|Second Sunday in Lent, Year A||March 20, 2011||Second Sunday in Lent, Year A||Genesis 12: 1-4a; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3: 1-17, Psalm 121|
|First Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2011||March 13, 2011||First Sunday in Lent, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11, Romans 5:12-19, Romans 8:18-25|
|Ash Wednesday Sermon||March 9, 2011||Ash Wednesday||Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21|
|Last Sunday After Epiphany||March 6, 2011||Last Sunday after Epiphany||Matthew 17:1-9|
|Don’t Worry About Tomorrow||February 27, 2011||Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:8-16a; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34|
|Choose Life||February 13, 2011||Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37|
|We are the Salt of the Earth||February 6, 2011||Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 5:13-20, Isaiah 58:1-12|
|Shalom||January 30, 2011||Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 23, 2011||Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 4:12-23, John 21|
|Second Sunday After Epiphany||January 16, 2011||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||John 1:29-42|
|The Baptism of our Lord||January 9, 2011||
The Baptism of our Lord, Year A
|Epiphany Service||January 6, 2011||
Epiphany, Year A
|Traveling Back On A Different Road||January 2, 2011||
Second Sunday after Christmas, 2010
Matthew 2:1-12; Jeremiah 31:7-14
|The Dance of the Trinity||December 26, 2010||
First Sunday after Christmas, Year A
|And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes||December 24, 2010||
Christmas Eve, 2010
Sermon Date:December 5, 2010
Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12; Romans 15:4-13
Liturgy Calendar: Advent 2—Year A
Christmas music floats through the air at this time of year.
We hear favorites like “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your toes,
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressed up like Eskimos, everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe, help to make the season bright, tiny tots with their eyes all aglow will find it hard to sleep tonight…..”
This Christmas song and others like it paint pictures in our minds of a perfect holiday season, in which light and warmth fend off the cold winter darkness.
Here at church, we have all sorts of images of moving from darkness into light in our Advent scripture and hymns.
Those of you who were here last Sunday will recall those famous words of Isaiah, “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light…”
Yes, in this dark season we are waiting for light.
I can hardly wait to sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve, a hymn full of images of light.
“Son of God, love’s pure light,
radiant beams from thy holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth.”
We travel in this season toward that light filled vision of Mary and Joseph kneeling by the manger, the shepherds arriving with their sheep, angels hovering, a bright star shining,
We look forward to the coming of the Christ child, son of God, love’s pure light.
Then why on earth would we have in our Advent readings today the disturbing message we have just heard from Matthew….
people pouring out of Jerusalem and Judea walking and running, not toward a manger filled with light in Bethlehem, but instead toward an eccentric prophet standing by the Jordan River.
As we find ourselves caught up in this crowd, coming to John the Baptist to confess our sins and to receive the baptism that the Jews understood as a moral cleansing of their sins,
We hear John cry out,
“Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near!”
and we find our visions of a perfect holiday complete with turkey and mistletoe
dissolving into John’s vision of the ax laid at the root of the trees,
trees that will be chopped down and thrown into a raging fire if they do not bear good fruit.
John the Baptist snatches away the vision of our Savior as a tiny baby in a manger, radiantly beaming,
and hands us instead the picture of a powerful man, a man who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with a raging fire,
an unquenchable fire that will burn up the chaff that he has separated from the wheat.
And we know, with sinking hearts, that we are the trees that will be thrown into the fire, and the chaff that will burn, because not a one of us is able, by ourselves, to bear good fruit.
This season of Advent invites us to repent and to offer all of ourselves to God.
Richard Foster, in his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, points out that in this offering of ourselves to God we bring “not just our strengths, but also our weaknesses, not just our giftedness, but also our brokenness.”
We bring the depths of the evil in us to God
and submit ourselves to God’s fiery goodness.
Foster points out that when we know ourselves well enough and honestly enough to be honest about our own evil, then we are saying yes to God, because God sustains us and draws us into the fiery embrace of God’s love,
the unquenchable fire that never stops burning away our impurities.
If we are willing to surrender to this fire, we find, as the French mystic Madame Guyon tells us,
that when we commit sins, God rebukes that sin through an inward burning,
because God allows no evil to be concealed in our lives,
because we are God’s children,
and because God is a God of hope who will go with us into the place we could never get to on our own—a place in which we see
ourselves honestly and hand over ourselves, evil and all, to God’s transforming fire.
How do we go into this place of self-knowledge?
St Ignatius, the saint who started the Jesuit order in the Catholic Church, developed a form of prayer called the prayer of examen.
Ignatius believed that this prayer was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible.
One of the few rules that he laid out for the Jesuits was that they would pray this prayer at noon and then again at the end of the day.
This easy to practice prayer works this way.
Recall that you are in the presence of God. Then ask the Holy Spirit to help you recall your day so far with gratitude.
Reflect on the gifts from God that you have received. How did you bring the good things about yourself to others?
In the next step of the prayer, review your day—a simple act of remembering and observing. Notice the details. In what parts of the day were you cooperating with God? When were you resisting?
Notice habits and life patterns.
And then open your heart to God’s fiery love. God will help you to rid your life of that evil that keeps you trapped in the same old cycle that holds you captive.
Remember that the God of hope is with you throughout this prayer. You can end this time of prayer with the Lord’s prayer.
Now when we pray in this way, and open ourselves to God’s love and correction, we are going to feel a painful inward burning, but it is part of God’s purifying fire burning away the dead wood and the chaff that we carry inside of us.
Gina, a classmate of mine from South Africa, describes her culture as one in which fire is part of a great circle of hope and life in community.
Before planting season, fires rage throughout the country in October and November.
Flames consume bushes and fields. Flames run up the mountainsides, and the land is reduced to heaps of ashes.
Everywhere, ashes, and barren land.
And then the summer rains come, accompanied by thunder and lightning.
As the rain baptizes the barren, ash covered land, hope wells up in the community, because now, out of the ashes, new crops will emerge.
By December, the fields are once again green. The birds and wild life return.
Every year, new life in South Africa begins with fire.
And for us, every year in this season of Advent, John the Baptist reminds us that God’s baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit will bring new life to us,
Through this purifying fire that turns that evil in us into the ash that will feed the new life and growth in us.
This purifying fire will fill us with God’s fiery love,
So that when others look at us they will see, even if only dimly, love’s pure light shining in us,
And the power of the Holy Spirit working through us,
They will see in us reflections of the radiant beams of light that stream from the holy face of the Christ child that we long to see,
The one who comes to earth bringing with him God’s fiery love,
The fiery love that saves us from ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit
The fiery love that sets our hearts on fire with love,
so that we are free to live in harmony with one another,
so that together we may with one voice glorify God.