December 4, 2011

"Straighten" - A Sermon

Sermon for Year B, Advent 1
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
Saint Thomas Episcopal Church
December 4, 2011

Advent: The making-straight of paths.
How do you straighten out a path?

God’s answer to that question is John the Baptist.
John the Baptist: God’s willingness to be misunderstood in order to get a message across.
I used to spend a lot of time apologizing for John in my sermons,
  Trying to get people to cozy up to the crazy guy
  With the weird clothes and the bad diet,
    And that has its own kind of effectiveness, I guess;
    But the truth is, sermons that apologize for the Bible are wasting people’s time.
Sermons that follow the Bible are ultimately going to be
  Of the best help to all involved.

John comes, then, to straighten out the path for Jesus.
How do you do that?
In that day and age? In that particular religious and political setting?

You go as far as you can into the most inconveniently desolate place you can find,
  Where only the most dedicated would bother to try and find you,
  And you preach a hard, hard word:
    Get ready, Messiah is coming, and he is filled with Spirit.
When he comes, things will be radically different.
So hop in this cold water, and let me bury you in it,
  As a symbol that you are dead to sin and the old ways of your life.
And then let me pull you out of it, up and out of it,
  So that you can breathe again, a whole new creature of the Christ to come.
And then I want you to get back home and start listening,
  Looking for signs of this Messiah. Don’t worry; to you, it’ll be obvious.

I can imagine that it was terribly exciting.
That it must have felt so compelling to be a part of something so alive.
I can imagine, too, that there were some who went all that way
  And who, when they finally got back to their homes,
  Informed their families that there was really nothing to report –
    Just another madman out on the fringes.
Just another religious loony with an axe to grind.

There comes a time, though, that you look at your life,
  And you weigh the worth of your soul.
You look at your life, and you say, Man, this isn’t cuttin’ it.
And you think of how deadened, in some ways, your life has become:
  The routine. The trite. The trivial. Grey and insubstantial.
How burdened you’ve become with things that don’t matter.
How not even all the religious talk in the world could bring the idea of God any closer.

And in pain and confusion,
  You will go to the priest and ask for help,
    And the priest … the priest will absolve you of your wonderment
      And help you gently douse your burning questions;
  So you will go a mountaintop and find a guru,
    And the guru will tell you that the answer lies within,
    Which seems true enough, but you wish that answer were a little more specific
      Given that you had to fly around the world and climb a mountain just to hear it;
  So you will go to a seminar and write down your ideas about God in a notebook,
    And in the end you will have … a noteboook … filled with plans and ideas,
      And you will be organized but still dissatisfied.

It won’t be long after all this nonsense
  That in the cold light of morning you come to understand
    What you should have understood all along, which is this:
    Why is God just an idea?
You’ll take another sip of coffee,
  And you’ll say to yourself,
  Well, I guess it’s time I moved beyond God as an abstract notion
    And actually try to meet him. Her. Whatever: I just want to meet God.
Quite often, the minute you make this declaration,
  You start seeing and hearing the world in a new and different way.
Suddenly God is in everything, and you understand, you’re back at the beginning:
The dishes can wait, the business can wait –
  Shoot, I was going to get over and sweep the porch of the church this morning,
    But even that can wait – …
  I’ve got to get back out to the desert and listen to this John fellow
    And maybe I’ll Meet God in the process.
As you most assuredly will.

You will. You will you will you will.
I’ve been around a while; I’ve seen it happen:
  It takes some rearranging of priorities …
  It requires letting go of things, and we do certainly fear loss …
  It will not prove convenient or efficient by most any measurement …
    But in the end you meet God;
    You relate to God;
    You walk and talk with God.

You just have to get yourself down to the edge of the river,
  Where you’ll be within earshot of the preacher,
    And you have to be able to say it and mean it,
      That I want that part of me that is old and false to be left behind;
      I want to jump in the water and be renewed.

And not for some abstract set of reasons
  That have to do with the arcane rules of what constitutes membership in a church:
  I want to know God, relate with God:
    The one-to-One and many-to-One. I want that.

It is so simple, and we make it so complicated.
It comes to this: If you want God bad enough, you will start to beat the bushes.
We all thirst and hunger after God.
It’s just a question of if we are aware enough of this terrible thirst and hunger.
And again, that’s John the Baptist’s job: to wake us up.
But once we reach that point, we are responsible for the choices we make
  That either invite God in or keep God away.

The deepest and sharpest irony, of course, is that you can’t keep God away.
It’s like running out into the ocean and telling the tide to go home.
Keeping God away is about as fruitless and as joyless an enterprise as it gets.
You know why?

… Because you were made for God’s enjoyment.
The whole reason you exist
  Is so that God has something amazing and wonderful to revel in.
And that’s not God being selfish; that’s God being self-giving.

That’s your job description.
Get that, and you get the whole thing.
And then, of course, you start living the whole thing.

Friends, this is Advent: a time of renewal, prayer, waiting, expectation, and hope.
Brothers and sisters, ready or not, Jesus is coming.
He will come into this world bearing the balm
  Of healing, restoration, forgiveness.
Don’t you want to be a part of that?
Not just the overt cultural stuff – the mall, and Ho Ho Ho
  Not only the things the church does in its liturgy so well this time each year:
  But God, and God’s life extended through you to the world?
Don’t you want that?
Then get ready, and ask for it, and watch with me.
Because some beautiful and amazing things are about to happen.

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