The Sunday Sermon...
A purified conscience
SERMON: 4 advent c 12 23 18
As anyone who reads our Messenger newsletter could tell you, I am rather intrigued at the idea in our Collect this morning of asking God to purify our consciences. I find this a most curious concept in general. I find it really helpful in Advent.
We do a lot of things around the church to keep things clean and presentable. We shine. We scrub. We buff. We launder. We actually engage in acts called ablutions which is church-ese for washing our hands. But purifying? That's kind of beyond our skill set. Sanitizing, yes. Purifying? Who knows from pure, anyway?
Purification is the removal of all impurities. When it comes to our consciences, chances are excellent we are not even conscious of many of its impurities. So it stands to reason that if we want to have our consciences purified, we have to turn to the one with that power. That one is God. Only God knows how to improve us in ways we cannot anticipate or sometimes even comprehend.
Now running around between my ears is the kid in the fifth grade who this time of year was always pretty excited about the bicycle he was expecting to get for Christmas. I was anticipating it and I was preparing for it, that is, having notions about all the places I was going to ride on my new bike. I was that sure, you see. I didn't know that Advent, the season that precedes Christmas, was a season of anticipation of and preparation for the nativity of Jesus. I was preparing for and expecting my Christmas joy under the Christmas tree in the form of a bicycle.
That fifth grader who still occupies part of my brain says, "Preparing for Christmas is about shopping and wrapping, and food and...and...and." Why should I be thinking about Jesus? At some level, not to sound trite, this is what the national hand wringing over society losing the importance of Christmas is all about. We've left Jesus out of it. We're focused on stuff: stuff to give, to get, to do. But putting Jesus back in isn't needed; he never left.
Purifying our consciences is what is called for.
We need to clarify our principles, consider our morality, beef up our character. And to do this we need help. This help comes from God. When we ask, when we know we can't do it ourselves, God steps in. It is as though admitting we are in need of God's help is the only way to crack this nut of our impure conscience.
In short, it would appear, this is the entire reason that Jesus came to live in our midst. To show us a way to live that did not require us to submit or be subject to every whim of society or popular culture. Instead we learned from Jesus and the way that he lived that the ultimate achievement was to love God and to love one another. We are not called to become Jeff Bezos or JK Rowling. We are called to be the person we were made by the creator. And the exploration of just what that means is the great adventure of faith.
Learning that God loves us, for Christians, was good news indeed. Knowing that God wants us live as fully as possible into the lives we were born with is also extremely good news. But now we know that only with God's help can we do it. And the way God helps us is by gradually relieving us of the obstacles to spiritual growth which we acquire living in society, living our lives in the world.
So we pray for God to purify our consciences. We need them scrubbed thoroughly so we are not distracted by every shiny thing that comes our way. And we do this because we want to be for Jesus when he returns a mansion, a place of rest and refreshment.
Now this mansion business is challenging, also. Maybe not as challenging as purifying our conscience, but still daunting. The Bible urges us in the Gospel of John to have Jesus find in us a mansion prepared for himself. I mentioned earlier my fifth grader, awaiting my Christmas delight of a new bicycle. Can you remember back then, or maybe more recently, when the notion of a mansion in us seemed laughable? Who can build a big, grand house inside themselves?
The idea of preparing ourselves, to submit to spiritual advancement with God's help is one thing. Or so it would seem. But for a mansion to be in us so that Jesus would have a place to dwell in us--well, the improbabilities and the attendant discomfort would seem to make that impossible.
And yet, if we have with God's help attained a purified conscience, we can more easily absorb the notion that Jesus wants to be in us just as we want Jesus to be in us when we consume Communion. Jesus wants utterly to be part of us the way we are.
We want him --the essence of Jesus--with us all the time. We are reminded of this weekly at the altar rail. The idea that in us would be a splendid place for Jesus--after all, a mansion would have to be splendid, wouldn't it?--is more feasible if we realize Jesus wants not grandeur but purity. Jesus wanted to be a part of our lives. So we accept the idea that our purified conscience better prepares us for the life with Jesus we desire.
It's not so much that our lives are bad; it's that they can be so much more in line with our beliefs, with our Baptismal Covenant, with the relationship we want with God and Jesus.
A purified conscience prepares us for that better life. It helps us make better decisions. It gives us healthier emotions. It offers love to salve every hurt and hope to share with one and all and love for even the least lovely. That is what a purified conscience does for us.
Sounds a lot better than a new bike, doesn't it?
A sermon preached on Dec. 23, 2018, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector
SERMON: Christmas c 12 24/25 2018
We have been listening and watching, waiting and preparing in various ways for this very day to come. Since the beginning of Advent early this month we have reflected on the promises made on behalf of God by Isaiah, Jeremiah and Malachi and others. Visions that God would fulfill the promise made to the House of Israel and the House of Judah, to cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, to bring justice and righteousness; that the messenger of the covenant, the Messiah, was indeed coming; messages of peace to come, a Messiah to change the world was on the way!
This is both old news and today's news. We await the coming of Christ not just on Christmas but every day, that he might inspire us and fill our hearts with love for God and our neighbor, and maybe even do the same for the people around us. This is a time of reminders, reminders of the power of faith, the richness of the story, and its eternal promise lived in reality by those who seek to follow this man Emmanuel, whose name means God is with us.
"Of course he is with us!" we might scoff, then we would quickly remind ourselves of those not touched by Jesus' earthly life, a life lived among humans to show us how it's done, only for Jesus to be rejected. Of course he lives in our midst in the heart of every faithful person, yet the world...the world has yet to hear the message, get the signal, that the way out of the mess we're in, the different messes humanity has been in forever, is always the way Jesus lived, the way of love.
Today we come upon Jesus, born anew, in circumstances not too different from those of thousands and thousands of people around the world today. Jesus' family was dislodged from their ordinary lives by political unrest and persecution also. They were refugees forced to find shelter in a barn with the baby lying in a food trough, a manger. The starkness of this story captures us every year, that God might choose this family, their unusual circumstances, the legendary manner which Mary became pregnant, with the child of God. How could it be anything other than God's paradoxical truth, that the meek shall inherit the earth? That the king of love would not be born in royal surroundings. And, perhaps most inexplicably, that for two millennia the Christian world has been witnessing this set of signals from God and absorbing them as best as they can and living them out, sometimes to great success, sometimes not.
We conclude our readings with the Christmas Gospel of Luke, first chapter, verses 26 to 56. After the the family goes to be registered and the baby was born and the shepherds were visited by the angels who told them to go visit, and the angel chorus sang,
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
Then the shepherds found Jesus and his family and related all that had been told to them by the angels, there is a calm moment. The birth has taken place, the story has been related and remembered, the perils have been recounted. The following line gives us a role in this story. Because it reads,
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
To this point the Gospel story has been nothing but action, busy and worrying and loaded with implication. Then Mary, having only just given birth, is told by the shepherds what they were told. And then she has a moment for reflection.
The telltale shift is indicated by the word, "But." It's like saying, 'on the other hand.' So we are drawn into the contrast between the almost frightening action and the calm of the new mother reflecting.
Mary treasured all these words, of course. Who wouldn't? Here we are two thousand years later and we still treasure the words. The tale, the reporting, is as dramatic as it could be.
But pondering them in her heart is another matter. Ordinarily when we ponder we consider in our thoughts, not in our feelings or in our spirit. Mary is taking these fairly obvious if unusual occurrences and considering them from a spiritual perspective. All along Mary has been a most compliant participant in this eternally unfolding faith journey. And here she is, right after giving birth, pondering these words.
We know where her life goes and where Jesus' life goes. We know the road ahead for them will be anything but tranquil. But we also know this is what the world has been waiting for, this gift from God, this child of Mary's.
We may not ponder these words so much as we let them wash over us, joyfully, ecstatically, even. We delight in the hymns and the strings and the special music of Christmas. Most of us have a long, and some an even longer history of relishing the sounds and songs of the season.
Christmas Eve we will sing:
Good King Wenceslas Deck the halls with boughs of holly
We wish you a merry Christmas O come all ye faithful
Angels we have heard on high While shepherds watched their flocks by night
Joy to the world
Christmas Day we will sing:
Hark the herald angels sing Angels from the realms of glory
Go tell it on the mountain Joy to the world
Pondering these rich delights brings us back in time to our more innocent ages, and also brings into focus the importance of the story of Christ, the babe in the manger.
God did not bring into the world a Messiah who was a prince or from a noteworthy family, except as far as Joseph's heritage included David. God chose a humble family that had already gone through some significant difficulties and had them raise up in their midst God's son.
Despite his humble beginnings Jesus established for humankind ever after a model of living which reflects both his Jewish heritage and the foundational pieces of many of the world's religions. We can ponder his lessons in our hearts just as Mary pondered what had unfolded for her two millennia ago.
The marvels of Jesus surround us this day as they do no other, as we sing out our Christmas joy and praise God from whom all blessings flow, especially the joy at the birth of the newborn Jesus once again.
A sermon preached at Christmas 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev.Tyler Jones, Rector