Sermons

Dwelling In Love

Christ the King Sunday

Prayer

God of all creation,
before time and beyond space,
we admit to our human limits
as we try to imagine the reign of truth
that you envision for us.
When we follow the fickle powers of our world
and veer from the goodness already within,
the way you desire for all you have created,
give us Jesus.
Give us Jesus, O God—
not a Jesus high and in the clouds,
but bound by flesh and arraigned by authorities
with boldness to tell the truth.
Speak through our words and action, our very being in this world
that your will may be done in our time, and in our space.
Embolden us with the confidence
that your reign will one day come, and is already.
Come, O Strong One, come. Amen.

Dwelling in Love

The United Methodist book of discipline views baptism as a sacrament, that is, an action that God takes (has already taken) toward us, a “Divine act, a pledge God gives to us.” The baptism of an infant, or child, is also a reaffirmation of that baptismal vow made by the parents, the child’s sponsors, and by the congregation. We acknowledge together God’s presence here and now, and celebrating God’s action in the life of this child.

Baptism is not an action by the parents, that as if there is anything we have done to make all things right, new, in the world.

It is fitting that we have a baptism on the same Sunday as College Student Recognition. It is a profound reminder that as a congregation, a community, the church, we are stewards of these human beings from infancy through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Indeed, we walk with one another through every stage and season, and are obligated to one another for nurture, instruction, friendship and discipleship. We covenant with and with each other. This is not merely a handshake, or . . .

The Advent Season is much the same.

It is being present to – dwelling in – the Love that channeled God to incarnate, come in human form. What we’ve gotten away from is that the Advent season emphasizes the agency of God, versus the ‘works’ of human beings. When we focus on the Advent exclusively as one of preparation, we risk making our effort the primary focus. What makes it such a great risk is we inevitably fall short in someone’s estimation, and enter that spiral of shame. “All the Advent preparation in the world would not be enough unless God were favorably disposed to us in the first place.” [Fleming Rutledge]

“To [Jesus Christ] who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Rev1:5b-6

So the Revelations text tells us that because of Christ the King, the sacrifice of his life, entering the realm of death and separation from his Divinity – the mysterious being of the Trinity – we are made to be the kingdom – to actually embody the kingdom. This is not (necessarily) some promise of a far off future of a place in which we will retire for eternity. And not only that, we are made priests – administrators and stewards of providing the conditions for, and orienting, orchestrating the habit of glorifying God – which is what is meant to glorify: that being present to, acknowledging God’s being – in. this. space.

What does it mean to be a priest, then? How does dwelling in Love inform how one might be a priest? Of a kingdom – God’s kingdom on earth?

“A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about His eyes and His voice. There’s something about the way He carries His head, His hands, the way He carries His cross – the way He carries me.’” Frederick Buechner.

It is like being at home. Within myself, within my community, with God. The kingdom of God is a dwelling place – where we are known, where we are safe. Where we are loved. You can’t quite explain it. you just know it when you are there – I’m safe, it’s home.

How are we priests? A priest stewards the sacraments – the symbols that represent God’s presence. When we steward, embody, represent God’s presence in the space we occupy – we act as priests. How is it we best embody God’s presence? Love. Always love.

Ok, so How do you explain what love looks like in practice? This nebulas, ethereal concept? Can we really pinpoint it. Isn’t it more that we know it when we see it, experience it? If I stop and ask, ‘am I loving this person by doing this?’ reacting to her this way? responding to him like that? Or do I feel safe with this person – sharing the precious pieces of myself? Remember last week – the divided self? Do I show you who I am at my core, or who I think I ought to be or you expect me to be?

So, as priests, embodying a kingdom, we steward, represent God’s presence. So what does this look like when things go terribly wrong in this world? How do we answer the question:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

God doesn’t reveal God’s grand design. We could never even begin to comprehend even a corner of the blueprint. God does, however, reveal God’s Self, God’s being, personhood. God doesn’t explain, doesn’t show why things are as they are. Rather, God shows God’s face. This is what we acknowledge and proclaim at a baptism. This is what we orient ourselves around during. Noticing. Being present to – God –with –us.

Fleming Rutledge suggests in the season of Advent (the beginning of the liturgical calendar), our attention is drawn to, celebrates three dimensions at once:

  1. the past: God’s initiative toward the world in Christ (Christmas)
  2. the future: God’s coming victory in Christ (2nd coming, or parousia, made present by the power of the Spirit at Pentecost)
  3. the present: a cruciform (cross-shaped) life of love for the world in the present time (Epiphany, Lent, and Holy Week)

Notice the order – and notice the present is highlighted in Lent, not Advent (though, again, Advent celebrates all three).

Covenanting together. What actually occurs is breathtaking, profound, and absolutely mysterious. God initiates a covenant with us. A commitment, guarantee, pledge, bond – I like the word ‘bond’ – it implies the transaction is binding: bound together, woven – this is what I love about the prayer you just prayed over Acerra: “and from the threads of the life that we share, weave Acerra a covering of thoughts, love and prayer that can grow as she grows and will always be there.” Our covenant with Acerra is woven around her – but living, not a constraint as we sometimes view contracts. Rather, the thread is made out of Life – that is, Love made real, practical, present. And it grows with her – and, it must be noted, it grows with us.

I am a proponent of covenanting. When we initiate relationship with anyone (friend, sibling, lover, child, grandparent) we live out God’s action, being, to us (initiative toward the world in Christ (mas)). When we take this lightly, or refrain from any such commitment, the covering given us has a lower thread-count. What does that mean for bed linens? Rough, stiff, wears out much more easily.

We just now covenanted with Acerra – and Karli and Erik – and many of you have made the same sort of covenant with many of the college students we’ll recognize after I stop talking.

One way to be present is to use a simple lectio divina style scripture readings and prayers guide during the Advent season, with a focused attention on one of these college students, or Acerra, or one of her parents.

I have one such guide you may use – we’ll have them printed out for next Sunday, the 1st Sunday of Advent. Everyone can have one – if you choose to pray with your own family, or however you choose to pray with it, is great. But I would love to send these college students and Acerra and her family go from here with the knowledge that they are being surrounded and saturated with your prayers over these next weeks.

By doing so, you are being present to God’s action on us – a witness to the coming of Christ, and preparation for the celebration of God’s coming into this world – God-with-us. God’s dwelling with us in Loving attention toward us, and gathering us into God’s presence to dwell in that Love.

I have a list I will have at the back with me after the service.

We can also walk together in making a habit of glorifying God – the action of Priests, our designation given us by Christ the King – making a habit of glorifying God through something a branch of the UMC, RethinkChurch has been doing for several years now. They have a strong on-line presence, and use the Instagram platform like a boss. For Advent (and also for Lent) they post a calendar of one word per day. Each day, followers are to use that word as a sort of centering word, mindful of what Jesus is doing in us or reminding us about with regard to that word. If there is something in that day that you notice that represents how you notice that word, take a picture of it and post in on Instagram with the hashtag #rethinkchurch and then # the word. We can also #durandumc. And then we can view how others are also noticing Jesus that day. It is a gorgeous way to make a higher thread-count weave about us as the body of Christ.

Now, many of you are not smartphone savvy – or at least, social-media fluent. But, we have a number of teenagers here, and today, several educated college students! So when you all go down for cake to celebrate Acerra’s baptism with her family, the college students will also grab their bags and probably try to escape out the back. Do not let them! You will learn their names, if you didn’t know them before, so you can say, hey Greer, please help me set up my Instagram account – or, if you’ve been able to do that, but don’t know how to really use it, ask how to post, hashtag, find our church’s Instagram account, whatever.

Then, you might consider making that person the focus of your attention for the Advent prayer booklet.

So as we move into this time of offering our monetary resources, I encourage you to be present to the Spirit of God speaking to you about how you might offer your resource of prayerful presence toward someone else in these next weeks.

 

College Student Recognition

[* indicates change in reader. All students read bold]

*For the potential You see in us

and the possibilities that lie ahead:

Christ be before us.

*For our plans and their fulfillment,

for your promises and their unfolding:

Christ be before us.

*In the problems that beset us

and the perils that ensnare us:

Christ be within us.

*Be around us, above us and beneath us.

On Your path, O my God, and not my own,

be all my journeying.

Rule this heart of mine

that it be only Yours.

Amen.

[from Celtic Book of Daily Prayers]

Blessing/Benediction:

God calls us into the world
to embody a realm that is not of this world.
Go forth now in the name of the one who is,
and was, and is to come.
May God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.