Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Advent

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Gainesville FL
The Chapel of the Incarnation, Gainesville FL
November 14, 2010

Year C, Proper 28: The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 65:17-25
Canticle 9
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Advent

If you’ve been in a store during the past few weeks you’ve noticed that Christmas decorations and signs are already beginning to go up. If they haven’t started already, soon there will be Christmas commercials on TV. And soon well-meaning Christians complain about how the secular world has twisted Christmas beyond our recognition. But all our moaning and groaning isn’t going to change the fact that this is the time of year when stores and companies make a big chunk of their money. So whether we like it or not – especially during this deep recession - out there in the world it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

But church is different. Here in church it’s beginning to look a lot like… Advent. In just two weeks we begin the holy season of Advent – the season when we look back to the events leading up to the birth of the Messiah in the unlikeliest and most humble of places. In just two weeks we begin Advent – the season when we look ahead to the end; when we look ahead to the completion of the kingdom of God – “the new heavens and the new earth.”

Today’s Gospel lesson is a powerful reminder that it’s beginning to look a lot like Advent. This year we’ve been making our way through the Gospel of Luke. The best guess of scholars is that Luke wrote his Gospel around the year 80, some 50 years after the earthly lifetime of Jesus. Needless to say, much had happened in those 50 years: the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus; the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; the unexpected spread of the Good News among the gentiles; the persecution of the first Christians; the horrifying destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in the year 70 and the Jewish-Roman War of the 70s. Luke’s first readers and hearers would have been well aware of all these amazing and traumatic events.

In today’s passage we are approaching the end of Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry. Today we find Jesus and some of his followers are in the Jerusalem Temple.

It’s worth pausing here and reminding ourselves just how central the Temple was in the lives of Jews in the First Century. It was seen as the holiest place in the universe – the place where, in a sense, God lived. It was the center of prayer and especially of sacrifice. It was the place where the covenant between God and God’s people was lived out in ritual day after day.

The Temple of Jesus’ day was what’s called the Second Temple. It had been reconstructed by Herod the Great in an attempt to win popular approval. According to ancient sources it was one of the most spectacular buildings of its time.

So imagine the scene – here’s Jesus the teacher and prophet from the countryside surrounded by his country bumpkin followers who were dazzled by this extraordinary building – with its “beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.”

In the midst of this spectacular setting Jesus makes what must have been a terrifying prophecy: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Then Jesus warns about false prophets, wars and insurrections, and even natural disasters.

Finally, Jesus gets personal, predicting that his followers would be arrested and persecuted. And then he says, “this will give you an opportunity to testify.”

Luke’s first readers and hearers would have known what we know – that all of this has come to pass and continues to come to pass.

It’s beginning to look like Advent – we can see the outlines of the kingdom of God – we know what the new heavens and the new earth will look like. In fact, we heard Jesus’ vision of God’s kingdom right here just last week.

God’s kingdom is the new earth where the poor and the hungry and the weeping will be blessed.

And last week we heard how we can do our part to build the kingdom of God right here and now. To build the kingdom of God we must love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us.

To build the kingdom of God we must turn the other cheek and give to everyone who begs of us.

To build the kingdom of God, to build the new heavens and the new earth, we must do to others as we would have them do to us.

So, what’s holding us back? What’s delaying the kingdom of God?

Well, I think it’s all the things that Jesus warns us about in today’s gospel – all of which might be summed up as our attachments. It’s our attachments that hold us back from testifying through our actions and our words about the love of God that we experience in Jesus Christ. It’s our attachments that delay the kingdom of God.

Sometimes we’re attached to our buildings just as the Jewish people of the First Century were attached to the Temple. But, even that magnificent temple couldn’t contain the power and love of God – and its destruction did nothing to weaken God’s presence in the world.

This past week at Chapel House we had the latest in a long and expensive list of physical plant issues. We found out that one of the furnaces at Chapel House needed to be replaced, to the tune of $5000. I half-joked to someone at the diocese that since building maintenance takes so much of my time I’d like my next job to be as rector of a storefront church or one of a church that rents a movie theatre for services.

But, in all seriousness, I know it’s hard but we can’t get attached to our buildings. Our buildings are not the church. We are the church. And God help us if our buildings get in the way of the kingdom of God.

Jesus warns us about false prophets and sure enough sometimes it’s our attachment to false prophets that delays the kingdom of God. Right now all across the land there are powerful preachers proclaiming the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.” Their gospel says that if you follow the rules God will reward you with a nice house and fancy cars and all the rest. Unfortunately, many thousands have gotten attached to these preachers. Sure enough it seems like it’s the preachers who are prospering the most.

Or sometimes we get attached to the false prophets who proclaim a negative Christianity that’s all about what we’re against and who’s not invited. And each time we get attached to that kind of Christian leader, the kingdom of God gets delayed a little more.

But, by far the strongest of our attachments is the attachment to our own lives and to the lives of those we love.

Some of you know that not long before we moved to Florida Sue and I found out that our cat, Noelle, had cancer of the jaw. It was devastating news because we loved her so much. And, to be honest, it’s hard to imagine two people more attached to their cat.

On Friday we made the very painful decision to put Noelle to sleep. It meant the two of us letting go of our attachment to her. And, as hard as it was – and still is – when we let go of our attachment to her, when we stopped trying to hold on to her, then we loved her more deeply and more purely than ever.

So, more than ever I understand Jesus’ call to let go of our attachments because then we really are free – free to live the lives we were meant to live – free to love God with our whole self and to love our neighbors, and even our pets, as ourselves.

When we can let go of our attachments, then we really are free to do the only work that really satisfies us – the work we were born to do – the work of building the kingdom of God right here and now.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Advent. We’re beginning to look back to the birth of the Messiah. And we’re beginning to look ahead to the completion of the kingdom of God – the creation of a new heavens and a new earth.
With God’s help, let’s set aside our attachments and get to work.