Well, preparing for today
was humbling and challenging.
Last week, inspired by the birth of my grandson,
I reached for the intangible.
I sought to capture an experience
rather than define or describe
a theological idea
or liturgical season.
Like any effort to capture an experience
for someone else, it failed;
but it failed pretty well.
It wasn’t a laser pointer
but it did hover poetically enough
in the vicinity of the experience I wanted to evoke,
at least according to those who stayed for the discussion.
And if Facebook is any indicator,
it reached about two-hundred more viewers
than an average sermon post.
So, it’s like that old preacher’s adage:
If you take your shirt off to make a point one Sunday,
what are you going to do the next?
Staring at the readings for today,
I just did not want to fall back into the usual –
which is taking an archeological pick and brush
to carefully remove some top layers
of historical soil and theological detritus
so we can see the context
around which the original text was written.
Don’t get me wrong,
I still think that is important.
In fact, I went back to see how I had
addressed these readings in the past.
Since they come up every three years,
I took a peek at 2 Advent, Year C,
all the way back to the year 2000.
I was not impressed.
So I want to lean on T. S. Eliot some more,
even though we do not have a reading from
the Four Quartets this week.
I want to stick our fingers
into the wet glob of goo
his poetry does, with its notion of the unity
of past, present and future.
The unity of past-present-and future is oh-so abstract
in comparison to talking about
John the Baptists’ historical relationship to Jesus.
It’s also not as concrete
as what we know about those two heroes
as we gaze back through the haze
of the Jewish-Roman war
that buried both of them
beneath a historical layer of sand.
The unity of past-present-and-future
is the stuff that cotton candy is made of
and can easily leave us with nothing
but a sugar high.
That’s the risk, but here goes.
In a culturally historic interview with Bill Moyers,
the academic, Joseph Campbell,
who specialized in comparative mythology,
offered us a brilliant metaphor
about the evolving lenses
through which human beings have viewed
life, meaning, and hope.
He pointed out that the tallest buildings
in the great centers of power,
were icons that reflected the central myth-making
power in each epoch of human history.
At first, temples to the gods and massive cathedrals
took the place of pride
as the focal-point of past civilizations.
But at some point,
at least in Europe if not elsewhere,
those religious buildings
become dwarfed by citadels of political power
Great domes, palaces,
and massive governmental plazas
replaced cathedrals as the central focus of cities.
But then, beginning in the twentieth century,
even those most prominent government complexes
are made to look shabby
by huge modern towers of concrete, glass, and steel
built by corporate multi-national conglomerates.
Campbell didn’t live to see it,
but the grandest icons of that world now
are the huge sprawling campuses
of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and
other Tech companies.
It is a visual, even visceral example
of how past-present-and-future
live side by side in the same moment.
In cities both large and small,
these icons of human myth-making
live with one another.
In Geneva, we have 19thcentury
Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist Church buildings
on the hill looking down
on at a 20th century prominent City Hall in the middle of town.
But we do not have a dominant commercial building
because the economy is diffused
between small business, retail, and campus.
The point is this:
John the Baptist and Jesus
live side-by-side in the 21stcentury
with Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson –
and between them are all the highfaluting theologians,
saints, martyrs, and black preachers
that have filled the air
with their ideas and witness.
It is simply impossible
to lift up the Biblical text
as if it were a photographic negative
we could hang to dry in a darkroom
so that we can see what it all really looked like.
Emperors Nero and Constantine;
Doctrines Nicene and Trinity;
theologians Augustine, Aquinas, and Niebuhr;
scandals Galileo, Inquisition, Colonialism,
witch-burning, and sex-abuse;
movements Reformation, Evangelical,
Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, and Monkey-Scopes;
not to mention Evolution, Industrial Revolution,
Einstein, Hubble, and landing on Mars;
all live side-by-side
in the same moment
with John and Jesus.
We are a jumble.
You and I cannot know Jesus and John
without the presence of Karl Marx,
Madam Curie, and Frederick Douglas.
Just think about that…
All that past is folded into this present moment.
And the future?
We know the likelihood
that a comet of enormous proportions,
like the one that blotted out the dinosaurs,
is in our future.
We may not be alive to suffer it,
but we know it is out there – just a lottery pick away.
We also know that the chickens of our decadence
are coming home to roost too –
environmental degradation caused by
our willful neglect, waste, and denial
is piling up and may soon swoop over us
with accelerating speed.
We know that in the future artificial intelligence
and robotics will eliminate nearly all the jobs
and many of the professions
that were elements of the Industrial Revolution
and Age of Information.
If Da Vinci’s drawings of helicopters,
tanks, and flying machines
are an example of the human imagination
wandering centuries ahead of its ability to actualize it,
consider the implications of movie narratives
such as Star Wars, the Hunger Games, and the Matrix.
Past, present, and future
are all folded into the dough
and we cannot separate it.
It all gets baked together
and is in us.
But do you know who or what
lives only in the present?
The one thing
that is neither past or future
While we can fiddle with past descriptions of God,
and read copious predictions about God,
the experience of God
is once and only
in the present – now.
God is manna – that divine food
given to the escaped slaves
to sustain them in the wilderness.
Remember its properties?
It could be eaten
but not stored or hoarded.
It could be harvested at that moment
but never left to the next day.
God is our manna,
available in the moment
but never truly grasped in the past
or predicted in the future.
we can tell the story of baby Jesus
but we cannot re-create the moment.
we can re-tell about the empty tomb,
but we cannot duplicate it.
we can remember what Jesus did
but the experience of that love
is only available
in any given moment we are in.
You see, that is what I think we are,
as church in the 21st century.
We understand now,
that those lenses
which claimed our fidelity
are only blurred glass through which we see darkly.
state house, or bank,
none of them hold the truth about God,
and only God holds the truth about whose we are,
and what we are,
and, most importantly,
what it is we can genuinely hope for.
So, we come here, around this Wayfair altar,
seeking an experience with God,
and sharing our experiences
as we try to figure out with one another,
what they mean.
We have all this past –
these human geological layers of time and history
stacked one upon another –
and we have to sift through it.
And for some reason, it is better done together, with others.
We know sifting through history won’t give us
the experiencewe’re looking for,
but maybe it will open us up
to the experience of God we seek?
And we have all this fear, anxiety, and blindness
about the future –
it is in the air all around us like dust particles
filling our lungs, hearts, and minds with confusion.
By coming together
and sharing Eucharist and food
and the questions on our hearts,
maybe it will open us up to the experience of God we seek?
Maybe that is why we come here in the 21stcentury –
that’s my guess anyway.
We come here,
whether we can name it at the time or not,
to get open.
We come here
to use the past to soften us,
and to look into the future to rattle us,
all so that we might be open
in the moment –
which is the only place where God lives,
and moves, and has being.
If you were to ask me why I come here,
to church, to Eucharist,
to hanging out with fine people like you,
that is why.
A place like this…is one of the few places we can come
where other people gather,
with the potential
to open us up to God
who is present only here
and only now,
only in this moment.