Sunday Sermon

“Look Busy…Jesus is Coming!”

A meditation based on Matthew 24-36-44

1st Sunday of Advent – 1 December 2019

United Church of the Valley, Temecula

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

Several years ago I first saw the small sign in a very busy office of one incredibly efficient office assistant. Her job was to track each student’s academic and financial paths through the labyrinth known as seminary…and she did it well. With her droll sense of humor, Mary managed files, talked to loan agencies, navigated the tender self-esteem of new students, and kept a faculty of Ph.D.’s working more or less collegially.  Not a small feat!

I remember walking into her office one day and seeing the sign…and then laughing out loud! A little white card, with stark black lettering “Look busy…Jesus is coming.”

It is all-too-tempting to take this humorous advice at face value…        especially during Advent and Christmas.  Tempting, to assume that busy-ness is our ticket to meet the newborn child in a manger… Tempting to believe that grown-up Jesus will nod his head approvingly, proudly even, as we add one more party, one more parade, one more thing checked off the already long list of things that absolutely must be accomplished.  Look busy…suggests the Matthew reading today… Jesus is coming.

In many ways, and with amazing technology, we’ve perfected this fine art of busy-ness. We fill our Decembers with presents, planning, decorating, cooking, baking, purchasing, and all manner of participation in the nation’s celebration of civil religion.

Yeah, we know busy-ness…and most of us choose it far too often…But what about the second part of that oft-repeated slogan?  What about the Jesus part? Jesus is coming… Really?

Some 500 years ago, Protestant Reformer Martin Luther boldly taught: WE are to be little Christs to our neighbors, for in so doing we find our true identity as children of God.  This is explosive!  Life-changing! Luther’s phrase—“be little christs to your neighbors” gives us a whole new      experience of Christian theology. Centuries later, Christian author and professor of literature, C.S. Lewis, echoed the words of Martin Luther when he wrote,

“This is the whole of Christianity.  There is nothing else. It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects, [such as] education, building, missions, or holding services…”

Lewis continued, “…the Church exists for nothing else but to draw [people] into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that,

all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time,” he wrote. “God became [Human] for no other purpose… [than] to make people little Christs…”

Another echo of the same radical practice comes from contemporary Process theologian Dr. John B. Cobb. Hear his take on our taking on Christ: “It is the ideal,” Cobb wrote, “for Christians today to be as faithful to God’s call to us as Jesus was in his day…” Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says it this way, …when Jesus said “I am the way…” he meant that to have a true relationship with God, you must practice his way, or walk his path of compassion. And Carter Heyward, former professor of theology at Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts, bluntly asserts that “…God was no more in Jesus than in us; and that truthfully and wonderfully God really is in, with, and among us— intimately and immediately, here and now, forever and ever.  Our spiritual call and ethical opportunity is to welcome this Spirit in our lives, one day at a time.”

Five centuries ago, the religious world was in chaos—and a Spanish woman by the name of Teresa responded by deciding to become a nun. Teresa made that decision at the tender age of 7; she ran away from home to join the local convent.  Fortunately, her parents found her in the woods nearby, and Teresa ended up waiting till she was in her late teens to take her vows. Teresa’s motivation was compassion. She felt such passion with the people who were being abused by the Roman church’s selling of indulgences, the priest scandals, and the like; In reaction to the chaos, Teresa had a vision of people living together in love.  She offered that vision to God through prayer—and it grew and grew over years of time; her vision grew into 17 convents and cloisters, sacred communities, thriving throughout Spain. This would sound like a fairy tale, a happily ever after sort of story, except for the fact that Teresa’s life was not at all an easy one.  She had early childhood diseases, her mother died when Teresa was only 14, she was often quite ill in the convent, and when she was just starting to follow the vision of God in her life, her friends and family told her she was afflicted, mental! What she thought divine, they considered diabolical.

In later years, Teresa and her fellow reformers suffered severe persecution at the hands of both church and state, and a final illness took her life. It was a chaotic time in which Teresa lived, but, as at the beginning of time, the Spirit of God hovered over that chaos…and Teresa was inspired to write a piece that has become famous again in our day. Perhaps you’ve heard it:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which

he looks compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

In other words, Wherever You Are, Christ Is…

Be little Christs to your neighbors…we are to be as faithful to God’s call to us as Jesus was in his day…”

…welcome this Spirit— of God which is really in us, with us, and among us— welcome this Spirit in your life, one day at a time…Christ has no body now on earth but yours…

Do you hear a heartbeat in these various sayings? A theme repeating itself over and over again? We are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

What if that’s what Jesus was really saying,when he taught his disciples to “Keep awake, therefore…?” What if this life isn’t about looking up and waiting for some elusive return of Christ, but rather this life is about looking out with the eyes of Christ and the compassion of Christ and the heart of Christ in each of us… What if Jesus is not talking about himself at all, but rather talking about us… talking to us…inviting us to sit up, to take notice, to watch and pay attention— not only to the world around you, but most especially to step up into your significant and important place in it.  What if???!!!

Some years ago, at the beginning of this new millennium, a group of Hopi Elders offered the world a kind of mantra that I’d like us to repeat as we close this meditation together this morning. It is this: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for…” Said long ago by Jesus, affirmed by Teresa of Avila and Martin Luther, reiterated in our day by John Cobb, Thich Nhat Hanh and Carter Heyward, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

As I read the entirety of the Hopi Elders’ offering, I’ll pause a few times for us to repeat the mantra. Let’s add a musical exclamation mark! Each time we say it together, I’ll play this Himalayan singing bowl. I invite you to let the vibrations of the bowl reverberate in you…kind of like an enthusiastic AMEN, SO BE IT!

Hear now, the Hopi words of wisdom…

You have been telling people that this is the 11th hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.

WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for… And there are things to be considered… Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

Where is your water? Know your garden. It is time to speak your truth. WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for your leader. WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time!” WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.  And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.

WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves.  For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt. WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!  Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

Amen and Blessed Be!

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