Despite the pastel palette, despite the chocolate, despite the fake grass, Easter is jarring. Easter is the unexpected bump at the bottom of the slide that throws you into the air. Despite smiles and joy, Easter is not a neat landing. Easter is a surprise. It is a jolt. Easter is an illogical conclusion.
In December of 1874, the naturalist and writer, John Muir explored the forests of the Yuba River watershed in central California. Muir was a tall, thin man, usually pictured with a bushy beard and a button-up coat. Now, it’s important for us to recognize that, although Muir’s thinking on wilderness preservation and nature was far ahead of his time, his attitudes toward Black and Indigenous people were not. He was retrograde in that way. But Muir’s writing on nature is luminous.
Muir was staying with a friend during his Yuba River excursion. One day a great windstorm swept into the area. Muir tells us that there is always something exciting about the sound of a strong wind in a forest. It flows like water through the trees. It brings scents and ephemera from far off places. The windstorm of 1874’s December was, Muir said, one of the most “beautiful and exhilarating storms I ever enjoyed.” And enjoy it he did. Muir left his friend’s house and began to wonder through the forest watching the effect of the wind in the trees. He saw how they bent, how the great stems pulled at their roots.
Mark, the gospel writer, tells us that the Holy Spirit “drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.” There he was tempted by Satan. He was in the company of wild beasts. Angles showed up to take care of him.
What a charged tableau this is. It almost feels like a screenshot from a video game. Mark packs all this energy and contestation—this fasting, battling, fearing and angelic ministering—into two sentences.
We live at a time when it’s hard to know what to believe. This is curious because every day of our life we have more information available to us than at any prior point in the history of the world. Yet it’s still hard to know what to believe.
The auto-correct feature is a lot of fun. This week I sent a text to someone trying to say that, indeed, I did have Cormac McCarthy’s book in my office. Auto-correct told them I had a book by an author named “Corkscrew McCarthy.” I imagine many of us have similar stories. I say this just to assure you that I know what an auto-correct error can do, and that my chosen topic today is not that kind of a mistake. Today I would like to talk about the “omnipresence” of God. I realize this sounds like a terribly boring topic. But I assure you it is not. So, no, “omnipresence” is not a typo. That’s really what I want to talk about.
The psalmist says, “The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl.” So we pray, oh God, let us hear your voice. Cause us to whirl; cause us to turn.
You can think of this as a New Year’s sermon or as a Lent sermon. In the church calendar Lent is the time when we look inward and prayerfully consider how well we are stewarding the life God has given us. It is annual spiritual maintenance. As it happens, our secular calendar has us doing the same thing at the start of each year. I sometimes wonder if this overlap gets in the way of celebrating Christmas. It’s hard to feast and relax when you know you’ve already committed to losing ten pounds and learning a new language.
“At the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.”
It seems that our gospel reading is a story of a road trip. The culmination is a famous scene. It is the arrival of the travelers at the abode of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus. This scene, usually called the Adoration of the Magi, has been depicted by scores of artists, especially those of the Renaissance. One of the reasons it was so popular was because it gave artists license to use expensive, lavish colors: vermilion red, ultramarine blue and gold leaf. In these scenes the travelers are often depicted in sumptuous flowing garments. The gifts they present to the child sparkle with expense. Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished version is done almost entirely in glowing yellow. Continue reading “On the Road with the Magi – A Sermon for Jan. 3”→
As you know, last week a number of countries, including Canada, closed their borders to travelers from the UK. This was caused by fears of a new strain of COVID-19. It all happened so quickly that many truck drivers from continental Europe ended up stranded outside the port of Dover and the channel tunnel in Kent. One of these was a Brit named Rick Mayo. Rick told an American journalist that he had moved his family to Spain because the cost of living was cheaper. But there he was parked at a rest stop, unable to cross back to France. The BBC said that on Tuesday almost 3,000 trucks were stuck waiting for the border to reopen. Rick said that, even if the border opened in the next day or so, it was unlikely that he would be able to make it home for Christmas.
What our biblical texts offer us today is not so much a moral lesson or something to hope for, but a deep truth upon which to meditate.
Oh God, we believe that the Word was in the beginning, and we believe that all things were made through the Word, and that the Word has come to us, so we anticipate grace and truth . . .
It’s kind of interesting, if you think about it, that David was keen on building a stately mansion for God, but God was comfortable with a tent. David felt bad that, while he met with this assistants and advisors in a palace of stone and cedar, the people met with God in a tent. We sometimes call it a tabernacle, but a “tabernacle” is just an old fashioned way of saying it was a big tent, an impermanent habitation. To the highly-accomplished king David it must has seemed like an old, ratty RV trailer the neighbours parked outback and forgot. Continue reading “Favored Ones – A Sermon for Advent 4”→
God, you who is always with us, guide our thoughts, enliven our hearts, draw us to yourself . . .
Our theme today, on this third Sunday of Advent, is joy. My initial response to this assigned theme, in this particular year, is not positive. So let me begin by quoting a few lines from those who have something better to say. Here’s the New Testament writer John. This is II John 1:2 “Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” John didn’t have access to Zoom, maybe that would have been good enough.
Here’s a second quotation. This one comes from the TV character Dwight Shrute. “I never smile if I can help it. Showing one’s teeth is a sign of submission in primates. When someone smiles at me, all I see is a chimpanzee begging for its life.” Continue reading “Ugh! – A Sermon on Joy for Advent 3”→