This Night – The Nativity Sermon of Isaac the Syrian

After all the hubris of 2017 the simplicity of Isaac’s sermon seems particularly poignant and relevant for us.

This Nativity night bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;

This is the night of the Most Gentle One – Let no one be cruel;

This is the night of the Humble One – Let no one be proud.

Now is the day of joy – Let us not revenge;

Now is the day of Good Will – Let us not be mean.

In this Day of Peace – Let us not be conquered by anger.

Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.

Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.

This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.

Today the DIVINE BEING took upon Himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of DIVINITY.

— St. Isaac Syrian, Nativity Sermon, 7th century

Vulnerability

Winter is here. Our local homeless shelter had their first “warming shelter” night where they opened the local community kitchen up overnight for people to come in from the inclement weather. This morning their were several more people in attendance there for our weekly Morning Prayers & Eucharist Service.

In Saint Francis’ day, on a cold night, many took what advantage they could of a big medieval community oven. The stones held the heat from the fire well into the evening, so people found shelter huddling together in the oven. However, as the oven became more crowded the more some complained. Perhaps Francis was tempted to complain as well, instead as he looked around he saw in the ruined faces of the homeless the faces of the brothers and sisters of Christ, and in fact, the face of Christ himself.

In a couple of weeks on December 21st we’ll hold a Memorial Service for those in the Homeless Community who have departed this year. Anyone who has lost someone dear to them, or who is facing their own vulnerability can more easily relate, understand, or have compassion.

Remember the vulnerable.

Between Thanksgiving and Advent

This year is an oddly timed year. Most years Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but this year Thanksgiving is early, and Advent doesn’t begin until December 3rd. So what to do in the in between?

Unfortunately for me, I am dealing with a mechanic for my truck, a plumber for my house, and setting an overdue doctors appointment for…me. Stress, inconvenience, and unwanted necessity seem to be the order of the day.

I walked past a shelf in my home, it holds some icons, a communion cup, some prayer beads, a couple of candles, and my wife just set out a nativity scene in preparation for the holidays ahead. Also, a prayer book is nearby.

I took a few moments, I just breathed and sipped a cup of coffee. I then picked up the prayer book and read the prayers and passages appointed for the day, taking a little time to think and meditate.

And I think that’s what you do with the in between. Do what you must, but don’t forget to breathe and pray.

Practicing Peace

Father, forgive me, and help me to forgive and release those who may have hurt me, intentionally or not. I give the hurt to you and ask in return for more of your love.

And for those I may have hurt, intentionally or not, forgive me and release them from any hurt as well. May they be recipients of your overflowing love.

Amen

Elvis Has Left The Building

…The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands… – Acts 7:48

When you think about “church” what comes to mind? Many people think about the building; a place where songs are sung, a preacher preaches, maybe a place where weddings are performed. The disciples were quite impressed with the Temple in their day. Many churches are small and seemingly unimportant, many churches in America are huge, and some we call “mega”…

In Mark 13 it’s recorded:

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus.  “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (V 1-2)

Every church, big or small, massive or not, may well end up with not one stone on top of another. God may not be so concerned about buildings as we are. He is not necessarily as impressed with our pedigree, status, or building, as we are. Look at the disciples and the early church; The Pharisees and Sadducees  looked with disdain at the unlearned disciples. The early church was basically homeless (by today’s standard), like their Lord, meeting wherever they could.

Peter writes: Living Stones for God’s House

…You are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple…  -1 Peter

Here Peter is using a building as an analogy. God is not building a “Brick and Mortar” church, He has a different building material in mind. Peter is saying YOU are the stone God is building a house from…”living stone”… Not a temple made of brick and mortar, but a “spiritual temple”. 

After we gather we are called to go, to leave the building and go out into the world in peace, to strengthen others, to help them along their way, because we are the church, not the building we meet in.

Festivent and Thankmas

So Thanksgiving is nearing, and along with that comes family time. That’s great much of the time but it can also be stressful. If you remember Seinfeld’s “FESTIVUS” airing of grievances then you understand the paradox of complaining on a day called “Thanksgiving”.

Grumbling defined:

1) To show one’s unhappiness or critical attitude.

2) To make complaining remarks or noises under one’s breath.

3) To murmur or mutter in discontent; complain sullenly.

In the book of Exodus we see account after account of God’s miraculous move (parting the Red Sea, feeding them with manna, provision time and again; however- Moses, and particularly God, had to put up with the children of Israel’s horrid complaining:

-They grumbled because they didn’t have enough water.

-They grumbled because they didn’t like the wilderness.

-They grumbled because they thought Moses was a bad leader.

-They grumbled because they missed Egypt.

-They grumbled because they weren’t yet in the Promised Land.

-They grumbled because they thought God had let them down.

…A real “Festivus”

BUT we can be similar, often we complain and think we’ve been forsaken by God 5 minutes after seeing goodness from His hand.

What are you guilty of complaining about?

Read about the Day Laborers in Matthew chapter 20-

The owner of the Vineyard went out to hire workers:

at       -9am,   -Noon,    -3pm,     -5pm

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first. ’The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius.

So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner…

But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Jesus is trying to show us The Way of a Disciple; not of complaining but being thankful.

God is just, no one will be underpaid. God is generous, everyone will be surprised.

How to practice having a Thankful Heart-

1)Thank God for the Blessings You Have Already Experienced.

2)Don’t Judge Yourself by the Way God Treats Someone Else.

3) Practice Contentment and Thankfulness

 

What are you thankful for today?

Discipleship of Thankfulness in scripture:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

     -Philippians 4:11

Better to have little, with fear for the Lord, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil.

      – Proverbs 15:16

As maturing disciples we must practice the spiritual discipline of contentment and thankfulness, and be that in the world around us.

Humble Spaces Where Heaven Meets Earth

Holy worship in humble places
Heaven and earth meet together
Full hearts resound praise
“Lift up your hearts”
“We lift them up to the Lord”

I sat in a ‘sanctuary’ recently. There was nothing to really make the place beautiful. In fact it was a humble place. An old industrial building in downtown that is being used for a worship space; a church. My church has met in a coffee shop for several years, I have other friends who meet in alternative spaces, a building is a building…

Anyway, this old industrial space, it’s not much to look at but it’s clean and lit with candles, it is a very humble place… but what makes it sacred, what makes it beautiful, is the fact that it is a place where heaven meets earth. Whenever people sing in worship with full hearts, like, as loud as they can with all they’ve got… it’s like we are children reaching up as high as we can, asking to be picked up by Papa!

“Lift up your hearts” is a refrain I hear weekly during the liturgy; the response is always “We lift them up to the Lord”. Heaven comes to earth when we worship; God enters humble spaces to be with us.

Saint Patrick’s War-Prayer

Several years ago I was praying a good part of this prayer when I was almost taken out in a wreck. I was on my Honda scooter when a driver did not see me, it almost turned out very badly. Instead, I laid the bike down and only suffered a torn ACL.

Saint Patrick  suffered more danger than I ever will, and stood face against evil trying to kill him and take him out time and again.

If you feel weak, may HE be strong:

From Saint Patrick, known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate:

So have I invoked all these virtues between me, [and these] against every cruel, merciless power which may come against my body and my soul, against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of heathen, against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry, against spells of witches and smiths and druids, against every knowledge that defiles men’s souls.

Christ to protect me today, against poison, against burning,  against drowning, against death-wound, until a multitude of rewards come to me!

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me! Christ below me, Christ above me. Christ at my right, Christ at my left! Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height!

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,  Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me!

I bind myself today to a strong virtue, an invocation of the Trinity.  I believe in a Threeness with confession of a Oneness,  in the Creator of [the universe.] Salvation is the Lord’s, salvation is the Lord’s, salvation is Christ’s. May Thy salvation, O Lord, be always with us. Amen.

The DNA Of Worship

The early church was a vibrant worshiping community who knew each other and encouraged each other, by mutual sharing and exhortation. The gatherings were intimate and familiar, with shared meals and songs.

The church would grow and change; the liturgy would develop and formalize, and Gregorian chant would become the norm for a thousand years. There would be reformations within the church from Saint Francis, Luther, and others. Luther would write songs so lively they were called “Geneva jigs” marking a return to congregational singing after a thousand years of chant. The church is a constant expression, changing and yet looking quite familiar.

The church has 2000 years of worship to draw from. The liturgy, quotes from early church fathers, prayers, poetry, and the Eucharist (the thanksgiving) all belongs to the church.

What ties all this history together? Today I’d like to discuss three characteristics of worship.

3 Characteristics  of Worship:

1) Drawing near- seeking God’s presence:

The Psalms particularly speak of this drawing near. Worshipers describe a longing desire in seeking God.

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you…Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you…  – Psalm 63

 humble, hungry, joyful…

As we draw near to God in worship we enter into his presence. He inhabits the praises of his people.

 “God has promised to be present in the worship of the congregation.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

2) Worship, Our gift to God and for God:

Our pursuit  of God, our seeking intimacy with God is expressed in worship when we are focused on God, when we sing to God; not just about Him, when we participate in liturgy; not just observe it.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. – Mark 12:30

 

3) Made to know God, Love God, and enjoy God forever:

We are made to worship and enjoy God both now and forever. Case in point as John writes of future worshipers (me & you?) in the Book of Revelation-

And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation… 

-Revelation 5:9

Augustine sums up how it is God who empowers us to draw near and seek, to express and worship, and to enjoy our creator:

  You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty  in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love.  Let us run.  ― Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Stir us up, Lord! Let us love! Let us run!