Lectionary notes

These notes are posted by a prodigal priest blessed to be serving the church as a lay pastor.

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Location: Southwest, United States

Some years ago, I searched high and low for Web sites that dealt with the issues of deposed clergy. Found none. I wasn't sure what I wanted to know from the Internet. I did know I had something in common with others who had been deposed, and that we might have something to say to each other. Maybe what I wanted to hear was just a word to persuade me that I wasn't going crazy, that this nagging, centripedal tug toward ministry was not an aberration. Actually, I'm still not sure it's not. In 10 years of wrestling with these issues, I haven't had a conversation with another deposed Episcopal priest. My guess is that -- as I did for many years -- they're either hiding out or have fled to such far reaches that my circle of interests and friends will never find them. Then again, maybe not. My hope is that a few deposed clergy will come in from the cold for a conversation about life after deposition.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Advent III, 2005

The Prayer of the Church: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent, The Book of Common Prayer)


First Lesson: Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 126
Second Lesson : 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
Gospel Lesson: John 1:6-8, 19-28

Notes

Augustine once prayed, “Lord, make me perfect – but not yet!” Our inclination to hope for salvation while letting ourselves continue to be in dire need of it makes me wonder, sometimes, whether procrastination is not just a habit of mind but a profoundly spiritual disease. Augustine’s dilemma seems to have been that, though heaven was his goal, the prize of the moment was to fall far short of it. He eventually got over his indecision, but it seems as though all Christians must pass through the vale of “not yet.”

Procrastination of this sort is rooted in fear of change. We’re habitually flawed and we’re more comfortable with our old selves than with that which God promises we will become when we respond to the promises of Christ with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The promise is that we will be changed, that the holiness of Christ will transform our lives and, ultimately, that it will transform the world into the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

We know God’s way is a better way, that the world needs to be changed, that our old selves have made a mess of it. It’s just that we’re not all that sure about what the new heaven and new earth will be like. It makes us afraid that things will be different. Better to snuggle up to that comfortable old way of life than to embrace another way that boldly declares itself a way of sacrifice, of losing one’s self for the sake of others.

No wonder many are called but few are chosen. What was God thinking, anyway?

So, we’re content with half measures, a kind of watered-down version of Christ’s radical demands. For centuries, we have been refining Christianity into a kind of homogenized version of the gospel that costs us nothing but spare change, so to speak, and anchors our souls no more than would membership in a bridge club. We wonder why our faith seems to lead nowhere. Maybe it’s because we don’t practice it. Maybe it’s because, like Augustine, the great saint of Hippo, we prefer “not yet.”

We’re like adolescents torn between the joys of childish irresponsibility and wanting to be treated like adults. We want to have our cake and eat it, too, despite all evidence to the contrary that we can’t have it both ways. Sadly, we usually settle for “not yet.”

Advent is our season for challenging the popular assumption that “not yet” is preferable to embracing the inevitable changes holiness brings. The prophets tell us that now is the time to decide whether faith matters, and that ultimately nothing else matters without faith.

Faith leads to holiness, and by that I don’t mean some kind of exalted state that makes me better than everybody else. Holiness is the ordinary, interior process by which I accept my baptismal identity as a child of God and let God love me through the disciplines of worship, prayer, study and ministry. It means letting myself be transformed by the Spirit to become a person fulfilled and made complete by the grace of God. It doesn’t mean a halo will appear above my head, but it does mean that my egotistical self will be diminished as Christ becomes more apparent in my life. In terms of today’s lesson from 1 Thessalonians, I will be patient. I will repay evil with good. I will pray without ceasing, never forgetting to give thanks for all things. And when I fail – and I will fail – I will repent and return to the Lord.

Advent is also our season for remembering that the way of holiness, of sacrifice for the sake of others, the way of the cross, leads to blessing, to resurrection, redemption and restoration for all humanity. “Then were we like those who dream,” says the psalmist. “Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy.”

Isaiah tells this truth in some of the most ordinary terms: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD—and their descendants as well.”

The kingdom of God, in other words, will seem like paradise to most of the world’s inhabitants. It’s likely that it won’t look a like an industrialized nation living on more than its share of the earth’s resources.

Christians are those who prepare the way of the Lord, the way that leads to life and peace on earth as it is in heaven. Our way may be long or short. It may be frustrating and painful. We may die in God’s service, in the fulfilling of our vocations, but the promise is that faith will save all humanity from the sure damnation of “not yet.”

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