December 6, 2015

Advent 2

Malachi 3:1-4; Canticle 4; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6


People of Advent!

People of an Onset!

People in Waiting!

Our job is this.

It is suspense.

It is only suspense.

And I dare say we likely know little of how to go about it.


When was the last time we upheld great expectation?

When last were we privileged to await something marvelous?

When had we the time to await any thing?

How long since we deferred a single action or gratification?

How many years since we looked out, just looked out?

When did we last feel our desire?

When last did we give Hope the chance to breathe?

These are questions for a people said to be in waiting. These questions are for the children of prophets in a modern, post-modern, east vs. west, Islam vs. Christianity, the people vs. the environment, the integrated vs. the isolated, Shia vs. Sunni, Republican vs. Democrat, capital vs. labor, warming, global culture in which:

We people of faith crave our senses as we overdrive our cognition.

We wish to anticipate anything, because we seem often forced to respond to everything.

We would likely trade food and drink for time to simply look at a baby, a river, even a rock,

given that all our days and into our nights we study primarily highways, bus stops, electronics screens and frozen foods.

We want to recollect our children, as scripture says.

We want to nurse our parents.

We people of faith want desperately to gather at the word of the Holy One.

We desire to embody suspense as the answer to everything, yet the weapons and images of apocalypse overwhelm us.

How then to anticipate new life?

We want to await you, Lord.  We want to await you.

We want to expect you, O Great One, and to prepare non-anxiously for your arrival without needing you to text us about your every stop and updated arrival time. We want to receive you anew just as for the first time and without presuming to tell you who you are.

We understand that our job is suspense, but to undertake this goes against everything we know and may ask more of us than we can possibly imagine.

So, help us, Great Creator. Empower us to discard our sorrow and to don your beauty. Assist us in setting the dark of winter in lights of promise and mercy. Even the score between violence and splendor. Refresh us with your peace. Relieve us of our fears.

Where there is infertility, may we grow family.

Where there is abandonment, let us make claims to one another.

Where there is violation, lead us to wholeness.

If there is failure, show us a new start.

We, O God, sit in your church endangered, silly and in need of you. Help us to feel you are on your way. Help us to wait and to watch and to forget that we think we know anything about who you are.

December 14, 2014

Advent 3

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126: 1-2, 8-13; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8, 19-28


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran Pastor during World War II.  For his involvement in an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler, Bonhoeffer was sentenced by the Gestapo, and ultimately executed, tragically, only a few days before Germany’s surrender to the Allies. While in prison, Bonhoeffer was courageous, and productive – writing a plethora of letters, theological documents, books, poems, sermons, hymns – many of which were carefully smuggled out of prison, which is why we have them to today.

One of the sermons Bonhoeffer wrote while in prison was on the occasion of his best friend’s wedding. As an engaged man, who sadly never married, Dietrich Bonhoeffer nevertheless understood quite a bit about marriage. Such understanding is evident in his sermon entitled “A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell,” written in May of 1943. Bonhoeffer writes: “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that will sustain your love.”  

When I meet with couples prior to their wedding, the line from this sermon often comes to my mind. I typically catch couples a bit off-guard when I tell them that the word “happily ever after” is nowhere found in the Book of Common Prayer Wedding Service. In fact, the word “happy” is never mentioned at all in the prayer book wedding service. That omission is intentional – the prayer book, and the church, are telling us that marriage is not about happiness.  

It is about something greater: joy. 

The prayer book states that marriage is intended by God for mutual joy, not happiness.  

What is the difference between joy and happiness then? Joy is a spiritual practice that comes out of our faith, hope, and our gratitude. Joy comes from God. Joy is what enables a homeless person with next to nothing to say, “I am blessed, because I am alive.” That’s joy – its source is God. Happiness - what makes us happy? What would make me happy today is if the Texans beat the Colts today, but that happiness is fleeting, because as a Houston football fan, I am well acquainted with suffering. Happiness is fleeting – it never lasts, but joy is permanent. 

This past Monday, I went MD Anderson hospital to visit someone, and on my way to the room where the person was, I saw people who were immeasurably sick. They were in clear and obvious pain. Many of them were scared, uncertain if their treatments would succeed. You can read it all over their faces. But there are also patients there whose situation isn’t any better than the rest, and yet there is something different about them. It’s impossible not to notice.  They’re shining. The expression of joy – not happiness – on their faces makes them radiant and beautiful.  

I found myself the recipient of their joy – the person in the wheelchair or bed with joy – they  were ministers of God’s hope to me.  What a blessing it was to be a recipient of their gift – their courage and their joy.  I confess I did not feel worthy to receive it.  

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” writes the Apostle Paul in today’s Epistle. We forget these words at our own peril.  In the midst of our harried and busy activity – searching for gifts to makes others happy, we might find ourselves impoverished in the absence of joy. It is no secret that I experienced more real and transcendent joy in MD Anderson, or in reading Dietrich  Bonhoeffer’s letters from prison than I ever do anywhere in the Galleria. 

Today is Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is a Latin word meaning “rejoice.” It is the first word of today’s epistle, and we are reminded that no matter what, we have a reason to be joyful - the Messiah, the true king of the world, is to be born. That is the reason for the rose colored  candle on our Advent wreath – it is to remind us that in the midst of darkness, we have a reason to be joyful. And that reason is Jesus Christ. 

Why does it seem that an imprisoned German pastor facing execution and the dying in the hospitals seem to truly understand joy – not the artificial expressions joy we see on forced smiles in Christmas cards, but real, everlasting joy?  What do they have that so many of us seem to lack?  Today is Gaudete.  Rejoice, always. Your joy is God’s gift.  AMEN.


December 7, 2014

Advent 2

Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3: 8-15a; Mark 1:1-8


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Earlier this week in the country of Kenya, workers at a quarry awoke in the middle of the night by members of a Somalian militant group called al-Shabaab, a group I understand is affiliated with Al Qaeda.  Upon waking up, these individuals were asked to recite lines from the Quran.  If they were not able to do so, they were shot immediately.  Thirty-six people identified as Christians died that night as a result.  Because the border between Kenya and Somalia is so porous, it was easy for the members of al-Shabaab to flee across the border back into Somalia, where they have yet to be caught.  

This is not an indictment of Islam.  In spite of the violence raging across the Arabic world, I still believe Islam is a religion of peace.  Recall that it was Christian nations mostly who fought in the two largest wars the world has seen in the last century.  This event in Kenya, saddened me profoundly, for so many reasons, and was on more reminder to me that in the midst of Advent, we are walking through darkness.  When we are in the dark, it is easy to get lost.  I find myself there often. 

That is why God sends angels – to show us the way out of the darkness. The word “angel” comes from the Greek word “angelos,” which means messenger. An angel is someone who brings an important message to us directly from God. In the Gospel today, the author writes “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The author of Mark’s Gospel describes an angel, a messenger, who will prepare the way for Christ. In the very next sentence, Mark tells us who this angel is – John the Baptist.  

A rather surprising choice, as John the Baptist was not a person who had much prestige - but people loved listening to him, and thousands went to hear him out in the wilderness. Why? Because their world was dark, too. And John was a light, a messenger, an angel, whose message lifted them to see that the darkness in the world was really just a speck in light.  

Earlier this week I found myself in a spiritually dark place. I wish I could say my thinking was about those thirty-six individuals who died this week accounting for their faith, but I would be lying.  I confess my thoughts were much more self- centered. It was a lonely place to be, frankly, but that is where I was.    

It was in this self-absorbed mindset that I walked outside St. Andrew’s house on a cold day.  The sky was overcast, and even though it was only 2 PM, it felt like it was much later. As I was walking to my car, all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I saw an elderly man coming down the street. He was in one of those motorized scooters, and he was going fast.  I was thinking “you better slow down!”  I noticed that as he came nearer to me, I could see that both of his legs were amputated just above the knee.  

And then as the scooter came nearer, I saw the bare skin of one of his legs sticking out from underneath his torso. It was then I realized that this was not just an ordinary man – he was a messenger, he was an angel. His message that he proclaimed – without saying a word - lifted me out of the selfish mire I had created around myself. “Stop thinking about yourself!” was the message I received. Once he was in front of me, I didn’t know what to say, so I said “How are you doing?”  It was a ridiculous thing to say, but what does one say to an angel? “It’s cold out, but I’m great,” he answered, never stopping his scooter. He smiled at me, and then he kept on going down Heights Boulevard. It is true that angels fly because they take themselves lightly. 

The power of John the Baptist is that he was an everyday person, and yet he was a powerful angel. So momentous was his message that I believe it touched personally the lives of those thirty-six men and women. They, too, are angels, by the way, and the message they proclaim is one that will be sung by countless choirs on Christmas Eve: “Angels we have heard on high, singing sweetly through the night, and the mountains in reply echoing their brave delight.”  These thirty-six angels are with God, but the proclamation of the Bible is that angels or messengers are not just part of the host of heaven – they are all around us. Today, this church is full of angels – because God has called you to be his messenger.  

It doesn’t matter how flawed, broken, or imperfect you think you may be. In God’s eyes, that just makes you a more qualified messenger. You are God’s messenger, his angel. What brave delight God sees in you.  Now, venture into the darkness, and bring the light.  AMEN.