Sunday, December 7, 2014

Waiting in God while Changing Our Minds

Advent II+B     7 December, 2014    The Rev Robert R.M. Bagwell+

The Episcopal Church in Okatie, SC
Isaiah 40:1-11                                                                                                  Psalm 5:1-2,
Peter3:8-13a                                                                                                      Mark 1:1-6

"There was an 80 year-old woman was recently married to her 4th husband. A reporter questioned the occupation of her newly acquired husband. She replied that he owned a funeral home. Curious about the other husbands, the reporter also asked about their occupations. The woman paused for a while and stated that her first husband was a banker. The second one she was madly in love with and he was a circus master. The third one was a minister. Puzzled by her answers, he replied, “None of these people have anything in common! Why did you marry these?” She stated that she married number one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go."  I guess, she was waiting to go…..
There’s waiting…and then there’s waiting. Do you know what I mean? Some waiting is, well, just waiting, the pointless exercise we all have to endure from time to time. Like sitting in the doctor’s office, just waiting for your name to be called so you can get your flu shot. But other waiting seems to matter. Like waiting in the doctor’s office for the results of the biopsy to come back or waiting to see the ultrasound of a coming baby.
I suspect you know what I mean. Some waiting feels empty and pointless, while other waiting is weighty, significant, and really matters. Unlike the shopping mall, we are not waiting for Christmass to hurry and get here., we are joining ourselves to the ancients, the people of the Older Testament. We are finding meaning in our waiting for God.
Historically, the church saw Advent as a "little lent" a time for reflection and self examination, repentance and amendment of life, hence the themes, grandly termed "the four last things.": Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.
This is even reflected in our collect: " God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus our Redeemer."  
The challenge is the reality that these things are really" the four great beginnings!"  We know this somewhat.  This is the beginning of the Christian or Church Year.
It is based on the life of God as it is lived out in this sphere of existence, but we are in the Kairos time of God, not in the Chronological time of earth measured by clocks and calendars, bells and whistles.
Without those things to drive and control their day to day life, the ancients were governed by evening and morning, spring and fall, winter and summer. They had time to reflect each day because being somewhere "on time" was an unknown concept.  They also did a lot of what we are taught culturally not to do:  wait in the wilderness.
The wilderness…what an image.  Especially at this time of year with the leaves falling, the more fragile plants dying, the cold of winter attacking our senses. 
We live in an age when some among us, think that the grand designs of the human race, are in no need of such concepts as God, or at the very least of a God who has any impact on our daily lives or futures.
Given that the human life is full of uncertainties, toil of labor, risk of illness, accidents, insurance, bills: uncertainty in a world that seems so very shakable. Yet in the midst of these types of concerns, appropriate to their day Isaiah receives this message from God:    "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.."   How long they had waited for those words…waiting for God. 
After 39 chapters of Isaiah reproaching the people for any number of shocking sins, centered mainly around their refusal to care for the poor, the widow, the stranger, the foreigner, and the orphan. These were common in Israelite life. This was mirrored by inequality and oppression.. Isaiah proclaimed religious condemnation for a people who knew that the Lord was furious with them for their failure to follow God's will, then judgment came 
I heard a discussion of God's discipline last week and the discussion suggested that God does not actively discipline us, rather he steps back and lets us reap the rewards of our actions. This is how we learn: the difficult times, not the good ones.  But don't be discouraged. 
Each of us must make choices every day.  The easy ones: "another  cup of coffee?  Another donut? This activity or that activity?"  But these are not usually life challenges unless done in excess.
Then there are difficult ones: "do I give up when I've lost, quit drinking, continue to put money on this credit card,  seek counseling for my difficulties coping with my circumstances?"  To quit or to overcome. This church has a unique window into this, and the testimony to this is this new community in the Body of Christ.  We all had a choice to come to church this morning.
Our second text reminds us of another kind of waiting. That God is timeless, patient, waiting for more and more of the people for whom Jesus died to turn to him in the experience of new and everlasting life. 
It reminds us that we are a part of that work and that our lives may be the only Jesus many will ever see.  It also says we should ourselves live in readiness for that cosmic event when Jesus comes again. God loves us. He is in unconventional God who loves sinners!  Is he nuts? 
Most of us struggle to love some kinds of sinners, we take our pick but John tells us that "God so loved the world" as it was and is and we who know and love him are experiencing part of that eternity even now by the Holy Spirit!   
In the midst of all of these words of encouragement, this man in camel's hair, with a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey interrupts our beautiful Sunday morning service! 
Even more so, he not only is inappropriately attired, he says Episcopalians "repent"!  Yes, repent!    Don=t you hate to repent?  The word fairly drips with negativism.  REPENT! And it=s not just the Arepentance@ part that is a pain.  It=s getting there to that point. 
I mean, repentance implies that I may have done something wrong!  That doesn't=t do anything to bolster my self-esteem!  I don=t know, it sounds a little bit like groveling.  I HATE to grovel.  Don=t you?
Surely some of such thoughts must have filled the minds of some listeners to John the Baptist 2000 years ago.  I would be willing to bet money that it is at least some of what we may experience listening to his message today, because repentance is a struggle. 
We must struggle to repent.  So today, I invite you to take repentance by the horns and engage it by unpacking it and finding out it is really the way to get to the comfort, comfort my people of Isaiah. But let=s cast this in a different light. 
Suppose you had been wandering around in the wilderness.  In the wilderness that John the Baptist lived in it would be easy to get lost.  Over every hill in that limestone desert between the dead sea and Jerusalem, it looked the same.  It was déjà vu!
Repentance is suddenly finding a road. But John came to do more than that, John came to prepare a road, to build a Highway for our God (as the book of Isaiah said today in the first reading).  To make a straight path, instead of wandering around in the wilderness.
It means we are going in the wrong direction Repentance is being found when you have been lost.  It isn't=t to make us feel bad, but to make us feel good. 
It is a remedy.  It brings joyBhealingBrestoration.  It is the only way we can receive forgiveness, from God or from another human being. Repentance is the required condition for salvation from sin.  It is the required preparation for experiencing the joy and freedom of the Christian walk. 
This may cause you to ask the question, Aif repentance is so terrific why aren't=t people lined up for confession every week?  Why don=t we practice repentance?@
Perhaps because, repentance is to change.  Change is hard, habits are hard to break. We want to remain as we are, comfortable.  AWe don=t want to turn around and begin in a new direction. 
We want to be faithful and walk with the Lord, but only if that means continuing as we are.  We often want to follow Jesus, so long as Jesus goes where we want to go.  John is a most uncomfortable figure for us.  Indeed, away with this John the Baptist. Bring out jolly old St. Nicholas!  
And yet we do want to repent.  The appointments with counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists tell us that we are not at peace, yet what keeps us from finding peace is being willing to deal with the problem, us. 
Why do we cling to our bondage to hurt feelings, self-justification and emptiness?  And yet we need the prophets, to afflict us in our comfort.
Who are the prophets today ? Probably these who make us uncomfortable, provoke us and anger us, challenge what we think and say.  They may be conservative or liberal, polished or rough, sacred or secular, but their message is always the same.­ Repent, change, become a new person. 
I am challenged this Advent with repentance.  I am challenged that I have not loved enough, that I am too easily offended and therefore have not received the fullness of God forgiveness in my soul, because scripture says that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. 
I am challenged that I have left undone those things which I ought to have done and have done those things which I ought not to have done. But the waiting God is waiting, and in our heart of hearts, as we draw closer to Jesus, we crave change and loving acceptance as we live in the struggle that is following Jesus Christ.
There is a secret to comfort, the word means "to be strong with" another.  That is what the Holy Spirit does and the Body of Christ is challenged every day to be a Comforter.
This Advent, will you join me in seeking repentance, in seeking to love, love, loveCto face ourselves as we really are and to ask forgiveness not only of God, but of those we have wronged, spoken unkindly to or about, those we have judged or offended, that broken-ness may be healed.  That the Holy Spirit may grant us true repentance and a new life within.  That the burdens that we carry may be by the hands of God.  Let the water of your baptism and mine not simply speak of repentance but become an effective symbol of repentance. 
The Rev. G. Campbell Morgan once said: "Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort.  Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given."

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