Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sermon: Now, Now, Now

Sermon for Advent 1, Year A
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, 7:45 December 1, 2013
Lectionary readings for the day, click here.
Sermon for Matthew 24:36-44
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

Some of you may know that
I was not raised Episcopalian. 
No, my early spiritual formation was in the
Church of the Outdoor Sports. 
So I like to say, in the way that one author put it,
“I tasted Jesus before I knew about him”[1] 

At a day and hour that only God knew,
I found myself in the small, hot chapel
of my dear friends’ wedding. 
In that crowded room,
I witnessed my friends’ love for each other,
the blessing they received from their church,
the warmth of their friends. 

There, only God knew the greatness of that gift of
first, freely given communion bread and wine. 
It was an afternoon in Utrecht, Holland,
near where I was working on a computer project.
The service was held in Dutch.
I had, really, no idea what had just happened. 
I tasted Jesus before I read about him
and without understanding a word.  But God knew.

A few years later, back in the USA, a friend invited me
to the weekday Eucharist at his church. 
It was the three of us – the priest, my friend and I. 
As the priest served me communion and
my friend served the chalice,
spontaneous tears rolled down my face as I simply felt,
well, at home. 
Only God knew the day and the hour of that transformation,
readying me to the surprising way that Jesus shows up. 

In Sara Miles’ book “Jesus Freak,”
she describes the Gospel accounts of Jesus as,
“the opposite of that old game of telephone,
where a phrase is passed down the line,
losing its sense as each person attempts
to repeat the words exactly. 
Instead, the tales about Jesus only
gain significance in repetition,
gain depth and breadth as they
resound through different readers,
…and different voices,
down the years…”[2] 
The Gospel readings are God’s way
of getting us ready, keeping us awake. 

And getting ready for God’s love is what Advent is about –
it’s about waiting and staying awake and realizing
that the Word is very very close –  whether we know it or not
and coming among us, nearer. Nearer. Now.

In today’s Gospel reading,
the disciples listening to Jesus
“concluding judgment discourse”
did not know that it was time to wake up –
time to “get ready.” 
They were not “getting” the sense of urgency
that Jesus himself had. 
Jesus tells the disciples, get off your duff! Stay awake!

“About that day and hour no one knows,
neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son
but only the Father…
Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know
on what day your Lord is coming…
Therefore you must be ready,
for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Jesus reminds the disciples how no one knows when
God’s promises will be fully realized
Nor does anyone know exactly when Love will break in –

And Jesus reminds the disciples,  “the end” –
the “eschatological end” of time –
the fulfillment of all God’s promises –
could come at any time. 

Because it can come at any time,
Jesus reminds the disciples to engage actively
in their assigned mission, which for them, meant
building up followers, healing the sick,
feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,
visiting prisoners, and
bringing about God’s reign of justice and peace. 

Do all your mission work,
Jesus says,
with a sense of urgency.

It is through this mission work, Jesus tells them,
that the disciples can strengthen their faith. 
They are to get ready and to stay awake for the many ways
to be faithful to the mission of the God’s community,
the Church;
not to escape from it. 

There is no “rapture” happening here
(one taken and the other left
whether in the field or grinding meal). 
The point of all this urgency,  Jesus reminds his disciples,
is to know the mystical reality of
God’s reign
that is hidden to everyone
except to those who are awake and ready. [3] 

“So get off your duff and keep noticing
how the living God is working in your midst”,
Jesus tells the disciples; stay alert.

I wonder if we, too, need a reminder once in a while
about God’s steadfast promise of faithful love.
I wonder if we sometimes need Jesus to remind us
to do our mission work with a sense of urgency. 

In our recent Parish retreat,
we had a few exercises to respect our inner journey;
To listen to God’s call for us to do God’s work in the world.
We concluded with a final workshop connecting
our inner call with our outward mission. 

Advent is a time to reflect on that sense of urgency:

how we might be reminded to get ready and to stay awake
for mission work:
loving God’s people through prayer and care,
visiting folks in hospital,
bringing communion to shut-ins,
making sandwiches for Casa Maria,
writing our legislators about fair laws
to reduce homelessness and hunger,
to bring about justice and peace in this land.

Advent is also a time to be gentle on ourselves, for once.

Say no to extra tasks and be good stewards of our own spiritual health.

Do all your mission work, Jesus tells us,
with a sense of urgency. 
It is through this mission work that we, too,
can strengthen our faith. 

God is active all around us and nudging us
to engage our faith –
but perhaps we sometimes miss the clues
as we get busy in this pre-Christmas season.

We are sometimes simply unaware
of God’s action in our life.

And in this season of Advent,
we are nudged by God to get ready. To be awake. To Notice.

Yet here is the thing.  Jesus reminds us,
as he reminded the disciples:
God knows the time and brings about abundant life. 
God’s love and presence is steadfast and faithful.

Jesus says to the disciples, wake up! 
God is ready for you!
God knows the hour and
God is preparing you, dear disciples,
with ready hearts and steady hands
to do God’s mission in the world. 

In the letter to the Romans, Paul reminded the readers
to “put on” the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ
Because that is how to be awake and aware,
and walk in the light of the Lord.


Author and monk Thomas Merton once said,
“The Advent mystery is the beginning
of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.”[4]
“The Advent mystery is the beginning
of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.” 

Today’s good news is that God is readying us. 
God is always ready,
always “on” and always loving. 

Perhaps, knowing that God is always ready,
we can engage fully in our mission work.
Perhaps, knowing that God is awake to our gifts,
we can join our community’s work
bringing about justice and peace.
Perhaps, knowing that God is ready,
we can trust our gifts to respond to another’s need. 

One of my favorite hymns (#333)
captures Jesus sense of urgency quite nicely.

Now the silence, now the peace,
Now the empty hands uplifted;
Now the kneeling, now the plea,
Now the Father’s arms in welcome;
Now the hearing, now the power,
Now the vessel brimmed for pouring;
Now the body, now the blood,
Now the joyful celebration;
Now the wedding, now the songs,
Now the heart forgiven, leaping;
Now the Spirit’s visitation,
Now the Son’s epiphany;
Now the Father’s blessing,
Now, now, now.

My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Advent season is the in-between time. 

Get ready.  Stay awake. 

God’s love is *right there*! 



[1] Sara Miles, in her book Jesus Freak (p.1) describes her introduction to church this way and it helped me put words to my experience as well.
[2] Ibid., p.2
[3] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VIII (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995) p. 446-447
[4] Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration: Meditations on the Cycle of Liturgical Feasts, (Ave Maria Press, 2009), forward by William Shannon

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