Sunday, December 30, 2007

Back to Basics

A reflection on John 1:1-18 for Christmas I.

I recently decided to take up Yoga, again. I studied yoga for nine years, even taught it for awhile. During that time Yoga was the mainstay of my Spiritual life and physical health, the grounding of my well being.

But I haven’t really practiced Yoga in about 15 years. So, despite how well I knew it at one time in my life, in order for me to practice it again, I have to go back to the beginning, back to basics.

The basic elements of yoga include stretching, gently holding postures, and breathing, in a rhythmic pattern. The purpose of yoga is to balance the body and bring harmony inside and out. Another purpose of yoga is move the body in order to prepare it to be still for meditation. And the purpose of meditation, or in Christian language, contemplative, silent, prayer, is to listen to God, to know God more fully. Therefor the reason I want to practice yoga again is to open myself up to God in a very intentional way.

Following the hustle and bustle of Christmas we are invited, today, to go back to the beginning, back the basic tenets of our faith. The Gospel reminds us:

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and lived among us…

From the beginning God’s word has been present in the world and in all creation. God’s word expresses God’s self into the world and in so doing all things come into being. God’s word is everywhere and part of everything.

As Christians we know God’s Word in particular as the person of Jesus the Christ. In this human being God expresses the fullness of God’s self. In Jesus we know the Word become flesh.

The Christian faith has debated this for centuries. What does it really mean? We’ve argued and debated the Virgin birth, the divine nature and the human nature.

But today we are asked to set the debates aside and get back to basics. The
Basic tenet of our Christian spirituality is that God is with us.

Joan Chittister describes this well with a story:
God decided to become visible to a king and a peasant and sent an angel to inform them of the blessed even. “O king,” the angel announced, “God as deigned to be revealed to you in whatever manner you wish. In what form do you want God to appear?”

Seated pompously on his throne and surrounded by awestruck subjects, the king royally proclaimed: “How else would I wish to see God, save in majesty and power? Show God to us in the full glory of power.”

God granted his wish and appeared as a bolt of lightening that instantly pulverized the king and his court. Nothing, not even a cinder, remained.

The angel then manifested herself to a peasant saying: “God deigns you to be revealed in whatever manner you desire. How do you wish to see God?”

Scratching his head and puzzling a long while, the peasant finally said: “I am a poor man and not worthy to see God face to face. But if it is God’s will to be revealed to me, let it be in those things with which I am familiar. Let me see God in the earth I plough, the water I drink, and the food I eat. Let me see the presence of God in the faces of my family, neighbors, and – if God deems it as good for myself and others – even in my own reflection as well.”

God granted the peasant his wish, and he lived a long and happy life. (Peacemaking Day by Day).

God is with us, not in grandiose ways, but the ordinary everyday things of life. Kathleen Norris speaks of this as well in her reflection called, “The Quotidian Mysteries.” In this reflection she ponders the way God can be found in everyday activities like preparing food and doing dishes. Her inspiration for this is found in the Eucharist itself, in the priest preparing the meal of bread and wine and then cleaning up the dishes after the meal has been served. God in the ordinary.

Not only is God found in the ordinary events, but because of Jesus we also believe that God is found in human beings and in our relationships with one another. We believe that we are made in the image of God. Our Gospel reminds us of this: “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was made flesh and lived among us…”

A little girl was standing with her grandfather by an old-fashioner open well. They had just lowered the bucket to draw some water to drink. “Grandfather,” she asked, “where does God live?”

The old man picked up the little girl and held her over the open well. “Look down into the water,” he said, “and tell me what you see.” “I see myself,” said the little girl. “That’s where God lives,” said the grandfather, “God lives in you.” (Mark Link, Challenge)

God expresses God’s self in and through our lives, in the things we do and in the way we treat one another. Through the life of Jesus we come to know God’s love poured out for us. Jesus shows us how to love as God loves….”and from his fullness we have received grace upon grace.”

Basically, when we strive to love others, the ordinary people in our lives, intentionally love them in a radical generous way, we are loving God in the process. Doing so takes us back to the beginning, to Christianity at its most basic.

Seems to me that’s a good place to start as we enter a New Year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Labor of Love

A Christmas Reflection preached by The Very Rev. Terri C. Pilarski December 24, 2007

Outside a snow storm was raging. Thousands of snowflakes twirled through the air, tossed by the wind, some slamming in to the ground, others landing as if with a sigh of relief, eventually covering roof tops, sidewalks, and streets.

Inside a woman lay in a warm hospital bed while her two companions sat beside her. The woman was in labor, preparing to give birth to twins. All through the night and into the early morning the three sat quietly talking.Every five minutes or so the laboring woman would begin to breath deeply. Then another woman would take her hand and coach her through the contraction.

Breath deeply, let your mouth open, relax.

The contraction would pass. Gradually the conversation would begin again. Round and round from story to story the other two women remembered their own birthings; how they labored through the night to bring their babies into the world.

Christmas music played in the background, adagios, slow and peaceful. It was a holy night made all the more serene by the warmth of the indoors and the beauty of the snow outdoors and the gradually progressing birth.

The mother labored for 30 hours. The babies were born naturally with little medical intervention. The women, her coaches, labored with her, Their bodies remembered the sensation, the urge, the urgency to push. It was as if their muscle memory could be transferred to her helping the process along.

The first baby took about 30 minutes to birth. The second baby became distressed, her heart rate dropped from 140 to 66. Birthing her quickly was now a matter of the baby’s health. But the mother did, three pushes, and the second baby was born.

The images of that night and the process of birthing these babies into the world will remain with me a long time. It was an amazing experience of self-less giving – the mother who gave so much of herself to maintain a pregnancy through two episodes of pre-term labor, months of bed-rest and medication…and now, the ultimate giving, the birth of these healthy babies.

A labor of love.

The timing of this birth makes it poignantly clear to me what another mother was going through to birth her baby into the world, a mother who lived 2000 years ago. A mother who did not have the convenience of a hospital and trained medical staff. A mother and a father, who according to the story, were not at home, and would not have had the security of family and familiar birthing coaches. The father had to be her coach and doctor and husband all at the same time.

And she, labored through the pain and fear and the hope – all on her own energy. No one reminded her to breath. No one taught her how to push. No one to assured her that she could do it; just as they had. It’s a miracle the woman in the stable was able to birth the baby at all…

A miracle, the gift of life…a labor of love…

In recent weeks on Sunday morning we have heard the story of this baby, this mother, and this father. Of a woman willing to take a huge risk, saying yes to God. A woman who was strong and brave and sure of herself. The Greeks call her Theotikos, the God-bearer, Mary, the mother of God.

And we heard the story of Joseph, a compassionate man also willing to take the risk, to follow God’s vision of life and love. And now, tonight we hear the story of the birth, of God being born into the world as the infant Jesus, the Incarnate one.

As Episcopalians we are particularly grounded in the Incarnation. For us the salvation story begins here, in the idea that God came to live as one of us. Without that act of being born the rest of the story would be meaningless – here would be no life lived, no model of loving others, no death, and no resurrection, no ultimate act of love.

The birth had to happen first.

The story begins with the experiences of the parents - their love for one another, for the baby, and for God, and then continues into the life lived by child of God.

Tonight we focus most particularly on the birth, on the laboring mother, the supportive father, and the baby.

We can find some very rich imagery within this story to help us understand our lives and God’s love for us. In many ways God is like the mother, laboring to birth us.

We believe that God has created us and therefore has hopes and dreams for us. God yearns for us like a mother waiting for the birth of the baby. And God labors with us, pushing us, gently until we are born into the life God desires for us.

How many of you have ever had the feeling that God was guiding you?

And God nurtures us in life, like a father who offers love and support. But God will not do this on God’s own. In the Incarnation we learn that God desires our active participation. God wants us to embrace the life given to us. Embracing our lives means that we live fully in the image of God, loving as God loves.

God loves with a broad sweeping generous love – in pouring out God’s self in the person of Christ God offered God’s love to all humanity,

to you,

to me,

to the people down the street,

and to the strangers across the way.

God’s love for all.

Like a mother who labors equally hard to birth all her children. Like a father who provides for all his family, God loves each of us for being who are.

And then asks that we do the same.

Some people think of this in a kind of warm and fuzzy love – but if you have ever really tried to love as God asks, to love all people with compassion and respect, you quickly find out just how difficult this is. Difficult to love that crabby person who butts in front of you. Difficult to love that person who cuts you off on the highway. Difficult to love that person who lives a life style different than yours, one that might be questionable…

and we can’t always do it.

But we are asked to try.

At one point Jesus sums up all 613 commandments found in the Bible with these words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength, and with all your soul. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Because God has lived as one of us, God knows this is not easy. God knows we will labor hard in trying.

But God knows it will be a labor of love.

And in that labor is the miracle of life itself.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 18

In the beginning,
God allowed for chaos,
for troubled dreams,
and uncertain sounds,
and fear in the darkness.

Then, when the chaos was most threatening
and hope was bleakest,
God said, "Let there be light"

So, remember the chaos,
the uncertainty,
the confusion in which you once floundered,
and give thanks for the light.

In the course of time,
God allowed for a journey
from ourselves to other people,
from restriction to freedom,
from a forgotten place to a promised land.

And when the journey was hardest,
and the way ahead unclear,
and the temptation to turn back most alluring,
God said, "Let there be light"

So, remember your journey
and how far you have travelled,
and give thanks for the light.

Later yet,
God allowed for the special:
for friendships to grow,
for truth to be discovered,
for faith to become real.
On the mountain top
and in quiet places
God blessed us, saying, "Let there be light"

So remember not why,
but how and when and where you've been blessed,
and give thanks for the light.

(Cloth for the Cradle:Worship resources and readings for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany; Iona Community, Wild Goose Worship Group GIA, Chicago, 2000)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 17

We are approaching the final days of Advent, a time when we reflect on Mary, the mother of Jesus. In her book, Meditations on Mary, Kathleen Norris reflects on the story. Mary, pregnant with the Messiah, has gone to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is about to give birth to John the Baptist. Elizabeth recognizes that Mary bears the Messiah, and greets her as so. Mary responds to Elizabeth with this

The Magnificat, The Song of Mary: Luke 1:46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
he has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
he has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,

Norris' reflection reminds us that Mary offers up this song of praise to God who has blessed two insignificant women in an insignificant region of ancient Judea and in so doing has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. She says, "I later learned that these words echo the song of Hannah in First Samuel, as well as the anguish of the prophets. They are a poetic rendering of a theme that pervades the entire biblical narrative - when God comes into our midst, it is to upset the status quo."

"The Magnificat's message is so subversive that for a period of time during the 1980's the government of Guatemala banned its public recitation...But when I came to its words knowing so little about them, I found that all too often they were words I could sing with ease at evening prayer, with a facile (and sometimes sleepy) acceptance. On other nights, however, they were a mother's words, probing uncomfortably into my life. How rich had I been that day, how full of myself? Too full to recognize need and hunger, my own or anyone else's? So powerfully providing for myself that I couldn't admit my need for the help of others? Too busy to know a blessing with it came to me?"

Today let us take some time to recognize the blessing of our lives. To see the places we are too full, places we can empty ourselves a little and make room for others - for God, for family, for friends, for strangers in need. Let us give thanks to the God who loves us deeply just for being who we are.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 16

"Coming Home" A Poem by Mary Oliver

When we're driving, in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we're weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place - the top
of one of the pale dunes
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea -
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything - the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness -
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and to me.

Winter is here in full swing - cold and snowy! Give thanks today for a warm home, the convenience of a car, and good food, things which stablize us in an unpredictable world.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 11

The other day, as I was pulling out Christmas decorations I came across a box of books. The box was open and inside I found an old book of poetry that I had as a child called, "One Thousand Poems for Children." I thumbed through the book and was flooded with memories of sitting in my room in our house in Wisconsin and reading these poems. The book is loosely organized into sections like, "Holiday Poems" or "Seasonal Poems" or "Poems for Younger Children, Riddles and Finger Plays." Here is one of the riddles:

The Wonderful Weaver

There's a wonderful weaver
High up in the air,
And he weaves a white mantle
For cold earth to wear,
With the wind for his shuttle
The cloud for his loom,
How he weaves! how he weaves!
In the light, in the gloom.

Oh, with the finest of laces
He decks bush and tree,
On the bare flinty meadows
A cover lays he.
Then a quaint cap he places
On a pillar and post,
And he changes the pump
To a grim, silent ghost.

But this wonderful weaver
Grows weary at last,
And the shuttle lies idle
That once flew so fast;
Then the sun peeps abroad
On the work that is done;
And he smiles: "I'll unravel
It all just for fun!"

(What is it?)....(I'll tell you at the end of the reflection). Poetry is a gift in this world. I have spent many years of my life not really understanding poetry, but liking it nonetheless. The art of poetry is playfulness: a playing with words until they carry forth the tone and tenor desired, the image and idea one has. Playing with phrasing and structure and rhythm and rhyme.

In many ways it's the same thing with life - life is a gift. Looked at a certain way and one can see that life can hold a playful quality to it as we strive to bring forth the tone and tenor we desire. Life requires a certain amount of rhythm and rhyme...True, we don't always understand life - sometimes it seems more like a riddle as we try to figure out the purpose of our lives. But our lives do have a purpose. At the very least this purpose asks that we feel a sense of gratitude for our lives and that we share that gratitude with others. Scripture describes this as loving God, loving self, and loving our neighbor. Today give thanks for life.

oh, and the riddle is describing snow....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gratitude Reflection - Back on line edition

After several days of being unable to access the internet and update the blog, we are finally back on line. Who knows what the issue was? Updates to the system combined with ice storms? Sigh.

Today, a simple offering of gratitude, that the storms in our area were not as bad as predicted. It has been a rough winter thus far. I am grateful that we have been spared the worst, but I pray for those who have been affected by power outtages and car accidents and maybe even loss of life. It's been tragic for some.

On this day I offer up this prayer of Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer, pg. 837:

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth, and sky, and sea,
We thank you, Lord.

For all this is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and familirs, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and couragous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

For all valient seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Fther, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Gratidude Reflection Day 5

For many of us this time of year is difficult. Our culture portrays this as a season of parties and family and fun. But that is not always true. Some of us are alone and lonely. Loneliness challenges us and we seek to fill that void in all kinds of ways. Loneliness is real. This is the feeling we have when someone we love has died. When our children are grown and we find ourselves with an empty house. When a good friend has moved away. But being alone is not always about loneliness. We can feel lonely in a crowd. Some of us are afraid of being alone, fearful that it will feel the same as being lonely. There can be a spiritual dimension to being alone, which may be helpful for this season.

Harry James Cargas says this about being alone: "Lonely is not a synonym for alone. The word lonely connotes isolation and dejection, a missed absence of companions when it is applied to persons. The root of alone, however, is in two words: all one. This means the opposite of isolation and dejection. The emphasis is not on the one but on the wholly one. It means complete by oneself. How many of us can actually feel that way? It is not easy to be fully in oneself, to respect oneself, and to self-develop to such a degree that a person looks forward to long periods of being alone. For some who enjoy this oneness, they realize that because of their relationship with Christ they are never lonely. They cultivate the chances to be alone so that they can actually savour the moments with God alone, the moments when their unity with the creator can be both enjoyed and developed. This implies quite a special human being. Too often we are frantic for companionship - for the team or the club or the class or the party or the movie or the TV. Immersion in such activities will free us from having to face the basic issues of existence. Such trivial busyness will keep us from intimate contact with ourselves. The kingdom of heaven is within each of us, yet how seriously do we try to make contact with it? Not only is there no need to 'go out there' in most instances, but rather it is spiritually harmful to look outside ourselves while ignoring what is by nature within us. The woman or man who can be alone - can be together in the self - is the kind of person we can admire, can hold as a model. The quest for wholeness for individual unity is one of the great journeys a life can make, indeed should make. There is no easy route to being properly alone. But making the trip is learning to find what the meaning of life is." (Encountering Myself, pg. 108)

Loneliness is a real emotion. But sometimes our feelings of loneliness mask our fear of being at one with ourselves. Being able to be alone, to be with oneself, can be a spiritual journey of finding where God is with us. Being alone can be the journey through which we become all one. There is grace in this journey, grace when we discover that God is with us, and in that regard, we are never really alone. That is something to be grateful for.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 4

A quote from theologian Jurgen Moltmann, "Theology of Hope," pg. 25:

"Hope alone is to be called 'realistic', because it alone takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught. It does not take things as they happen to stand or lie, but as progressing, moving things with possibilities of change. Only as long as the world and the people in it are in a fragmented and experimental state which is not yet resolved, is there any sense in earthly hopes. The latter anticipate what is possible to reality, historic and moving as it is, and use their influence to decide the processes of history. Thus hopes and anticipations of the future are not a transfiguring glow superimposed on a darkened existence, but are realistic ways of perceiving the scope of our real possibilities, and as such they set everything in motion and keep it in a state of change."

Life is, fragmented and experimental, unresolved, and full of hope for all things possible.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 3

"In the Storm"...A Poem by Mary Oliver

Some black ducks
were shrugged up
on the shore.
It was snowing

hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,

five inches long
with beaks like wire,
flew in,
snowflakes on their backs,

and settled
in a row
behind the ducks -
whose backs were also

covered with snow -
so close
they were all but touching,
thy were all but under

the roof of the ducks' tails,
so the wind, pretty much,
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless,

for maybe an hour,
then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away

out over the water
which was still raging.
But, somehow,
they came back

and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
let them
crouch there, and live.

If someone you didn't know
told you this,
as I am telling you this,
would you believe it?

Belief isn't always easy.
But this much I have learned -
if not enough else -
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn't a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness -

as now and again
some rare person has suggested -
is a miracle.
As surely it is.

A Sanderling...

Today, be grateful for the "little" acts of kindness in this world.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 2

Move over the face of
my deep,
my darkness,
my endless restless chaos,
and create,
O God;
trouble me,
comfort me,
stir me up,
and calm me,
but do not cease
to breath
your Spirit into
my awakening soul.

(Jan Richardson's "Night Visions: Searching the shadows of Advent and Christmas)

In this season of Advent, in the quiet darkness, we are given the opportunity to reflect on our lives. It is a time for us to count our blessings and be grateful. A time to awaken ourselves to the presence of God in our lives. Perhaps the face of God for you is a child, or a parent, or a friend, or a co-worker. Or maybe a stranger... Generally speaking I think gratitude is probably not something we do well, but it is a spiritual exercise we are called to do. Spending time thinking about that which we are grateful for is particularly relevant this time of year. In the hustle and bustle of the season, where do we find moments of gratitude? What are you grateful for this day?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Reflections on Gratitude

We are officially in the Season of Advent. Traditionally a time to be prayeful and reflective. A time to examine our lives and consider how we are participating in God's desire for us, and for the world. A time when we can wonder about the new things God is sirring up in us. Spiritual disciplines are a wonderful way we strive to be connected to God's desire. Spiritual disciplines include many things, prayer is one, and reflection is a form of prayer. For the season of Advent I will offer a daily reflection on gratitude. In this season of shopping and busyness I hope to offer a contrast, a brief opportunity to stop and remember all that have, the blessings of this life.

So on this second day of Advent I am grateful for the willingness of this parish to try new things. We do this in so many ways. But, today, in particular, I am grateful for the choir members who led us through a beautiful chanting of the psalm on Sunday. We pray the Psalm. Singing is also a form of prayer. So, when we sing the Psalm it's as if we have prayed twice. And the handbells added a rich mystical quality to our prayer. I am grateful for the creativity we bring forth in our worship.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Darkness, Even in the Light of Day...


One of my fondest memories from childhood is of lying in my yard watching the stars. The sky, in rural Idaho, offered a breath-taking array of stars that glittered in the night. My brothers and I would lie on our backs, staying awake long after our bedtime to watch the sky. Looking up at this vast, dense display of stars made me dizzy. I had to view them lying down or risk losing my balance.

I often wondered what was out there in the universe; what world existed for me to see as a light glowing in the night, but never visit?

The Season of Advent begins today; traditionally a dark and mysterious time. Advent - a season that hints at things unknown. A time of waiting for a child to be born. A time when we are invited to ponder the ways we know God in our lives and in our world. Advent is a season of darkness; literally and spiritually. Literally because it is winter in the Midwest of the Northern Hemisphere and the sun has moved to the far south end of the sky. The spiritual darkness of Advent calls us to slow down and pay attention.

This call is completely at odds with the reality of our lives, busy, hectic, And - with way too much going on. Many people around us are already living in the Christmas season, but we Christians are asked to wait.

The day, the hour, of God’s arrival in the world is not yet here….

In these days of long nights many of us yearn to hunker down – to hibernate inside our warm homes. But often we end up in shopping malls, busy with our preparations for Christmas. Or perhaps we spend hours shopping on-line. We have our lists and our budget and limited time.

In these short days of dim gray light, many of us head off to school or work in the dark, and return home in the dark. And the daylight in between has a shadowy cast to it. It is not the bright light of summer. Winter has its own dull monochromatic hue. The dim daylight and long nights stir in me a primal impulse to go to sleep early and sleep a long time.

The darkness of these days is an invitation to ponder the dark places of our lives. For some this means a time to be more prayerful. To explore the caverns of our being What needs to be brought into the light? To wonder about hidden hopes and desires…

how is God calling us?

What might God want of me at this time in my life?

What do I need to pay attention too?

Stay awake!

For some the darkness is filled with anxiety. Our instincts tell us to be afraid of the dark, of the places and times where our vision is limited and we cannot see.

We know not the hour.

We fill the darkness with artificial light and push the darkness out.

As we enter the season of Advent we also enter into a new liturgical cycle, a year in which we will reflect on the Gospel of Matthew. Loosely, Matthew is an “historical narrative,” which means it focuses on cause and effect. The events in Matthew deal with the transcendent God, - God with us, God, the creator of all things. All creation, because God created it, is good. However, human beings, while created good, often stray from God. Humans tend to be self-centered, Living with a sense of personal entitlement, And - violent, ultimately rebelling against God’s purposes. The influences of this world are toward power and wealth which are often gained and retained through violence and oppression.

We rarely see the global effects that radiate out from the lives we live…

Violence and oppression were true in the days of Matthew’s gospel, and still true today. We need to ponder the ways we blindly participate in the various factors that cause the problems of this world.

In this season of Advent we will be praying about and reflecting on the Millennium Development Goals. These goals, created by the United Nations urge all people around the world to work together to eradicate poverty and disease. They point us to ponder how we can fix the social imbalances of who gets an education and who does not, of who can earn a living wage and who cannot. We will pray for these goals in our Prayers of the People. Plus, I have created stations around the church and in the hallway outside my office, and in the chapel. Each station focuses on one of the eight goals, offering some statistics, a verse of scripture, and a prayer. I urge you to pray these stations, not once, but often. There is a booklet of evening prayers for lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. These prayers also focus our attention on the MDG’s.

My hope is, that in this season of gift buying, in a time of abundance and sometimes overindulgence, we will remember that we are members of a global world.

A world in which there are many people who live with nothing.

A world in which we can choose to participate as members working to make a difference.

One way we can do this is by purchasing gifts for our families and friends through Heifer International. We will have available, all December, a catalogue and gift cards from which to make a purchase. An entire community can be changed by the gift of one animal.

We can also do this by purchasing Bishops Blend coffee. A great gift basket can be created using coffee and a gift card for Heifer.

Of course we can always close our eyes and pretend that what we don’t see does not exist. Then, we will be like the two who are in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Or like two women grinding meal together; one will be take and will be left.

We are called to do ordinary work in this world, but in so doing, we are to pay attention to the hidden dimensions, the areas we cannot easily see, especially in our comfortable suburban life. Pay attention to the world around us, to the imbalances of justice, wealth, and food;choose to be informed and involved.

Don’t be left in the dark.

In this season of darkness the Gospel of Matthew points us to see God as the light, the one who has come to live among us, a God who is the cause of all existence, a God who inspires all goodness, restores wholeness, and gives life to the dead. God chooses to work in and through us; we are living examples of the incarnation. Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection within this context of cause and effect, good and evil. This Gospel actively strives to prove that the promises made in scripture are fulfilled in Jesus.

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, for all people, Jews and Gentiles,

rich and poor, black and white, male and female.

God, as the human Jesus, shows us that God intends to work in and through the lives of human beings. God is not going to do abstract cosmic magical things. Rather, God creates new life in the events of ordinary every day life,

two were in the field, two were grinding meal…

stay awake.

Pay attention.

God is with us.

This reminds me of the story about an absent-minded professor who became so absorbed in his work that he forgot the simplest details. One morning his wife said, "Now Henry, remember, we are moving today. Here, I'm putting this note in your pocket. Don't forget."

The day passed by and the man came home to his house. He entered the front door, and found the place empty. Distraught, he walked out to the curb and sat down. A young boy walked up to him, and he asked him, "Little boy, do you know the people who used to live here?"

The boy replied, "Sure, Dad, mom told me you'd forget."

Stay awake! Pay attention…

Today’s reading reminds us that although we do not know when, we do know something about how Christ will come again into the world. It will be like in the days of Noah with everyone caught up in the affairs of everyday life –

- nothing wrong with that -

except that everyday life can be all consuming. And the busyness of life has a tendency to prevent people from knowing something deeper – about ourselves, about our world, about our God…

So, it is not about quitting the tasks of everyday. It is about how we live in our interior lives as we go about our everyday lives.

In Matthew the text uses “falling asleep” as the metaphor for becoming lost in the everyday and forgetting that we are called to a deeper level of living. It’s the question so many ask: “How can I be so busy, and yet so empty?” It’s about our awareness of who we are and whose we are and what our lives are meant to be about.

Paying attention can be as simple as developing spiritual exercises into the activities of everyday. For example, a Jewish doctor says a Hebrew prayer of purification every time she washes her hands. Not to purify her, but to remind her that the person she is treating is more than a disease. In other words she says the prayer in order to stay awake to the spiritual dimensions of the whole person even as she attends to their illness.

Spiritual exercises help to ground our lives and keep us awake.

This season of Advent, we are invited to pray through the Prayers of the People,
the Stations, and the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath. These prayers are an invitation to stay awake.

It is a vast world out there, our earthly home, filled with places many of us will never visit.

In the busyness of life,

pay attention, be informed,

understand what is happening around us…


Darkness can exist even in broad day light.