« Advent 2 2018 Sermon -- The Rev. Matt Stewart | Main | Sermon Last Sunday of Pentecost - Matt Stewart »

Sermon Advent 1 2018 - Matt Stewart

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

My first emotional response when I read that passage this past week wasn’t fear or confusion. It was exhaustion. Jesus’s challenge to us to “be on guard” and to “be alert at all times,” I just found it tiring. I feel like life all too often demands that I be on guard. Be vigilant. Be on top of my schedule. Be on top of my kids. Be on top of my professional obligations. Be on top of my personal obligations. Be on top of my to do list. I don’t particularly like the idea that Jesus wants me to be MORE vigilant. And the demands on my life pale in comparison to most of those in the world. The undocumented immigrant. The young black male. The transwoman. I’ve got it comparatively easy. What is Jesus up to here? And how does this jibe with other things he says like, “Do not worry” or “Be not afraid’

Well, I think maybe I’ve got it wrong here. Got it wrong about the kind of “being on guard” and the kind of “being alert” that Jesus wants from us. I don’t think that Jesus wants a brand of alertness born of worry and fear. Indeed he says in today’s Gospel, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” So, then, what is this kind of alertness and awareness that isn’t driven by worry?

Well I wonder if the prophets give us a sense of what this looks like. Throughout the church season of Advent, we hear from the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. This week it’s Jeremiah. And then, here at St. James’s, we thought this year for Advent, we’d add in some present day prophetic voices to our readings. Thanks to Meredith Wade, we have four weeks of modern prophets as well as ancient prophets. Today we heard from James Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook.”

So, what does a prophet do? A prophet names with clarity the brokenness and darkness and pain of the world even when others don’t want to hear it. James Baldwin, back in 1963, named how white people, even those who might on some level know better, fail to be able to live with the reality that black folks are not inferior. Tragically I’m not sure much has changed there over the past 50 years. As for Jeremiah, he spent his life traveling around telling everyone how Jerusalem would fall for its faithlessness. No one wanted to hear Jeremiah what had to say. They tossed him in a hole. But Jerusalem did fall.

But here’s the flip side of prophecy. The prophets always also hold on to a vision of hope… a vision of something better that is both coming in the future and also is already present. Light coming into the darkness. And light already in the darkness. This tricky prophetic balancing act, I think it might be that alertness that Jesus asks of us. Of naming what’s wrong in the world and in ourselves with honesty and vulnerability but never being overcome by it because we know that God will make things right and God does make this right.

And you know this prophetic way of living in the world… this way of Jeremiah, and James Baldwin, and chiefly for us found in Jesus… this kind of alertness I think actually isn’t just fear-free but actually does open up for us a deep joy. Somehow. In the breaking of bread at the altar, there is joy. In the relationships we cultivate, there is joy. In figuring out how to live and be when there’s constant construction not only literally outside these walls but also always in our lives, in that chaos, there is joy. In the hard conversations and exhausting demands of life, even there there is joy.

[In a few minutes, we’ll hear from Lisa Hayles. On this Pledge Ingathering Sunday, Lisa will share about why she is choosing to make a financial pledge to St. James’s for 2019. How this place is for her prophetic… asking her hard questions and giving her the hope and joy not only just to make it but for her life to flourish. And then for the communities and worlds in which she walks to flourish as well.] And there are so many stories like Lisa will share in this place. St. James’s is a truly prophetic community… a community that doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff… racism, transphobia, classism, green justice… there’s not an -ism that this place won’t touch. But it’s also a place that allows to face all that stuff not with a sense of exhaustion but with a spring in our step born of the abiding joy that the Spirit pours into us. A sense that Jesus makes things right and so the twinkle in our eye and the hope in our hearts is never taken away. This is what Jesus does at St. James’s Episcopal Church. Amen.