I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Advent Sermon III

So here is my Advent Sermon on Hope. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that it was "joy" week on the advent wreath and, of course, the aforementioned really great pageant meant I had to watch that clock. Also (not a complication but a Joy), my predecessor, the Rev. Micheal Boardman was in the house to visit his friends and former congregants and too watch his grandchildren perform. It was good to see him and his wife, Barbara Prairie. Best of luck to both of them on their journey back south....

I should also note that this sermon was slightly controversial because I implied that I wanted to see Pedro back with the Sox next year. Alas, for he is now joining the Metropolitans of New York and we shall ne'er see his arm again....

Advent III
Eliot Church, 2004
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

It is a great thing to have a Christmas pageant
It makes the whole church feel alive and healthy
But not everyone is so lucky
I once knew a congregation that
Was not so blessed in the way of children
In fact they had almost none at all
And every year the they would struggle
To put on some kind of Children’s service
During the holidays
To get the kids
(What few kids there were)
Out in front of the congregation in some way
Because, as one elder in the church told me
Because where there are children
There is hope
And hope is something we all need

Hope is something we all need
We have all walked on lonely and painful roads
It is part of the human condition
We get sick, we get divorced and laid off
We struggle with our mortality
And with loss

Our loved ones can find themselves in similar situations
And we worry about them, too
There is a great deal of pressure
Growing up and living in our modern world
This pressure often leads to feelings of anxiety
Causing many to wrestle with depression
And others to experience
A hole in their lives that needs filling

Now, Often the way we respond to this absence
Is to lower our expectations
To replace our grand dreams with smaller
Self-focused wishes

This time of year, for example, we often
Regardless of age
Hope for a new toy for Christmas,
Or, if your inclinations lead to baseball
For Pedro to stay in Boston
These are things to make us happy for a while
But this isn’t what the church elder meant
In that small country parish

Instead, the hope of the season
Is the same hope experienced by John the Baptist in prison
When he sent those messengers to ask Jesus
Are you the one who is to come?
John, in the dark of his captivity
Dared to hope that his mission was done
That he had achieved his task as a messenger
To prepare the way
To usher in a new era that John, himself, would not live to see
This is hope for the future

This is the hope of people in war-torn nations
For peace and for self-determination
It is the hope we all have for healthy, happy, productive lives
Safe communities, meaningful contact with the ones we love
This is no Christmas wish list
Or baseball dream

It is the pageant hope, the Christmas hope
And yes, the hope of the Hannukah story, too
Seeing the children come out
And tell the Christmas story once again
Complete with sharks and scorpions
Connects us to the future
Reminds us of our desires
And the expectations we have
For our children’s world

But there are always those anxieties
That sense of absence or general busyness
Can overwhelm us
Not just during the holidays but at any time
If we are not careful

The 19th Century Anglican Priest and theologian
Edward B. Pusey recognized this
And in his writings urges us to
Grovel not in things below, among earthly cares,
Pleasures, anxieties, toils, if thou wouldst have a good strong hope on high

Anxiety, earthly cares, can obscure that trust we have
In God and the future
When this happens our dreams can start to become impediments

But a greater vision one reinforced
By the vibrant striving of our strength
Can help us to survive
In our reading today Reinhold Niebuhr
Writes that Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime
Therefore we are saved by hope

Our faith draws us to great and small tasks
For the benefit of others and we are driven by hope
For we will not see the end of the story

For example, it is this sense of responsibility
Of contributing to others
That has led us to plan
The “100 Year Solution” for our steeple,
Now it may be hard to think of it as
Something not to be completed in our lifetime
But in a real way it is just that
It is a gift not to ourselves,
But to those who will come after
In order to make that commitment we have to believe
That there will be a future/A positive one
At least in the continues presence and ministry
Of the Eliot Church

Still, even as it motivates us to do good things
There is still a flip side to hope
There is despair
Much of what we see in this world
Not just in our personal lives
But nationally and internationally as well
Does not serve to instill much confidence
In the future of humanity

Balanced with the hopeful vision of Isaiah
Of a world where Everlasting joy shall be on [our] heads..and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away
Is the warning of George Orwell
In his novel, 1984
If you want a picture of the future he wrote
Imagine a boot stamping on a human face

Fear of the future can make us lose
The will to be optimistic, to see the good
It can make Orwell’s vision that much more likely
This is a possibility that all of us
Need to be aware of

In 1988, the Baptist Minister
And sometime candidate for president
Jesse Jackson
Ran on the slogan Keep Hope Alive

It was good advice then
And it is just as important
For us today
We must keep hope alive
Fight back despair and fear
And try our best for the long-term goal
Of a kingdom of equals

So, how do we do this?
Many of us volunteer, vote, lobby discuss and participate
In the civic life of our towns and this is good
But it is not the public manifestation
Of the dominion of God that Jesus describes
It is not the public deeds that most of us have trouble with

The question many of us have today is
Is a spiritual one
Not of works but of faith
How do we, not just in the Christmas season
But in the cold, dark days to follow

How do we keep hope alive
How do we keep the desire
And the wonder in our hearts?
How do we keep from becoming too cynical
For our own good?

Well, there are as many ways as there are people
Much of what we do to survive during this time
Is based on our own temperament
And our own spiritual strengths and weaknesses

But, to oversimplify a complex thing
In the time we have left this morning,
Keeping hope alive in ourselves requires
Balance/Balance between
Retreat and Action

Now, when I say retreat
I do mean in the religious sense
Not running away, but things like
Private reflection, meditation, and prayer
And public worship and prayer

The Rev. Eric Wikstrom,
A contemporary Unitarian Universalist
Explains his prayer practice this way:
The central metaphor of my practice is “prayer as journey”
He writes Whatever else it might be—a conversation with the Divine, and internal dialogue, a practice of calming and centering—I think of prayer as a movement into and through the Mystery

What he seems to be saying is that when we retreat with intentionality
From the regular world
We are getting in touch with the transcendent
We are looking for strength and balance
In some cases we are looking for direction and love
Some may not even be looking for answers to their prayers
So much as support in their quest for answers

We must, sometimes, retreat
And strengthened by our time in communion with God
In prayer, worship, and meditation
We must then take our lessons
Out into the world
In order to act on them
Action/Not reaction
Is the key word here
When we do not act out of our authentic selves
Teaching and participating and yes, learning form the world
We cannot expect the future to be bright
For any of us
And we, personally, will not grow

Oliver Wendell Holmes puts it this way:
I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: to reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail and not drift, nor lie at anchor

To act, in other words, is to sail under our own power
Not to stay in port out of fear for the unknown
And not to drift without a guide a compass and a faith

This is truly something to hope for
So in the dark nights of winter
And the frantic days of Advent
And any other time that the way is unclear
Let us take time out to remember
That hope still lives within us
As it lives in our children and in their children

Let us also take the time to pray and work
So that it will always be so