Advent 1A 2013
Jesus told his disciple, “keep awake . . . be ready . . ,” and the church reminds us of this teaching each year as we begin a new church year 4 Sundays before Christmas. That message is particularly appropriate for this church in this time as you begin the process of seeking a new rector.
I first met Paula Morton almost 30 years ago when she was a student at Western Carolina on the staff at Camp Henry doing arts and crafts and I was rector in Shelby serving for a week as camp chaplain. It is a joy and privilege to be with you these first two weeks of Advent.
My wife Lucy and I left Shelby in 1989. I served on the staff of the General Board of Examining Chaplains of the Episcopal Church helping administer the national qualifying examination for people seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church until I retired 11 years ago. I have served as part time interim in several churches and offer this based on that experience.
Jesus’ teaching to “keep awake and be ready” applies to all of us at all times, and particularly to a parish in the interim between rectors. Some of you who have been members of parishes during interim times have learnings that can help this parish.
The three major tasks of a parish in the interim between rectors are to come to a common understanding of your history, to come to a common understanding of your present situation, and to come to common agreement on where you want to go and what you want to do with a new rector.
In today’s gospel: Keep awake, be ready, to deal together with your past. Keep awake, be ready, to deal together with your present parish situation. And once you have done all this together as a parish then you will be ready to seek God’s vision and plan for the future. Seeking God’s vision together is the hardest part of the whole process and the part most commonly avoided. But it is necessary and it can be done.
As it is in the parish in an interim time so it is also in our lives as individuals, as children of the God who loves us and draws us to himself to love and serve him. We are the product of our families and our past experiences. We live in a current context, and our task is to seek to keep awake and be ready to discern God’s will for our lives and to do that will. Remember that the God who made us loves us; God wants what is best for us, and what is best for us is to do his will.
In today’s collect we ask God for grace “to cast away past works of darkness” –the things we have done that we do not want to come to light, the things we did, or failed to do, when we were blinded by passion, or sin, or ignorance. We ask for grace “now in the time of this mortal life” to “put on the armor of light.”
Present actions have future consequences. The past is a fixed succession of former presents. The future is an indeterminate succession of present moments yet to come. We ask grace to put on the armor of light for a purpose – “that in the last day, when” Jesus comes “again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.”
We witness to our faith in the midst of the great prayer of thanksgiving over the bread and wine, “Christ has died; Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Jesus Christ comes again to us in many ways, and very often. He comes to us by his Spirit as we read and reflect on his word written in the bible. He comes to us under the forms of bread and wine when we receive communion. He comes to us in every action we take to witness to his continuing presence.
A new church year begins today, the first Sunday in Advent. We look back on the past year and look forward to the new year. Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel that the Son of Man will come in the last day. Isaiah spoke about that day as the time when the Lord will establish peace in the land. “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Peace comes from the Lord, and justice comes from the Lord. We execute limited and approximate justice, but in the last day God’s perfect justice will be established. We can all look back on our lives and see the injustices we have committed and the injustices committed against us. Let us on this first day of the new church year commit ourselves to live in peace and justice, loving one another as Christ loves us. For the armor of God is the power of love, and joy, and beauty in Jesus Christ our Lord.