Thursday, November 24, 2016

Advent 1 sermon


          Welcome to Advent!
          Welcome to the ‘waiting room’ of the church year!
          Today is New Year’s Day for the Church. Unlike the secular calendar we follow in the world, the Church Year begins today: the first Sunday of Advent.
          Happy New Year!
          Welcome to the waiting room….
          But the ‘waiting’ of Advent is not the tedious ‘waiting’ we all hate. This ‘waiting room’ isn’t like the one at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the dentist’s office or waiting in line at the grocery store or at the inbound George Washington Bridge.
          The ‘waiting’ of Advent is a time to wait for the fulfilling of the Promise of God. We are called to ‘wait’ for the Lord and for the gift God is sending us. It is a ‘waiting’ done on tip-toes, with joyful anticipation and excited yearning. It is a ‘waiting’ to lean into like we lean into a strong wind and to reach out—hands and arms open—to receive the Gift, the Child of Bethlehem, the One who loves us best of all….
          Advent is the place where we wait for the Gift to come with the bright-eyed, amazed and wondrous longing of Children. This space of time is where we wait…and, as we wait, we should reflect on the Gift…and on our ‘gifts’…the gifts we have been given and the gifts we have to give.
          Next Sunday is St. John’s ‘celebration of giving’—when we offer to God some of the gifts God has given us and celebrate both how many gifts we have received and how many we have to give.

          To put us in the mood, let me tell you a story. It’s a story about ‘giving’ and a story about the wonder and magic of giving….

          We had dinner with our friends Andrew and Jane in New Haven just over a week ago. They attended the Roast in September and were very impressed with the people they met from St. John’s. They found you friendly and kind and funny…they loved the ‘good humor’ of the evening.
          Andrew wanted to know about our ministry and I told him a lot about what we do around here—the Outreach and Worship and Education and Pastoral Caring—then I told him about what happens on Saturday morning…about the Saturday Program. I told him about the tutoring by volunteers of mostly Hispanic children and I told him about the games Mike Carroll teaching them—games about community and co-operation and personal growth—and about the worship they do together. Then I happened to mention that Victor Matthews had started teaching guitar to some of the kids on Saturday morning. Andrew was intently interested in that. And I told him I wasn’t sure enough kids had guitars…that there were probably some kids who’d like to study guitar but didn’t have one.
          At the end of the evening, when we were leaving, he brought me a guitar case and said, simply, “This is for one of the kids….”
          I thanked him profusely for his gift and told him it was deeply appreciated and would do good things….
          The next morning I showed the guitar to Wayne Levendoski after the 8 a.m. Eucharist. He played it for a while and told me it was a classical Spanish guitar—very finely made with wonderful tone. Then I showed it to Mike Carroll and he took it home and called me later and told me it was not only finely made with wonderful tone but was quite valuable. He wasn’t sure how much--$1500…maybe $2000.
          After talking to several people I thought maybe we didn’t want to simply hand that instrument to a young person who wasn’t really going to realize its value. And I also thought that if we sold it we could buy several more appropriate ‘starter’ guitars for kids.
          So I emailed Andrew and asked him if we could sell it and buy several guitars of lesser value and lesser linage. I asked him if that was OK with him.
          He emailed back and said two things:
                   *he wanted to send us $500 to buy some ‘starter’ guitars, AND
                   *he wanted the “Ramirez”, (the name of the maker of the guitar) to go to a young person (I’m quoting Andrew now) “whose life it could change…”
          He said he knew it was important to worry about the ‘many’ as well as the ‘one’—but he knew the Ramirez in the right hands could be a life altering experience and he really wanted that to happen if it could….

          Andrew wanted to help ‘many’ AND he wanted his gift to change someone’s life….
          And here is the Truth—as clearly as I can tell it—“each of us, in our hearts, are like Andrew”. We each want to help whoever we can with our gifts. And we each want our gift to change someone’s life for the better.
          Another Truth: we can. We can do that.
          This is the season to reflect on ‘gifts’—the gifts we have received and the ‘gifts’ we have to give. And you’ve come to the right place—the gifts you have to give to St. John’s will help many. The gifts you have to give to St. John’s can change lives.
          We all have a Ramirez of some kind in our hearts—in our talents, in our time, in our treasure. And Advent is the place and time to reflect on ‘how to give them’.
          Welcome to Advent—to the ‘waiting room’ of the heart.
          Prepare your heart to receive God’s Gift and prepare your heart as well to give….

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.