The Return is Here!

Posted: November 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

The Return is Here!

Mark 13: 24-37

Advent One 3.12.2017

It may seem strange to say the Return is Here at a time of advent given that advent is about an active waiting that leads to agency. This agency is about a particular arrival, an agency that is already underway, an agency that is underway yet still to be fulfilled. There are signs of this already here in our daily adventures. The advent call is to Stay alert! Don’t be confused by promises of a divine rescue operation God is not an interventionist God on a rescue mission. God is almost here and visible in the everyday, unexpected and commonplace. Don’t be led astray by tinny Christmas carols. Don’t be fooled by the loud, obvious and popular they are not the signs. The birth of new life is coming, the signs are here. We have what we need to be faithful.

Sure advent is a season of awe and wonder. It is a time of waiting, not for the metaphor of Jesus’ birth, because that’s already available. It’s a time of waiting for the transformation of our lives and the world. Something is already being born in us and we are waiting for its arrival. This might sound a bit mysterious but not if we see that advent reflects the unfinished nature of creation, the horizon that recedes with each step we take toward it. God brought forth an unfinished universe, requiring our participation in its ongoing history. Jesus the Christ came to earth, healed the sick, shared the vision of Shalom, was executed for his troubles and yet, lives on, and thus his ministry is unfinished, and the world he came into still reflects the ambiguity of beauty and brokenness, salvation and sickness. Jesus has come and we are still waiting.

The one who came as a human child came as an anti-violence advocate, and a Prince of Peace. Come to earth as a healer and yet, as we worship today innocents are being killed in other parts of the world and other innocents are forgotten in the political dance where we taunt each other with threats of nuclear war, accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment. Differences are placarded in the news, politicians play football with humanity’s role in climate change, and our leaders continue to perpetuate the myths of equity and redistribution of wealth making change the bad boy in the piece. The Prince of Peace is among us, a child and yet a ruler, and yet the reality of our dilemma is apparent in polarization, alienation, racism, and violence, often perpetrated in the name of law and order.

We are waiting. Yes, we are waiting to become our deepest selves, to live by love and not fear, to fulfill our dreams and what is called God’s dream of Shalom. We need this creative transformation. But let’s be careful because in Advent, we can be tempted to give up hope for transformation, on the one hand, or claim premature transformation on the other. In our hope for deliverance, we can chart the signs of the times, re-dating them with every mistaken calculation, while waiting for God to solve our problems and delighting in the fact that the “bad news is the good news” and a sign that Jesus will come soon. We can live in expectation of God tearing open the heavens and performing awesome deeds of transformation to liberate us from life’s ambiguities, while we do nothing to solve earth’s problems. When transformation is deferred, we can overemphasize our unworthiness and God’s angry withdrawal from our lives and communities, as Isaiah 64 asserts, we can wallow in our struggle. Or, we can project that blame on others, vilifying them to support our own innocence. As Psalm 80 pleads we need restoration, but has our fear, our need for a quick answer, our keenness to succeed excluded us from what we call God’s grace?

Jeremiah which we didn’t read from today joins the bad news of the present moment with hope in future divine liberation. But that is not what today’s second coming prognosticators would say. The bad news is not a sign of deliverance for Jeremiah; the bad news is bad news, reflecting our faithlessness and the pain it brings to others. God has done great things, but we have turned away and provoked divine anger. Yet, the grounds of our turning is ambiguous. We are left with the question as to whether or not God absented Godself and thus left us to our own devices, our waywardness as persons and as a nation, or have our actions led to divine absence? Well! What if our turning is ambiguous not because God has left us but because we have become senseless of God’s presence in our lives and thus have diminished God’s role in shaping our lives. The scriptures suggest that we make a difference in God’s presence in our lives. We are not observers but rather participants. We are not onlookers but rather co-creators. Our actions condition what God can do in the world if you like. The message of advent is that our waywardness, our being human, has not created an irreparable breach between us and God, and that creative and redemptive love transform.

In Psalm 80 we have a plea for God to return. And we note that the relationship is definitely dialogical, it is a dialogue that unfolds as dynamic and creational and it is relational, it provides the connection, it creates and celebrates the connection. In old language God and humankind shape each other’s responses. This means that our absence limits God, and thus diminishes our experience of divine participation. God is not unchanging in the sense that this dialogue and relationship is dynamic, and it is intimately related to the human condition in a dynamic call and response. Grace abounds, the shepherd seeks us, but will we welcome God’s love when it comes to us.

To a conflict-ridden community at Corinth, Paul proclaims that the Corinthians have everything they need, individually and corporately, to be faithful. These words are addressed to our congregations as well when we are tempted to live by scarcity rather than divine abundance. Having just gone through our annual budget setting we have witnessed yet another deficit budget, This says that we know how easy it is to live by scarcity and we can easily assume that our best years are gone by. It is easy to give up hope in the future. Yes, the world has changed and young families seldom stream into our churches. We are aging and wonder about the future with every funeral. As congregations, we must be realistic financially and make adjustment in budget and in our stewardship as well as in our energy. Our costs of daily operation often disguise the wonderful generosity of peoples gifts. We see what we don’t have and we miss the signs of giftedness in our midst. The challenge of advent is for us to remember that we live in an open system in which new energies and possibilities are always emerging in our lives and communities. We are, as Paul proclaims, enriched in every way and graced by a love beyond our imagination. We have every spiritual gift we need, whether our community is flourishing or diminishing numerically. Advent reminds us that we respond to the grace we’ve received in our particular time and place and with our particular gifts and limits.

Jesus’ words have inspired many to search for the signs of the times. And sadly many still look for a Second Coming, for a deliverance from on high which will clearly separate the sheep from the goats, the saved and unsaved, the favoured and the lost, but we heard last week that its not about the differences but about the relationship between that gives possibilities and hope. When the hour comes part of our great joy, some have averred, will be to see the chaos and suffering of the world from our privileged place of deliverance! But, is such a deliverance “heaven” or “hell” if it means destroying this beautiful planet? Jesus does not want us to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good! Nor does Jesus want us to sacrifice this lifetime – this planet – for a Second Coming that simply does not come. We are not to wait for a divine rescue operation – our ideal is not “Waiting for God to do it – advent says that we are to be partners in a new creation and salvation or transformation in the here and now.

Jesus’ seems to be suggesting a different approach to this waiting game. He seems to be suggesting that we take our eyes of heaven and look at earth, don’t get trapped in passivity and turn to activity. In invoking the fig tree as our guide to discerning the signs of the times, Jesus is suggesting that the transformation we yearn for will come through the natural world, the world of orderly causation, of seedtime and harvest, and not by subverting what we count on to live our daily lives. Transformation may be abrupt at times, but like the fig tree’s growth, the signs of transformation are all around us and within us. It may seem as if the sky is falling, but the meteorological changes, represented by darkened sun and falling stars are part of a divine economy in which the largest environment still remains dependable.

Jesus is cautioning us about claiming esoteric knowledge about the end times. Beware of end-time preachers who know when the divine call comes. Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good. Don’t look so far ahead that you fail to see God moving in this very moment of time. Jesus counsels us to be alert and to stay awake. Yes, there may be a dramatic moment in our lives and communities. We may be called upon to take a leap of faith into what appears to be an abyss of uncertainty. We may experience seismic spiritual shifts. But, God is faithfully moving in this moment, giving us clues and hints of transformation. We can live in God’s new age right now if our spiritual and physical senses are open to God’s coming in every event.

How does one know the difference between signs? One of the clearest messages Fredrich Buechner has woven into his many books is to pay attention – to your life, to the people with whom you are closest, to the things that happen to you. This, according to Buechner, is the best, and most authentic, way to experience yourself and God. “You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it…. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

How do we know the return is here? To see the signs as trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world. Trust that “the persistent presence of something trying to get through in the midst of the muddle of our day-to-day lives.” Listen deep within the quiet in ourselves. Accept that the divine speaks through the fathomless quiet of the holy place within us all which is beyond the power of anything that happens to us to touch us because many things that happen to us block our access to it, make us forget even that it exists. Seek the quiet and holy place in us as the divine place and find what marks you as God’s. Even when we have no idea of seeking it, various things can make us fleetingly aware of its presence – a work of art, beauty, sometimes sorrow or joy, sometimes just the quality of a moment that apparently has nothing special about it at all like the sound of water over stones in a stream or sitting alone with your feet up at the end of a hard day.” In his second memoir, entitled Now and Then, Christian author Fredrich Buechner expresses that listening to your life is the true essence and legacy of his writings: “If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Amen.

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