Advent 2A 12-8-13
This sermon was preached at a Eucharist which began with the traditional language Ten Commandments from page 319 in the American 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. The rubric places this after the opening Collect for Purity in the traditional language Rite 1, and although there is no rubrical direction for contemporary language Rite II, the same form was used at the same place.
We have seen and heard much about Nelson Mandela in the last few days. His life offers us some examples of the repentance John called for. Nelson Mandela was born to a Christian mother and educated in church schools. His education was interrupted by his political activism. He began as an advocate for non-violent change, but when that was met with police force he agreed to lead an armed struggle that included bombing public buildings and other violent responses. In prison he repented of this decision and returned to the principles of non-violent change. He is reported to have said, “As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I know that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind that I would still be in prison.” His lived that repentance in his political and spiritual life thereafter.
He was an eloquent speaker and advocate for the cause of freedom for all the people of South Africa. He was able to negotiate a change in government marked not by racial violence but by a Peace and Reconciliation Commission that was able to bring most South Africans to a common understanding of their history, of the things than had been done, good and bad, and the reasons why they had been done. Mandela’s Christian faith, and the Christian faith of the white minority, formed a basis for establishing a new community. We see that in the South African flag – over the red, white, and blue of Holland and Britain is the black and yellow of the African National Congress, and the green common to the ANC and to the Dutch speaking South African Republic.
We prayed, “Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. . .”
Continuing self-examination and repentance is a fundamental Christian practice. We are continually to judge ourselves against the standard of God’s teaching. We began this morning with the Ten Commandments (page 317) as the communion service began from 1552 to 1928, and the response, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” As part of your Advent spiritual preparation I encourage you to read over the Catechism pp 845-862, particularly pp 847-848 on the Ten Commandments. The old story is of the sailor who came out of church saying, “At least I haven’t worshipped any graven images recently!” In fact paying too much attention to graven images, particularly those on pieces of paper with engravings of presidents and others, may be our most common sin.
The Ten Commandments are not the only standard for self-examination, though they are a good starting place. Another is the list of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16 following: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
In the General Confession we say ". . . we have offended against thy holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done . . .” I encourage you this Advent to put some legs on your confession, to be aware of some specific areas of your life where God is working with you to clean up your past and open some new ways for the future.
The Eucharist is our re-membering, our joining with Jesus in his sacrifice as part of his resurrected body, spiritually fed and strengthened in this life as we prepare to “greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. . .”
Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection has indeed baptized us with his Holy Spirit and fire. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” By self-examination and repentance, by accepting Christ’s forgiveness for ourselves and forgiving others we identify as his wheat.
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who helped shelter Jews during the Nazi occupation and with her family was taken to a concentration camp where her sister Betsie died. After the war she spoke in Germany and wrote a book, The Hiding Place, from which this comes:
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing centre at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain blanched face.“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message Fräulein”, he said “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
“His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
“I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your Forgiveness.“As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.