Saturday, 30 November 2013

People get ready... a sermon for Advent 1 A

readings: Isaiah 2: 1-5, Ps 122, Matthew 24: 36-44
In the words of the old Curtis Mayfield song:
‘People get ready, there's a train a’comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
You don't need no ticket you just thank the lord.’

If last week was the ‘end’,
this week is the beginning:
The church year has come full circle and we start again with the season of Advent.
The word ‘advent’ means ‘the coming, or arrival, of something extremely important’ –
And, for the church,
that important something is a someone
Jesus.

The Advent season is a time of preparation and expectation as we ready ourselves once more to remember familiar stories:
of mothers and mangers,
shepherds and stars
and wandering, wondering wise men from the east.
They’re all there – in the near distance –
but before we recall those stories and remember Christ’s birth in Bethlehem
we have several weeks ahead of us to wait and to watch
and as we do so, to prepare...
...as the song says: ‘people get ready’.

Our three bible texts this morning could each be summed up in three words:
Reconciliation
Restoration
Readiness...
And these help us to sum up ways in which we might use this season of Advent to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah talks of peace:
of weapons of war being reforged and reshaped –
into ploughshares and pruning hooks:
weapons turned from gathering in a harvest of blood,
transformed into tools used
to gather in a harvest sustaining life. 
The text tells us of disputes being settled and of a kingdom where there will be no more war...
The kingdom described here is a kingdom of peace
And, as we look ahead to a few week’s time,
We understand that this kingdom of peace is brought in by Jesus, our prince of peace
who reconciles us to God and to one another;
Who calls us his brothers and sisters – his friends.
So then, we’re called to be a community of peace – and as we prepare for Christ’s coming,
we symbolise reconciliation,
being at peace with God and one another,
in the bread and in the wine that we’ll share together shortly.

In the peaceful, peaceable kingdom, free from the ravages of and distractions of war, restoration can happen –
The psalmist talks of Jerusalem as a city restored, in beautiful order and harmony –
this theme of creating orderliness out of chaos, would be something that the reformer, John Calvin would pick up on:
for him, orderliness was next to godliness –
and you can hear his influence in the oft-used phrase in the Kirk of ‘doing things decently, and in good order’.
But back to the psalmist!
With restoration comes the chance to flourish and prosper –
to bring about new life because there’s the peace and the safety to do so.
As we prepare for Christ’s coming,
we remember and act upon the knowledge that we are called to be a community of restoration –
creating places of sanctuary and safety
building up and encouraging ourselves and our neighbours
enabling, nurturing and nourishing –
and again,
that symbol of nourishing and restoring found at the table of the Lord,
as we  ourselves are nourished and restored in Christ.

And what of readiness?
Our reading from Matthew paints a picture of the end of all time, when Christ will come again:
And here, almost in the best tradition of Dr Who, time seems to be a strange blend of past, present, and future weaving back and forth together:
At the moment we’re looking ahead to the coming of Christ – the babe in the manger
And yet, our gospel reading also reminds us that we are also to look ahead to that final coming of Christ...
Time here is both about beginnings and endings.
Of Alpha and Omega
Of judgement and grace
and of the time when God, in Christ, will make all things new.
And this reading is less about trying to instil fear into us,
and much more about hope –
it reminds us that although we may not know the day or hour –
although we don’t have any control over time,
the God of all time is in control
and in that knowledge, we can breathe easy, relax, and wait in hopeful, joyful readiness.
And while the passage is full of the signs of the end, we’re not called to sit and count the days and hours
nor are we called to nervously jump at shadows:
we’re asked to trust –
and echoing the words of the Serenity Prayer,
to accept the things we cannot change.
What I find interesting here in the text is that Jesus himself seems to imply that even he does not know the day or the hour...
If Jesus can trust and accept and be hopeful, that’s our cue – all our hope is founded on God.

As we prepare for Christ’s coming
we are called to be a community of readiness:
and in that preparation, we are minded that the one who acts in the fulfilling of all history is also present now –
we are Christ’s hands and feet, his body here on earth
we are to keep awake to the signs of things to come
but also to the needs of others now.
One day, Jesus may appear suddenly and unexpectedly
but before that, he may appear in the queue at the food bank, or sleeping rough, as someone needing clothed, as someone sick or in prison.
The bread and the wine reminds us of time – this now and not yet in which we must be ready
in which we all come, as beggars to the table with our hopes and our needs.

Shortly, as the community of God’s people here in this place and at this time, we will look back and recall an upper room:
a meal shared with friends
of taking and breaking
and blessing and sharing:
a meal of kinship –
of reconciliation and peace
of restoration and nourishment
of readiness, and of the now and not yet...
A meal that has continued to take place for over
2 000 years
wherever the friends of Jesus have gathered
or are gathered
or indeed, will gather.
The meal we will share is a reminder of cost:
of life lost;
it is a reminder too, of promise:
of new life for all.

In story and bread and in wine we remember what God in Christ has done for humanity...
and in looking back,
in actively remembering through eating and drinking,
we are nourished and strengthened so that we are able to walk – walk in the light that the Lord gives us
and to prepare for his coming this Christmas, and at the end of all time.

People get ready, there's a train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board them
There's hope for all among those loved the most. 
Amen.


[David Bartlett’s essay was most helpful with regard to providing some structure to the sermon around the notion of community – although we pondered differing communities!  As well, his thoughts on God and time gave me good food for thought and the occasional borrowed sentence.  See that great resource, Feasting on the Word, YrA, Vol. 1 pp20-25
And going into vaguely reflective practice mode: it mostly works but I realise that I've got bogged down in the 3rd part regarding 'readiness'- that it's not as sharp/ succinct as it could be.  Which is generally an indicator of not having quite finished working through it in my own mind.  Ah well, the tyranny of time...but the knowledge that it'll be worked through as I preach it anyway!]

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

the day of the Doctor(ate)

So, this is wot I did yesterday...
being doffed by Knoxy's breeks...
If Saturday evening was the 'the Day of the Doctor', Tuesday morning at the McEwan Hall was the day of the doctorate.  A marked lack of sonic screwdrivers on Tuesday, however there were plenty of red degree tubes

a rather large bottle of gin...
A rather excellent day indeed - even despite the rain!
a slightly damp doctor... :)

I continue to be amazed at the many kind words, good wishes, and encouragement - gosh, I am very, very blessed indeed.

Now, what to do with the enormous bottle of gin my Prof gave me, I wonder...?  :)