Sermon for the second Wednesday in Advent
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30
I’ve often heard the expression that something is as refreshing as a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer day – but I would challenge those southerners that there is actually nothing more refreshing than a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter’s day. We’ve all felt that chill – those bone cold days when the snow doesn’t seem to end and just as we finish shoveling it is time to start again. Sometimes, as beautiful as a fresh winter’s snow can be it is despairing as well. Walking through Advent’s journey of darkness heading towards light in the winter, therefore, seems fitting.
This image of shoveling to exhaustion also strikes me because Advent seems also to be a season when we decide to become superhuman, and to take on more tasks than are possible to complete. We have shopping lists several miles long, we attend parties and gatherings with friends and family, we decorate our homes, we donate our time and our money, we try to do-do-do because this is the season of giving. But, as my friend Ginny likes to point out – we are human-beings
not human-doings. And I think that is what Jesus is highlighting in this invitation to “be.”
In this passage from Matthew we are hearing Jesus as he instructs his followers who are weary and burdened as Israelites who are tired of the legalistic ways of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The people are at their breaking point as they try desperately to follow the law as they’ve been instructed only to constantly be redirected and told they are falling short. The people want to follow God but the burden of doing so in the supposedly prescribed manner is to heavy a burden to bear. So Jesus tells them of another way. He has been instructing them about how they can be his disciples and missionaries in the world and to illustrate the ways this call is different than what they have come to expect his invitation to follow includes this lovely invitation to rest.
We can believe in this invitation because Jesus himself follows it. If we are truly called to emulate Christ as we follow his example than it is imperative that we go off and rest a while as Jesus did frequently, including at some key points in his ministry. There were times when the crowds were pressing in on Jesus and he said to his disciples that he was going off for a time apart to rest and to pray. Hundreds of people pressing in on the Messiah, yet he still insisted on taking time to rest and to pray.
When we look at this example he set for us it becomes hard to believe that we still find it difficult – and sometimes seemingly impossible – to take time away during which we can rest, refresh our souls, and talk to God. Jesus was walking the earth with the weight of all humanity on his shoulders yet he still told his followers that his burden was light.
I was online last night and a friend shared a documentary with me.
It is by the Mimi Foundation
and it is called, “If only for a Second.” The short documentary teaser is a project the foundation sponsored where they interviewed cancer patients about their lives. In the interviews the people reported that spontaneity and carefree moments were some of the things they missed the most while they were sick. The foundation then offered each of the interviewees a free spa-makeover with the agreement that they keep their eyes closed during the process so the mirror reveal of their new look would be a surprise. What they didn’t know was that the mirror was a 2-way mirror with a photographer on the other side and the makeover team was actually outfitting them in outrageous wigs and makeup for a big shock. When the participants opened their eyes and saw their ridiculous appearances for the first time the photographer captured the moment and created a book from the images. For that second when their eyes opened they were no longer cancer patients receiving makeovers – they were human beings
captivated by joy and surprise.
What could happen in your life if you laid down your burden for just a moment and choose beingover doing? What would happen if you opened your eyes and noticed the wonder around you in a new way? We’ve a long winter ahead and there will be plenty of time for worry and shopping, working and shoveling. Let’s all find a moment to sit down and refresh ourselves by drinking a cup of hot cocoa with God.
It may surprise you to learn that I am a bit of a Scrooge. I prefer the term “Advent purist,” but the way it manifests is that I am rather militant in my desire to save Christmas celebrations for 24 December and after. At Bible and Beverages this past Monday night, one of our number joked that he wished he knew where the circuit breaker was at Mahoney’s Garden Centre so he could cut power to the Christmas lights. It was a funny thought that made me feel a little less alone in my bahumbugness about it all.
I don’t want to be a Scrooge. I want to see the lights and the joy and internalize some of the wonder but that can be difficult with all that seems to swirl around – especially this time of year. There is a distinct difference between the light of Christ in Christmas and the commercial hoopla that the decorations in the stores represent. All of this has called me to consider what concrete steps I could take to intentionally focus on the light that breaks through the darkness in this season. Where can I find Christ in the midst of the craziness?
To answer those questions I’ve decided to adopt an Advent discipline this year as a way of intentionally looking for the light each day. Similar to a Lenten discipline, I will be taking specific prayerful steps to listen to what the Spirit is saying in my life. Not surprisingly, the steps I will be taking involve color and lots of glitter. I plan to paint each day during Advent as a prayer and mindfulness activity. There are two books that will be my guides on the journey: Praying in Color by Sybil McBeth and The Painting Table by Roger Hutchison.
It can be very easy to lose track of the simple and beautiful reason for this season when society tells us to sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas. But really, is there ever a time of year when we don’t feel the push to sprint ahead? It seems that with each change of season there is another reason why we can’t slow down. From sports to time changes to work schedules and everything in-between, there is always something to be done or someplace to go. It seems this is nothing new since the architects of the church calendar very intentionally built in seasons of reflection in advance of our two major feast days. Advent is a time for hopeful expectation. It is a time that can be stressful and even painful as we remember the people and events in our lives that have influenced us. But Advent is also an invitation – an invitation to wait, watch, notice, and pray all the while trusting that Christ will come. So, while I work on the trust part I will keep my hands busy (and messy) this season.
I’ve heard it said that Fenway Park is the “Largest House of Prayer in Boston.” This week, more than usual, all eyes have turned to this cathedral of sorts as our hometown boys take on the Cardinals for yet another series. People from all walks of life have come to Fenway to celebrate and cheer as they collectively hold their breath with each swing of the bat. It’s the ultimate fellowship forum. For folks who may not have much else in common, during the post season we have common ground that brings us together.
Common ground is hard to come-by these days. We’ve just emerged after a sixteen-day government shutdown into a couple weeks with even more horrific school violence and natural disasters around the world claiming lives. We need something to root for. Regardless of which team we cheer on, (obviously you all root for the Sox…) having something fun to cheer for helps us when we must dive back into the trenches and face what is happening in the world. Baseball doesn’t make the rest of the world go away, but it brings us together to watch something fun and to hope for a little while.
What is it we see when we watch this “All-American Game?” We see a group of people whose collective purpose is to help one another come home. The entire purpose of the game of baseball is to get back to the place where it all started. When you are home you are protected. When you are home you are finally safe. There is no place else on the field where you experience that kind of safety. But, in order to come back home, you must first go out. You must use the gift of your physical form to go out into the field and to visit different places. While you are there, you will encounter different types of people and have conversations. You will have to watch what is happening around you and discern when it’s the right time to move to another place. Some things will help you get where you’re going; others will try to take you off of the right path. And when you do eventually make it back home –and you will- the celebration is grand.
Is it a perfect metaphor? No, of course not. But what it does is capture some of the reasons so many people are losing sleep. What if we used this momentary interruption of the monotony of life to infuse that hope into our lives, to be curious about our neighbors, to root for something good, and to look at our own paths home? Are you on the path that will get you home safely? What help do you need along the way? Is there a way you could be helpful on someone else’s path? And the thing I most like to ponder: what will the “coach” say to you when you do make it safely back home?
|As the sun came up just after arriving.
Someone has to do it. All of the running blogs and articles tell you that you “most likely” will not finish last when you race. Well, this morning I went and ran a 3.59 mile trail run with only 45 other people. As soon as I saw how small the field was, how BIG the hills were, and the crazy people in shorts and pro running gear running up and down hills for a prerace warm-up I knew there was a very strong likelihood I could actually finish last.
My friend Jane and I started in the back of the pack. With every steep downhill I went back to elementary science and thought: What goes down must come back up. Man alive, the second half of the course was going to be BRUTAL! I kept pace with Jane for the first half of the run but then I needed to back off. My lungs were on fire and running up the hills was not going to happen. I ran on the flats and downhills (which were becoming fewer and farther between) and walked up the hills. But not once did I feel badly about my position. I knew I was pushing myself as hard as I could. The last thing I needed to do was go and have an asthma attack in the middle of the woods – and the whistling in my lungs warned that was a distinct possibility. There were 3 of us at the back of the pack. I could see Jane ahead of me and one other girl a little further ahead. I joked with the officials positioned around the course that “I was making sure everyone made it out of the woods safely.” I listened to my body and pushed it even when I thought I couldn’t but knew it was safe to try.
|Starting line before we began. Notice the folks in shorts!
There have been a lot of articles recently about back of the pack runners questioning if we are committed or even “real runners.” It feels a little like the questions I fielded when I was a transitional deacon. To be honest, while it is a little frustrating to know that these elite runners feel the need to comment about what may or may not be motivating runners like me, I really don’t care all that much. I will never be competing for a first place medal – and that’s okay. I am competing only with myself. I am competing to be better than I was yesterday. I am competing to use the body God gifted me with. That’s all – and that should be enough. I am no threat to the elites and I see no reason why it’s become so important for some people in that high bracket of runners to discourage a new crop of runners who might never run a 3 hour marathon (or run a marathon at all!), but who are getting off the couch, making their lives healthier, and inspiring others to do the same.
As I trudged up the hill to the finish line this morning I laughed at myself as I repeated over and over in my head: “and the last shall be first.” I felt like I finished first as I looked down the hill and realized that I had done it. (I know that’s not what Jesus meant when he said it, but he doesn’t mind that I took the scripture out of context – I checked with him.) I don’t know my split times because my running app froze during the race – but that’s okay because I completed my goal: I finished.
It is days like today – with interactions that stir the soul – that remind me what it is to be a priest. This morning I was scheduled to go get a mani/pedi since I’m going to a wedding tomorrow and *full disclosure* my feet look like hooves after all the abuse they’ve gotten from my running. It felt a little frivolous but I really just wanted a chance to relax and to feel pretty. I went in and a woman named Lynn took care of me. I was scattered when I arrived at the salon and chose 4 colors since I couldn’t make up my mind. I sat in the chair, apologized for my feet, and took a deep breath. Lynn quietly and gently got to work. I asked her name and about her family. She asked me about my family and about the event I was attending. I told her about my race on Monday and what a gift it was to be able to be pampered like this right now. The conversation naturally, and comfortably calmed to a silence and I closed my eyes.
Lynn gently and lovingly went about her work. I have never had a pedicure like this before. She was ministering to me in a really lovely way. I could feel the presence of God in her touch. It was eerily beautiful. When we moved over to the manicure station I asked Lynn more about her family and her life in Vietnam before she moved here. She told me that she always knew she wanted to do nails and hair and to “help women see themselves as beautiful.” She said she could have done other things but she loved seeing people smile when they feel pretty. She was describing a sense of call. I know that sense – I have it for my vocation as well.
My whole day presented these types of interactions with friends and strangers alike. These glimpses of holiness in the everyday. I spent the late afternoon making gluten free communion bread and the opportunity to help in that way while being able to be quiet and in solitude was a real gift.
Then this evening I went to get tea with a lovely friend. We talked about our respective lives and feelings. I was struck during our conversation with how easy it was to sit there with her and to palpably feel the Holy Spirit with us. I literally got goose bumps. Neither of us were putting on airs or trying to force anything. We were just present, as we are – trusting it was enough. As my friend spoke I could hear the Spirit in her words and I was moved to tears.
All day I have been struck by the fact that I am surrounded by priests. No, they are not necessarily ordained – but they are priests to me. In the circle of saints and the priesthood of all believers we all have the potential to affect sacramental change in the world. Every action and interaction has the potential for holiness when made with intention and care. Is this a theologically complex subject? Maybe. Do I believe it to be true? Absolutely. So thank you to all of you who have been or will be priests to me. You may not even know that you have given me this gift, but your goodness shines through you. I am grateful beyond words tonight for the gift of the priests in my midst.
Today I led a three hour training with our Godly Play teachers. We were discussing the pedagogy and theology of Godly Play storytelling. When a storyteller tells a Godly Play story he or she tells the story from memory and looks only at the storytelling props as she/he conveys the story that is written on his/her heart and tells it to the children. You can watch a Godly Play story by clicking here. As I watched Diana tell the story of the Good Shepherd to the teachers assembled it hit me: teaching Godly Play is akin to my celebration of the Eucharist. I told the teachers that the reason I do not look at the congregation when I celebrate is because the prayer is not about me. My role in that moment is to pray on behalf of the congregation. I look at the book even when I have the words memorized. I look at the chalice and paten – the bread and the wine – I only look at the congregation when inviting them to proclaim the mystery of faith, to say the Lord’s Prayer, to say the invitation, etc… because the Eucharist prayer isn’t about me or them; it is about us and God. In that moment I told the teachers that I consider them to be celebrants of Godly Play as I am a celebrant at the table. It is a sacred space we enter to teach and we must center our hearts to be present at that moment. Today, during that training, I learned something more about being a priest that I have not yet learned. It was a humbling and inspiring afternoon as I realized that nine months into priesthood I still have “firsts” to experience. I hope that gift, the gift of seeing something familiar in a new way because of this calling, never ceases. I hope to always be in awe of this peculiar and wonderful life I am called to lead.