December 4, 2016

Sermon by the Reverend Jodi L. Baron, Advent 2, Year A, Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

“Come to deliver us, and tarry not. O Root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign of the people, before whom kings shall keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: Come to deliver us, and tarry not.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Come to deliver us, and tarry not; that is the O Antiphon for Advent 2, O Root of Jesse.
It’s an ancient liturgical response Christians have spoken in one voice to respond to God’s message in Advent for, well, for a really…really long time.
I love it because it reclaims kingship language and language of power distribution; the power of voice, of keeping silence so that others can pray, I see that as a message that deeply resonates with the prayers that are in many of our hearts as we move through our days.
A few weeks ago, Father Eric Law, Author, Multi-cultural expert and keynote speaker at our annual diocesan convention in Battle Creek, invited us to participate in an exercise that, in all honesty, will probably sound like a commentary on a particular socio-political agenda…but I assure you it was not. It was, as Fr. Law demonstrated, an exercise in peaceable-trinitarian-Kingdom economics.
This exercise required us to move around the room with our stacks of power and give to someone else who has less until we were the ones with less. These stacks of power were pieces of paper, about the size of American paper currency. Again, the rules were, to find somebody with less paper power than you and to give them paper power until they had more than you and then move to the next person and do the same.
But at the same time, you would be interrupted by folks who were doing the same and you would sometimes end up collecting, even more, paper power, without even asking.
The exercise began with 10 or so folks (out of 200-300) with all of the paper power. It was up to them to start the holy-distribution.
After about 5 minutes of roaming, intentionally looking for someone who had less paper power than I did, I noticed that sometimes it was difficult to tell how much power other folks had, just by looking at their hands.
Some folks intentionally kept their cards stacked so as to conceal how much or how little they really had, others were waving their resources spread out like a fan for the whole world to see.
I found that as time went on I was having to ask people how much power they had and together we both took inventory of our resources. If it was determined that I had more, I gave them what I had until I had less. If it was, on the other hand, determined that I had less (and they didn’t immediately share) I moved on until I found someone with less than me.
Occasionally I found myself with absolutely nothing.
And then quickly someone else noticed that and gave me some of theirs.
It was so beautiful to me. A true vision of this peaceable kingdom completely free from the bondage of scarcity.
Well, almost.
There were a few people I encountered who stopped when they had one left saying, “I only have one left.” Which is pretty reasonable.
But the facilitator, Eric’s, instructions were to find someone with LESS than you, no matter how much was in your hand. And to give until you had less than someone else.
When those folks realized that they would be ok because someone else would come along who had some to spare, it was as if a chain had been broken for them.
Near the end, there was so much giving and receiving I truly couldn’t tell who was among the “Haves” and who was the “Have-Nots”.
That was a vision of the peaceable kingdom our scripture talks to us about.
Admittedly, the reason why this exercise worked was because we all committed to the same set of rules, which, honestly, was a scary rule.
All of us building relationships with our neighbor so we could more intimately know their needs, from their mouths to our ears and immediately respond.
It was reckless.
It was scandalous.
It was liberating.
It was breathtaking.
And it was what I think Advent invites us to contemplate as the light grows brighter, as the Feast of the Incarnation approaches with reckless abandon, with no regard to the narrative our culture throws at us.
To dare to be free from the bondage of our fears and have the courage to try to build a relationship with someone who may or may not have more or less than I.
This message of Hope that we carry as Followers of Jesus to all we meet, is one that is filled with possibility and free of fear.
Our collect this morning set the stage for this lesson we just heard from the Gospel of our Lord according to Matthew.
Perhaps the most significant part of those words said before the lessons were read, “Give us grace to heed their warnings.”
Warnings from the lessons today were not explicit, however, were they?
On the surface, one can hear today’s lessons and remain completely removed from the invitation Paul teaches in Romans that scripture continues to provide. That is, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”
Our collect prays for GRACE
Our Epistle explains that GRACE to be HOPE.
But Hope for what?
Hope for each of us looks different, doesn’t it?
What do you Hope for? What do I hope for? What do the Native peoples of the Dakotas hope for? What do the people fleeing ISIS hope for? What do republicans, democrats, libertarians, and green party political parties hope for? What does St. Philip’s hope for?
Hope is a tiny word with loads to unpack. It is a dangerous word.
What does the HOPE we have in Christ Jesus look like?
If we slow down with this morning’s scriptures for a few moments, I believe we have a few clues that may convict us but will simultaneously comfort and console us.
I wonder if the invitation of Advent has more to have the courage to allow the peaceable kingdom, which Jesus prays for, to inhabit each of us who claim to follow him than anything else.
Inhabit means to live in or occupy a place or environment by a person, animal or group. God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wants to INHABIT human hearts, inhabit human minds, human…everything!
But if that peaceable kingdom is to truly inhabit us, that means we need to be r-e-a-l-l-y mindful of our actions, our words, and our attitudes… those personal spaces within each of our hearts and minds, that we hold toward “the other”. To make room to “see” someone who is “other” than us, it requires us to strip down our preconceived notions and pray for vision-transplant, for God to give us eyes to see this human as she sees him/her. It requires us to be in close-enough proximity with someone who is utterly UNLIKE us, and cultivate a relationship with them such that we have the ability to “know” them.
To allow something to inhabit us means we have created enough space with ourselves to have room for the other to be present with us.
It means we have moved the furniture of our hearts around to make space to welcome others into friendship with us.
It means we’ve attended to the language we use about “the other” who may come to dwell so that we have spacious-non-judgemental homes in our hearts for the Peace of God to INHABIT us.
It means we have given up some sort of power over our own selves so that God can do within us what God has dreamed for us from the beginning. To live in peace with God, with one another, indeed all of creation.
I heard a fellow pastor say this week that this week’s lessons aren’t a lesson in equalizing relationships. He said predators have no interest in eating straw. So how in the world would we ever be able to see a predator, the one with power (wolf) live in peace with the one without power (lamb) when the one without the power (the lamb) is the main staple of the predator (wolf)’s diet?
St Philip’s, Friends, I think my friend is right.
It won’t be until the Wolf decides to actively seek out ways to surrender his/her power to the Lamb that they will have curbed their appetite enough to be able to be in the presence of the lamb and not devour it.
Remember how Isaiah said, “The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid”?
This work of living in peace is not the responsibility of the lamb, the baby goats, the children of the earth…
That’s where, for me, the knife gets a little sharp.
It’s the work of those with the power, those with privilege, to give up their power until ALL have what they need, so that we all can live in peace, so that God’s dream for humanity, that peaceable kingdom idea presented by the Prophet Isaiah, can be realized, and can inhabit us.
If I give away my power until I have less than someone else, like that exercise we did at the diocesan convention, the Kingdom of God will arrive more fully.
But it’s absolutely scandalous. And it’s not easy work.
It’s not something that just happens.
We have to cultivate it, seek out relationships with those less power than us, no matter how much (or little) we may have, and be close enough to them to ask them what they need.
And if they have the courage to tell us what they need, and we have it, it’s our duty to give to them. It is one of the main things Jesus taught.
Remember the rich young ruler? Remember the Great Commandment? Remember the “give to anyone in need?” Jesus was pretty serious about this.
The “world” is not going to give like this.
Our world, our culture, sees it as totally irresponsible.
Reckless even.
But God invites us to be free of our bondage to possessions.
God invites us to “see” others and to take the emotional and physical inventories needed that this season presents; if someone doesn’t have a coat, and you have two…give them one… maybe even give them your best one.
So, friends, as you move through your week, I pray that you will have the courage to hope for something.
I pray that you will have the grace to see someone whom you could share with and that you say yes.
I pray that we are able to remember that we are Children of the Light and that you realize that God warrants us to pray for this peaceable realm of God to be on earth as it is in heaven.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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