12/08/2014

Leaning towards the dream: A sermon and a beginning of something more.


I preached at the church on the edge of the bay and the big water, St. Peter's in Lewes, Delaware, this last Sunday.  I wasn't particularly satisfied with the sermon, but there it is. I was more pleased with the conclusion, that Advent is a call to bend our lives towards the land of Glory, towards living the dream, not simply living in the land of oppressive compromise. Anyway, here it is. Of course it is not what I actually said, that being determined by being on the spot in the moment, but it is mostly what I said.
For a really good Advent meditation, go to Jim Friedrich's Religious Imagineer, HERE. 


Sermon: 2 Advent. 2014
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
Sounds pretty good, yes?  Good enough to become one of the lead songs in Godspell, the hippie songster’s version of the words of the prophet Isaiah and his younger protégé John the Baptist.  “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
OK.
So what is this Preparing stuff about?   Isaiah uses the image of making a highway for our God, lifting up the valleys and plowing down the mountains, making the uneven ground level, the rough places plain. All of which is done so that the glory of the Lord be revealed, and all people see it together.  Great stuff!
But what does it mean here and now?
Well, here’s my shot at that: I think it is pretty simple. It’s about leaning towards the dream.
The problem is we don’t want to hear it.  We don’t want to hear it so badly that we pass over these passages as fast as we can, or turn them into oratorio passages, or get to muttering about pie in the sky by and by.
Anything rather than face what is being told us by the prophets of old, Isaiah being a prime case, or the prophets of these latter days, John and Jesus being case in point, or by any number of prophets through the centuries.
 Preparing the way of the Lord is about bending towards the dream:
You know about dream… there is dream and there is reality. And we are trained to deal with reality (as we know it).
You and I live in the “Land of This and This and That.”  You know, the world that is fully resigned to the mixture of good and evil, joy and despair, life and death.
There is this, and this, and that. This terrible thing, then this one, and then there is that lovely occasion, that bit of beauty. There is war and suffering and illness, and there is delight and laughter and full-hearted joy. It is a mixture. But it is a land that assumes deep valleys and high mountains, strange sorrows and delights both. It is a land of ups and downs, and a land where we justify our actions on the basis of measure…. We are better or worse than others, more noble or less, more honest or less, and so on, and we do so in order to get by in a disorderly world.   It is a land of many inequalities, and we know it and participate in it.
But mostly the Land of This and This and That is the land of broken dreams.  We call this land Reality, and reality is, well, hard. And having learned to live in this land of compromise with injustice and inequities, with oppression, we judge ourselves and others by how well we cope.  How high can you climb? How do you deal with adversity? Can you cope with failure and death? And so on.  We rate ourselves, our families, our state, our country, against others.  How are we doing?  We rate ourselves on a mental health scale. How content are you, how happy, how do you judge yourself? And it makes everyone is just a little wacky.
Now the prophets tell us there is another land.  Detractors say the prophets are full of it, that that land is a fiction, a land of dreamers and visionaries. But the prophets say it beats the current mish mash of difficult and impossible peaks and valleys.
The land that the dreamers and visionaries speak of, the land of prophets, of whom Isaiah and John the washer away of sins and Jesus the redeemer speak, has a name: 
It is the land of Glory. It is the land where God comes among us and leads, where the road of life runs straight and true.  It is Glory, it is the place of God with us (Emmanuel) it is the place of God’s presence, God’s incarnation.
In this Land of Glory the world of broken dreams, of compromise with oppression in order to get by passes away. We see one another as God sees us, as God’s children all equal in God’s sight, and in ours. And even God ceases to be a special case, being present in all of us.
Jesus and the prophets before him and after him all proclaim this land as the promised land. Now don’t confuse the promised land for Jerusalem, or America, or Mecca, or any other particular place. This land of Glory is our land, and OUR means all people together, and it is everywhere. And it is a land of equality and justice at its deepest sense, for the people see in one another the presence of God, just as they see God in Glory.  There is no peace with oppression, on compromise of justice.
You and I, as Christians (but it works just as well for others), live as citizens of these two lands – the land of this and this and that, and the land of Glory.
Which explains a lot, yes? It explains why we, you and I and all of us in various lumps, are fragmented, schizoid, and generally wounded. We keep bouncing back and forth between being full of compromise with the world of this and this and that, and being clear that we are children of God and filled with Glory.
Which brings us back to what this business of “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” is all about.  It is about you and me, and everyone all together, doing our damnedest  to live more often than not in the land of Glory. It is about bending the real world to be more like the vision and dream of glory.
It is not about preparing for Christmas. It is about preparing for the consequences of the dream.  The dream is that God is present with us on the highway of Glory.  

This is not easy to do, for underneath it all we are comfortable in our present reality, in which highs and lows, life and death, joy and misery are the realities.  
And the call to prepare the way of the Lord is a call to give up that comfort. Advent is not about preparing for the birth of the little baby Lord Jesus, it is about preparing for the end of the oppressive reality we have and readying ourselves for the Glory that is to be revealed to us.
That’s it: If you are not interested in a new road to walk on, go back to Christmas followed by post Christmas depression, to highs followed by lows, by ranking ourselves as better or worse than others, luckier and more fortunate, or miserable and unfortunate, as rich or poor. 
If you are interested in this new road, prepare yourself for a Glorious ride.. It will cost, well, everything. The prophets knew this well. And remember that the first thing we thought to do when God was with us on the road was to kill him. And we did, but that was not the end of the story.
In the end we will be whole. Really whole. And death and oppression will have no hold on us.  If you come it will be quite a ride!
This train is bound for glory, this train. No ticket needed. Just get on board.
If you want more, I am available for conversation.

3 comments:

  1. Pretty close to what you preached, Mark, except for the musical interlude from Godspell at the beginning.

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  2. Mary Lawthers8/12/14 7:58 PM

    This is good, so much better than what I heard on Sunday in my home church! Thank you!

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  3. Beautifully put. Glad I "don't need no ticket to get on board." The "impossible dreams" of the prophets are a radical form of resistance to the limited, parched, oppressive versions of reality which claim to be fixed and final. They also lure and beckon us, as you say, to bend toward the glory prepared for us since the beginning of time. As Philip Sheldrake writes in "Spaces for the Sacred," "we tell these tales (or, as in the case of the 'text' of monastic life, we live the story) in order to give form to a world that is not yet here."

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