As I indicated last week, I'm posting my Advent sermons in this series on Creation referencing Diana Butler Bass' book, Grounded.
“Advent of Creation - Grounded”
Advent 1 - Semi-Charmed Life (Third Eye Blind, 90's songs for sermon titles)
(note, We at ACOB, tend to have some discussion and answers to questions in the message. Some are more rhetorical than others. I've noted questions in color to indicate answers were welcome.)
Immanuel, God is with us.
These words are the centerpiece of what we proclaim at Advent. (7:14 and 8:8)
If God is with us, —these 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus— we should spend time reminding each other of the places we ‘see’ and ‘hear’ and experience God…as being WITH us.
I have noted that here, in this congregation — as is true in many others,— the places most named when we speak of experiences of the Divine are intimately tied to creation.
Congregation: (Name a few of them now:)
This year our Advent celebration - will also be tied to Creation!
…it’s more appropriate than you might think.
our Christmas traditions are tied to greenery and candles, evergreen trees and scenes of snow. Yet it was the bright sun of CREATION that lit the underside of remaining leaves on fire as it crested over the horizon on this 1st Sunday of Advent.
This summer just past, the ‘BookWorms’ (our church reading group) read Diana Butler Bass’s Grounded. If you didn’t read it with us, but want to, this month would be a good time.
In her book, Diana Bass makes some observations, (many of which we are already aware.)
Observations about church and unchurched people in the 21st century. And
observations about people who classify themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’.
(you’ve heard that phrase before..)
ASK: What would you ask someone who self-classifies as ‘spiritual but not religious’?
Bass’s observations do not bemoan the loss of these people from our congregations,
nor does she offer suggestions to get them back — IF they were ever ‘churched’ in the first place.
Her conclusions are more practical.
She observes a ‘shifting conception of God” in the last decade from UP THERE to …well closer.
The shift is also From a God who is mediated by pastors and priests, or at least thru the church itself—
—to a conception of God that is “unmediated and local.”
“One that animates the natural world and human activity in profoundly intimate ways.
The God we worship today is the “heartbeat at the center of things”.
This may not seem surprising to you. Yet it is far different than the structures of Christianity as they have traditionally been practiced.
The intimate connection to the Divine was once only experienced by the mystics YET now seems to be the dominate way large numbers of people experience the Holy.
How does Diana Bass know all this? The answer is in the words we use.
“People who self-identify as #SPnotR or those who are unaffiliated with a denomination, use a vocabulary of theological intimacy…as do many of us in more traditional faiths.”
Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly we don’t consider ourselves to be the gatekeepers of God, do we?
The prophet Isaiah that we just heard from, spoke of a reality where God’s word, found in the TorAH’s instruction, “is not only for Israel, but for ALL the nations.”
Many nations will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of Jacob’s God
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths.”
“God’s word and law are NOT the exclusive right of any particular people, but are ‘spoken’ for all who Stream towards the mountain of God.”
Perhaps what Isaiah foretold so long ago, is coming about NOW, in our time!
. . .
Bass says, “People are leading their own theological revolution and finding that the Spirit is much more WITH the world than we had previously been taught.”
ASK: What were you taught or what was implied about WHERE God is?
Bass also made the point that for generations past, people’s questions were about God’s intention towards them, or their people. (For instance, what does God intend for Israel?)
But since a time in the 20th century, (really after WWI and II), people began to ask, WHERE IS GOD?
Where was God when the holocaust happened?
Where was God when Hitler was elected by the German people?
it’s a different question
Back then, People understood God to be in control of a more “vertical faith” or “elevator religion” where God is up, we are somewhere in the middle and Hell is down.
That is not the way most of us experience God today. (Even tho we still sing about God this way in our most beloved hymns and sometimes we talk about God in heaven and EVIL in hell.)
In the past, “God was omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient;
All powerful, in All places, and All knowing.
The God Bass now calls, “Grounded”, “is a God in relationship with space and time as the love that connects and creates all things, known in and with the world.”
(For me, these are words I’ve been waiting to hear since I first read, Gene Robinson’s book, Honest to God - written in the 60’s. A book I discovered as I wrestled with a call to ministry,
to follow a God whom I no longer thought of as “up there,”— —
But until I could place God, in some small way of my own understanding — I couldn’t imagine following ANYWHERE.)
In spite of these modern revelations—- In advent —of all seasons, we often revert to an ancient understanding of God in order to listen again to our favorite Bible stories.
do we need to?
***ASK: Do we need to have a magical, ‘semi-charmed’ life in order to believe the Biblical stories of Christmas? ***
Is Advent about putting REALITY aside so we can enter the stable?
Do we merely need to open our eyes to see ALL life as ‘charmed’ and infused with the holy?
The stories all thru the Bible tell us of a “God who comes close [to humanity] who is compelled by a burning desire to make heaven on earth (up comes down) and occupy human hearts.”
In Abrahamic, Buddhism, Hinduism and Native faiths, there is a rich tradition of the HOLY coming near to touch humanity with all that is DIVINE.
From the promise to Abram and Sara to the burning bush and Moses, thru the reign of King David, to prophets like Isaiah, thru exile and return, —-again and again,
God comes near, calls out, reaches thru,
blinds and unblinds people to the point where they can see the Holy right before OUR EYES.
In a way, this revolution about God is a “RE-enchantment of the world” as we locate God everywhere and in everyday life.
In Advent, we again celebrate God ‘showing up’ here among us.
ASK: isn’t it just when we most need the Lord of Hosts to be with us?
ASK: Where do you most need God to be right now?
This —is— Immanuel, God with us -
“God in stars and sunrise,
God as the face of a neighbor,
God in acts of justice,
God as the wonder of love.
The changes we experience “reveal not a dreadful, distant God, but that intimate presence of mystery that abides with the world,
a spirit of compassion that breathes hope and healing”, into places big and small.
The 20th century horror of the Holocaust and the 21st century horrors of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Orlando and Charleston, South Carolina, and
the injustice coming to light in our legal system that punishes people of color more than those seen as ‘white’ —
—ALL these tragedies are not places bereft of God. Nor are they scenes of horror that a Heavenly puppet-master caused.
But in each one, God can be found -
among the victims and the rescue workers.
In the small and large acts of compassion shown by human for human.
Where is God?
in unselfish acts of heroism or unrecognized stands for justice.
THESE are the “places where faith is being re-birthed “from the Ground UP!”
It’s not just the unchurched who have discovered the intimate ‘God with us’. —We have known this God all along.
we celebrate God With Us.
God is with us as We keep moving toward the hope we have in God’s future by the choices we make today..
our personal, relational, political, and communal choices …made as we walk in God’s holy light.”
I WELCOME a theological revolution that GROUNDS us in the holy one.
God, the ‘ground of all being’.
whose coming was promised and fulfilled in Jesus
whose presence is with us still.
Come let us adore him, now and always as we celebrate the Joy that comes into THIS World!