Awake, Aware and Active!
Awake, Aware and Active!
The. Rev. Robin Razzino
The First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2016
In the name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well Good Morning, St Clements! I am so excited to be with you all this morning.
I first came to St Clements about ten years ago when I was a seminary student. What I remember most about that visit was how friendly and welcoming the congregation was to me. From everything I have heard that friendliness remains.
I remember first hearing about your hypothermia shelter around the same time; one of my classmates from seminary was a parishioner here and was asking fellow students to help out. I wasn’t able to volunteer but I was impressed. Any church that invites homeless men to sleep in its sanctuary is a church that is actively living the Gospel. Yours is the type of church I most want to be part of and I am so grateful to the vestry for calling me to be your priest-in-charge. I look forward to many years of fruitful ministry with you.
It would be terrible timing, therefore, if the second coming were to happen tomorrow, fulfilling the prophecy of the Gospel we just heard.
“No! Don’t come yet Jesus, we are just getting started.”
It’s a new year. A new beginning. The air is pregnant with possibility.
Here we are in the season of Advent, the beginning of the Church year. Our bellies are still full from Thanksgiving dinner and we are looking forward to the Christmas Holiday. Many of us came to church this morning anticipating celebrating the birth of Jesus: in just a few short weeks, we will be back in the manger in Bethlehem, with Mary and Joseph and their swaddled baby boy.
So why then do we have to hear all this dark, apocalyptic, scary stuff this morning? Why is it that Matthew seems to be sounding an alarm? And why can’t we have just a few weeks of warm and fuzzy feelings? Matthew writes that Jesus said to the disciples, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….[and]… be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
What is going on here? Who is Matthew addressing? Is he addressing the self-righteous, assured, folks who are busy reading all of the signs and signals are thus certain they are one of the elect: People with first century bumper stickers which say "Warning: In case of the rapture, the driver of this donkey will disappear."
Or is he addressing the others – the ones who slap stickers on their camels which read, “When the rapture comes can I have your donkey?” People who remember the promise Jesus made but had given up looking for him as life got worse and worse and years and years went by. People who realized there was work to do – right now – to live out the Gospel mandate to serve and love.
Preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Matthew … definitely belonged to the second crowd. He was not concerned with reading signs and keeping timetables, at least partly because he knew how preoccupied people could get with those things. Before long they cared more about their calculations than they did about their neighbors. Once they had figured out who God’s 144,000 elect were, they did not waste any time or courtesy on the damned except perhaps to remind them just how hot hellfire was going to be….
Taylor continues, “Matthew found it just about impossible to impress them with the fact that there were widows and orphans in the community going hungry because no one was signing up for the soup kitchen, or that there were still some people in jail who needed visiting, as well as some sick people at home who still needed looking after.”
Of course Matthew may also have wanted to send a wake-up call to those who had given up looking for the end times: for Jesus to come again as he had promised. Most people who listened to Jesus in person or lived in the decades following his death and resurrection expected Jesus to come in their lifetime. When they began to die and their descendants began to die, the people who were left stopped thinking about the second coming. They became apathetic. Lacking any hope in Jesus coming to save them, they just faced the harsh reality of life in first century Palestine – life marked by oppression, violence, and broken communities.
I think apathy – regardless of what feeds it: the false confidence of those who felt they were/are the elect or the lack of hope of people who feel God has abandoned them – is what Matthew is addressing in the Gospel this morning. And as timely as his warning was 2000 years ago, it is just as fitting now.
We are living in the midst of some pretty dark stuff. I sense there is a lot of apathy right now too – among you (possibly) and me - people in our communities who are finding it hard to muster up hope in light of the political rancor and political decisions being made around us.
People feel scared. People feel helpless.
People are concerned about their livelihoods.
People are concerned about their human rights.
People are concerned about their water supply, their earth – Gods very creation.
People are concerned that families are going to be torn apart.
People are concerned that they will be targeted for violence because of how they look, dress, or speak.
People are concerned we have lost our ideals as a nation.
People are scared, angry, despondent.
These people may be us. We may be scared and angry.
We may feel helpless, but we aren’t: We can’t let our anxiety, fear and anger fuel our apathy.
And we can’t just wait for God to act.
We can’t just throw up our hands and say to hell with it.
We don’t know when God will come again, so we have to live in the now. We have to stay awake – not for the moment when God is going to magically come in and fix everything. But stay awake – and aware - of all the ways Jesus comes to us again and again - and works through us – if we let him.
Thank God there have been people throughout the ages who have stayed awake – stayed aware - and stayed active. Had the folks who were sure Jesus was coming again in their lifetime to fix everything dominated the church since the first century, “there would have been no missions to unbelievers, no schools, no hospitals, no orphanages, no almsgiving,” as one scholar notes. “The helpless cannot afford to think of such enterprises; they can only await the act of God, and then complain because the act is so long delayed. The Gospels and epistles rather tell the believers that they are the act of God (McKenzie).”
St Clements: – we are the act of God. Each one of us here is an act of God and the embodied hope of God.
In the last few weeks, I have been very angry. I have felt very helpless and apathetic. I have wanted to ignore what is going on all around me. But I know these feelings are drawing me away from God’s hope for me and God’s hope for the world – a hope that is founded on love and found in relationships marked by sacrifice, hospitality, grace and hope. This is what I see when I look out at this small gathering of Christians here today. I don’t know that much about this community – and even less about you as individuals – but what I do know is that you are a community of sacrifice, hospitality, grace and hope.
This is what attracted me to you - your reputation for friendliness, welcome and service. I want to do ministry with all of you. We can continue to be the act of God in this corridor between Fairlington and Park Fairfax – and we can hope that our efforts – our love – extends far beyond our immediate surroundings.
But to reach far we have to aim high - we have to celebrate who we are and let people know we are here. We do have to change, adapt and grow - so that we don’t die. We cannot be apathetic and we cannot take a “wait and see” attitude. We have to be awake, aware and active. I promise to be all of these things for you and I hope you too will strive to meet the invitation we hear in Matthew’s Gospel this morning. There are some things that need to change here in order for us to be hospitable to all we invite through those doors - and to do the work we need to do to help heal the brokenness in our world.
You all are a small congregation – now. But your spirit is huge. Your generosity is huge. Your love is huge. And our country, our world, can’t have you remain this small. It will take commitment, courage, and trust to grow. And it will take resources – time, talent and treasure.
As of Wednesday we had received $56, 000 in pledges. We need about $100,000 more. My family is making our pledge today. I am committed to being an act of God in this community. Please join me and the leadership of this parish in giving us the best foundation possible to live into the largess of our love – of your love – please give generously.
There is a saying by Max Lucado, a well-known writer and preacher, who says “God loves you just the way you are, but he [doesn’t intend] to leave you that way.” God loves – deeply – this congregation and each one of you. God loves you just the way you are. But God also loves you so much that God won’t allow you to remain just as you are. God is calling you to change and grow and God has called me to accompany you through this change.
I am filled with excitement about this call. My family is thrilled to be here with you. Thank you for your trust in me and your generous welcome.
Now, let’s get to work.
Notes: Barbara Brown Taylor (from Expecting the Second Coming, in the Christian Century, Sept 21, 2004.)
John McKenzie, The New Testament without Illusion, 1982.