Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Stirring of God's Power


 
Advent III+B          14, December, 2014     Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
(Gaudete)
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11     Canticle 15    I Thessalonians 5:16-24   John  1:6-8, 19-28
 
We are at the mid-time of Advent and we  are told that even in the darkness and barrenness of winter that there is light ahead.  We have the wonderful admonition to "rejoice"! And this rejoicing is more than that little song from a few years ago: "Don't Worry, Be Happy."  Rather this is something much more profound.  Life is difficult,, that is a given.  The denial of that reality has driven many of our fellow human beings into all kinds of neurotic behavior, often getting us in trouble with the law, the bank, the credit card companies and the like.  In this pre-Christmas season, the stores are filled with shoppers. ,many who will give little thought to "Jesus", being "the Reason for the Season". With all of the turmoil caused by human sin, things we often do to ourselves and God allows the natural outcomes of those wrong choices, Isaiah brings the word of comfort. Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor wrote: It is easy enough to see why some people think history is drawing to a close.  All you have to do is hold a newspaper in one hand and Lukes gospel in the other. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom." Check.   There will be great earthquakes. Check. In various places famines and plagues. Check , check.  Dreadful portents and great signs from heaven  Check. 
 This Sunday in the church year has been known by various names, Stir up Sunday where the cry of God=s people (and our cry this morning presumably) is that the Holy Spirit will come among us and stir us up with His power and break down the sins, the character flaws, the addictions, and patterns of living that hinder us from pleasing Him and living out His plan for our lives through us.  
 I sometimes think this collect almost humorous when used in our venerable Episcopal Church, a church whose theme song was verbalized by one priest commenting on his own parish.  He said Amy people=s theme song is >we shall not be moved=.@  Face it: most of the time, we don=t like to be moved, stirred, pushed or prodded. Rather than fall voluntarily to our knees, human beings, even Christians all too often need a crisis to bring us to the great Problem-Solver in the sky we call Our Father.
Advent Is about a Call on our lives such as the Calls of John the Baptizer, the Virgin Mary, and of Jesus.  In the first of what are known in some theological circles as the four great spiritual laws the first is that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life@.
No one has ever existed for whom God does not have a purpose but Not everyone will experience God=s will for them because every human being is born a sinner and separated from God   God calls but we do not always listen. 
The  fact is we cannot listen until we have opened our lives personally to Jesus. The one who said I AM  the Way, the Door. There are too many voices that seek to drown out Gods. Not the least of which is each of our own. We pray, AThy will be done on earth as it is in heaven....week after week, but do we really mean it? I mean be honest! ore often its Thy will be done if it agrees with my will..
How often we pray these powerful words like robots at the service of the Prayerbook rather than letting them be the cries of our hearts to the Service of the love of God. Part of the problem of Advent is this is like the great hush before the play begins before the curtain rises. We think we are ready for what will follow (God literally with us)
But there is a bitter sweet  edge to that joy God is about to invade us! His invasion is needed but Awe are sorely hindered by our sins., It might mean the end of our comfortable, complacent, controlled, things as we like them, universe. 
It is like the times we hear preaching and say I hope so and so was listening to that instead of saying: Maybe I am  so and so! Indeed when X comes today in our lives, whenever He comes to judge us the question is not Is my neighbor ready?But Am I ready?
I mean we really are much more comfortable with God helping others with the sins that hinder them! Than those that we have actually gotten used to and we don=t think hinder us at all!
How much we need Him to stir up His power and come mightily among us  To call us to Mission and Purpose to call us to Himself! The Holy Spirit has called us together both as congregation and denomination and the Holy Spirit has a purpose calling for us .He seeks to energize us and empower us but will we listen?
There is a way to keep the doors open and to succeed rejoicing. The name we associate with this Sunday is  Gaudete, the Latin word for rejoice It is known as Arose@ Sunday.  We wear rose vestments and we light a rose  candle. 
It is like a rest in the midst of the preaching of judgment and the end of the world that we have been hearing.  This theme of rejoicing is placed in the context of Awaiting@ that we experience in Advent, an anticipation and our need for God to stir us up and rescue us from ourselves! 
The word is sprinkled throughout today's readings: in the first reading from Isaiah, the prophet proclaims that God will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people. The psalm of the day is taken from Mary's Magnificat, in which she exclaims "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior". The second reading from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians contains  the words "Rejoice always".
Rejoicing! Rejoicing!  What do We Mean? What is joy anyway? Is it the same as pleasure?  Or satisfaction? Is it the emotional high that we call happiness@? Biblically the answer is unequivocally NO! 
Joy is a steady assurance of the resolution of all that is not understood, seems fair, or what we think should happen. It is faith.  It is trust. It is the peace of God that passes all human understanding! 
It involves waiting that Advent theme we ignore most of the time all the while the Church is trying to bring it to our attention. As one writer notes: it is...a very big something because people tend to be shaped by whatever they wait for. Whatever it is that we wait for , a call from the doctor=s office with test results, or a check in the mail, or a special touch or word from a friend or loved one or even a Cab to stop for us.
We are molded and changed by whatever it is we anticipate.@ But have you noticed?  Joy is very counter cultural.  Our culture says: get it now and you will have happiness and especially during this season of buying, we actually buy that line!  Are we nuts?
Our culture is permeated with those who are bored, distracted and just look tired!  Americans are frenzied and depressed.  Our lifestyles are not conducive to joy.   If we found joy, sales might go down! If things would buy happiness,  we should all be hysterically happy, but this is not true  Some seem to be addicted to and  controlled by negativity, having very critical spirits and seem to enjoy being unhappy. The model of the world has invaded the Church. 
But Jesus offers another model. The people of God are invited to the scandalous activity of joy!  What makes the Christian community work?  What opens the door to the Holy Spirit stirring us up and freeing us from our sins? There are many components. Paul says do not quench the Spirit that is because we can!  What destroys the atmosphere for joy like a negative, critical comment? Yet they always seem to be more in our thoughts than positive ones.  If God is stirring us the result can be freedom from those sins the ones that destroy the unity of the Body of X and its joy and it is the joy of the Lord that is our strength!   Give thanks in all circumstances.  What?  You heard me this is the tough pill but it will produce the joy.  It acknowledges that God is in control It is God=s work we are about.
 We must respond as IHS teaches us.  Paul says that God who calls us is to be depended on and He, not me, not the vestry, God will accomplish His purposes through us if we are willing.  His power is stirring, so let us rejoice!  We cannot expect the Bible, the Church or God to work for us if we are refusing to obey.  The Lord said through Isaiah today: Behold I create a new heavens and a new earth; God is doing part of that creating through us, the Church, the God family.  Will we respond in prayer, repentance, self-giving and self-examination?  Only then will we find the riches that both the Church and our salvation have to offer us in Christ Jesus.
 
 Stir up thy power O Lord and with great might come among us, ..
 
 
 

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