Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, November 27, 2011

At the root of Advent? A mess!

There is a story told about me as a child.  It seems my mom and dad went to San Francisco one time for a vacation, leaving me with my dad’s receptionist, who ultimately was the only baby sitter I ever had.  A woman we lovingly called “Aunt Pansy”.  They were gone what seemed to me, a 3 or 4 year old, a very long time.When they got home, or so the story goes, I am not sure it isn’t apocryphal, I climbed into my mother’s lap, looked up into her eyes, and asked, with what must have been a certain degree of uncertainty,  “Do you still love little boys?”

Many years later, I am the dad.  Sad to say I had moments when I would get a little frustrated with my children, who, truth be told, were great kids, but were also a bit challenging.  They would get a little wild, a little loud.  But I noticed that they would keep looking over at me.  I always wondered about that - until finally the kids told me about “the dad look.”  Apparently they could tell, by looking at my face, when they had pushed me far enough, and things were going to get ugly. 

As children we are very aware of our parents.  And they have a lot of power over us.  They make us feel safe, or not safe.  Secure, or insecure.  Valued, or not valued.

And there is almost nothing worse, I would guess
As a child, then to think perhaps
Your mother or father is mad at you
Disappointed in you
And nothing worse than the idea that you parent is so down on your that they are ready to just
Give up on you

In Psalm 80 hear the words of a person who is worried about his/her relationship with the heavenly parent, God.  Who is afraid, that when it comes to God, they have gotten “the dad look”.  Who are afraid that God is ready to through up holy hands and say “enough I’m done”.  Or is ready to explode in anger

And so we hear the plaintive questions……
Do you still love your children, Oh God….
Will God’s face shine on us again?

They concerns are not totally foolish
The reality is that at the time these passages things weren’t  OK
Because the people of Israel had gotten off track, they had made mistakes
They had not been perfect children
Not even close
Would it really be OK?

This is the uncertainty
This is the ambiguity with which they lived
And it is the uncertainty with which we live

Lets face it
We are not the best of children…
When it comes to being ideal, we miss the mark by a long distance

That goes without saying, I don’t even have to illustrate that reality
It is this reality which is behind the fact that the Gospel reading for today, from the lectionary, is Mark 13.  A passage that is all about the end of time

“But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened,    and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’  At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

This is about Christ’s second advent.  It is about him coming and dramatically setting right a  world gone wrong.  Why we he need to do that? Because we have made and continue to make, a mess of things.

At some level we understand that Advent is about the mess.  Advent expresses the insistence that all is not right in our societies. And the insistence that something has to change, radically.  The transformation anticipated in Mark is a monumental and all-encompassing upheaval.  We understand this.  And if we think about it, we might get a little spooked

Which brings us to the issue of how we see God.  How we think about god in the midst of our failure, in the midst of a mess that demands transformation.  When we get into trouble here is when we think that somehow we can destroy God’s love

We believe, many of us
Maybe not all the time,
But at least some of the time
We believe that we can get to a place where God will give up on us

And simply say, “that’s it, I’m done”

And that is where we would be wrong
Paul makes that very clear in the opening words of I Corinthians. 
I give thanks … because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…You have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge…You are not lacking in any spiritual gift…You are strengthened…you are in the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”

What Paul is trying to tell us is that we can trust in the love of God.  We can trust in the love revealed in Jesus Christ.  In Christ’s birth, his advent, in his life, and most of all, in his death.

God has amazing love for us!

Anne Lamott tells of a time a family in her church were talking about their choice to adopt a child with some special needs.  She was promoting a program called ASK, Adopt Special Kids.  She talked about how she and her husband had to filled out a very challenging questionnaire, with questions like
“Could you adopt an addicted baby?  A child with terminal illness?  A child with mild retardation, with moderate retardation?”  The woman ticked off the list, and then she cried.

The minister, Veronica, stepped to her side.  “God is an adoptive parent too.  And chose us all.  God says “Sure, I’ll take the kids who are addicted or terminal.  I pick all the retarded kids, and of course he sadists.  The selfish ones, the liars…”

What a wonderful way to think about God’s love

So how do we move out of uncertainty?
Out of fear?
Our of a sense that “we can’t do it?”

Rob Bell puts it this way:
"It all beings with the sure and certain truth that we are loved
That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts
and has spread to every corner of the world,
In spite of our sins, failures, rebellion, and hard hearts
In spite of what’s been done to us, or what we’ve done
God has made peace with us
Done, complete
As Jesus said from the cross…”it is finished” “

Being rooted in this love is what makes all the difference
It is being rooted in this love that enables us to love ourselves, and yes, we are commanded to love ourselves,

It is this love that enables us to generously live our faith, practice it.

In living out "being-loved" we move beyond the oppressive demands we imposed upon ourselves.
We move beyond our fears.  In living out “being-loved” we become free to love and live lives of compassion.

We are people who are living in difficult times
There is war
And we have been co-conspirators, one way or another in all of this
And we wonder…

Will God’s face shine on us again?  Yes
Will God forgive?  Yes
Will it really be OK?  Yes

As Paul reminds us
The grace of God has been given to you in Christ Jesus
And he will strengthen you to the end

If that is true,
Then come Lord Jesus
We wait for your advent
We look for and accept your love
And trust!

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