get things done” in this world and in this life.

In this world, perhaps; but in what is the good news of our text for this morning, it’s is most decidedly not the case with God… for ours in the God who has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.”

You know, one of the things that has always moved me about this particular epistle, Paul’s first to the Church in the ancient Greek city of Corinth, is that it is in fact addressed to a people who were at once diverse and deeply divided as a Christian community.  The truth is that these Corinthians spent as much time bickering with one another as they did on matters of spirituality, and the irony was that what they bickered over the most was over who was the most spiritual!  Never mind that they were each and all “called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” who Paul refers to as “both their Lord and ours;” it’s that they have these factions within the Church of Corinth had these very different ideas about what that all meant.  And since they were given to a whole lot of one-upmanship and a great deal of pretention, a whole lot of this pretty much came down to who, as regards life and faith, could be counted wise – that is to say, the wisest – amongst them!

So into this debate comes Paul, reminding the Corinthians and us that the true meaning and understanding of our Christian faith will never be discerned through human thought and wisdom precisely because “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom;” and that divine foolishness “destroy[s] the wisdom of the wise” and thwarts the discernment of the discerning; to quote Scott Hoezee once again, proclaiming these “mysteries of God that all coalesce around the cross of Jesus Christ,” this message that  “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved… is the power of God.”  

The ways of worldly wisdom have to do with logic and correctness and power; but that’s not how it is with God nor is it the way of salvation.  No, writes Hoezee, “here God upends it all.  We are not saved by power but by weakness.  We are not saved by worldly wisdom but by apparent folly.”  It’s the whole world – and everything we ever thought we understood about it – being turned upside down and inside out; and it all happening because of the cross, “the ignominious, shameful, accursed death of God’s own Son that the shining effulgence of all this counter-wisdom burst forth… the darkest moment in human history that led to the light… the death that led to life.”  The cross shows us the wisdom of God like nothing else ever could; but along with that, there’s something else: in the process we learn to live with the kind of wisdom that comes in a life of faith.

Speaking of my seminary days, I’m reminded here of a class in which one of my fellow seminarians was asked to present a paper about his own personal journey of faith – in other words, to tell the story of how he came to a belief in Christ and a sense of being called to the Christian ministry — but as soon became very evident, this man’s paper was an attempt to prove God’s existence through a series of interconnected mathematical proofs!   Now, you need to understand that this particular classmate had come to seminary after having already had a career as a mathematician and college professor.  I can also tell you that his hypothesis about God was clearly brilliant; and we knew this because he went on for over 15 minutes, and not a one of us understood a single word he said! But here’s what I remember: when he was finally done, the professor (who was very kind indeed) asked the student, “And what conclusion did you reach from this?”  And, after a long and painfully uncomfortable silence, all this student could do was shrug his shoulders, grin a sheepish grin and say, “I don’t know!” 

You see, try as we might, our human wisdom, however extensive or accumulated, can neither define nor direct our knowledge and understanding of God; neither can it ultimately serve to formulate the priorities and doctrines of a life grounded in faith!  In fact, it’s just the opposite:  true faith means living out of that place between our human wisdom and God’s blessed foolishness, this foolishness which “is wiser than human wisdom;”this overarching awareness that our strength and our hope, our joy and our peace, all that which is good and blessed about our lives, and indeed life itself comes to us “in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

It’s this blessed foolishness that as Paul says (himself quoting from the eloquent words of the prophet in Isaiah 29:14) “destroy[s] the wisdom of the wise” and thwarts “the discernment of the discerning.”  And it is what makes us who we are as believers and, might I add, as the church of Jesus Christ… and if you don’t believe that, “consider your own call, brothers and sisters.”

Actually, there’s a little bit of, shall we say, a comeuppance in Paul’s words that were not entirely unlike that which I received from Dr. Szikszai! Remember, these Corinthian Christians prided themselves on the depth and superiority of their own wisdom as regards matters of spirituality and faith; and yet, Paul is very quick here to poke a hole in their inflated egos: “Consider your own call,” he says.  “…not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong.”  Or, if I can use the version that’s set for in The Message, “Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose those ‘nobodies’ to  expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies?’”  God chose what is low and despised in the world so that “none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God.”  (Don’t you love that?  I can hear the Corinthians now: “Well, thanks a lot, Paul… I guess…”)  But that’s the nature of God’s blessed foolishness: that it’s those who in the view of society are foolish, weak and low who come to know the true wisdom of God; and through whom God’s reign is established!

In Christ, you see, true wisdom is always going to be imbued with a sense of humility and lowliness that will set you apart from the rest of the world every time.   It will indeed, at times, lead you to be reviled, and persecuted and looked upon by the world as weak and foolish; and if you’ve ever had occasion where you’ve stood firm and opposed to others on some issue because of faith, then you may well know what I’m talking about.  And yet, if you look around at any real change that happens in this world, the kind of loving action that transforms human life and moves society a bit closer to the kingdom of God, that’s where you’re going to find someone who was willing to foolishly divest themselves of the kind of kind of power and prestige borne of human wisdom.  That’s the place where, as in the utter foolishness borne of the cross, you will see great wisdom, true sacrifice, and a world being saved.  Jacques Ellul actually says this very well when he writes that “in the world everyone wants to be a wolf, and no one is called to pay the part of the sheep.  Yet the world cannot live without this living witness of sacrifice.”  It is the mandate of true wisdom, writes Ellul, that “Christians must offer the daily sacrifice of their lives, which is united with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

And as I said before, it is such sacrifice – the stuff of holy and divine blessed foolishness – that makes us who we are as Christians, you and me; and not only that, it’s what calls us forth as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May it truly be said of each one of us, beloved, that today and every day, in everything we did, we willingly and joyfully embraced that foolishness, all for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom and through whom comes all of our wisdom.

Thanks be to God. 

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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On the Way to the Holy Night: A Thrill of Hope

(a sermon for December 1, 2019, the 1st Sunday of Advent; first in a series, based on Isaiah 9:2-9 and Romans 13:11-14)

At a time of the year that is so traditionally bathed in all manner of light I’ve always found it interesting, and quite telling, that the season of Advent (and the celebration of Christmas that it anticipates) begins in darkness.

Not that that our modern world leaves a whole lot of room for darkness: being a lover of all things Christmas related, I’ve also taken notice that whereas most people used to wait until at least the day after Thanksgiving to light up their outdoor Christmas displays these days it’s not unusual to see Santa and his reindeer all lit up and “ready to glow” mid-way through November! In fact, when I was in Maine a few weeks back just after Halloween, I was driving down this back country road at just around dusk, came around this corner and by golly (!) there was this house with its yard filled to overflowing with inflatables and twinkling lights!  Too early?  Yes, probably… and too much?  Well, all I’ll say is “to each their own.”  Mostly, though, I feel about this the way I do about playing Christmas music “early;” like it’s such a short season to enjoy Christmas lights, so why not?  And besides, in these times in which we live who wouldn’t agree with the sentiment expressed in that song of the season, “we need a little Christmas, right this very minute… we may be rushing things but deck the halls again now!”  So I say, have at it… and Merry Christmas!

I will have to say, however, that over the years I’ve come to appreciate the notion that where Christmas lights are concerned, less is sometimes more and in the process makes, if you will, an “enlightening” statement of faith.  Years ago, back in my student pastor days, I spent more than a few December nights driving back from seminary classes, quite often along those back roads, and it’s funny what things you always remember: there was this farmhouse up toward Grindstone, Maine, set back from the road at the end of a long stretch of woods; where the people who lived there had taken an “understated approach” to their holiday decorating.  By that I mean they’d simply strung some colored lights around a waist-high evergreen tree and let it glow in the midst of the winter darkness.  Nothing unusual, I know; except that this little Christmas tree stood a long way apart from the house and barn, out in the pasture; at least a couple hundred yards away, if not more.  And that, of course, ignited my curiosity:  why had they done that?  Why wasn’t this Christmas tree standing closer to the farmhouse or out by the barn? Had they actually gone to all the trouble of stringing an extension cord that far out?  Was this a Christmas tree intended for this farmer’s herd of dairy cows or had it been set there for the pleasure of passing white tailed deer? I tell you, the possibilities of it staggered the imagination (!), and I was sorely tempted to pull in to this farmhouse, knock on their front door and ask the people who lived there to tell me all about it!

But as I thought further about it, it began to make perfect sense that they’d put their Christmas tree way out there in the middle of a darkened pasture; because this would most certainly be a spot where the brilliance of those lights could shine most prominently, piercing through the winter darkness and unalloyed by any and all distractions of the world surrounding it. Or, maybe the family in that house just wanted to be able to look out their living room window and simply bask in the beauty and wonder of a Christmas tree!  All I know is that this little tree immediately became an advent parable for me, the affirmation of a divine promise fulfilled and a reminder that no matter how dark it may have seemed to be, “the people who walked in darkness [had] seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light [had] shined.”

A thrill of hope, and a cause of rejoicing in a dark and weary world.

It’s important, I think, to take note of the fact that the season of Advent which begins this morning is not to be thought of as merely as a “Countdown to Christmas.”  This isn’t to say that these four weeks aren’t about waiting and watching for something to happen – after all, our very word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus which means “coming” – but there’s more to these four weeks of the Christian year than simply getting ready for December 25 to come.  Moreover, even though Advent is certainly about a symbolic waiting for the coming of the Christ child in the manger of Bethlehem, making room in our hearts for this wondrous gift of God given 2,000 years ago, it’s about even more than that.  The season of advent is also about a gift that is yet to come: our waiting for Christ’s return in glory and that moment when God’s amazing vision for his creation comes to full fruition; for that time when all that we have yearned for in faith and hope finally becomes a reality in the world and in our lives.  As we regularly proclaim in our times of communion, this is about the “mystery and wonder of our Christian faith” manifest in the sure and certain promise that “Christ will come again.”

Ultimately, you see, it’s this “coming” for which you and I are waiting and watching and preparing.  Author and New Testament scholar J.R. Daniel Kirk actually refers to this as seeing “the coming of Christ in double-exposure: looking forward to the second coming Christ in the future even as we look forward to celebrating the first going of Christ that lies in the past.”  But just as our “Way to the Holy Night” of Christmas Eve and Day begins not with shepherds, wise men or a heavenly chorus but rather with Isaiah’s promise of great light in a darkened world, so you and I who are dwelling in the midst of our own darkness also await, as the song says, “the breaking of a new and glorious morn.”

But make no mistake… that day is coming soon, and very soon.  In the words of our text for this morning, “the night is far gone, the day is near.”

In truth of fact, this relatively brief passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans amounts to what the Rev. Susan Eastman of Duke Divinity School refers to as an affirmation that “as Christians we are all ‘morning people.’”  Yes, it’s dark now, but “the time is just before dawn, the sky is brightening, the alarm is ringing, day is at hand.  It is time to rouse our minds from slumber, to be alert to what God is doing in the world, and to live in accordance with God’s coming salvation.”  “You know what time it is,” writes Paul, “how it is the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”  In other words, we know what God has already done in Jesus Christ; we know how the people who walked in darkness saw a great light, and we know that it will be so for us as well and that this light is very, very near to us indeed!  We are not people of the night; we are the people on whom light has shined, the ones for whom a child was born, the one who is named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  We are the ones who have been given salvation and the true light of life through the Lord Jesus Christ, and we are ones who, soon and very soon, will know the full and brilliant light of his glory; so, says Paul, as we await that moment in its fullness “let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices… for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Now, what’s interesting here about Paul’s advent promise of light is that it immediately connects it to, shall we say, a more ethical and moral stance in life.  “Let us live honorably as in the day,” says Paul, or as The Message bluntly translates it, “we can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight.” (One thing can be said for certain, friends: no matter what the translation of scripture happens to be, friends, nobody can ever accuse Paul of sugar-coating its truth!)  The point here is that if we are truly people of the light, then we need to live unto the fullness of God’s promises in the here and now so that our hearts might be truly ready for the day of wonder that is coming soon.  And the time for this is now; for you see, the darkness is passing into daylight and a new age is dawning.  So it behooves us, as believers and as true “advent people,” quoting The Message once again, that we need to “get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute.  Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!”

Seems to me that’s not only a pretty good way to start out on our way to the Holy Night of Bethlehem, but also a clear directive as to living out our Christian faith in this twilight time between the darkness of these days and the “not yet but soon to come” great light of a new day.

There’s so much I love about this sacred season and most especially in the traditions of worship that we share together in this place, beginning with lighting the advent candles of hope, peace, joy, love.  I love how from week to week as we light those candles “advent-ually” (!) we have this full circle of light that, with the addition of the light of the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, becomes the light that gets passed from person to person in thanks and praise for God’s light coming into this world in the guise of a child.  It’s one of the most beautiful and powerful times we share as a worshipping congregation, and I have to say that not only is it one of my favorite parts of Christmas, pastorally speaking it’s probably my favorite moment of the entire year, singing “Silent Night” and watching this sanctuary go from relative darkness to one filled with the glow of candlelight.  I love it because it’s the culmination of this advent journey we’ve taken to the manger of Bethlehem and the gift that’s been given us there; but I also love it because in the larger sense, it represents the great and holy light that has shone into the deep darkness of life and living, as well as a potent reminder that though even now that darkness can seem overwhelming to us to the point of seeming rather hopeless at times, nonetheless “the night is far gone, the day is near,” and in the advent of Christ there is a thrill of hope as the weary world rejoices… and in the process the pathway toward a new and better and blessed life opens up before us.

This light of HOPE and the thrill it brings is ours, yours and mine, beloved; and so, as our advent journey “on the way to the Holy Night” begins… so “let us [truly] lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

And as we do, may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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