Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1 2016 CPR

Advent 1, 2016 CPR

          How many of you have learned Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation?  A few years ago I took a course sponsored by the Health Department. We started by watching two video presentations, and then two people demonstrated the technique. That was all the first night, and it was interesting in an abstract sort of way.

          The second night they turned us loose on the dummies. These are life size figures that you breathe into for the mouth to mouth resuscitation – the breath of life. They lie there on the floor with a gauge to tell you how much air is getting in, and a pressure device for the closed chest cardiac massage if the heart has stopped beating. The instructor turns it on and out of the side of the dummy proceeds a tape that tells you exactly what you have done.

          As long as it is theory – movies and paper handouts and being talked to and shown a demonstration, it is “interesting,” but when you get down there on the floor kneeling beside that blond haired dummy trying to do it, and discovering you didn’t do it just right the first time, you get involved.

Part of that is a desire not to be beaten by this dummy and this machine, and part of it is a beginning possibility that if you can do it right you might really be able to save a life, but when you are down on the floor with the dummy, you’re involved. When the instructor demonstrates again you watch with great care, and try again, and watch, and try, and finally succeed. I passed the course!

          That course was a great lesson in theory and practice. The theory is easy, but it comes and goes. It is in the practice that we really learn, and we get involved. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”  Our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth is coming soon. Decorations are up; the charitable appeals are in the mail trying to beat the Christmas card rush.

Advent is a time of watching and waiting, waiting both for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth as a babe in Bethlehem and also waiting for the time of our redemption and the fullness of the kingdom of God, the final judgment when “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” We say in the Creed that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” That’s theory, good theory, true theory.

          I invite you to get up off the seat of theory, get down on the floor with the dummy and practice.  Jesus said, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” I offer three ways to practice walking in the light, three ways to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

          First, practice being aware of Christ’s presence here and now. Many of us have committed our lives and wills to Jesus Christ at some time in the past. Some of us need to make that commitment again as we come forward to receive him again, receiving his body and blood in bread and wine. All churches offer an altar call in revival, some more often than others. Some of us may need to make that commitment for the first time. Welcome!

          We are spiritually fed in the communion, and that communion continues. Practice communion. Practice thinking of Jesus sitting next to you when you are alone and when you are in company. Look for him in the eyes of everyone you meet. Short prayers of thanksgiving really help. “Lord Jesus, thank you for being with me here in this happy situation, in this difficult situation.”

          Second, work on getting to know Jesus better. If you don’t regularly read the Bible, begin today. Resolve to read and think about some part of the Bible every day. There are lots of ways to do that. One is to start with a gospel and read and think about a chapter a day. You can read St. Mark in 2 weeks and 2 days, St. John in 3 weeks, St. Luke in 24 days, St. Matthew in 28 days, the Acts of the Apostles the same. Learn to know Jesus as he comes to you in his holy Word.

          Third, practice being prepared. If you don’t have a will, make one; it is the best Christmas present you can give your heirs. Leave your work each day as complete as you can. If you need to forgive, or be forgiven, do it today and every day. Take some time each day to cultivate the fruits of Christ’s spirit in your life – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, kindness, self-control.

          You all know the story of the young musician in New York who asked the older musician how to get to Carnegie Hall. The answer was, “Practice, practice, practice!”

          Wait in joyful expectation for Christ’s coming to fully establish his kingdom. While you wait, practice kingdom living. Don’t just sit there listening to the theory of a sermon. Get down on the floor with the dummy, and practice, practice, practice!  Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Proper 28C November 12,2016 Post-election

Proper 28C  November 12, 2016

        As we come toward the beginning of a new church year – Advent Sunday in two weeks - we hear Isaiah’s vision of the new creation – “new heavens and a new earth - Jerusalem a joy; its people a delight.” In the canticle in place of the psalm Isaiah reminds us, “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.” In the Gospel Jesus tells the disciples about the end time, assuring us, “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  Many of the hairs of my head have in fact perished, but for all who continue in faith, by his death and resurrection Jesus opens the gates of heaven – today and forever – until he comes again in the new creation.

In the meantime, as St. Paul told the church in Thessalonica, we are do our “work quietly and to earn our own living. Brothers and sisters do not be weary in doing what is right.”  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

        We begin today with the collect about the importance of Holy Scripture in our lives and in the life of the church. We feed our souls on “God’s word written.” The idea of eating the word of God is from Jeremiah 15:16, Ezekiel 3:3, and from the Revelation to St. John 10:10, “I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey.” Anglicans believe the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and contain all things necessary to salvation. Our doctrine is contained in, or can be proved by, Holy Scripture. And we pray for grace “so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.” 

        The Book of the Prophet Isaiah might be called the Book of the Prophets Isaiah. Its writings span 200 years. The first 39 chapters (including our Canticle) were written before 586 Before Christ when Jerusalem was captured, the first Temple destroyed, and many people sent into exile in Babylon   The next 15 chapters were written to the exiles, and the last 10 chapters were written after 515 BC when some of the exiles had returned to rebuild the Temple. Times were tough. The descendants of the exiles – old children, middle-aged grandchildren and young great-grandchildren – engaged in continuing conflict with the descendants of those who had remained and with the immigrants of the past 70 years.

        They needed the assurance that God was doing in and through them “a new thing.”  The new Jerusalem would be healthy. “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.”  The new Jerusalem would be secure.  “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. . . . They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord--and their descendants as well.”  The new Jerusalem would be holy. “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox;    but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”

        The returned exile were strengthened and empowered by Isaiah’s vision of the new Jerusalem. They endured the hardships of their return, of political control by Persia, then Alexander and the generals who succeeded him, then a time of independence, and in Jesus’ time Roman military occupation. But there were constant small scale revolts, and 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – 70 AD - in a major revolt the second temple built by the returned exiles of Isaiah 56 was destroyed never to be rebuilt.

        All the gospels were written down after the destruction of the temple. The early Christians remembered Jesus’ prediction of the persecutions many had experienced. Christians had been arrested, had been handed over to synagogues and prisons, had been brought before kings and governors because of Jesus’ name. They had been given “opportunity to testify.” Some had been “betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and” some had even been put death.” They took comfort in Jesus’ prophecy, “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

In our political life, for almost two years we have endured a long, nasty, campaign. We have finally elected a president and others to serve in offices of public trust. Some of us are happy about the results; some are not. As practical endurance, I offer this for all who suffer loss.

        In 1969 Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote Death and Dying. She  introduced a model of emotional reactions to diagnoses of terminal illness and other forms of personal loss. Let’s review. Five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and finally some degree of Acceptance. 

        The model helps us deal with feelings of loss. The stages of grief are not easy or time-limited. We frequently cycle back and forth through the stages. The original form relates to a diagnosis of terminal illness.

The first reaction is Denial. Somehow the diagnosis is mistaken. We cling to a false, preferable reality.

The second is Anger.  – We become frustrated, especially at people near us. We say things like, “Why me? It's not fair! How can this happen to me?; Who is to blame?; Why would this happen?” Sometimes we are angry with God. “How could a good and loving God let this happen?”  It is OK to be angry with God. God can take it.  

The third is Bargaining. We hope to avoid the cause of grief. We try to negotiate for longer life and reformed lifestyle. Many of us have prayed, “Dear God, get me out of this mess and I’ll never do it again.” A Holy Cross church in Chicago recently posted this ad: “You made promises in the bottom of the 9th inning. Redeem them Sunday at Holy Cross.”

The fourth is Depression. “I'm so sad, why bother with anything? I'm going to die soon, so what's the point?; "I miss my loved one, why go on?” We despair as we recognize we are going to die. We may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time being mournful and sullen.

The fifth stage is called Acceptance. We think or say things like, “It's going to be okay; I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it.” In this we come to embrace the inevitable future - our death, or other tragic event. People who are dying may come to this conclusion before others do. Acceptance brings feelings of calm and peace and stability. 

        We all suffer loses in our lives. The spiritual and emotional danger is getting stuck in one of these stages of grief. I recognize that for some of my losses I am still stuck in anger. I think I see that anger expressed in some of the emotional reactions to the recent election. I know I need to move on. But telling me that doesn’t help.

        The God who made me made all of me – body, soul, emotions, spirit. God the Holy Spirit is at work in me – and in all of us. He will help me work through my feelings; he will help me get unstuck and move on. He will help us all if we ask him to. 

        We are all sinners saved by grace. We are all called to exercise the Christian grace of humility in all areas of our life. And Jesus calls us in today’s gospel to endure.  Endure comes from the Latin word for hard. We do the hard things for Jesus’ sake, in Jesus’ strength, to help accomplish Jesus’ will in the world he has redeemed by his death and resurrection.

        As St. Paul wrote the church at Philippi, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  And as St. Paul told the church in Thessalonica, we are do our “work quietly and to earn our own living. Brothers and sisters do not be weary in doing what is right.”  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

        When I was a boy I had a card in the corner of my bathroom mirror - by an unknown author:  Why were the saints, saints?      Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful,
patient when it was difficult to be patient;
and because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still,       and kept silent when they wanted to talk,
and were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable.
That was all.   It was quite simple and always will be.”          

I’ve lost the card, but the thought remains. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”