Being more be-y with God. The Vicar’s Sermon for Advent One

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It could be our best Advent practice:
simply to be present to God
in a way that is mindful, intentional.
Mindfully and intentionally,
seeing God, hearing God,
everywhere.

On the eve of our Diocesan Convention last Thursday,
the Rev. Dr. Brooks Graebner, Rector of St. Matthew’s Hillsborough
and historiographer of the Diocese,
offered a presentation, an historic retrospective, if you will,
on the changes that took place in our Diocese in the decade between 1959 and 1969.

(side note: Brooks is the guy who first had the idea of us maybe moving the St. Philip’s church in Germanton, NC, so that it would become the Advocate Chapel in Chapel Hill NC. So when he offers a presentation, I attend!
And I was happily surprised to hear in Brooks’ presentation
that a leader of our diocese in that decade of rapid and radical change,
was The Advocate’s own George Esser.
George was a wonderful human, well into his 80s, when he and his wife, Mary, were launching members of the The Advocate mission in 2003.)

Anyway, Brooks’ point was clear.
The change and tumult we are experiencing in our current decade is nothing new.
As a church, and as a society,
we have experienced change and tumult before,
and have come through it all the better.
This is heartening.

In the Q and A after his presentation,
our Bishop ProTem, Anne Hodges-Copple,
took to the microphone.
I remember, she said, in essence,
in my earlier years of attending Diocesan conventions,
the debates on the floor of convention over one resolution or anothe
were feisty.
I wonder, she pondered, challengingly,
why we don’t have such feisty debates any more.
Have we scheduled the convention so tightly that there isn’t room for disagreement?

And as she spoke, I was aware that many of those involved in those feisty debates of earlier years have since left the Episcopal Church.
Our loss.
Though also some relief….

I also felt an honest weariness come over me.
At least for now, this season,
the last thing I want to do is have a “feisty” debate with my fellow Diocese of North Carolina Episcopalians on the floor of convention.
Oh, I could think of some things that could get me riled,
some things that would get others riled.
But no, I don’t really want to do that.
Not this season anyway.
Not this year.
——————–

My initial response to today’s Gospel is similar.
Keep awake?
Keep alert?
Oh, give me the season of Advent
with its stillness and its calm,
the songs with “minor falls” and “major lifts”,
the candles on stand and altar,
the bread and wine made holy.
I don’t know about you,
but I don’t want to wrestle with what I need to know about the end times
or to rally my energies to do a bunch to be more Christian.
I simply want to be.
To be present in the place,
to be present in this luminous space.
to be present to those I know and love.
and to experience God being present with me.
I suspect it may be true of you as well.
I didn’t come here today to receive the stomach punch of Noah’s flood,
the idea of a God who would wipe out humanity,
all but one righteous household,
and the animals,
all but two of each.
I don’t want to think about two women grinding meal together,
when one is taken and the other left.
I don’t want to cast away and take on.
Not this season.
Not this year.

It’s not just the election either,
it’s all kinds of sadness and stress that I know so many are dealing with.

I just want to be.
And to know God be’s with me and with those I love.
Heck, I just want to know that God be’s with me and those I love
and with those I have a hard time loving, too.

And not to justify myself,
or to lower the threshold for us all,
but I wonder if maybe
this just be-ing may the best starting point anyway.
Not to know more or do more,
but to somehow be more be-y,
with God.

Indeed,
It could be our best Advent practice:
simply to be present to God
in a way that is mindful, intentional.
Mindfully and intentionally,
seeing God, hearing God,
everywhere.

It could begin as we come to this place.

We come to this place,
and in this place
with its stillness and its calm,
the songs with “minor falls” and “major lifts”,
the candles on stand and altar,
the bread and wine made holy,
in this place,
when we come to this place,
what we can do here is place ourselves and our weariness
on a landscape of hope.
That’s where we be.
On a landscape of hope.

Here
we can place ourselves in a context that is far greater than the place and people,
as wonderful as place and people are.
Here we can place ourselves in a context, a landscape,
that stretches from before all time to beyond all time,
from before history and beyond history.
Here, in word and song and story,
in prayers that are ancient
and prayers that are uttered spontaneously,
here we can place ourselves on a landscape of hope
hope that God is the beginning and the end,
that God is, what has been called
“both the goad and the goal of history”*
And that all is and shall be,
ultimately,
well.

And just as God nudged and called,
the ancients,
God nudges and calls us.
And just as God walked alongside those who have gone before
God walks alongside us.
And just as God brought light into the darkness
of those who lived with sun, moon, stars and fire
as their only light,
God brings light into the darkness of our lives, too.

Here we can place ourselves on a landscape of hope
and realize
that while God will come in some other unknowable way at the end of time,
God comes already now.
It’s as if we get to put on a pair of glasses that enable us
to see God in the ordinary of our be-ing-ness.
As if we have gotten some special hearing aids that help us to hear God in the voices and words of those around us.

Because among other things
this morning’s Gospel reveals to us that God comes
in the ordinariness of life –
where two guys are working in the field,
where two women are grinding at the mill
where a child puts together Legos on the floor,
where woman shuffles to the kitchen for an afternoon cup of tea,
where a man sits in his car at a red light on 15 501.
And it’s true.

So that
as we go forth from this place,
out there onto pond-side path and city street,
to office space and coffee shop,
to parking lot and cozy chair,
as we mindfully and intentionally
be in the presence of God
in the ordinariness of our lives,
we realize not only
that nothing can separate us from the love of God,
but that God is really present to us.
As we mindfully and intentionally
be in the presence of God
in the ordinariness of our lives,
God be’s present to us,

And when our be-ing in God’s presence,
connects with God’s be-ing in our ordinary,
that weariness within us?
It begins to shift, to transform
to be enfolded into …
what is it?
It’s like a deep purple kind of joy.

The weariness within us is enfolded somehow to a deep purple kind of joy.
Not deep purple like the song from the 40s or the band from the 70s.
But deep purple like the color that seems to carry with it a texture,
a resonance,
an invitation.
A color that seems to welcome and enfold.

And as we allow ourselves to realize that deep purple kind of joy,
we begin to see and know another kind of flood.
A flood, yes,
but not a flood that wipes out the creation save one righteous family
and two of every kind of creature.
But rather a relentless flood
of mercy and of love,
a relentless flood,
with the promises of God flowing out
flowing out to all tribes, all peoples, all nations.

Oh Fischbeck, you might be saying,
you’ve really lost it now.
Have you not seen the CNN, the BBC,
have you not heard the NPR?
And I say to you, yes,
yes I have.

And I know that this landscape, this vision of hope
is not what is seen and heard when we focus our eyes and tune our ears to those realities alone.
And I’m not saying that those sad and violent and sorrowful things aren’t happening.
or that we should close our eyes and ears to them.
Quite the contrary.

And here I turn to our friend William Barber II,
who over the weekend paraphrased Augustine of old,
1600 years of old, as a matter of fact.
Barber paraphrased Augustine of old, saying that our Christian Hope,
that landscape on which we can place ourselves
that Christian hope
has two children:
Anger, which is deep grief at the way things are,
and Courage,
which emboldens us to face those things,
believing change is possible.

Yes, constructive anger and courage,
that’s where our faith and our hope and our deep purple joy will likely lead us.
In time.

But for this day?
this season?
I think we can just practice being present to God
in a way that is mindful, intentional.
Mindfully and intentionally,
be-ing in God’s presence,
seeing God, hearing God,
everywhere.

Amen.

Year A – Advent One
November 27, 2016
The Advocate
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck

* Bartlett, David L.; Feasting on the Word; Year A, Volume One. p.22.