By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
December 6, 2009
Read: Baruch 5:1-9 and Luke 3:1-6
From Baruch: “For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God”. From Luke’s gospel: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” All flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Such hope filled words. Hope. Hope in a time of great difficulty. Baruch was the secretary to the prophet Jeremiah and this book is addressed to a people in dispersion. They wanted to go home. He also writes of repentance, similar to John the Baptist’s message of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. At the Jordan, the entrance to the promised land where the exodus generation had been “baptized” by crossing the river to show their commitment to live as the covenant community, John proclaims a baptism that signifies repentance and results in forgiveness. It signifies a break from earlier life.
So, we have a lot here today: repentance, forgiveness of sins, restoration, salvation.
Where to begin? Well Luke begins his account of John’s preaching, and therefore, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, firmly in the context of world history. John is rooted in history – a specific time and place into which God spoke and came…God still speaks and comes to people rooted in specific times and places. To you here in 21st Century Coatesville God comes.
The Word of God is unfolding…the word of God is revealed in and is tested by time. In our Philippians reading when Paul suggests that the people who have worked hard for the “harvest of righteousness” will be rewarded – perhaps this reward will be the awareness that the Kingdom of God has been ‘unfolding’ slowly through the work of their hands and the making straight crooked paths.
In the feel-good times of getting ready for Christmas, today’s readings are a wake-up call. But a wonderfully hopeful wake-up call. What are we doing with our life?
In the words of a newly popular song by Bon Jovi, entitled, “We Weren’t Born to Follow,” he sings:
This one goes out to the man who mines for miracles
This one goes out the ones in need
This one goes out to the sinner and the cynical
This ain’t about no apology
This road was paved by the hopeless and the hungry
This road was paved by the winds of change
Walking beside the guilty and the innocent
How will you raise your hand when they call your name?
We Weren’t born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe
Believe that the sun will shine tomorrow
And that your saints and sinners bleed
We weren’t born to follow
You gotta stand up for what you believe
Someone who stood up for what he believed had these words to say:
“I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. also had this to say: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” Which leads me to another man’s story.
My son now plays Rugby and is interested in seeing a new film about to be released on December 11, Invictus. The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela, after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, and during his first term as president, campaigned to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup event as an opportunity to unite his countrymen. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match. The title, Invinctus, comes from the fact that Mandela had the poem written on a scrap of paper on his prison cell wall. The poem, written from William Ernest Henley’s hospital bed ends with:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
Now as many of you know, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid. After he was released and elected as South Africa’s first black president, he preached reconciliation. He preached reconciliation. When he decided to support the country’s rugby team—long a symbol of white oppression—his countrymen were stunned. And Mandela had this to say to the crowd: “Forgiveness liberates the soul…that’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.”
In today’s Parade magazine interview, Matt Damon, as the white rugby captain Francois Pienaar wonders to his wife, “how can you spend 30 years in a tiny cell and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there.” “It makes you consider your own place in the world and your behavior to other people”.
Those are truly powerful words, if explored. “It makes you consider your own place in the world and your behavior to other people.” John the Baptist’s message was one of repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is a somewhat inadequate translation of the Greek word, metanoia, which describes the more basic change of mind and heart and attitude demanded by personal conversion. Conversion or repentance calls for a re-forming of our self- and our life- by turning toward God and away from the evil forces that dominate our world. It is a life-long challenge– do you hear that? a life-long challenge– to order ourselves and our world according to the vision and values of Jesus and to live that out in whatever way we can. God comes to the ordinary – look at Zechariah, Mary, John the Baptist, David, so many– who were all very ordinary people who heard God’s call and followed. The captain of our soul is Jesus. We were born to follow Jesus.
There is a spiritual exercise called the Examen written by St. Ignatius of Loyola. It can be done at the close of every day and involves a review of our day. There are five points to the method. We give thanks for all the blessings. We ask for the help of the Spirit to enlighten us so that we might see with the light of God’s grace. Going back over the events of the day, we look at where God has been present and where we may have kept God out. Express sorrow and ask for God’s forgiving love to heal and strengthen. And then pray for the grace to be more totally available to God who loves us so totally.
I’d like to close with Benedicto written by Edward Abbey:
Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.”
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