Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas & Special Relativity

There is a standard theological phrase, “Already and Not Yet”. 
Can you think of some parts of you life to which it applies?
  • pregnancy - “I am pregnant with a baby, but she is not yet born”
  • home ownership - (ask) I own a home, but it is not yet paid for. 
  • I have a turkey in the oven but it is not yet done.

While we often hear the theological version of the phrase applied to the Apostle Paul’s writings, today we clearly heard some ‘already and not yet’ in Mary’s words.

What do you notice about them?
what is ‘wrong’ with the verbs?
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
 (v.50) His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
 51.He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 52.He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 53.he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
In English they are past tense. In Greek, aorist verbs.
Wiki definition:
“The aorist usually implies a past event in the indicative, but it does not assert pastness, and can be used of present or future events.”(1)
confused yet?
“The aorist and the imperfect are the standard tenses for telling a story. The ordinary distinction between them is between an action considered as a single undivided event and the action as a continuous event.
Sound any better?
(Can you think of an event that happened in the past, yet keeps happening again and again? and will in the future?)

Let me ask YOU another question. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Where and When has God “brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly”?
“ Filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty?
. . .
If language and grammar isn’t helping us understand Mary, let’s try another field, theoretical physics.
(no Schrödinger’s cat) … instead… 
Einstein and his Theory of Relativity

First something everyone knows. What happens if I let go of this book. 
(Hold hymnal) sure? (let go)
Who? Newton - “two objects exert force of attraction over one another.” (what is it called?) = gravity.
Einstein said.
“Time and Space are shaped by matter.”(2)
He said space and time are ONE. 

I can, with SIri’s help, create an event in space-time.  (theoretically…)
“Siri, remind me when I get home, to take a nap.”
Where is my event going to occur?
What is the time of my event?
NAP in space-time!

Einstein said, “that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time, which is felt as gravity.”  thus, “Time & Space are shaped by matter.”

Einstein “He had to discard traditional physics world view, which saw space as merely a stage on which the events of the world unfold.” 
Instead, space-time is a dynamic entity, which is distorted by any matter that is contained in it, & which tells that matter how to move and evolve.”(3)

Think about the story at the heart of Christmas and listen to that sentence again. (repeat) “Space-time is distorted by any matter that is contained in it.”
Ask: What is the event we celebrate that distorted space-time? (birth of Jesus)
When does it occur? (then, now, ever)

Mary’s language is both history and promise because of the event that “distorted all space-time”. 
Mary “invites us to measure our social realities by its dimensions. (one scholar wrote) How do things look in our town today and how WOULD they look if the lowly were lifted up?”(4)

We have a problem understanding the Christmas story. “We call ourselves, REALISTS, ignoring the deep implications of incarnation. . .” (5)
We spend our time with the beloved story, as we should, but not when we ‘ignore the deep implications of incarnation,.. the NEW THING God HAS ALREADY DONE that sleeps below the surface of our perceptions.” 
Gail Ricciuti says, “Our challenge is to cultivate the ability to see God’s promises as ALREADY HAVING COME TO PASS.”

Space-Time distortion means the starlight of the North Star we WILL see tonight, is 680 years old. 

The star Polaris, which we refer to as the North Star or North Pole Star, is 680 lightyears away. The light takes 680 years to travel to Earth, so it is 680 years old when we see it.”(6)

  • Can we bend our minds around a God who acts beyond OUR perception of space-time?
  • Did a child born 2,000 years ago, bend space-time, tomorrow?

  • Can the lowliest of all humans, bend the hardest of our ‘realist’ hearts? even in 2015?

Let me tell you story and then you decide the answer.

Story - The Luck of Roaring Camp, Bret Harte (7)

We are at an end AND we are back to the beginning. 
T.S. Elliott wrote, “The end is where we start from.” “or say that the end precedes the beginning.” (8)

As we wait for just a few more days for an event that occurred 2,000 years ago, let us welcome the bending of OUR hearts to be in tune with God’s LOVE and JUSTICE for our world. 

 (4) Gail Ricciuti Feasting Advent Companion - Homiletical (Louis:WJK,2014)93
 (5) Ricciuti Feasting 94
 (7) Bret Harte, The Luck of Roaring Camp The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917. adapted 
 T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1943) from “Little Gidding” stanza V. and “Burnt Norton,” stanza V. quoted in (8) Feasting Advent Companion, by Ricciuti p. 94

Saturday, December 19, 2015

More of THOSE Days

I’ll guess that you were feeling relieved after the children’s time that finally THIS week we would have some joyful news instead of all those oppressive prophetic texts. You may even had extra hope after the letter to Thessalonians advice to REJOICE ALWAYS. But then Stephen read the Mark text and it sounds a lot like what we’ve been hearing for two weeks in advent. . More about those days!

Do you know the story of the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’?  

Tell it, surely you each know a little part. (or you can WIKI it on your phone.) Aesop’s fable
  • shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock
  • When one actually does appear and the boy again calls for help, 
  • the villagers believe that it is another false alarm and the sheep are eaten by the wolf. [4][5]

Do you think it is blasphemy to think these prophets are crying wolf?
image: Duomo (Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. This enormous work, 3,600 metres² (38 750 ft²) of painted surface, was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and would last till 1579.)
(The other text we could have read has John the Baptist crying out for repentance to people of Galilee. “make way” You remember that story from other advent messages.
But prophets weren’t crying wolf back in the days before the exile when they tried to warn the people. —Babylon came and conquered.
And prophets weren’t crying wolf during the exile when they said, God would return God’s people to their land. —a new ruler CYRUS the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return home to Israel.
and What about Jesus’ prophetic voice? 
He is often called, “prophet, priest and king”.
Are we still waiting for his prophecies? (answers)
we just heard: “the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken.” — or did that happen the day of his crucifixion? and is it not his coming again that we await?

Prophets aren’t the bad guys…. they are God’s guys. (and they are not all guys at that as we leaned playing the prophet memory game this morning.) 

ASK: What do prophets tell us? (variety)
Prophets tell us about “God’s ..preference for protecting and lifting up the lowly, the suffering, and the oppressed.” 
AND when enough time has gone by without justice for ALL. . . (and when God says ALL, God really means ALL, no exceptions allowed)  OR
When too much time has gone by, prophets are sent to warn people about an END…to injustice. 
Sometimes even THE END. 

“Prophets say what no one wants to hear, what no one wants to believe.” Scholar Deborah Black wrote, “They point in directions that no one wants to look. They hear God -when everybody else has concluded God is silent.” 
They see God where nobody else would guess God is present, 
they FEEL GOD.”
(we said in SS) 
“They dream God’s dreams and utter wake-up calls, 
they hope God’s hopes and announce a new future; 
they will God’s will and live it against all odds.. 
They sing God’s song and sometimes interrupt the program with a change of tune.” Which is what we heard in Zephaniah: 
“Don’t fear, Zion.
Don’t let your hands fall.
 The LORD your God is in your midst"

Isn’t THIS the good news, for God’s people? 
IT is GOOD NEWS that oppression, killing, injustice WILL come to an end.
(wouldn’t we like to hear such good news tomorrow at the Vigil that remembers the Sandy Hook killings?)
The reason we sometimes question whether the prophets speak good news—- is we know that we are implicated in the IN-justice. 
(why it’s hard to hear their words)
But God has also sent people to tell us FEAR NOT.

image - “FEAR NOT - tidings of Good News to all people”
What did the angel Gabriel say to Mary before announcing the news?
“do not be afraid"
What was the first thing the angels told the shepherds the night they announced Jesus’ birth?
“Fear Not!” 
“‘Do not fear’ is repeated over and over again (WHY?) —-because human beings are afraid of many things.” 

So there is good news in all these prophetic words and I am sure that has been your Advent question all month. What IS the Good News? 
but this is it, it begins with Do not fear and moves to Jesus’ words:
  • we don’t and won’t know the day or hour…so act like it will be tomorrow
The other Good News is ALSO found the words of Zephaniah heard today, in fact he interrupts his prophecy of judgment to tell us 
  • God SINGS over us. 
  • God rejoices in us. 
God may have high expectations for God’s people, certainly,  but God also accompanies us on our journeys helping us - when we ask. 

How then shall we live? How shall we live as we wait?
(how live if God is rejoicing over you? how live if Christ is coming again tomorrow? how live everyday and ANY day?)
This is the question that John’s hearers asked.  As did many people who heard and actually listened to the prophetic word over time. —- 

The Thessalonians letter holds our answer - 
We live REJOICING. Rejoice always!

 begin conclusion
REJOICE! God is looking over your shoulder. ….
REJOICE! you are not alone.
God right beside us —-even as we send off those bills and hope there is enough left for gas this week.

REJOICE! God is right beside us as we make choices; 
as we choose the cable show, surf the internet, hang out with friends, talk to co-workers.
God is even looking over our shoulder as we decide what to pledge and whether to volunteer. 

REJOICE! God with us as we vote, as we peacefully protest, 
God is WITH US influencing the actions of our church and world.
Every day, in MANY ways, (sometimes too slow and sometime incredibly fast)—-God is transforming us and society with us to make us ready for when Christ comes again.

image - God With Us
This is GOOD NEWS!
IS it not a joy to know that God IS with us - changing us?
Even IF and when the end comes, God IS with us.
It is the message shared thru 
   all the Bible stories; 
in the prophetic word, 
in the coming of Jesus, … [all these witnesses] tell us about God’s Vision for humanity, God’s plan to bring all God’s people together again…God’s vision for God’s alternative future called the Kingdom of God.

It is GOOD NEWS because “God’s presence among the people is animating, [in that] God rejoices with them, renews them, and exalts over them.” wrote one scholar, Jennifer Ayers. 
“God frees and strengthens the people by being present among them, such that their hands should not ‘grow weak’
Zephaniah assures us that God also comes to humanity in the community of faith. (like we experience here this morning) 

God’s presence heals, enlivens, and challenges humanity to LEAN into God’s promises for an alternative future.”

Today’s message IS GOOD NEWS, its the reason for the Pink Candle message of JOY!
the message that Zephaniah interrupts dire predictions to tell us.
“The future will be different from the present, 
and from the future that HAD been foreseen.
DO NOT FEAR the LORD your God is in your midst.
the end

Let us interrupt our lives to REJOICE this week for the LORD our God is in our midst.

Jump up
Original version from myth folklore

 the decree of Cyrus, the ruler of the Persian empire that had conquered the region and granted the Jews the right to worship their God in Jerusalem, wiki -
Jennifer Ryan Ayer Feasting Advent Companion (Louis:WJK,2014)56
Deborah Black Feasting Advent Companion - pastoral (Louis:WJK,2014)56-57
Jennifer Ryan Ayer Feasting Advent Companion (Louis:WJK,2014)56
 Deborah Black - pastoral Feasting Advent Companion (Louis:WJK,2014)57

Friday, December 11, 2015

Purity Prep at Advent II

Elie Weisel, Jewish writer and Nobel Prize winner, tells the story of his mother greeting him EVERY day when he came from school. Every day she asked him the same question. Not ‘What did you do?’ Not ‘What did you learn?’ but she asked him, “Did you have a good question today?”

Once again we gather here to ask and answer questions. We gather as “partners in critical reflection”. 
Today as we recall we are at the beginning of the church year, we have two texts that beg us to reflect on the endthe end of all years… the end of all time.  
John  Burgess, one of the scholars I read this week, wrote briefly about the history of humanity. “Christianity with its Judaic roots is a deeply historical religion.” he says. 
“This history begins with God’s creation of the world and ends with 
God’s judgment and re-creation of it.” (The 2 ends of the spectrum of human history.) He was using this comparison to cite Karl Barth who said that Christians live “between the times.”
But my question (the first today) is, 
Do we accept one end of the history spectrum more than the other?” Let me pick it apart, 
  1. there’s God’s creation of the world - Do we accept that as the beginning of OUR story? (Y/N)
  2. God’s judgment of the world at the end - Do we accept that God will judge the world and all in it? (Y/N)
  3. God’s RE-creation of the world - Do we believe that  God will re-creation, re-storing, re-newing the world at the end of time?
Maybe we have to back up further to answer another question, 
“What is judgment?” - what do we mean by the word?

Jesus told parables about the END of time and judgment. Do you remember?
(review the following stories prior)
  1. 10 bridesmaids with oil lamps, half brought extra and had enough to wait, 5 did not and MISSED their opportunity to enter the celebration because they didn’t prepare.
  2. Story of master entrusting 3 servants with his wealth. 2 invest and are rewarded. but 1 buried what he was given to invest and it was taken from him and he was punished for not using the opportunity he was given.
  3. King divides into sheep and goats… (ask what they remember)

 What DO those stories TELL you about judgment?

Let’s think about what we have heard about judgment through our culture.
What do we typically hear about the end times?
Burgess gives us a reminder of 3 ways: (in case you can’t recall)
Duomo Florence

  • 1 line of thinking is the Hal Lindsey, Time LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins “Rapture and Left Behind” model.  What do you know about it?
  • 2 another line of thinking is the individual day of judgment at the end of each life. Have you heard that?  (do you think it is likely?)
During the dispute about all
owing the BMC to have a booth on the floor of AC a few years ago, I heard one Elgin employee who wanted to open our welcome say. “I voted the way I did knowing some would judge me harshly, but I am more concerned about facing God on my day of judgment and having to explain why I closed the door to some of God’s children.”
Do you think we will face an individual judgment of what has been good and not so good in our lives?
  • 3 An alternate way to understand JUDGMENT is to let the character of Jesus’ language put a claim on us in the here and now. God’s radical claims are meant to cause us to ask GOOD QUESTIONS so that we can view EACH DAY as a day of JUDGMENT. 
  • ALL 3 WAYS ARE VALID - there are surely more.
Prophet Malachi was sent to warn an ancient people about God’s judgment.
Some of the warnings were good news to them. These were a people long awaiting God to judge and punish their enemies. They sought ‘vindication’  but Malachi said, 
‘sure God is coming.. to judge us ALL’ You’ve been pointing the finger at your enemies and forgetting the fingers that point back at yourself.’ 
“Who can endure the day of his coming?”

Actually these people had become a bit skeptical of God and the promise of judgment. They had waited generations and were no longer convinced anything would happen.  After long centuries of waiting they saw, 
  • no divine retribution against their enemies, they saw
  • no prosperity for their own community, & no restoration ahead
  • We might hear them say, “Surely if God was REALLY coming to judge, we would have seen some sign of it by now?” —- sound a little bit like our day?
When in fact, they had failed to notice their own failures

Malachi points to 3 areas where they would be judged.
  1. compromised worship - theirs defined in terms of the inadequacy of offerings
  2. moral failures - their infidelities in their relationships, and 3rd
  3. their failure to institute justice in their society.
Malachi, using the silversmith way of purifying as an image, says, God’s judgment will be a process of purification.. . and FIRE would be involved.
Full Dome Florence wiki pic

After the week we’ve had and the news of each day, I couldn’t help but wonder how we might be judged.. even in those same categories as Malachi pointed out -  in his message from God.
We could examine our worship…
Is our worship so passionate that our offerings adequate by God’s standards?  yes, I do mean our financial giving, & our giving of ourselves? 
or is our worship and giving compromised? (by all the other gods who demand our time, money and our lives…)

We could examine our morality…
Do our moral lives live up to God’s expectation of the way we are to treat each other? Do we honor our covenants that are made with and before God? 
Do we treat our neighbors with the same love as ourselves? 
or do we fall short and claim forgiveness, which is THERE for us, but without really repenting of our infidelities and habits?

AND We could examine our world..
Does our society reflect the justice that God demands?
Surely, we have to admit that our society has failed to offer justice for all.
How would God judge a nation where people randomly slay others with easily attained automatic weapons?
Has any of the news this week been acceptable to God?
Do we dare point our finger at others?

Certainly we have developed some ‘good questions’ today and we might appropriately cower a bit to admit that we have grown a society that is far from just.. . (so now what?)
Do we live with an awareness of God’s impending judgment?  
should we? . . .

What would life be like if we did?

I want you to envision the other end of history in the time that remains. Maybe if we can get into our heads what God’s world COULD look like, we will find it easier to work alongside God’s spirit in helping to heal this one.

And imagine a time when God returns and recreates the world. 
What will look different? What will be restored? (use your imagination)
What do you think God would change?
3 minutes 
One more question: What would be different in this church?
(what would God restore here, or birth a new?)
1 minutes

What will be different in YOUR life?

We need to envision that day and that time, as the prophets said, so that instead of living in fear, we Christians can greet the ‘Day of the Lord’ with hope. Yes hope, because this coming day of restoration has already been inaugurated by Jesus.

The time of God’s justice is a promise for the future AND 
it is the time we live in now… because 
HOW we live into our hope for God’s restoration can change the WAY we LIVE now.
the NOW is where Christ’s spirit helps us work toward realizing the justice that God will someday complete.

One (last) question for you to ponder:
If this IS the time when judgment begins
if this is the beginning of God’s justice, then
What should be the priority of our work? - OUR work, together in this community?  . . .
Jesus reminds us that we won’t know the WHEN. This Gives us hope that we are ‘not supposed to know everything, 
but we are expected to DO something’. 
We are never alone, but we are on God’s team.

(We are the Advent community of Alertness. watching for the end,)
(We are) watching in HOPE, sure that the END is in the same ‘hands’ as the beginning
and sure that we exist to participate WITH God in the transforming of all the world, before its final re-creation.

Can we say, with faith, not fear?…  
Come, Lord Jesus, Come!