Advent I – December 3, 2017

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Here we are, on this first Sunday, caught between what has been and what will yet be. The first of Advent is always like that – we look back and we look forward. We begin preparing for the first coming of the Christ-child. And we continue to prepare for the second coming of the King in his glory. And… we bake cookies, decorate the house, host parties, go to parties, buy gifts for all those who are dear to us and for some who are not so dear.

In all of our activity, it’s easy to lose sight of what this season is all about – preparation for the advent, the coming of the Christ. Preparation for the coming of Christ, not through cleaning and baking and buying. Preparation through keeping awake to what God is doing in the world. Preparation through making room in our lives for God to work in us and through us.

Jesus knew how easy it would be for his disciples to get sidetracked – sometimes I think the term ‘attention deficit’ is just another term for ‘human being.’ We are easily distracted from the important by the immediate. We are easily distracted from hard work by fun. We get lulled to sleep by the routine of life and we forget to keep our eyes peeled – watching and waiting for God’s future.

Now that we’re in Advent, we have also entered a new liturgical year. So our gospel readings move from Matthew into Mark. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the gospels. His is the most direct – the least descriptive of the four. In Mark, things are always happening, always moving. But Mark isn’t the only gospeller to include Jesus’ warning that we should keep awake, keep working for the kingdom. We just ended our study of Matthew’s gospel with the last three parables Matthew records which are all on the same topic – living faithfully while awaiting Christ’s return. We enter our readings from Mark at about the same place in the story – very near the end of Jesus’ life, again where Jesus is preparing his disciples to live without him.

So how should we enter into Advent? How can we live into the command to ‘keep awake’ this year?

It will take some discipline, but here are my suggestions:

First, tune out the crazy.

Tune out the crazy because this year, as in almost every year but it seems worse this year, the world is chaotic and contradictory. What should we do about Korea? Or Syria? Should we be arming the Kurds? What should we do about the racial divide in our country? What should we do about the increasing separation between rich and poor? How many people are coming for Christmas? Do we have enough saved for retirement? Will the kids be okay? The news continues to tell us that the middle class is shrinking and more people are going to lose their health care, while at the same time the newspapers and television and radio are full of ads telling us to buy, buy, buy… It’s just too much. And we don’t have to listen. Tune it out. Let it go.

Second, let go of what has been. 2017 has been a year of loss in many different ways for many of us. Maybe you, like me, lost someone you love. Maybe your finances are not what you need them to be. Maybe your health is not what you hoped it would be. Maybe your relationships are not what you had hoped. Whatever the sorrows and losses and disappointments of this last year have been – let them go. Give those losses, those hurts and disappointments to God. God can take what we’ve lost and redeem it. God can take what we’ve lost and bring new life.

2018 will not be the same as 2017. We know for sure that there will be someone new sitting in the office – we don’t yet know who that will be, but we know Karen is retiring. You may love the changes. You may hate the changes. You may love some and hate others – what’s guaranteed is that there will be change. So begin now to let this version of St. David’s go. New life only comes through the death of the old. God will take what we’ve lost and redeem it. God will take what we’ve lost and bring new life.

Tune out the crazy. Let go of what has been.

Last, we must wait patiently for our redemption. The Christ-child will be born, whether we’ve completed everything on our to-do list or not. How much better for us to prepare our hearts and lives for God’s indwelling rather than the distractions of clean houses and perfect gifts. I KNOW the to-do lists are important – my own is long and I DO want to clean and bake and decorate and give good gifts. But the most important work we can do this season is not found on that long to-do list. The most important work we can do is to remember that God longs to dwell in us, longs for deepened relationship with us. Every Advent, every Christmas, God waits for us to make more space in our hearts and minds for our relationship with him. God longs to take our burdens and set our hearts free. God can only live and breathe and work in us to the extent that we allow God into our lives. Our patient waiting involves listening to God’s voice, making room for the Spirit by stilling our own spirits, slowing down the busyness of our lives so that God’s stillness can heal us.

Tune out the crazy. Let go of what has been. Wait patiently for our redemption. When we feel the anxiety and tension rising, let’s take a deep breath. The most important work we can do this season is to listen for God’s voice, make room for God’s Spirit, and allow God’s stillness to heal us. Then Christ will be born anew in us and everything else will take care of itself. Amen.

Christ the King Sunday – November 26, 2017

Today is the last Sunday in our liturgical year, the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost. Next
Sunday will be the first Sunday of the year – Advent I. Where has the year gone? How is it that,
once again, I’m not ready for the winter or for the holidays? Ready or not, it’s time to prepare
for the first coming of the Christ Child and the second coming of Christ in all his glory…

Our Gospel lesson for today reminds us of the kind of work we have to do as we prepare. This
parable of the kingdom of God is the last parable Jesus tells before he eats his last supper with
the disciples before his death and resurrection. The last few weeks, Jesus has been telling his last
parables, getting his disciples and friends ready for living after he has gone and before he comes
again. Keep ready, he says, with the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Use your talents, your
money, to increase the kingdom, we heard last week. And this week? How we treat each other
is of utmost importance – the parable of the judgment between the sheep and the goats.

This parable has always made me uncomfortable. It didn’t sit well with the theology I grew up
with – a ‘born again’ understanding that as long as you said you want Jesus in your heart, as long
as you said Jesus is Lord, heaven was yours. This parable doesn’t support that understanding of
salvation. Jesus condemns the goats even though they call him Lord.

Now I understand salvation as more than just saying a few words – I believe our salvation
requires daily, sometimes moment by moment giving ourselves over to God. We are constantly
being asked to surrender ourselves to Jesus. We are constantly being transformed into Christ’s
likeness by God’s grace and our willingness to change.

And still, this parable makes me uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable, because how many times a day do we miss the needs of those around us? How
many times a day do we neglect those who are not as blessed as we are? How many times a day
do we neglect to share what we have? How often do we miss the hungry, the thirsty, the
stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison? Jesus says that our conversion includes not
only giving ourselves over to God, but our conversion also requires us to pay attention, to serve,
to take care of, all those people that are usually invisible to society or that society does not trust
or that society does not want. Visit those in prison? Take care of the poor and the sick?
Welcome refugees?

In this parable, Jesus says nothing about right theology or right belief. Jesus says nothing about
the right way to baptize, or how often we should celebrate communion. Jesus doesn’t talk about
married clergy or female clergy. Jesus doesn’t say that only those who believe certain truths or
who don’t worship with heretics are welcomed into God’s kingdom. Theology, right religious
practice, trusting God’s truth, these are all important things. Important enough that Christians
have fought each other with words and sometimes with swords, important enough that there are

numerous Christian denominations and that we are not all comfortable worshiping with each
other.

Yet. Jesus makes no mention of right theological belief when he separates the sheep from the
goats. It’s all about how the sheep and the goats treat other people.

This year, in particular, I think it is difficult to hear this parable. I’ve been preaching these
lessons for 17 years now, and each year I say almost the same thing – we are more divided now
than it seems we’ve ever been divided. It’s more important now than in years past that we hear
what Jesus is saying in this gospel passage. What we DO is more important that what we SAY.
We must take care of the marginalized, the poor, the outcasts, the strangers. We must lay aside
the language of hate and division and preach the gospel of love and peace.

This the time of year that reruns of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ are back on television.
Stay with me now – there is a deep theological truth in Dr. Suess’ tale! The Grinch learns that
giving IS receiving and when he begins giving the presents back to the villagers in Whoville, his
small grinchy heart grows THREE TIMES its original size.

Giving to others, standing with others in their times of trial, visiting and welcoming everyone,
even the outsider, the stranger, the refugee – this is our mission, maybe even our salvation.
When we give to others, when we see those in need and respond, our hearts grow in love and
compassion. And as we grow in love and compassion, we’re able to reach out more, and our
hearts gets larger again. Our grinchy hearts become more like God’s heart. Our lives reflect
more of God’s radical hospitality and love for the world.

We always have a choice in God’s kingdom. We can always say no. We can always ignore, not
see, those around us who have need. But we have not been called to be God’s goats – we’ve
been called to be God’s sheep. I pray that we take the challenge – that we keep our eyes and
hands and hearts open; that we give what we can to those people God puts in our path; that we
experience the radical hospitality God’s kingdom offers to us and then share that hospitality with
every other person in the whole world. Amen.

Pentecost 23 – November 12, 2017

Read alone, today’s Gospel lesson, the parable of the ten bridesmaids, is one of those passages that leave me feeling “hmmmm.”  What exactly is Jesus trying to tell his disciples?  It seems kind of mean – the five bridesmaids who have oil won’t share with those who’ve neglected to bring extra AND then when they do get more oil, they’re locked out of the party…  What’s going on?

It helps to think of this parable in the context of Matthew’s overall story line.  Our gospel lesson from Matthew 25 falls near the end of the life of Jesus.   In the next chapter of Matthew, Judas Iscariot will agree to betray Jesus, the disciples will gather for their last supper together and Jesus will be taken in the garden.  The 25th chapter of Matthew – the chapter we’ll  read for the next three weeks – is made up of some last teachings, last parables Jesus tells his disciples before he’s taken for crucifixion.

Just before our passage for today, Jesus and his disciples have had a discussion about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and about the second coming of the Messiah.  Jesus tells them to keep awake, keep watching, and keep living as if the Messiah will return at any moment.  He goes on to tell four parables:  the faithful & unfaithful servants (at the end of the 24th chapter) and then our parable for today of the ten bridesmaids.  Next week we’ll look at the parable of the talents and then the last Sunday of this liturgical year we’ll read the parable of the sheep and the goats.  In each of these parables, Jesus stresses the behavior of people who are waiting for something.

In today’s parable then, if Jesus is speaking of how we ought to await the coming of the Messiah, what does he expect us to do?  What is the oil we need to take with us?  Why do our lamps need to stay lit?

In those days, the bridesmaids were supposed to light the way for the bride and groom and welcome them into the household for their wedding celebration.  Their lamps provided light and welcome for the party – they reflected the joy and the glow of the wedding back to the families and friends who gathered.

Their lamps were meant to light the way, to provide hospitality and reflect the joy of the wedding feast.

We are the bridesmaids that Jesus speaks of.  We carry the light of salvation with us – it’s the light of Christ in us that allows us to light the way for others.  Jesus is telling his disciples, then and now, that we have a responsibility to keep our light shining.  Our lamps are meant to light the way.  Our lamps are meant to provide hospitality and to reflect the joy of the kingdom of God.

There are so many ways for us to neglect this task.  We ARE tired.  We ARE weary.  It doesn’t seem like the return of the Bridegroom, the Messiah will occur anytime soon.  We are often short of time, short of funds, or short of temper.  We easily fall asleep to our call.  Jesus tells us to keep awake, keep our lamps lit.  Our work for the kingdom is needed.  And we wouldn’t want the Bridegroom to arrive and find us unprepared.

We are meant to light the way to God.  St. Francis of Assisi said, ‘Preach the Gospel always and if you have to, use words.’  Our lives, our actions,  reflect our values, our beliefs, our passions.  Everything we do, every action we take, reveals God in us – if we are keeping our lamps lit.  When we stay awake, when we keep God and God’s word near us, our lives reflect God’s love.  It shines out of our actions and attitudes.  We preach the gospel without ever saying a word.  People are drawn to the light of Christ living in us.

We are meant to keep our lamps lit and provide the radical hospitality of God.  God loves us.  God loves the world.  God welcomes us into the kingdom.  God welcomes everyone into the kingdom.  We have the responsibility to light the way for those who feel left out, marginalized, unworthy of the kingdom of God because the kingdom is especially open to the poor, the needy, the orphaned, the stranger, the unworthy and otherwise unwelcomed.  Our lamps must be kept lit so that everyone knows they are welcome in God’s family.

We are meant to keep our lamps lit so that others can see the grace and forgiveness, the abundant life that God’s kingdom brings.  Our keynote speaker at this weekend’s diocesan convention, the Rev. Dwight Zschiele, reminded us that we have the responsibility to tell our neighbors that our faith offers community as a gift in a culture of individualism, we offer grace amid self-justification, we offer forgiveness and mercy ina culture that is seeking purity and transparency, we offer reconciliation in a world of enmity, violence and division, and we offer abundant life in a culture of scarcity, and striving.  Our neighbors need the light of Christ.  We are all desparate for forgiveness, for grace and mercy, for abundant life.  We need to see the light of Christ in each other.  And we need to share our light with the world.

The light of Christ is the oil in our lamps.  We are not the light, we’re not the oil that gets burned up.  We don’t even really provide the oil for our lamps, it is God working in us that is the source of our oil.  We tend our lamps by allowing God into our lives, and then we allow God to use us, we allow the love of God to work in and through us.  That’s how we keep our lamps lit.  We can get in the way, we can cover over the light by our actions and our neglect of our relationship with God.  We may dim our lamps by not loving God, by not loving our neighbors as ourselves, by not providing the radical hospitality and welcome to others that we’ve already received from God.

The bridesmaids needed their lamps to light the way for the wedding party.  They needed their lamps to provide welcome and hospitality to the bride and groom, family and friends and to reflect the joy of the celebration.

We need to stay awake and keep our lamps lit.  The world needs us to light the way to reconciliation with God.  The world needs to know the radical welcome God has for each of us.  The world needs the joy and peace that right relationship with God brings.  Keep awake, Jesus says.  Keep awake.  Let the light of God’s love seep deep into your bones.  And then let your light shine.  Amen.

The Reverend Kathy Corley

All Saints, November 5, 2017

Are you holey?  How holey are we?  These are questions for us to ponder on this All Saints’ Day.  We imagine our saints to be perfect, holy examples of spiritual lives well lived.  And yet…  our gospel lesson from Matthew isn’t about perfection, but blessedness in imperfection and struggle:  the poor in spirit, those in mourning, the meek, the ones who are still hungering and thirsting after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for doing the right thing.

In a time like ours, where it seems to be that bullies and those who can throw their weight around are winners and the weak are not; when winning, regardless of HOW one wins, is considered the greater virtue, Jesus’ description of those who are blessed would seem to have the word ‘LOSER’ tattooed on their foreheads.  Saints?  Those people?  Winners in the kingdom of God?

We imagine a more muscular faith – we imagine our saints to be giants, to be strong and powerful against all the forces of hell – a bit like our superheroes: Captain America or Wonder Woman.  The sainted Apostle Paul.  Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. You know – the virtuous and holy saints of God, fighting evil since the Garden of Eden.

In the preface to my 1997 Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which contains all the feast days of all our Episcopal saints, it says

What we celebrate in the lives of the saints is the presence of Christ

expressing itself in and through particular lives lived in the midst

of specific historical circumstances.  In the saints we are not dealing

primarily with absolutes of perfection but human lives, in all their

diversity, open to the motions of the Holy Spirit.  Many a holy life,

when carefully examined, will reveal flaws or the bias of a particular

moment in history or ecclesial perspective…  It should encourage us

to realize that the saints, like us, are first and foremost redeemed sinners

in whom the risen Christ’s words to St. Paul come to fulfillment, “My

grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (pv-vi)

Are you holey?  It’s not really fair to ask you that question because I’m not asking about perfection (holy) but about our imperfect humanity (holey.)  If we are imperfect, if we are holey, then there is good news for us.  We are exactly the kind of people who belong in the kingdom of God.  Jesus reminds us this morning that we are blessed when our lives are less that perfect – that when we are weak, when we are bereft, when we don’t live up to the virtues we long for, when we do our best and still come up short, God loves us and we belong to the tribe of saints.  Holey people.

Perfect people don’t need help.  Perfect people don’t need God.  Perfect people have no holes through which the Spirit of God can move in and begin the work of repentance and resurrection.

That great theologian, Leonard Cohen, in his song, Anthem, says,  ‘There is a crack, a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.’  Broken and holey people can be put back together by the God who isn’t at all bothered by the brokenness or the cracks in our lives.  These are the very places God can use to mend us and then use us to help mend the world around us.  These very places where we have been most broken, where the love of God and the Spirit of God have helped us mend, can become a source of hope and strength for others.  Who best to lead through the pain of loss or on the road to recovery but those who have travelled the road before, who are familiar with the pain and the setbacks and the confusion we are certain to experience our first time out.

The saints aren’t perfect.  Our saints are broken people, blessed people, who have somehow, in the midst of their brokenness, allowed God’s healing to make them anew.  I imagine that when God repairs our broken places, when God binds our wounds, God uses the Japanese technique of ‘kintsugi.’  In kintsugi, broken pottery or ceramic pieces are repaired using precious metals – so that rather than hiding the crack or the chipped places, the repair stands out with beauty – a line of gold or silver or platinum.  Not a mark of shame or something to hide – the beautiful broken places in others draw us in and make us wonder if our scars might become a source of strength and beauty, too.

If you are feeling more holey than holy this morning, well, then, you might just be blessed.  And if we can allow the Spirit of God, the light of Christ, to enter our broken and holey places, then we can begin the work of redemption, allowing the love of God to mend us with gold and silver and platinum and then use us to bring more of the light of Christ and love of God into the world.  We join the saints in their work.

The writer of John’s first letter says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  May our broken places be redeemed and may we, with all the saints, be changed into the likeness of Christ.  Amen.

The Reverend Kathy Corley