Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent
‘Awaken to the Theo Drama’
‘Just what’s going on in here??’ A question which brings back the presence of my mother, of blessed memory. Ususally addressed to me whilst ‘partying with my friends’ in my room, and to my memory, not after the age of about 10 – I got out of partying pretty quickly 🙂 But it is a Good question for us as we gather together today, ‘Just what IS going on here? Today? In this space?’
Just the other evening we were visited by the Roslyn Cub Scout troop. As folk will possibly remember, I enjoy having groups like the Cubs visit – for me, it is a sign that children are far far more alert to the realities of belief than adults, even adult Christians.
And when I use a phrase like the realities of belief we need to understand that in our culture these words, belief and reality, are largely disconnected. What do WE as the Church mean by ‘the realities of belief’??
Lets think for a moment about the word ‘believe’ – Like many word sin our shared language it can mean many things. I can believe in things in very different ways, even things that are true. But which way of believing brings me into the realm of Reality?? I can and indeed do believe that Lima is the capital of a country called Peru in South America. But this is just a thought, most of me is not engaged in that belief. I’ve never been there, I only know one person who has visited there. I have no ‘connection’ to Lima, my belief in Lima has no impact on my existence apart from a few flashing neurones.
This morning I came closer to a belief rooted in reality, because it affected me physically. My alarm went off, I Woke up – I believed that I had to get out of bed to conduct worship at 8. Now my belief has an affect on my actions . . . but note this, it doesn’t have to. Actually I didn’t have to – it was an act of Mind over matter. My belief forcing my unwilling body to do what it needs to so that I can conduct worship. ‘Well’, we might say ‘THAT is what we mean by ‘the reality of belief’ – I believe something in my head and so I direct my body in a certain direction to do the things that I believe my faith requires of me, like coming to Church’. For the vast majority of folks that is what we mean when we talk about faith and action, or the reality of faith. Does What you believe in your head affect what you do in your life – but I suggest that that is NOT the reality of Faith as the Church teaches it, and to which I introduced the Cubs.
Rather Faith goes much much deeper – it engages us to the point where ‘thinking about it’ is almost after the fact element of faith. That we have been caught up in something over which we are not the central players.
To give you an example of what I mean, lets conduct a thought experiment. Imagine yourself if you will stood near the top of a very very very high cliff, and in your thoughts you walk closer and closer to the edge. Notice how your body responds!! NOW you are believing. Your belief in Gravity now Really matters – it matters in the arena of what is REAL. Faith has moved from a thought, through a thought controlling an action, to an Action. Faith is Enacted – you in your Being are believing. THIS is what we mean by Christian Faith – ‘the reality of Faith’. our whole being is caught up in it.
So to come back to the cubs and their visit. How did we as it were engage with faith in their visit, Well I simply treated our worship as that which it is, the very centre of our faith, in the edge of a cliff way – that when we come here we are Entering into the depths of our faith, we are participating in what God is doing among us. I spoke of how we come through the door and are confronted by the font – that we beomce Christians when our bodies are immersed in the water of baptism. (I think that this may be why quite often folk want a second baptism, not primarily because they want it to be THEIR decision, but because they want a faith that involves all of who they are – a bodily faith)
I spoke of how we become Children of God by this baptism in which we are immersed in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are changed into new people, like new born babies. Now of course I could have taught them a whole load of Christians believe this, that and the other, but if we come back for a moment to our considering ‘believing’ then we see that this is at best like believing in Lima, or believing I have to get out of bed – most of who we are is disengaged. But when I declare the truth of our Baptism that through it we are included in the Life of God and become his children – that is believe in the deep sense of impacting our whole life. When we speak of our whole life we as Christians do not primarily mean ‘our work life or our family life or this or that aspect of what we label our lives, but we mean it is whole life in that our LIFE is engaged . . .
And so I spoke to the cubs of how they were entering a Theatre, where every week Chrstians come together to engage in like a Great Play – but not as audience, but as participants. Not in the sense that ‘someone prays, and someone reads etc. but in the deeper sense – That we are participating in what God is doing here – That God is Active in our worship – and we are being changed in who we are, and this starts with baptism. We are entering the Drama of God. We are HEARING him speak to us directly through his Word – which comes down from Heaven and into the body of the people, as I explained last week – and as I told someone this week, this is not a Symbol – it is NOT something we do to help us THINK better about our faith – it IS our faith. In Worship we are participating in what God is doing in and among us. As we confess our sins He is active and coming to us to forgive us, the Father of the prodigal children delighted to see his Children coming home!
The Word of God, Jesus the Son, Comes to us in the Gospel, to stand amongst us, We stand, we hear, we consider together what he is saying, we respond in prayer, we embrace one another in the Peace that he has announced and so made real amongst us – and then we come together to the banquet he has set for us, and God feeds us with the life of his Son, and so we grow more and more into the likeness of his children . . .
Not once in my talk with the cubs did I say ‘Christians believe’, nor did I try and couch it in the worlds terms about religion with which we are all far too comfortably familiar. Go speaks to his children, God listens to His Children, God feeds his children with his very life in this bread and wine – and we SING to him, and for him . . . and that through all of this God blesses not just us, but the Whole world, that through what we are doing here, God is holding all of Creation together, and their lives are affected and blessed
I must admit I have never encountered such an engaged group of youngsters – utter and complete Silence, in the best sense.
Human existence in the age of Virtual reality has become a thing that is almost unbearably thin -humans have been so reduced that the soul cannot even bear the slightest slight – someone has a cold and we call it flu and the whole internet is alerted to the fact and crowds rush to wrap the poor soul in cotton wool . . . It reminds me of CS Lewis’ allegory, where people cannot bear to go to heaven, because it is TOO REAL . . . It is Too In your face 🙂 And then up steps John . . .
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
There is no arid philosopher here – he’s not coming to offer 10 tips to help us cope with life – rather he is the Herald of The Living One. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters remembering his Key Role in this Drama of God, call him not John the Baptist, but St John, the forerunner – He is the herald ‘The Voice echoing own through the ages from the prophet Isaiah – Crying out in the wilderness – Bellowing – ‘Prepare the way of the LORD’ God is coming – Repent! Get your lives, your ways straightened out – He is coming. Re Direct your Life – your whole being!!
Repentance is not about getting our thoughts straight, rather it is the result of the Encounter with the Herald of God – and to meet John is an Encounter! In powerful resemblance to that Old prophet Elijah – the Hairy clothing, the food of the wilderness, locusts and wild honey. The encounter with John is visceral – it is cliff edge stuff – we can feel our whole bodies either drawing back or running to him to be baptised.
I remember a friend who was converted under the preaching of a man like John. Eric Delve, A docker from Liverpool. Bob was a gentle sensitive man – and Eric preached about the ghastly horror of the crucifixion of Jesus, and at the mental level Bob was going – I am NOT going to respond to this, but his LIFE was at stake, and although his mind rebelled, as he said later, something took hold of me and walked me to the front of the hall and THEN I understood. His body said ‘I am not letting you get away with running away any longer.
So John’s message is perhaps to suitable for a culture of minor aggressions – I can see him up in front of the various varsity boards telling him to sort his act out, this Herald of the very life of God. And perhaps he might have used the same language for them as he used for those protectors of the religious niceties, the Scribes and Pharisees, “You brood of Vipers!”
For this, this message, THIS worship – is about Life and Death – it is about our whole existence, not our bourgeois niceties – John is utterly in our faces, because to paraphrase, if you think I’M too much you have no idea of The One who comes after me. You do not Know Him.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Are you ready??
Advent is our opportunity to prepare ourselves. When we consider that when we drink the Cup we consume the Life of the one who is The Living God, who baptises with fire, who is consuming fire – how do we come to the Lord’s table? How do we prepare, for worship?
The Orthodox prayer at the reception of communion is “Behold: I draw near to the Divine Communion. Burn me not as I partake, O Creator, For Thou art a Fire which burns the unworthy. Rather, cleanse me of all defilement.”
As the crowds come to John in preparation they divide into two streams, those who bodily enter into the Life of the preparation to meet with God, and those who stand to one side – thinking it through, not bringing their very selves to this transforming act – those who seek to be cleansed and made ready to meet with God. As we come week by week may we prepare well – may we desire above all the Life of God which is a consuming fire that we might be cleansed and transformed. This is our Faith – This is what we believe