During Epiphanytide 2018, we offered a preaching series on following God’s call. Click through the links below to read or listen to the sermons, and join the Brothers of SSJE in gathering gifts for the journey.
If we know someone is coming, we wait for them. After a while, waiting becomes longing. Now, as we approach the darkest day of the year, we long for the return of light. Now, as we see that “darkness covers the land and deep gloom enshrouds the peoples” (as Isaiah put it), we long for the return of light.
We’ve been celebrating the return of light for thousands of years. Nearly every culture has ways of celebrating the Winter Solstice, the day when the hours of sunlight, having become less and less, begin to increase again.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…” [BCP p. 70] For most of human existence the “perils and dangers” of the night have not been metaphorical or poetic or emotional. The night, the darkness, was a time of actual physical danger—danger from predatory animals, danger from unseen enemies, danger from simply not being able to see things. Darkness could mean death, actual loss of life. And, so, light has become the giver of life. In celebrating light, we celebrate life.
The Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Psalm 146: 4-9
James 5: 7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11
Several years ago one of my favourite newspaper columnists[i] wrote about how she loved going to Church on Christmas Eve, especially if there was a light snowfall that night. She wrote about how she loved to hear the nativity story and sing the Christmas carols familiar from her childhood. She wrote about how she would line up with the other members of the congregation and kneel before the altar, decorated with poinsettias, and receive Communion. She wrote about all this and then ended her column wondering why she bothered because even though she had grown up an Anglican, she had long ago stopped going to Church a long time ago because she didn’t believe a word of what was said in Church on Christmas Eve, or any other day for that matter.
Hearing God’s Voice
If God speaks, why don’t I hear anything?
In the Bible we read that God spoke to people like Abraham, Noah, Moses and the prophets. Sometimes they even carried on conversations with God, conversations we can read in the Bible. God also spoke directly to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Paul. Reading these conversations, have you ever wondered: Why doesn’t God speak to us today as clearly as God spoke to people in biblical times?
There are times when God speaks to an individual in a dramatic or unusual way. But most of the time, we receive God’s guidance in the deep places of our hearts rather than through a voice that audibly speaks to us. In fact, I suspect that much of the time this is what was happening with the people in the Bible as well. I suspect that Noah and Moses and Mary were no different than we are, even if they seem in the scriptures to have heard God’s voice more directly or clearly than we do. I suspect that they heard God much as we hear God, in the quiet movements of their hearts. The scriptures make explicit and dramatic in these stories the way that, most of the time, the quiet voice of God speaks within us.
It takes time and practice to learn to recognize the voice of God guiding us, challenging us, encouraging us, and loving us. Hearing the voice of God is like knowing a person really well, so that you can anticipate what he is thinking or how she is likely to respond. As we come to know God intimately, we will also come to recognize and respond to God’s voice.
The greatest problem we face in hearing God’s voice is taking the time to listen carefully for it. When we are constantly running about and filling our days with busyness, we are less likely to perceive the voice of God. This is why silence and solitude are important spiritual practices. They create the space in which we can ‘tune in’ to that voice. God’s voice is best heard in silence. Why not take some time to listen for it today?
If you’d like to learn more about discernment, vocation, and listening for the voice of God, register for the Saturday workshop at the Monastery . . . .
Workshop: Saturday, November 13, 2010
Join Br. David, for a day long workshop on Discernment in Prayer. The purpose of workshop is to explore the role of prayer in making life choices, great and small, and these choices make up the pattern of our lives.
We conclude tonight our preaching series Breaking the Word where we have been examining several theologically complex words popularly used by the Church, but not always fully understood, and we have tried to break them open in understandable ways so that they may be more helpful in our conversations, but also in our concept of God and the ways in which we pray.
My word for tonight is “Passion”; a concept that is no less difficult to grasp than the others such as ‘conversion’ ‘forgiveness’ ‘grace’ and ‘redemption’ and perhaps even more difficult because of the popular way in which it is used both in our culture, but also in Scripture.
For most of us, and interestingly enough for most of Scripture the word ‘passion’ is connected mostly to the emotions of anger and lust. If you do a word search of the Bible, that’s what comes up.
- For the Lord’s anger and passion will smoke against them.[i]
- Then Judith came in and lay down. Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her and his passion was aroused, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her.[ii]
- Do not fall into the grip of passion,* or you may be torn apart as by a bull.[iii]
- Evil passion destroys those who have it, and makes them the laughing-stock of their enemies.[iv]
- But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.[v]
I’m sure by now you get my point that passion in Scripture is not always regarded as a good thing, and some uses of the word might even make us blush if we used it in certain company. I joked last week that this sermon might have to be posted with a triple X rating if I used a couple of the passages that use the word ‘passion’ in them.
Tonight I want to talk about redemption. It’s also the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, so as I begin my reflection on this theme my mind turns to Ireland, with thanksgiving to God for the work of redemption which has happened over these past years among the people of Northern Ireland.
I spent three summers working in Belfast at the height of the troubles. I saw the ravages of broken relationships, divided communities, fear, suspicion and despair. But I also met extraordinary people who gave of themselves sacrificially to offer reconciliation, hope and redemption to a people in great pain. There have always been such people in Ireland who have given of themselves in order to mend what is broken, to redeem what is lost. In those months when I lived in Ireland I heard time and time again a story which is very dear to me, and speaks to me very profoundly about the deep mystery of our subject this evening. It’s a story which took place in the 15th century in Dublin. Two clans were locked in bitter conflict: the Ormonds and the Kildares. There was a lot of violent killing, and there came a point where the leaders of the Ormond clan locked themselves inside the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to escape death. For many weeks the Kildare clan waited outside, swords drawn, besieging them. But one day something amazing happened. The Earl of Kildare “came to himself,” and said to himself, “This is foolish. We are two families: we believe in the same God, and here we are acting foolishly.” So he walked to the cathedral, approached the great door of the chapter house, and shouted. “Let’s call this off. Let us shake hands.” But there was no answer.
What he did next has gone down in Irish history. With his sword, he began to gouge a hole through the wood of the door. When the hole was big enough, he thrust his hand and his arm through it. (On the other side there were desperate men with swords.) And his hand was grasped by the hand of the Earl of Ormond. They shook. The door was flung open, and the feud was over.
This was an extraordinary act of courage, risk and sacrifice; a great act of redemption; an image of the redemption wrought by God. For in Jesus Christ, God thrust the divine hand of friendship, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption, through the great door separating us from God. And we grasped the hands of Jesus, those hands of love, and hammered nails through them, and hung him on a cross to die. To those looking on it seemed that this man’s life and mission were a miserable failure. Yet, and this is the heart of it, a deeper mystery was silently at work. Through the death of Jesus Christ a far deeper and cosmic act of redemption was actually taking place – the redemption of humanity from sin and death. As the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Eph. 1:7
This evening we continue our series, “Breaking the Word”. We’re taking some of the great big words in church-talk and giving them a closer look. We’ve had now “conversion” and “forgiveness”. Next week we’ll have “redemption”; the following week, “passion”. This evening’s big word: “grace”.
The English word grace belongs to a large cluster: Grace, graceful,gracious, gratis, grateful, gratify, gratuitous, congratulate, ingratiate. All grounded in Latin gratus: pleasing, beloved, agreeable, favorable, thankful.
And in the hinterland of the Latin-derived words are a cluster of Greek words: chara, joy; chairo, to rejoice; charizomai, to give freely; charisma, gift; eucharistia, gratitude, thanksgiving; charis, grace. The core word in the Greek cluster is chara, joy. There’s something of joy in grace.
This evening we begin a five-part preaching series entitled, “Breaking the Word.” Each Tuesday in Lent we’ll be considering a different word. The words we’ve chosen – conversion, forgiveness, grace, redemption and passion – are words that we Christians use frequently but which we may not fully understand. We seldom take time to explore their meaning or to reflect on their significance for us. That’s the purpose of this series.
Tonight’s word is “conversion.” It’s a word that, for some of us, might have some mixed, or even negative, associations:
- It may elicit unpleasant memories of encounters with religious groups or individuals that make it their chief aim to convert others to their point of view.
- It may bring to mind a certain style of evangelism that strikes us as manipulative or intrusive.
- It may conjure up images of “hell-fire and brimstone” sermons, or of massive crusades in which charismatic preachers try to whip up the emotion of the crowd to affect a response to their message.
- It may remind us of people we have know who have been “converted,” but who bore witness to their conversion in remarkably unattractive ways.
As our bulletin notes, the word itself simply means “to turn around.”
Acts 2:29-42 (or 49)
This is the final sermon in a five-part series we have offered here at the monastery during Eastertide. Throughout this series, we have sought to offer hope by examining the experience of resurrection in the early Christian community, as recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and by applying its lessons to our own time. Each sermon has focused on a key word. Tonight the key word is “believe.”
We continue tonight our five part sermon series entitled “A World Turned Upside-down” in which each week a different brother looks at the mystery of the resurrection through the lens of a single word or image and how that word, like the preaching of the apostle Paul and his companion Silas in Thessalonica has the effect of turning our own world upside down. But before I get there I want to do something else.