Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sermon for the Ordination of Danae Ashley to the Priesthood

Thousands of angels rejoicing in holy dances…

What a glorious day for Danae’s ordination!

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Today is the first day of Hanukah.
Today is the feast day of St. Thomas.
Today is the Winter Solstice.

I think if Danae could have selected any day of the year for her ordination
it could not be better than this day.

Now I must warn you,
I also read on the internet this week
that the rapture is beginning today.
Yes! This very day!

But no worries!
That same internet article that says the rapture begins today—
December 21, 2008--
also notes that the rapture will take until 2015 to complete--
so there’s plenty of time for my sermon,
for Danae’s ordination,
for Holy Eucharist
AND for the festive reception afterwards!
So don’t leave—at least not yet!

But truly, and seriously, today is a day
of an amazingly diverse convergence of happenings.
We hear it in the scripture readings.

Isaiah sees God on a high and lofty throne,
There are celestial seraphs—angels—
flying about with fluttering wings
and golden tongs
and burning coals and cries of holy, holy, holy.
Paul writes to the Ephesians
of the grace and gifts that God showers upon God’s people.
Not a stingy drip drip drip of grace
but showers.
God bucketing a rain of gifts upon us.

And the words of John’s gospel
tell us of a shepherd who willingly risks everything
for the sheep he so loves—
and the good news is
the Good Shepherd loves all the sheep.

So we have this convergence:
--the cosmic entry into the mystery of God’s call;
--the absolute assurance that God will grace each one of us
with the gifts we need
to do God’s work in the world ;
--and the determined and passionate inclusiveness
of One who loves all the sheep,
those lost and those found.

Ordination is also a convergence--
a convergence of all that was and all that is and all that will be--
all that breaks our hearts
and all that makes our hearts sing—

All that has happened in Danae’s life,
in the life of this parish,
in the life of our diocese,
and in the life Church—
with a capital C!

What is God doing in making Danae Ashley a priest?

The truth is
only God REALLY knows.
Ordination is a liminal event that will transform everything about Danae.
Only she –and we—will not have the eyes to see it all at one time.
Danae’s priesthood will be revealed to her
and to us
over and through time.

But what we do know is this:

At some point, Danae heard God ask,
Whom shall I send?
and Danae courageously—
and my guess is,
with more joy and enthusiasm
than some of us will ever muster—
Danae sang out, “Here I am! Send me!”

And God did.
And God continues doing.

At some point, others started looking at Danae
and recognizing that HER gifts were gifts leading her on a journey
to Holy Orders.
And God led.
And God continues leading.

Danae listened and followed and the journey
led from the Diocese of Spokane
to the Diocese of Western North Carolina
via Sewanee
here to Denver.
God doesn’t tend to draw a nice straight linear path for any of us.
You better like twists and turns and switch backs and cloverleafs,
If you are going to follow God’s call.

Today hands will be laid upon Danae
and the Holy Spirit will fall upon her and surround us all
and Danae will be made a priest in our Church.
And we will all be witnesses
to the grace and power of God
continuing to work in the world through humanity.
Today is indeed the convergence of some many miraculous events.

Danae and I share a great love for Celtic Christianity.
You can’t spend time in any Celtic country without noticing
that there are a lot of sheep.
More sheep that people in fact. (That is the honest truth!)

Danae, I pray that God will give you strength and courage and endurance
because being a shepherd is hard work.

I also pray that you don’t spend all your time in your office.
Go out and be with people where they are--
in their homes, at Starbucks,
in a karaoke bar,
in a hospital waiting room..
It’s okay to spend time wandering in the wilderness,
Because you never know whom you might bump into there.
(Just ask Moses—or Jesus!)

As a priest you are called to pattern your life after Christ,
to set a wholesome example for your people.
This is truly important and sometimes truly difficult.

However, I want to be clear.
Danae, some of us would have a very hard time
walking a mile in your shoes,
But we love your spirit of joy and delight,
And by no means do we want you to ever
trade your funky shoe wardrobe
for sensible saddle oxfords!

Paul offers excellent advice to the Ephesians when he writes:
Equip the saints for ministry.

Look at all these saints!!
Remember, you do not have to do it all yourself, Danae.
Encourage and support the ministries of all God’s people.
The best work we do is the work we do together.

I also pray that you will designate one person—one brave person—
and give that person permission and your blessing
to always speak the truth to you.
To speak the truth in love.

That means allowing that one person, when necessary,
to walk into your office, close the door,
and say, “Danae, you are acting like a jerk!”
or “What are you thinking?”
or “You are wrong about this.”

If we surround ourselves with too many people who adore us,
who think we are perfect and holy and without fault,
we lose the ability to see our own brokenness,
we forget the necessity
of falling to our own knees on occasion.
And most dangerous of all,
we start to believe that it is all up to us.

It is not up to us.
It is up to God.

So choose and designate one person to remind you of that
and when they speak the truth in love:
Really listen.
Then act accordingly.

There is an early 6th century hymn that was written on the island of Iona— some say it was written by St. Columba himself.
There is this wonderful line in that hymn:
Thousands of angels rejoicing in holy dances.
That is not just about what it feels like on one’s ordination day.
That is what it feels like to any of us
when we live fully
into the wondrous mystery
of God’s on-going presence in our lives.

Thousands of angels rejoicing in holy dances.

In times of celebration and in times of weariness,
in times of helping someone bear their suffering,
and in times of helping someone share their joy,

I pray that God will keep your eyes, your mind and your heart,
always open, Danae,
so that you will see God moving in your priesthood:
like thousands of angels rejoicing in holy dances.

Holy, holy, holy.

Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’ 
4The pivots* on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph* touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Ephesians 4:7-8,11-16
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
 he gave gifts to his people.’ 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

John 10:11-18
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Sermon for Year B Advent 3


Today is the third Sunday of Advent.

This Sunday we light the pink candle in our Advent wreath.
The color change lets us know there is a shift.
This Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday.

Gaudete comes from a Latin word
which basically translates as “rejoice.”
We have turned the corner of Advent
and are heading straight into the joy of Christmas.
Soon we will be immersed in true joy—joy to the world!

A friend of mine—now in his 70;’s-- recently told me that he grew up
being told that gaudete means SHOUT OUT!
That this pink candle Sunday in Advent is SHOUT OUT SUNDAY.
I love that!
It says it so much better than just REJOICE!

We can think of SHOUT OUT in two ways.
First, in the more traditional way,
we want to SHOUT OUT because Jesus is coming.
That is the Advent story.
We’re happy
We’re excited.
We want to tell everyone.

We can also use SHOUT OUT in a more contemporary form,
Where what it means is a public expression
of gratitude or acknowledgement—
For example, I want to give a SHOUT OUT to Carol O’Neal
for the fine job she does on our worship bulletin every week.
Or I want to give a SHOUT OUT to the choir
for their fine music.

In the Advent domain,
we might give a SHOUT OUT to John the Baptizer
for preparing the way.

John is a wise man.
He knows who he is and who he is not.
He knows what he can do and what he cannot do.

It is interesting that in the Gospel of Mark
we know him as John the Baptizer.
In Luke’s gospel he is John the son of Zechariah.
In Matthew, he is named John the Baptist.
But in John’s gospel
he is just plain John,

The only really plain things about John
Are his dress and his diet.
Because John is noisy and loud.
He is not intimidated by the authorities--
but he is well aware of the game they are playing.

The authorities have come to question John.
What he has been saying
has caught their attention.
There are too many paying attention to John and John’s words
and that is making the priests and the Levites uncomfortable.

Who are you?
It is not a casual question.
Indeed, it is a question that a few years later
will be asked of Jesus.
Who are you?

John makes a point of saying , “I am not the Messiah.”
Priest and author Herbert O’ Driscoll,
writing in his book THE WORD AMONG US,
tells us that John knew
that those who came to question him were afraid.

They were fearful of what John was stirring up
And the way people were responding to his words.

He made the authorities even more nervous
when he told them that the person
he was referring to was already among them:
Among you stands one whom you do not know…
I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.

And John’s message was—and you’re not worthy either!
That message did not sit well with the people in power.

This week I received an email from a young woman
whose family has been friends with our family for a long time.
Our daughter used to babysit this young woman—
who is now 26 years old.
Molly is a gifted artist. Truly gifted.
She makes exquisite jewelry and is very sought after for her work.
She wrote:

I thought you all might be interested in knowing that I am taking a sabbatical, of sorts, and going to Africa for 3 months! I know, its crazy. I bought my ticket yesterday: I leave on February 9 and return on April 25. Total length of stay: 78 days. I will spend my 27th birthday on a different continent.

I will be working with an organization called the Rural Development Center which is located in Cameroon. I will be staying in a very small town called Belo, which is in the mountains. After speaking to a former volunteer and a current one, I really feel like this is right.

For the past year or so, I have felt like I needed to DO something; I just feel like I have more to offer the world than merely pretty jewelry.
It was that last line in her email
that stopped me short.
I just feel like I have more to offer the world than merely pretty jewelry.

From the outside looking in,
I think anyone would believe
that Molly’s jewelry offers the world a lot.

But if we are wise,
we do not live our lives from the outside.
We do not let other people dictate who we are.
We look deeply inside of ourselves and, with God’s help,
discover and celebrate the truth.

These are not easy times in the world.
Sometimes I wonder if there have ever been easy times in the world.

Just as Isaiah was challenged,
that challenge continues with us—
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to comfort those whose hearts are broken,
to walk WITH one another,
to hold hands
when someone—including ourselves—
needs a hand to hold.

Not all of us can—or would choose—to go to Africa like my friend Molly.
But we are are called on a journey to seek the something more
of whom we are.

The spirit of the God is upon each of us;
God has anointed each one of us—no exceptions.
And regardless of our age—
Whether 8 or 88—
the psalmist has it right:

The LORD has done great things for us…

We are not called to sit in darkness
but to witness to the light .

This pink candle day of Advent
is a day that calls us to celebrate, to rejoice--
to give a SHOUT OUT!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sermon for Advent 2 Year B /State of the Parish 2008

What you doing?

My grandson who is four
begins every phone conversation with me with the exact same phrase:
“What you doing?”

And now his younger two-year-old brother
is following in his older brother’s footsteps
and again I hear the question,
“What you doing?”

The grammar may need a little work
but I think it is a good question—
and the heart of what I wish to say to you today is just that:
“What you doing?”
or more accurately,
“What we doing??”

You and I have been doing together now for 18 months.
I feel as if I am just beginning to get to know you
and to understand some of the unique characteristics of this parish.

You have so many gifts.

You give your time, you give your skills and talents,
you give your money, you give your heart.

I thank you for all you do and all you give
and most of all, for who you are—
people who love God and love this parish.

So “what we doing” since our last annual meeting?
Here are some of the "doings" of 2008:

Bishop Johnson came
and consecrated the Weinhauer Chapel and our columbarium.
It is a beautiful sacred space.

Youth and adults were prepared and baptized confirmed and received
when Bishop Taylor visited our parish last January.
He also consecrated our new altar
and blessed the retable
that was so beautifully constructed from our old altar.

Thanks to those who have shared their sewing and design skills
new altar hangings and vestments –that match—
were created and have been blessed.

This church built a house for one of our beloved parishioners.
Our friend now has a warm and safe home.
To think that this little parish could build a house!!
I think a big part of this
was reaching out and asking others—not only from this parish—
to join us and be a part of this project.
So many people said YES. Of course.
People gave their expertise,
their financial support
and their blood, sweat and tears.

We haven’t even officially gotten to the winter season yet
but it has been cold—really cold.
What a blessing to know St. John’s was able
To make a difference in someone’s life
And keep them warm—in body and spirit.

Our ECWs have been active
with their continued caring for one another and the community.
They have studied the Bible,
They have offered the leadership
for assembling “Going Home Bags”
given to women being released
from the Swannanoa Correctional Center.
The whole congregation pitched in and helped with that project.

We continued our relationship with ROOM IN THE INN
and new parishioners are getting involved in that project.

We collected canned goods for MANNA FOOD BANK on a weekly basis and also collected financial donations
for MANNA and for ABCCM

We purchased new software
that will combine our accounting and our stewardship records
into one program.
Those who have worked on our finances do more than you can imagine—
And they do it with little thanks and complete humility.
There work and attention to financial details is vital to our operations.

Speaking of invisible jobs—
there is always garbage to get taken out,
recycling to be done,
and hauling away stuff to the dump on occasion.
You have cleaned up and cleaned out and done good work.

We purchased two new vacuum cleaners to help our Clean Team
do their jobs.
Where would we be without our Clean Team members?
We’d be dirty—that’s where we’d be!

They come in on Saturdays and vacuum and mop
and clean the bathrooms and other areas of the church.

We frolicked and ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday
and then we wore ashes on our foreheads the following day
as we remembered that we are but dust and to dust we shall return.

Holy Week was observed
with services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was celebrated with the Easter Vigil
and with Easter Day services.
We rang bells and sang hymns and cast off our Lenten disciplines
as the church was transformed
with liturgy and music and flowers
and a festive Easter brunch and egg hunt.

Our choir, under the direction of our devoted organist,
Has offered their gifts of music
And led us in singing hymns
from three Episcopal hymnals.
We have also been blessed with special music—
from electric guitar and drums
to clarinet and trumpets
to gifted resident and visiting soloists.

Thanks to a generous gift
we were able to purchase and install a new digital organ.
The installation was made possible because of—
once again, blood, sweat and tears,
offered by members of this congregation—
who worked around the clock to build organ towers
and to accomplish more than they believed was possible.
They did it!
They did it for the glory of God and because of their love for St. John’s.

This parish knows how to BUILD and make dreams come true.

We hosted the Celtic duo CAIM here at St. John’s,
oth in a benefit concert for the Swannanoa Correctional Center
and for our Sunday Worship.

We also hosted, with the other Episcopal Churches in the Asheville Deanery,
the outstanding nationally acclaimed theatre group

Three of us signed up to go on a Medical Mission Trip to Panama.
St. John’s worked heartily with St. James, Black Mountain
in the preparation and planning
and fund raising for this trip.
Sadly, at the last minute,
medical situations for all three participants
prevented us from going.
We recently enjoyed a wonderful slide presentation
by those who were able to go on that mission trip.
Our joy is that we helped make it possible for over 800 children and adults to receive medical attention and medications.

Four members of this parish—along with your rector—and six others— traveled to Wales on pilgrimage.
We’ll hear and see more about that in Sunday School next week.
Don’t miss it!

We celebrated a member’s 90th birthday
with a gala dinner in the Parish Hall!
To be an “elder” in a parish is a position of respect
for it is these elders that bless us
with their wisdom, their humor and their continued presence.

We participated in the Lenten Walk
with other small parishes in Asheville
and gave EYC x 3 a try
working with St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s
to offer a weekly program
for our middle school and senior high young people.
Some of our youth attended Camp Henry,
Participated in the Youth Fall Conference at Valle Crucis,
and one has been selected to serve on the Diocesan Youth Council.

An Architectural Task Force was formed
to begin looking at the needs of our physical space—
both maintenance and repair needs
and possible improvements and additions.

We have had two consultations
with members of the Diocesan Architecture Commission
and the Task Force has also visited the chapel spaces
at Mission and St. Joseph Hospitals
as they continue their work.

We painted the interior of the church—
the last part was just completed this week—
to give the church a brighter, cleaner look.

We received a grant from the All Saints Memorial Day Offering
through our Diocesan ECW
and will make some building improvements
when those funds are released to us in 2009.

Long needed fire extinguishers were purchased and installed
in both the church and the Parish Hall.

Energy efficient bulbs were installed in all the lighting fixtures in the church
To save us money
And to be better stewards of our environment.

Another step towards “greening” the parish was made
by getting the dishwasher repaired and back in service,
by the purchase of glass tumblers by the ECW
and by discontinuing our use of paper products
for dinners and events.

Our memorial garden was cleaned up
and work continues to make it a place of beauty and peace.

We have said goodbye to those we love but see no longer,
celebrated their lives and resurrection
with both tears and joy.
Our memorial garden and our columbarium
are ways we remember those who have been a part of this community and will always be a part of this community.

We have also been blessed to say hello to some new members.
We still need to work on how we reach out to those
who come as strangers.
It is not just a matter of just saying hello
but of learning to see this parish
through the eyes and hearts of visitors
and to respond with holy hospitality.,
by encouraging involvement in both worship and other ministries.

We experimented with several alternative liturgies this year,
including using an alternative liturgy for eight weeks.
The resulting survey shows that we are a diverse congregation.

Three people indicated they hope we never do an alternative liturgy again, Ten people wished we would never return to the Book of Common Prayer.
Most were in the middle
saying they enjoyed the alternative liturgy
and thought we should do it either on occasion
or for a season of the Church Year.
Our Saturday evening 5 pm service
faithfully offers a service of Holy Eucharist
from the Book of Common Prayer continuously.

We had a series of dinners this year to help us in our fund raising efforts
and enjoyed everything from pancakes to a low country boil
to a choir sing along to a cook out.
People—too many to name—worked incredibly hard on these dinners. Those of us who attended enjoined both the food and the conversation
and felt we were able to do something good for the parish
by our attendance and support.

Lots of parishioners helped staff the two Pepsi booths at Bele Chere,
again having fun getting to know one another
and working hot and hard at this fund raising effort for St. John’s.

With the hanging of Penelope Carscaddon’s painting
for the Advent season,
contemporary visual arts
became another part of our liturgical worship.

An evening book study was offered at FILO,
Several from this parish
attended the Diocesan A CALL TO LISTEN discussion
on sexuality.
Others represented St. John’s at Diocesan Convention.

We hosted an intern, Chris Cole,
and were immensely blessed by his presence among us.
Chris has been made a postulant
and will begin his seminary studies next year.
We have been assigned another intern, Dale Carter,
who will begin serving with us this month.
What a blessing for St. John’s!

This past year some of you have been sick,
Some of you were in the hospital.
And some have found themselves
more and more confined to home
or care facilities.
I have tried to be faithful in visiting and phone calls.
This is the area where I feel most limited by my part time status.
There are just never enough hours in Asheville to do the pastoral care as I would like.
I am immensely grateful to the Rev. Jane Smith who continues to bless this parish with her presence, her compassion and her willingness to go when I cannot.

We have blessed palms and backpacks and animals and babyclothes
and hopefully we continue to learn together
about our beloved Church in the EPISCOPAL MOMENT
at announcements.

We offer hospitality to a number of recovery groups and community organizations that use our building.

Thanks to the dedication of two of our parishioners
we have bulletins in our hands each week.
Thanks to others the CHURCH MOUSE newsletter
appears in our mailboxes monthly.

You continue to volunteer your time to serve in so many ways—altar guild, flowers, chalice ministers, ushers, lectors, healing ministry, acolytes. Our goal for this next year is to grow new leadership for these groups; not out of dissatisfaction for the old leadership but for the purpose of keeping parish ministry fresh and alive.

We worship and pray together every week.
That is the heart of all we do.
Nothing is more important than our worship,
Our thanks and praise to God.

We cannot ignore that we are in the midst of Advent.
What a wonderful season to have our annual meeting.
The season of waiting and hoping and expectation.
That to me is where a parish should live.
Waiting and watching
for how God is moving in the life of the parish.
Hoping and dreaming of all that is possible in ministry.
Expectation that God is here and will always be here with us—
to both comfort and to challenge.

God has chosen us to be disciples.
To follow Jesus and to spread the good news in all we say and do.
What a challenge!
We are blessed to have an opportunity to do good work.
You ARE doing good work.

I remember you in my prayers every day.
I ask that you remember me in your prayers as well.

In our scripture readings today we are called to both offer comfort
and to prepare the way.
We do need both those elements.
We need comfort—we need to know we are loved and cared for.
We need to remind one another that God loves us always.

But we also have work to do.
To prepare the way.
And God’s work is full of challenges and changes.
And that takes us back to needing one another.

Love God.
Love one another.

That is both our challenge and our comfort.
2008 has been a year brimful with both.
From my perspective as your priest
And as the rector of this parish,
We are fighting the good fight.
We are running the race that is set before us.
There is great hope and great expectation.

Let us not forget to thank God for all we have
For all we are
For all we hope to one day be.
For all our many blessings, for all our many challenges.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon for Advent 1 Year B 2008

Sometimes a light surprises

You have heard the reading from Isaiah.
Now I want you to hear it in another way:
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why…

No, it isn’t Santa Claus who is coming to town, says the prophet.
It is God.
And God is going to break open the heavens and come down.
Just you wait! says Isaiah.
Just you wait.

And waiting and watching and trying to be prepared
is what this season of Advent is all about.

We wait for the arrival of God
in the human form of a baby.
We wait for the arrival of God
bumping in on our daily lives.
We wait for the arrival of God
mysteriously promised to come again in the future.
Date and time unknown.

The season of Advent begins today.
Things are changing.
Our vestments and altar hangings
have changed to this deep blue-purple hue.
It’s the color of the night sky.
It’s a color you can fall into and dream dreams
and see visions.

Things are changing.
There is the Advent wreath with its four candles—
we light one
each Sunday of Advent.
We wait with expectation.
One candle, two candles, three, four…
Time passes.
Life does not stand still.

In Advent, the cross on our retable behind the altar
and our processional cross are wood,
not our usual shiny brass.
We wait with simplicity,
reminded of the importance of setting priorities,
of remembering what is really important in our lives.

As we stumble towards a manger in a stable,
we are alert to the abundance of our blessings,
and challenged to discern the difference
between what we want and what we need.

In Advent,
our worship changes here at St. John's.
We begin using a different Eucharistic Prayer—Prayer B--
which we will use for most of this church year.
Our hymns changes. They sound different,
in both words and music.

During Advent we pray the version of the Lord’s Prayer
with its King James language
of thine and thy and thou..
We remember our tradition
and we wait in expectation
for God’s next move
in this never-ending story.

And the wall above the retable,
so long blank and empty,
is now graced with a painting—
a painting that offers us
a window into this Advent season.

Sometimes a light surprises…
That is the title this painting has claimed for itself.

This painting, by artist Penelope Carscaddon--
whom we joyfully claim and hold dear
as a member of this parish—
this painting offers us
a way to experience Advent
in a new way.

Throughout Christian history
visual art has been used to communicate
both the doctrine of the Church
and the story of the Church.

It is important to remember that our early Christian ancestors—
and certainly those before them—
were often pre-literate.
They could not read or write.
They learned and remembered by what they heard—
through their oral tradition—
and by what they saw—
through their visual tradition.

The arts tell a story in ways we never forget.

Some people are uncomfortable with abstract art;
by abstract I mean,
visual art that is not pictorial.

I am always amazed
at how comfortable we are with pictorial images of Jesus—
when we have no earthly idea what Jesus really looked like.

Tall? Short?
Fat? Thin?
Bald? Hairy?
Attractive? Homely?
There is not one single word of physical description of Jesus
in the entire Bible.

But the imagination of artists who paint
a clear pictorial image of Jesus
don’t make us uncomfortable, don’t cause us to scoff
or pull away and say, “I just don’t get it.”

There is nothing wrong with realism
(as long as we understand it is only the realism of one imagination)
but we also need to understand
that art is not a one-way avenue.
Something is expected of us, the viewer.

Just as we are expected in the liturgy to respond,
to join in at points,
to participate---
so we are also called to participate in visual art as well.

This painting does not hang here during these four weeks of Advent
to tell us precisely the real and true meaning of this season.

The visual arts are not the answers in the back of the test booklet.
This painting is here to invite us on a spiritual journey.

Spend time in silence when in you come in for worship.
Gaze at this painting and ponder how it speaks to you,
especially how it speaks to you about the season of Advent.
Don’t look at the painting and try to “think” it out—
look at the painting and try to “feel” is out.
The arts engage our hearts.
Be open to that happening.

Look at this painting and pray about your own spiritual journey.
What are you waiting for?
How is the hope, the expectation of advent, alive in your life this year?
Or is it?
Where does your faith connect to the coming of the Light into the world?

Penelope has given us a great gift by allowing this painting
to hang at St. John’s during the season of Advent.
Artists use their imaginations to expand the boundaries
not only of their experience,
but of our experience as well.

Our own experience with this painting
may surprise us,
may wake us up,
make us a little more alert
to this Advent season.

Anything and everything is possible
when we look and pray and listen
with an open and uncluttered heart.

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why….

Jesus is coming to town.
Keep awake.
Stay alert.
Ponder these things in your heart.
But most importantly,
actively expect
the light that surprises.