Monday, December 7, 2009
Sermon: Adventual Love
Most of you remember that in October I went out to participate in a drug intervention of my friend in St. Paul, MN. I have known Cece since she was 16 and watched her grow into a well-functioning neo-natal nurse, be a contributing part of society, mature into a 40-something woman that was capable and alert, yet after an injury and extensive surgery became a recluse, drugged, hoarding, cat lady unable to pay her bills or take care of herself. My friend Beth and I confronted Cece with her addiction. It was not a happy event. Cece’s denial was strong and angry. She was afraid to see herself as an addict. It was hard to set a mirror before her and ask her to look at what she had become because of the disease of addiction. But the love we had for her was strong and I believe it got through the drugged fog she lived in. This week I got a long email from her. She has completed the initial phase of rehab and has chosen to go into another phase of rehab that will give her the skills to address the world without drugs. She actually thanked us for intervening.
Love is the theme for this Sunday of Advent. Now, I have spoken lots about love—it is the foundation of our relationship with God. Often it is that soft, gentle love that we want to hear about. We want to hear how God goes after the lost sheep, or welcomes us home like the Prodigal Son’s Father. We love to hear the stories of how we are fed and cosseted by God’s saving grace. But sometimes God’s love is a much more terrifying kind of love—like the love that my friend Cece had to face when she had to look at herself in rehab and see that she had become a drug addict no different from the homeless guy on the street.
Adventual love is the kind of love that hears John Baptist’s cry to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Adventual love is a call to look at ourselves and see where we have fallen from the image that God has for us. Adventual love is ‘tough love’, in which God says to us: “I know you are better than you are behaving right now, and I am giving you a chance to do something about it.” And God holds up a mirror for us and shows us who we really are. That is tough love.
Adventual love does not have to show itself in our lives during Advent. Often times that Adventual love catches us when we have made a real fool of ourselves or when we have run away from our failings rather than face them. But that voice from the wilderness is always there—“prepare a place for God in your life.” Until we are willing to move the barriers to the love God has for us, we can never really know that healing love of God.
Adventual love is the kind of love that says we can risk God’s presence in our lives. It says that when we are loved we can face the shame that we carry, we can admit the sinfulness of our hearts, and we can begin the process of forgiving ourselves because God already has. The kind of tough love that God holds out for us is the kind of love that allows us to love others through their faults—a love that can love through the hurt. It is the kind of love we want to be loved by.
When I began my career in ministry—this was long before I was ordained, I began to study Scripture. It was not long after Vatican II and I was listening to and being taught by teachers who had been liberated from the limitations of Catholic dogma to teach the truths of Scripture. To me it was thrilling. It opened up the Scripture to teach me how God’s love was alive and pertinent to me today. It taught me the history, but it also taught me how the truth of the stories could speak to me in my own time. As I went on in my journey in faith I understood that I was called to the Episcopal priesthood, but more importantly I was to teach others how Scripture impacted their lives.
During the past 10 to 15 years I have seen a reaction going on in the greater Church to Scripture that dismays me. I have seen both clergy and lay opting for a kind of scriptural literalism that is quite alien to our Episcopal or Lutheran traditions. I see people read the story of Adam and Even as if it were stuck in some historical time instead of reading it as if Adam and Eve were US—-letting us seen that our inability to take the responsibility for our actions expels us from the Eden of truth. The story of the Fall is not about what happened back then! It is about what is happening in our lives NOW when we do not listen to God’s voice, when we disobey God’s hopes for us.
When we do not attend to the social contract of how we govern ourselves and ignore the gradual take-over by moneyed interests, or fail in our goodness to care for one another in society, are we not like those in the time of Noah that were drowned in the Flood? Have we not allowed our society to become corrupt because of our lack of attention? And will we not bring our world to destruction if we do not attend to our sense of loving community or the needs of our frail Creation?
Does not the story of Lazarus and Dives, the parable that Jesus told remind us that we have beggars on our streets here in Sidney, and we have been cheap and parsimonious towards them? The Bible is our mirror, Brothers and Sisters. The Bible reminds us of God’s love and how we fail in that love. The Bible is Adventual love—that tough love that God gives us to help us become what God intends for us --when we surrender to that incredible lightness of God’s yoke of faithfulness.
In the reading from Malachi this morning we hear of the messenger that God will send. He is not a warm, sweet Baby Jesus:
"But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap;
he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness."
The Messiah that Malachi predicts is a God who will love us with tough love—who will scrub us with LAVA soap, who will refine us through difficult times, who will make our offerings of service and worship perfect through the tough love that demands from us our best. God’s love is both the all-embracing love of the lost sheep as well as the well-tested love of those who have failed and have been redeemed. We cannot help but pass this kind of love on when we have known what it means to be saved.
In this Advent season, allow yourselves to read the Bible. Allow the stories in it mirror you to yourself and allow yourselves to see the habits or deeds that are not what God intends for you. Choose one of them and offer it to God as your gift. Let God take that habit, that attitude, that way of doing things from you as you allow Christ’s refining fire to work in you. Read your Bible. (If you don’t have one, I will give you one.) Allow it to mirror you in the light of Christ’s love. Surrender to God’s washing so that you may be an offering of righteousness, of wholeness and balance, of kindness and generosity as a response to God’s love for you. AMEN