Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Third Sunday of Advent

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
-- BCP, page 212

Sunday's texts
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126;
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28.

Some call this Sunday "Stir-up Sunday," given the unusual format and tone of this collect.

Except for the Trinitarian doxology at the end, the classical structure of the collect is missing here.

It doesn't start with the usual and customary O/ merciful/gracious/Almighty/God, you-are-thus-andsuch-and-because-of-that-quality-we-make-the-following-petition. That is how a collect is supposed to begin.

There's no time for that. The urgency of the moment requires getting straight to the point. You're in your car, you skid on the ice and you're headed toward a telephone pole. There's no time to start a prayer with: "O gracious God, you gave us knowledge and skill to build and operate machines: Strengthen therefore my ability to maneuver this vehicle that I may steer it away from the danger before me..."

Yeah. Right. Of course not! As a woman famously said some time ago in a video that went viral on the internet: "Ain't nobody got time for that!" About all we might manage is a plain cry: "Omygod!!"

Stir up your power! Come! Deliver us! This is a collect from the heart in the heat of the moment, not a literary composition in the cool of a calm evening.  We are sorely hindered by our sins. Right now. And headed for trouble. Our failures of soul-strength are real.

Why this focus on our sins in Advent-tide? Because Advent graces us with the inescapable awareness us that no day of our ephemeral life can be wasted with a business-as-usual attitude. The times are short; we are in a crisis. We cannot afford to get weighted down with unnecessary baggage.

I am remembering Bishop Ted Gulick, quoting a source I cannot now remember, who said: "Never waste a crisis!" Time to act decisively to advance the God's Dream of a reconciled humanity gathered in love and harmony around the King of kings and Lord of lords.

We have work to do. And the work of Advent begins with our own hearts. To make space for the Dream of God in our hearts, we need to discard all the encumbrances that get in the way of living into God's Dream. We are sorely hindered, like a backpacker carrying too much weight on the Appalachian Trail. The miles are long, the grade is steep. Let us only carry that which will sustain us on the journey: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

What is hindering you today? Is it the encumbrance of past failures? Is it not coming to terms with the reality of current failures? Of what are you having trouble letting go? Take the power of Stir-up Sunday to heart and pray fervently for the grace to be delivered from sin. Start with this collect. Or simply say, Help me, God!

Then, let us get off our knees and do something.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Last Sunday After Pentecost

"Christ the King"
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
-- BCP, page 236
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100;
Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 246
Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Psalm 65;
2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 17:11-19

Every Sunday at the exchange of the Peace during the 10:30 service, we eagerly anticipate the children's return from Sunday School with their big-eyed smiles and boundless energy, often carrying -- or wearing -- something that tells us what they were learning and doing downstairs. Who can forget the costumed throng that partied for All Hallows Eve? Last Sunday, when we saw them sporting pilgrim hats and Native American headgear, we knew that Thanks-Giving was the lesson plan.

The national narrative about Thanksgiving Day is filled with pictures of Non-conformist English immigrants (the Pilgrims) and local Native Americans who had saved them from starvation, gathered to break bread together in the first Thanksgiving feast.

We Virginians know quite well that the very first official Thanksgiving Day celebration in North America actually took place in what is now Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County on December 4, 1619, when 38 English settlers disembarked from the Margaret -- a full two years and 17 days before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts. (Just a little Commonwealth pride!)

Both occasions were a recognition of our complete dependence on God for all the goodness we enjoy. Those English settlers were grateful for safe passage across the Atlantic -- which was never a sure thing -- and for survival in a new land where they had to learn new ways to grow food, much of which was very different from the motherland's, and where, in general, they had to re-invent themselves. This is, of course, what immigrants the world over and from time immemorial do.

"Pray as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you," says the Talmud. Thanksgiving Day is a perfect example of this. At the end of the fall season, before the earth settles into its winter sleep, we gather to celebrate the accomplishments of the sweat of our brow and to give thanks to God for making a bountiful world that is capable of sustaining all living things. We celebrate the prodigal, grace of God.

Notice that in the collect we then ask for the gift of sound stewardship of both the earth and of the organization and structures of human society. Thanksgiving Day reminds us that our stewardship of the earth and of human society needs improvement. God's bounty is given us for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of [God's] Name. God's bounty is not to be hoarded but shared.

We still have work to do. I don't mean to rain on our Thanksgiving Day parade, so to speak, but we need to remember that Native Americans became less than humans in our eyes as we pursued their extinction, that our exploitation of earth threatens the viability of the ecosphere itself, and that we chose to build the wealth of our society largely on the backs of people plundered from their African homelands and sold into slavery. (Berkeley Plantation, by the way, was one of the first slave-rearing estates in the country.) I say this not to induce liberal or conservative guilt; I say it because the reality is that in our own time we have not resolved the consequences of the choices of our ancestors.

I say it because Thanksgiving Day invites us to recommit to the work of restoring human relationships to their proper state, to labor and pray for the day when all the peoples of the earth, as the collect for Sunday says, are freed and brought under [Christ's] most gracious rule.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+