Sacred Soil

What a Morning
December 2, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Advent 1
December 2, 2012

Jeremiah 33:14–16
Psalm 25:1–10
1 Thessalonians 3:9–13
Luke 21:25–36

I came out in my early 20s. I was deeply involved in the church, as I always have been, but at this time in particular it had become a sort of second family. But this church was not Reconciling in Christ, as we are. And so for many reasons, I kept this new revelation a secret. I took great efforts to hide it, carefully keeping a list of who knew and who didn’t–warily watching, wondering about leaks in my precisely planned system.

The burden of my secret became too much to bear. It exhausted me, stifled me. Sucked my creativity, and made me irritable. So in a moment of great courage, I confided in a friend 20 years my senior. I still remember my fear as I sat at her kitchen table, reciting the words in my head, plotting my escape route if the conversation went badly.

I was stunned, relieved, when she responded with a warm and wide embrace, extending love and acceptance in a way that far exceeded my expectations. She reminded me that God loved me, that she loved me. But then in the next breath, she warned that I should not tell her husband… he just wouldn’t understand. It wouldn’t be ok.

I complied. It got a little tricky at times. But, I valued our friendship so much, that I wasn’t willing to risk it. Wasn’t willing to risk our friendship by letting him really know me… 

But later that summer, at a church gathering, my secret slipped. As friends gathered around a campfire, I came up as the topic of conversation, and my carefully measured list was obliterated. I lost control. My secret was revealed–and I was exposed.

It’s moments like these that make me understand why we are constantly asking, “When will the world end? What will be the signs? How will we know? Will it be earthquakes? A sudden withering of fig trees?”

It’s moments like these, moments when it seems our whole world is collapsing, moments when fear roars like waves, and we faint with the foreboding of secrets exposed, weakness named, our inadequacies illuminated. It is these moments, I think that feed our sense that the world will implode, that everything has been shaken.

Perhaps you have your own story like this? Your own secrets? Your own doubts. Those things you keep safely stored away, hidden from anyone who would use them for ill. Hidden from anyone who might think you weak, inadequate, afraid. 

I know that when Jesus is speaking of these end times in our text today, he is talking about something larger than our own personal fears and failings. Our own individual moments of shame and humiliation. But, I don’t think he excludes theses either– indeed, I wonder, if perhaps, these small moments, our own moments of fear and shame, might lead to this larger sense that the end is near. Perhaps collectively, we have outdone our capacity to keep the secrets, to hide our fear, our weakness. And we know it. And so we look, anxiously, for the end of the world.

We look to portent after portent–because collectively, we know these secrets and shames to be too fragile. We know that we are limited in our capacity to project the perfect story, to ward off signs of weakness, to hide our fear.

Some of us respond to these moments with rage–fighting against the boxes that narrow our capacity. Some of us respond by running away, starting again in a new place, as if the stories could be forgotten. For me, I usually respond to such moments by freezing. I stop cold in my tracks, halt my breathing, rigid, trying to pretend that my existence is irrelevant. Pretending I could just disappear.

That’s how I felt when I felt his hand on my shoulder the next day. My breath stopped, my legs seized. My stomach fluttered. And then he kindly asked, “Can we talk?”

I still admire his courage to this day. Where I chose to hide, he chose to rise up. Where I chose secrecy, he chose honesty. We went for a long walk as the sun washed over us with warmth and grace. He told me he didn’t really understand–that he might never understand, but that our friendship meant more to him than that. I explained to him my fear, how I valued our friendship. He told me he felt the same way.

And in the doing–I felt this weight lifted from me as my eyes rose up to the mountain. My lungs filled with air, I had this sense of what it meant to stand up, and raise my head.

It’s strange–and lovely, that this is precisely what Jesus advises the disciples to do in those moments when it seems the world is collapsing. In those moments when fear and foreboding cause us to want to faint. He advises, stand up and raise your heads.

For many of us, this is precisely the opposite of what we are prone to doing. We want to fight. To run. To freeze. But looking up, well that makes us too vulnerable, too exposed.

But here’s what my friend taught me in that moment–he taught me that in looking up we can receive the love of God. We can receive the promise. We can know that in Christ, we are enough, that we can persevere. For in Christ, our weakness becomes our great strength, our great hope. For in Christ, this is the place where the love of God wells up, where we are made whole.

Truth is, that day could have gone terribly. I’ve had those terrible talks with others where I’ve walked away with regret and a sick feeling. You’ve likely had them too. Those moments when a secret is revealed, when vulnerability is exposed… and all your worst fears are realized. Trust is too often betrayed. We humans can be cruel and unkind–responding to fear with our own. Responding to difference with rage.

It does not do to be naive about this. I cannot promise you that by standing up and raising your head you will always encounter a divine moment. Trust is earned–not merely given.

So rather than a command, I suggest to you that this is an invitation. An invitation to try, an invitation to risk, an invitation to stand up and raise your head, an invitation to hold on to the promise given to us again and again: that God loves us, beyond our capacity to comprehend.

Because here’s the thing, Jesus foretells this collapse, this end of times, in hopeful tones. Yes, awful things happen, but in the midst of this he promises that we will see the son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. There is dread and great reason to mourn–but there is also a power rising up amongst us, one that will lead to justice and righteousness.

And I wonder… what would happen if we could all be as my friend, willing to receive our most painful stories, and willing to extend the love of God, even when we do not truly understand? What becomes of collapse then? What becomes of our fear? our inadequacies?

I know this is asking for more than we can do.  Which is, perhaps why we still long for that day promised in Jeremiah, when we will be ruled with Justice and Righteousness. That day, when we will all know the love of God, written on our hearts. This is why we try, trusting in the promise that some day, we will just know, someday we will be free from such fear.

My Lord, what a morning that will be.


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