Monday, December 17, 2012

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, Joy Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

In John’s gospel, in his final hours with the disciples, Jesus reminds them that joy is the culmination of life in God:

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn…you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. (John 16:20)

Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. (John 16:24)

Jesus succinctly instructs what Paul so eloquently counsels.

Today, the third Sunday in Advent, is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday.  Latin for Rejoice Sunday.  A reminder that we rejoice in waiting for God just as we will rejoice in greeting God. 

And yet, on Friday with sighs too deep for words we, with God, bore witness – again – to unspeakable acts and incomprehensible grief.  And the words of scripture, of Jesus, seem impossible this idea of pain being transformed to joy.

Perhaps some of you know the name Kate Braestrup.  Braestrup is a chaplain in the state of Maine to the Warden Service, the agency that polices roughly 17 million acres of wild land.  As their chaplain Braestrup accompanies game wardens to accidents and on search-and-rescue operations in the Maine woods.  In her first book, Here if You Need Me she shares poignant and moving stories of her ministry.  But she begins by telling her readers how it is she came into that line of work.

Her husband and the father of their 4-children was the one with the calling.  As a career state trooper he was towards the end of his seminary studies about to become a full-time Unitarian Universalist minister when he was killed on the job, in a car accident. 

Braestrup describes in detail the story of that day, remembering the fact that after she returned home from the scene of the accident, numb – her doorbell rang and the friend that was staying with her went to answer it. 
There on the doorstep was a young man “clad in a spiffy dark suit” holding out a pamphlet. “Have you heard the Good News?” he asked.  To which her friend instantly and rightly responded by closing the door. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang again. This time it was an elderly neighbor, pot holders on her hands clutching a pan of brownies, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Eventually, writes Braestrup, I was able to name the truth that was present in that dark time – “I did know good news.  I knew it through those who came to clean my house, do my laundry and care for my children.  I knew it through the embraces and listening ears that assured me that I would not be abandoned to do the labor of mourning alone. I knew it through a neighbor standing on the front stoop with her brownies and her tears: she was the Good News.”

A year later she found herself enrolling in the Bangor Theological Seminary.  And as I said, she is now the chaplain to the law enforcement and game wardens of her community.  She is the one they call when someone riding a snowmobile crashes into a tree; when someone decides to go skating on a beautiful moonlit night and falls through the ice and drowns; when a child or an elderly relative is missing or lost in the vast woods.

In an interview I heard her give[i] she said that as she gets older her theology gets simpler.  She keeps coming back to simple Good News - God is love.  Because how she sees God, how she knows God, is in the small and particular loving actions of the people in the dramas and tragedies to which she ministers.  She sees God in that.  She sees God when she sees love in community. 

And Braestrup speaks of the deep joy she experiences in finding God in this way, again and again.  Rejoicing, through her tears, in this God who is made known by helping others, supporting others; through the small miracles that happen every day when a heart is grateful and love is restored.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 

Paul’s words, Let your gentleness be known, remind us that we are the assurance.  We are the ones who manifest the truth – the Lord is near.

Yesterday I listened to an interview with Rabbi Shaul Praver of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown, Conn[ii].  He was on the scene.  A member of his congregation lost a child.  When asked, “Rabbi you know the question, why do these things happen, will be asked of you.  How will you respond?”

Rabbi Praver replied, “I don’t know the answer to that.  I never try to present a theological answer to that.  I think that it’s more important to have compassion, humanity and hold someone’s hand and hug them and cry with them.  I never liked theological answers to things like that personally, so I don’t try to solve it like a math equation.”

Faith, love, hope, joy - these are not conveyed with words either.  They cannot be explained like a math equation.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 

We have a baptism today!  We rejoice with Claire and Jason, with their family and friends that Emmaline is joyfully brought into the body of Christ.  What a gift to celebrate together.

Rejoice in the Lord!  We have a new priest!  We rejoiced with Josh on Thursday and we continue that celebration today.  The celebration of expectation of the gifts that will emerge from our mutual ministry.

The Lord is near – so pray.  Pray.  Pray.  And listen.  Take a few moments each day and listen for the stirring of God’s joyful song in your heart – and for how God is asking you to share that song, that good news.

Rejoice - Give thanks.  Give thanks for every simple and small gift you experience today!  Family, friends, food.  The opportunity to pray, sing, visit with neighbors and strangers. 

Rejoice and sing!  We will gather at 5:30pm today, rain or shine to make a joyful noise in our corner of the earth.  Join us!

It is right, good and a joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to the Lord!  Be a bearer of good news today – and in the days ahead.  Practice your compassion and gentleness.  Be a witness to humanity’s goodness.  Help God’s love be made complete in you and in the world.

And hold fast to what is too often a fleeting awareness of what a precious gift the joy of simple actions and gratitude brings. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be made known to everyone.  The Lord is near…And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen. 

The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks

[i] “On Being with Krista Tippet” Public Radio International.
[ii] Morning Edition, NPR 12/15/12