Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thinking about God's Invitation...

As we gather to day in this last Sunday of Advent, sing the songs and hear the lessons from Scripture that invite us to prepare for the coming of Christ, our gospel lesson takes us to a village in Galilee where and angel makes an unexpected visit to a teenage girl by the name of Mary . There he will in the name of God ask her, call her, invite her to take part in a wonder filled plan, to advance the birth of a king and a kingdom that would have no end!

That the invitation would be issued to such a one may seem unexpected to us! Our own bishop Howard in his Advent meditation for this week says the following about God and about Mary:

"...She was young. Twelve years of age was the minimum age for marriage for Jewish girls of that time. She might not have been much older.Neither she nor her family had great stature, wealth or influence.In all likelihood, she barely knew Joseph to whom she had been promised in marriage.We first learn of Mary at a moment which must have been confusing and frightening for the young girl. It was a moment in which not only her fate, but yours and mine as well, hung in the balance. Human history itself was on the line...awaiting the response of a young girl...So it was that the good news of Jesus, of God's incarnation, began. Not with compulsion. Not with an arbitrary act on the part of God. Not with God forcing himself upon the unwilling..."
It began with an invitation from God!

Here are some simple truths about the invitation of God we can find in this blessed story...

* The Invitation of God is not to the expected

Many modern day Christians would probably feel a bit uncomfortable with God's invitation issued to a mere teenage girl! I am not sure I would be completely comfortable to entrust the fate of a newborn into the hands of any teenage unwed mother! Yet, God did not see it that way! His invitation is not related to our expectations!

You and I tend to underestimate people, we underestimate the young in particular! However, He who sees the heart of all looked into the heart of Mary and there found favor and grace! We think of David a mere teenager when, depite been passed over by his family, is annointed, chosen to be king! He is underestimated by his brothers and his very enemies mocked his youth…! God was not amused! Samuel comes to mind , a child raised in the temple, one to whom God had never been revealed but called to be a prophet of God! Jeremiah, too young , said he, I can barely talk!...yet chosen by God , invited to be part of His plan!

Whom does God invite? A simple glimpse through the Scripture leaves us amazed! A young girl of a poor family, a simple carpenter, an octogenarian woman of prayer, a bunch of fishermen, a woman of ill repute Jesus meets at a well, another possessed by the very devils, a persecutor of Christians! Certainly no one that we would expect nor have had on our short list for likely invitees to the plans of God ! And, that invitation has been issued to you and me, by someone who knows us intimately, acquainted with all our ways! We too are the unlikely…the least expected!

* The invitation of God is not to the possible!

I will never forget my mother's encouragement whenever I faced a difficult task or decision..." You do the possible, God does the impossible" I have found her advise true and helpful in many ocassions, except for the fact that often God invites to to do quite impossible things!

So it is with Mary and the angels's invitation; "now you will conceive... and bear a son! The "bear a son" part is in the realm of the possible, Mary was after all promised to be married! It’s the "you shall conceive now" which is hard to fathom! How can this be? The answer; "...for nothing shall be impossible with God!..."! God’s invitation is not to merely acomplishing the possible, WE CAN DO THAT VERY WELL ON OUR OWN THANKYOU! He calls us beyond that which we feel and know we can do, he calls us to trust him, to believe him, to follow him beyond our senses, beyond our knowledge, wisdom an experience to that which can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Isn’t that how it very often seems with God? Moses was called, one man to lead an entire people out of slavery , while armed with a speech impediment and a stick...impossible!! Noah- had no ship building skills, and was not a zoo keeper! Besides Sampson’s long hair and his good looks he did not seem have a lot more working for him, yet he was called to be a judge for Israel. Fishermen with no formal education were issued the invitation to form the basis of the kingdom of God , to carry on the good news of God’s love! Upon disccusing the impossibility for a rich man to get into heaven, Jesus looked at his stunned disciples and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all ... Mark adds, "but not with God; for with God all things are possible!

Likewise the call of God to the Christian is to a task "impossible for the natural man". We are called beyond our pretty churches , altars , the confort of our pews and stained glass windows. We are not merely called to be Episcopalians, nor Christians, nor religious, we are called to be the "dwelling of God", the "temple of the Holy Spirit"..., the "body of Christ", "the light of the word..."! God does not call us to be goody two shoes, mere church attenders, he calls us beyond that to "new life"! To be a Christian is to live an impossible life, made possible by the very life of God lived inside you and me! Quite an impossible task for any human but for the power of the Holy Spirit!

* The invitation of God is not to the faint hearted!

Mary do not be afraid! These are words of encouragement and power! Words that encourage the hearer from timidity to expectant faith! There are so many times these words are uttered in Scripture by a heavenly messenger!

"...After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward..".

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife..."

"...Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul..."

"...So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows..."

It can be a bit scary to hear God's call, to feel him tugging at the strings of your heart, his Spirit leading you to paths you would normally not have chosen! To follow him in commuicating good news to the needy or to a hospital room to comfort the sick or to a more intense life of prayer. We fear the loss of our priorities, our time, the disruption of our schedules and life! The confortable and timid are very hesitant to follow! Yet as Episcopalians we should very well know that to follow Christ takes "courage and singleness of heart"! We pray at every Eucharist to have the strength and valor to serve God! God does not invite us to timidity or to lives of hesitation and fear, but to be unafraid!

Mary rises to the challenge, decides to risk it all! Her plans, her wedding , her parents expectations, her very life! Her response "Here is the Lord servant, be it done unto me according to your words" leaves no doubt of her courage as she accepts the invitation of God.

May it be so with us, may we valiantly face life's challenges, may we accept the call of God in our lives, may we follow him even in the way of the cross!

Have a very blessed Christmas


Friday, December 2, 2011

Evening Prayer

A few seconds of a beautiful and peaceful evening prayer service at St. Luke's. "...Lord you have the words of everlasting life!..."

About Those Ten Virgins…

"...Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, "Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!" Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise answered, saying, "What if there isn't enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves." While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut..." Matthew 25:1-13  

As Advent approaches it is inevitable that a reference to this parable of Jesus will show up in our liturgies, either in the gospel lesson, a hymn, some other worship song, or perhaps in the Sunday homily. For some of us raised in a strong evangelical tradition with a hint of fundamentalism there is always a bit of inner turmoil associated with this particular story.

The foolish virgins, we were told, of course, were the unprepared, did not have enough oil in their lamps! They did not pray enough, or did not have enough of the light of the word, or the oil of the Holy Spirit! They took their duty lightly and as a result missed out! They were left in the outside looking in , even as strangers! The wise ones, of course, were the well prepared; lit lamps and extra oil, and when the bridegroom came they went into the feast with him!

I cannot begin to tell you the many ways this lesson was drilled to the young in the church of my childhood, in song, lessons and fiery preaching! Reflecting back to those times, though it is true that Christians should be prayerful, filled with the Spirit and awaiting the coming of the Lord, it was the fear rather than expectancy of the Lord’s coming that made more of a mark in many of us!Today I do not read the parable with the same dread, but it does have valuable lessons for us who live in wait for the revealing, for the coming of the Lord.

I see this parable as…

A parable of the kingdom- “the kingdom of heaven is like ten virgins…”. Jesus himself speaks of the kingdom of God “among us”, not just the kingdom at the world’s end. Therefore we do not necessarily have to apply the imagery and lessons in the story exclusively to the end of the world or the second coming of Christ. Christ comes to us, in a variety of ways even now; in the gathering of two or three, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in the child we welcome, in the poor and needy we help, in the sick we visit; even in the hour of distress and death we have the promise of his coming, his presence. It should be no trouble for Episcopalians to see this dimension in the parable; after all, we proclaim at every Eucharist that God’s kingdom is “now and forever”.

A parable of waiting- Advent is for us a reminder that we wait, not just for a distant and rather fearful event but the imminent appearance of the bridegroom for a joyful feast. Well it seemed so in this parable, until the delay of course! The groom did not show for quite a while and the girls seemed to have lost some of their pep, got tired, perhaps bored and fell asleep. I have always thought that this could have never been a Latino wedding; no groom would be allowed to upstage the lateness of the bride and her maids! But, whatever the culture the element of delay is a key to understanding the parable’s message. Often the expected takes time, seems longer than what we want to wait, sometimes it seems like the wait is unending and we lose focus. Perhaps learning to live waiting is the hardest lesson to learn in life, specially the life in the spirit. It takes time for new life to mature, for spiritual gifts to flourish, for seeds planted to grow, for that which we expect to occur, all of which requires grace filled patience.

A parable of opportunities- Opportunities abound at every turn in this parable and sadly some were missed. Five of the virgins in our story
did not take the opportunity to prepare well. They took oil in their lamps but did not take into account that things might be delayed. The other set of five did not avail themselves of the opportunity to be charitable. They had oil and reserves, surely they could have spared even a little for their less prepared friends. There are very few places in Scriptures where this kind of selfish actions would be lauded….get some for yourselves! It certainly sheds a note of caution for people looking for solutions and answers from their friends rather from the bridegroom himself. Not all the advice we are given by those waiting with us yield the best outcomes for us! And finally, at least to me, probably the main reason some of girls were called foolish, the lost opportunity to be present when the bridegroom arrived. The story makes it clear the lamps were not yet empty of oil, they could have stayed put gone into the feast and shone at least for a while. They could have pleaded with the bridegroom, apologized to the bride, maybe bribed the mothers in law and who knows what else. As it was, they left and did not make it back before the doors were already closed and the feast begun! Be present, even if unprepared, do not miss the opportunity for mercy and for grace which these girls unfortunately let pass.

A parable about us- Sometimes we are very much the prepared virgins, ready for come what may! To be of service to someone in need, to deliver that word of prophecy or hope, to evangelize at the drop of a hat. Other times we are less so! We are tired, down, distracted , sleepy, we miscalculated the moment or the wait, we just cannot find the enthusiasm or the words! This parable gives us a lot to reflect about in our own lives of faith.

So there you have it…its about the kingdom of God here and now, about graciously and patiently waiting, about opportunities we should not let pass by and finally about you and me!

Have a Blessed Advent