Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Collect of The First Sunday of Advent, Book of Common Prayer



30 November 2008

John W. Sewell

Saint John’s

Memphis, Tennessee

The long season after Pentecost is ended. For the next four Sundays we reflect on the Coming of the Christ.

We do this in three ways:

1.      The yearly remembrance of his First Advent.

2.      His presence here in the sacraments and community

3.          Looking to his Second Advent.

On this first Sunday of Advent we look to our Lord’s Second Coming. The lessons from scripture this morning are lessons of anticipation and judgment.  The prophet Isaiah writes of his longing for God to visit his people with judgment. He sees the presence of God to be like the effect of heat on water or fire on brushwood. The presence of the God of Israel changes things.  This is a God who works for those who wait for him.  Now keep that in mind.  This is a God who works for those who wait for Him. The consequences for those who have not waited for God, who have fallen into sin and are alienated from Him, are dire,  “We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind will blow us away.  Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  Things are bad but God will come and like a potter and Father will remold and restore all things.

In his Gospel, Mark sees that the prophet’s prayer has been answered.  Indeed God has come and will return a second time.  The Sun will darken.  All sorts of natural disasters will occur and THEN the Son of Man will come in great glory. And this coming, says our Lord through the Evangelist Mark, is a promise. The heavens and the earth will pass away but my WORD will not pass away.  Here “word” is best translated, “creative energy.”  This word is not static, but dynamic.  Our response must also be dynamic. The dynamic response is to WATCH.

“Take heed!” he says.  It will come like a man going on a journey.  He leaves his home and leaves his servants in charge and commands the gatekeeper to watch.  For we do not know when the master will return at midnight or evening or morning.  Watch, so that he does not find you asleep.  WATCH THEREFORE!

Being older by nine and eleven years than my brother and sister, it fell my lot from time to time to stay with my siblings overnight while our parents traveled We had a marvelous time, and the house was a wreck.  At a reasonable time before they were to return we would work furiously to clean the house — only it sometimes happened that they came home early.  The worst sound on earth was, to be unprepared, with the house in chaos, and to hear the sound of car tires on gravel.  It was the sound of trouble.  It never occurred to us to keep up the house from day to day and avoid the last minute rush.  That would have been more mature than we were prepared to be, so we took our chances.

Yet we are commanded to mature and thus to watch and not fall asleep.  This is hard.  But there is good news for us in the Epistle reading.  In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul gives thanks for the grace of God, “So that you are not lacking any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of Our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end.”   This is good news. We are told to watch and not fall asleep AND Jesus will enable us to do just that.  “Come,” says Isaiah. “Watch,” says Mark. “And,” says Paul, “God will sustain, hold you up, be by you, as you await his coming.”  So we wait. We will be judged by the quality of our waiting. Will we wait and watch passionately or will we become distracted and forget to watch at all?

In order to watch and wait appropriately, we need an adequate theology of time.  How many of you have a digital clock?   In a way a digital clock is a violation of what it means to be human.  Why?   Because all a digital clock tells you is now! Now! Now! Now! It is a violation of humanity because it has no reference to the past or to the future.

A circadian clock (the old-fashioned one with hands) which marks the twenty-four hour rhythms of the earth’s rotation is better theologically because it marks time in reference to the past and future.  It is half-past the hour or a quarter until the hour.  We need these reference points:

Past = memory = remorse & gratitude

Future = expectation = anxiety & excitement or despair

There is a tension this time of year between digital and circadian time keeping. There is much talk about the “commercializing” of Christmas.  If we are seduced into the manic, Now, Now, Buy Now! No matter that the Christmas trees up are up and it’s not Halloween yet” of digital time, we will be disappointed again! A digital culture is not accustomed to waiting.  Circadian thinking says, “Wait a minute, it’s not time yet.”  It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.  Let’s wait until it is the time to do these things.  So the day after thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year.  But even circadian thinking is not enough.

An adequate theology of time has an understanding of time that is not digital, now, now, now, fixed on the moment time, or Circadian, with reference to past and future, calendar time. A deeper Christian understanding of time concerns Kairos.

Not Digital = constantly NOW, there is not past or future.

Not Chronos = calendar time  = what time is it?

BUT Kairos = divine time  = what is it time for?

People often say, “I don’t have the time.”  The truth is that we have all the time there IS.   God calls us to discern the time and ask, “what is it time for?”  Advent is in the season to clarify our theology of time.  A great symbol of Advent is the Advent wreath. In Northern Europe people took a wheel off their cart and put the Advent candles on it, lighting each in turn, thereby marking the days until Christmas.  Taking a wheel off your cart is a proven aid to slowing down. So I invite you to take a wheel off. Light one candle, light another, think, reflect, be.  Take time.  Do less.

·        Wait with Mary, remembering that in the fullness of time, she gave birth to the savior. Remember that since that birth earth and heaven are joined.

·        Remember that Jesus lived among us without sin.

·        Remember that he preached the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven to all people. Remember that he died, rose again from the dead, ascended to the Father.

·        Remember that he left us to continue the work that he began among us.

·        Remember that we gather to encounter the risen Jesus in bread and wine and each other.

·        Watch brothers and sisters.

·        Watch for chances to touch others in his name.

·        Watch brothers and sisters because life is short and there is much to do.

·        Watch therefore sisters and brothers, for Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Let us watch and wait, discerning the hour and the day

Asking not only what time is it, but what is it time FOR.



27 November 2008  

For days all over America people have gone to and fro from the grocery store, gathering the fixings for today’s feast. Cookbooks, with pages stuck together with splatters of the sauces of Thanksgivings past, have been pulled from shelves to rehearse the incantations, which produce the dishes like Mother used to make.

What makes a feast?  Excess, that’s what.  What separates feasting for ordinary munching is excess!  What makes Thanksgiving, thanksgiving is the simple fact that there is more food coming to the table than the most ambitious glutton could ever put away.  The leftovers piled high on groaning tables assure the heart and mind that there is indeed enough.  Abundance comforts the heart.

I submit to you that what we are about today is a token of the Kingdom of God.  Feasting and over-abundance point toward the generosity of God the creator of the universe.  What God intends for all humanity is more that we can ever imagine. Grace is excessive, excessive, excessive.

The first reading appointed for this day describes the promised land as a feast, “a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of live tress and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, …” This is good news.  This is a Promised Land, abundant, excessive in its fertility and fruitfulness.  Above all this marvelous place is a gift!

Jesus points to the excessive generosity of God in the reading from Matthew’s Gospel.  Worry in not the appropriate posture of creatures gifted by a generous God.  Why are you worrying about everything from what you will eat or drink or what you will put on?  Is not life about more than this?  Jesus then points out how excessive God really is.  “Consider the birds who do not work and toil and yet God feeds them.  Consider the lilies and other flowers.  They do not toil or spin and yet God has clothed them with beauty that would have made Solomon in all his glory green with envy.  If God is so extravagant with grass, which is here one day and gone tomorrow, will he not clothe you?  Therefore do not worry.  Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things.  But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We of course have a persistent tendency to forget that all is a gift and to delude ourselves into thinking that we are ultimately responsible for what we enjoy.  The first reading for Thanksgiving Day reminds us of the proper scheme of things, “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.   Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who give you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.”

We forget to our own peril.

A man landed a job painting the yellow line down the center of the highway, which had to be done by hand.  After three days the foreman complained, “Your first day out, you did great.  You painted that line for three miles.  Your second day wasn’t bad; you painted two miles.  But today you only painted mile, so it looks as though I’ll have to fire you.”  On his way out of the office the employee looked back and said, “It’s not my fault.  Every day I got farther form the paint can.”  We become empty and begin to worry when we forget where abundance is to be found.

We are living in anxious times. The economic situation all over the world is fragile. There is a persistent fear that there will not be enough. If everything is dependent on us that is the truth, for we are not enough. But for those who are willing to believe and trust their lives to God who revealed himself in his son Jesus, the Christ things do not ultimately depend on us.

The Kingdom of God is the realty where God reigns.  It is a gift.  All our life is a gift.  All that we have is a gift.  We are here tonight to celebrate the fact that ALL that exists is a gift. The appropriate response is gratitude. As our Lord said, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.”  We must not mistake striving for earning our way.  Striving is about living into what is already ours.  It is as Kierkegaard said, “a breakthrough to the already.”  The Kingdom of God is a party.  The only way we will be excluded is if we insist on not showing up.

So later today when you are feasting and starting through that second plate of culinary extravagance remember that a feast is what the Kingdom of God is all about.  On that day ordinary snacks will be excessive.     Amen.

Deuteronomy 8:1-3,6-10, (17-20)

Psalm 65

James 1:17-18,21-27

Matthew 6:25-33