Thursday, November 25, 2010
Sermon for November 21st 2010 (Reign of Christ Sunday)
There is a story about a monastery in France that was renowned for its deep spiritual life. People flocked from all over Europe to share in the inspiration that it offered. People yearning to experience the presence of God came to the monastery to encounter the Holiness that was part of the place and its spiritual life ...
In time though, the brothers became proud and began to take themselves too seriously. Instead of living in humility, they became proud of thier humility, and slowly fewer and fewer pilgrims came to seek out their wisdom and guidance. Fewer monks came and joined their order. In time the brothers became rigid and worshipped the way things were ... their order and their monastery was dying physically and was spiritually dead. The monks were old and in a few short years the monastery would be nothing more than a memory ...
Then one day a scraggly stranger came to the door of the monastery. He was dirty and obviously homeless ... he smiled as he asked the monks for a place to rest for the night. The monks reluctantly invited him in, and set a place for him at the table.
Over their simple supper they enjoyed his presence, laughter and spiritual stories passed back and forth across the table. The monks sensed a spiritual depth in this stranger, and lingered til late in the night savouring the visit and the conversation ...
The next morning as the stranger prepared to leave the monastery and continue on his way, he thanked the Abbott profusely for the kindness of the brothers, then whispered in to the old man’s ear:
‘I need to tell you a secret ... one that God has given me with the permission to share with you ...” with a smile and a twinkle in his eye he continued: “Christ is here in your midst !! The Messiah is masquerading as one of your brothers !!”
The Abbott was shocked ... “The Messiah is here?? The Messiah? Here?? ... In this place ?? No !! That just isn’t possible ...”
Yet after the stranger left the Abbott shared the revelation with the other brothers ... and like the Abbott they couldn’t believe it either.
BUT, then they began to think about the revealed secret ... could it be brother John? No, he’s too selfish ... but it might be Brother Peter? No, he’s too clumsy ... they looked at each of the monks sharing the Monastery with them and wondered ... could he be the Messiah?? Could he be pretending to be selfish, or clumsy, or unlike what we’d expect of the Messiah? Could the Messiah be masquerading as the least likely of the brothers, pretending to be something that he is not to open our eyes and hearts and spirits to the possibility?
They then started to treat each other differently. They recognized the possibility that one of their brothers could possibly be Christ, and so they acted accordingly ... AND they recognized that with the Messiah in their midst they had to be more vigilant about their spiritual life too ...
Soon they lived an engaged and enthusiastic spiritual life ... they read scripture and prayed and worshipped with fervor ... the no longer took their spiritual life for granted nor took their humility for granted either. Soon people began to make their pilgrimages back to the monastery to learn from them and to share in the spiritual wisdom that was once again vibrant and dynamic in the ancient stone walls ...
New Monks began to join the order and it once again became a centre of spiritual life ... ALL because they became open and alive to the possibility of Christ in their midst.
They opened themselves to the possibility of Christ being present in their order ... they became a manifestation of the Kingdom of God not just to the world around them, but to one another and to themselves. They remembered their purpose and their vocational call !
We are called on the Reign of Christ Sunday to pause before we begin our Advent Journey to Bethlehem and the events of the First Christmas, to pause and remember our vocation and our calling. We are being called to remember our vocation as members of the Kingdom of God resident and incarnate in the world.
This past week I re-read a passage in a book that rattled me in a good way ... Graham Standish, a Presbyterian Minister writes in his Book “Becoming a Blessed Church”:
Many of today’s mainline churches are wandering aimlessly in the desert wondering what to do to inject new life into their congregations. I’ve talked to many pastors and leaders of these churches in my work in retreats, at Conferences, and as a spiritual director. They struggle painfully as they try to find the RIGHT approach, the RIGHT programme, the RIGHT system, to get their church moving and growing. They go to Conferences and workshops that promise them a fast-growing, healthy, church if only they do this or that. They resturn from the Conference or workshop armed with new ideas and renewed energy, only to find three months later that they are back where they were before – demoralized and drained of energy.
Remembering our vocational calling – to be the Body of Christ is the first step.
Remembering that we may encounter Christ in our midst is the second step. And to ground everything we do in prayer is vital to all of it ... without prayer, the Kingdom of God will never come into being.
Without prayer there is no vitality,conversation with God. and there is no life in the ministry and work of the Church ... the challenge as we acknowledge and accept the Reign of Christ and posit Christ in the place of ruler and King over us in turn offers a challenge to embrace the fullness of prayer, not as petition, but as an ongoing conversation with God that emphasizes experiencing the Holy and the very presence of God.
One author notes, somewhat facetiously that Homer Simpson, the patriarch of the Cartoon family The Simpson’s is a typical of most North Americans when it comes to things spiritual and religious.
Homer goes to church mainly because Marge drags him there ... one of my favourite episodes involves Homer sitting watching a football game while Reverend Lovejoy offered his sermon ... the end of the sermon coincided with a crucial touch down on Homer’s tiny tv, and his exuberent reaction was NOT for the sermon ... Marge’s “Oh Homer!” summed the moment up very nicely.
Homer also prays. But he only prays when he needs or wants something. His prayers on the show have been summarized as “Oh God, it’s me Homer ... I know I don’t talk to you very much, but if you give me this, I’ll be better about my faith ...”
In many ways, Homer is US ... he is what many of us in our culture are like. We forget about things spiritual and religious until we have a crisis, or we face something scary and frightening – then we remember God.
Yet, what prayer is, is NOT petition. It’s something far more. It’s a conversation with God that is not asking for something specific, but is engaging in an ongoing conversation with God AND most importantly, standing fully in the presence of God.
Years ago I remember being in a Conference AGM in BC when the worship service lead by the First Peoples of the Coast challenged us to move through the world KNOWING that everything around us is Holy Ground and infused with the very presence of God.
“take off your sandals,” enthused a button blanket wearing elder, “you’re standing on holy ground ...” and he went on to describe Holy Ground as being ALL around us, not seperated from from us.
Prayer is the same ... it is not about drawing into God’s presence periodically in isolated moments and locales, it’s about being in God’s presence ALL the time.
Prayer is simply being present with God and knowing that our thoughts and our words are heard and answered ...
One last idea to consider when it comes to prayer ... In the movie Evan
Almighty there is a scene that I’ve used as semon illustration before.
In the movie Evan Almighty, former newsbroadcaster Evan Baxter, has been elected to the US Senate and when he arrives in Washington DC finds himself called by God to building an ark and save humanity from a pending flood. Evan endures incredible ridicule of his neighbours and his community while his wife and sons struggle to make sense of his inexpicable behaviour.
Evan’s wife has finally decided she needs to just leave Evan to his insane quest, and get away ... she and the boys end up in a diner where she has a conversation with the waiter who also happens to be “God”.
After confessing to who her husband is, God replies that he likes New York Noah and thinks what he is doing is a love story about believing in each other ... he explains by asking: “If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience, or does he give them the opportunity to be patience? If he prays for courage, does God give them courage or does he give them opportunity to be courageous? If someone prayed for family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”
Prayer is not about asking God, but rather living that love story between ourselves and our creator.
As a Church, we are called to be the Kingdom of God in and to our world ... we are called to acknowledge Christ as our one and only King ... we are called to share our faith.
AND all of that begins in, and is ground with prayer ... prayer that envelopes us in the very presence of the Holy, and sends us into the world without fear to face what we’re called to transform through the resurrection.
To turn back to Standish for a moment. The calling of the brothers in the Monastery we began with is the same as our calling – to Be Alive with and to the very Presence of Christ in our midst.
And remarkably, when we’re aware of that, “All that matters is that we do what we are called to do, how we are called to do it, and where we are called to do it!!”
May it be so, thanks be to God, let us pray ...