Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sermon on John 1.1-18

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
31 December 207
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Christmas 1, B
John 1.1-18

“Wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sins and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God.”[1] Amen.

This passage from John’s Gospel
            is always here.
It’s always the text
            for the first Sunday after Christmas.
It’s beautiful.   
John establishes that Jesus the Christ
            existed before creation,
and yet as we say in the creed,
            through him all things were made.
 “All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being. 
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.”
“He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him.”
John sets up his themes of light and dark,
            light that darkness can’t defeat.
“[John the Baptizer] came as a witness
to testify to the light…
The true light,
which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.”

I love this passage,
            but I’ve heard so many bad sermons on it.
I’ve heard so many bad sermons
            because John is so philosophical.
John’s prologue deals with
the Greek concept of λόγος
            translated as Word.
It’s an important concept,
            but it’s so easy
to get lost in the weeds
            discussing it in a sermon.
John’s prologue is beautiful,
            and it’s philosophical,
                        and it can be so abstract!

This week in Vancouver
            Brandon and I went to an exhibit
            called “Emptiness”
                        at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
It followed two artists —
            one Canadian, one Chinese —
                        as they moved
from traditional painting styles
                        to contemporary styles
in their own countries.
For the Canadian artist,
            Emily Carr
                        this was a move from romanticism and realism
                                    to more abstract, more spiritual —
                                                more conceptual.
After being exposed to abstractionism
            and the direction visual art in Canada was going,
                        Carr said, “I was not ready for abstraction
                                    I clung to earth and her dear shapes,
                                                her density, her herbage, her juice.
                                    I wanted her volume,
and I wanted to hear her throb.”
On the first Sunday after Christmas
            when John says,
                        “In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God,”
            I don’t want abstraction.
I want to cling to the earth and her dear shapes,
            her density, her herbage, her juice.
I want to cling to Jesus
            taking our injured flesh on himself,
                        breathing our air, walking our sod —
                                    robbing our sins and making us holy.
I want the God born as an infant
            to reflexively wrap his tiny, human, Godly hand
                        around my pinky
John gives me what I want  
when he says about Jesus,
                        “And the Word became flesh
and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father's only son,
full of grace and truth.”
The Word became flesh
            and lived among us.

I’m going to say that again.
The Word became flesh
            and lived among us.
We don’t have to dive into the abstractions,
            into John’s philosophy
about the Word, the λόγος,
            to understand God becoming human
                                    and living with, like, and as one of us.
Christmas is wonderful,
            but we are tempted
                        to make it more sweet than revolutionary.
Some of our carols don’t help.
In the busy-ness of the season
            time spent with family, closing the year,
scrambling for bills, three services in two days
            we aren’t conditioned to think about
                                    Jesus the Word becoming flesh
                                                and living among us.
The Church celebrates this joyous event
            for twelve days.
As Chrysostom says,
            “For it was to Him no lowering
to put on what He Himself had made. 
Let that handiwork be forever glorified,
which became the cloak of its own Creator.
For as in the first creation of flesh,
man could not be made
before the clay had come into His hand,
so neither could this corruptible body be glorified,
until it had first become the garment of its Maker.”

In the Word becoming flesh and living among us,
            the flesh we have has bene elevated to be like God.
All of creation has been redeemed.
I opened with lyrics
from the modern Christmas hymn
            “Welcome to Our World”:
Wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sins and make us holy
Perfect Son of God.
Another verse references
a tiny heart whose blood will save us,
            which I think belies the plea to
                        “Rob our sins and make us holy.”
It skips the birth,
            the taking on flesh and living — living — among us
                        to Jesus’ death saving us.
It misses celebrating the Incarnation,
            for which I render that lyrics
                        tiny heart whose beating saves us.
To miss the celebration of the Incarnation —
            from busy-ness, or philosophy, or rushing to the crucifixion
                        misses the tangible, messy, fleshy reality
                        of Jesus the Word becoming flesh
                                    and living among us.
In Christmastide I am not ready for abstraction.
            I cling to earth and her dear shapes,
                        her density, her herbage, her juice.
I want her volume,
and I want to hear her throb.
I want to hear, to feel, the throb
            of the tiny heart whose beating saves us.

[1] “Welcome to Our World,” lyrics by Chris Rice.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Eve 2017 Sermon

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John Episcopal Church, Lakewood
December 24, 2017
Christmas Eve
Luke 2.1-14

The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ,
            the love of God,
            and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be always with you.
[And also with you.]
Let us pray
“Nature reordered to match God's intent,
nations obeying the call to repent,
all of creation completely restored,
filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.
“Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in our hearts.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
knowledge, wisdom, worship, awe.”[1]
Merry Christmas!

Tonight Christmas is in full force.
We’re even getting a white Christmas,
            it looks like.
We’ve bid the faithful
come and adore Jesus the Christ Child.
We’ve joined angels in singing Gloria in excelsis deo.
We’ve heard the familiar,
            every-Christmas-Eve story
                        of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem,
                                    Mary giving birth to Jesus her first born
                                    wrapping in bands of cloth — swaddling clothes —
                                    and laying him in a manger.
It’s Christmas! Finally!
This year we’re even cut short a week of Advent,
            those four Sundays leading up to Christmas,
                        and yet this year has been a. year.
Let’s just remember some of it:
            Las Vegas.
            The fire in London.
            Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
            California wildfires and South American earthquakes.

In the midst of it all we hear again,
            “Do not be afraid; for see—
I am bringing you good news of great joy
for all the people: to you is born this day
in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Throughout Advent,
            St. Joseph-St. John has been
singing a paraphrase of the song Mary sings
            not long after she finds out that she’s pregnant
with Jesus the Messiah, the savior of humanity.
Throughout Advent,
            I’ve been preaching —
because Advent’s Biblical texts make it clear —
            that coming to church isn’t just to feel good.
Worshiping Jesus the Christ
            requires engaging the outside world.
From Mary singing about the filling of the hungry
            while the rich are sent away empty
                        to the angels bidding peace among all humanity
                                    Jesus changes the world.
The primary act of Christian worship
            is coming together to read from holy Scripture
and break bread.
Breaking bread and pouring wine,
knowing Jesus in our hands, in our hearts,
            incarnate of Mary, incarnate in Bread
                        changes the world.
Tonight, tomorrow,
this Feast of the Incarnation
            we celebrate that God changes the world
            not by dominating others
                        but by coming in ultimate vulnerability:
                                    born, with all the associated dangers.
God becomes human
            not by possessing a grown man
                        but by inhabiting a womb
                                    and nursing for early growth.
God becomes human
            the same way we do
                        in the tenderness of a child,
                                    screaming like so many babies.
God becomes human
            and makes his first bed in a manger
            redeeming all of creation
                        by becoming a part of it.

The prayer that I opened this homily with
            are a verse and subsequent refrain from the choral work
                        “The Dream Isaiah Saw.”
Throughout Advent and into tonight
            Isaiah gives a vision of what the world can be like,
                        what the world is like because God reigns
                                    and when God saves all of creation.
“You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy; 
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest, 
as people exult when dividing plunder. 
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders, 
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. 
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood 
shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us.”

In a year of the Las Vegas shooting and Hurricane Maria,
            we again remember that a child has been born
                        and God has broken the rod of oppression in that birth.
While coming to church isn’t just to feel good,
            it's pretty comforting to know that God loves all of creation,
                        loves each of us and all of us,
                                    to live as one of us,
                                    to be born as one of us,
                                    to live as one of us the entirety of life,
                                                even death.
When we find comfort in this place or at this table,
            I hope we’ll remember a prayer from the Episcopal tradition,
“Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table
for solace only, and not for strength;
for pardon only, and not for renewal.”
That as we eat this bread
            and drink this wine we pray:
Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in our hearts.
May we help bring the dream Isaiah saw:
knowledge, wisdom, worship, awe.

[1] “The Dream Isaiah Saw” by Glenn L Rudolph