Monday, February 23, 2015


Sermon for Year B Advent 3
December 14, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan


The year was 1977.
Our daughter was only two years old.
I remember reading and hearing about this film that was coming
and I remember my husband Tom was very excited--
“I really  want to see this film,” he kept saying.
I wasn’t so sure.

Hmmm...sounds like science fiction to me
and I am not a big fan of science fiction.
So the movie came out, to rave reviews,
but we didn’t see it.

A few years later
when our daughter was 4 and our son was two,
STAR WARS came to the drive in movie theater
in Charlottesville, Virginia.

So we piled our children in the back seat,
brought along blankets and snacks
and off we went to see STAR WARS.

Our children fell asleep soon after the film began
as the novelty of watching a movie outdoors in our car wore off,
but Tom and I were mesmerized by the film.
Even in the rain--
yes, we watched STAR WARS the first time
at a drive in movie in the pouring rain.

I am still not a fan of science fiction,
but STAR WARS was not sleek and futuristic,
it was as one reviewer put it,
rather “dirty and grimy.”

But it had everything a good story needs.

There is evil--the Emperor and Darth Vader.
There is innocence and courage--Luke Skywalker.
There is a risk taker--the surly Hans Solo.
There is intelligence---Princess Leia.
There is an ancestor, a teacher--Obi-wan-Kenobi
and of course, there is wisdom,
the Jedi Master Yoda.

There are also rebels.
Not Confederate rebels, not rebels without a cause
but rebels who are resistance fighters.
Those willing to take risks for the good of others,
to follow the Force and defeat evil.

You see, if we think about it,
STAR WARS has some great Advent themes.

Those who mourn.
Ruined cities.

And can’t you imagine Chewbacca as John the Baptist,
crying out in the wilderness.

It is also interesting--in an Advent sort of way--
that when STAR WARS was re-released in 1981,
they added a sub-title: STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE.

Hope is such a strong theme in Advent.

I do not think that filmmaker George Lucas
sat around pondering, Isaiah and Thessalonians and the gospels
and the liturgical seasons
and came down to breakfast one morning and said,
“You know. I think I’ll make an Advent movie.”

I doubt that is how STAR WARS was created.
But the truth is Advent themes are timeless.

We can read and hear the words from Isaiah
and think,
“Oh, that is so old school.
Who cares about what happened 2500 years ago?”

We should care.
Because truth does not wear
an expiration date.

Scholars concede that this passage from Isaiah?
is not about Jesus coming as the Messiah,
though we can certainly make that leap.

After all, if I can ask you to think of Chewbacca
as John the Baptist,
we can stretch to think Isaiah is writing about,
predicting the coming of Christ.

But historically
Isaiah is writing to a people who are returning from exile.
Returning to their beloved city of Jerusalem.
They do not return to a world that is perfect.
Far from it.
Again, think dirty and grimy.

They find ruins,
both physical and cultural.
The Temple has not been rebuilt.

Yet they still believe that God is at work,
often in unexpected and unpredictable ways.
They still believe the promise of freedom
and comfort and restoration.
There is hope.

We can go to the future in STAR WARS
and we can go to the past in Isaiah,
but the truth is,
we are still called--today--right now,
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners.

The world is still under siege
by troubled relationships
and power struggles.

We are called to be resistance fighters.
To fight off despair
and put on the mantle of light, of hope.
To work WITH God to change the world
in the ways the world needs changing.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 
He came as a witness to testify to the light. 

The truth is we are all sent from God.
We all come as witnesses
and our challenge is: will we take the risks to testify to the light?

This does not mean taking a wooden box
down to the corner of Battery and Cherry,
climbing up upon it
and crying out REPENT!

Then how you might ask?
It is a path we each must find.
Our path, our mission.
But the letter to the Thessalonians offers a great place to start:
Rejoice always, 
pray without ceasing, 
give thanks in all circumstances.

If you think this is mundane and simple-minded advice,
I suggest you give it a try.

It’s not as easy as it sounds
but it is also more powerful than it sounds.

In her memoir MIGHTY BE OUR POWERS (2011),
the Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee
describes how one night she had a dream.
"I didn't know where I was. Everything was dark.
I couldn't see a face,
but I heard a voice,
and it was talking to me —
commanding me:
'Gather the women to pray for peace!' "

When Leymah Gbowee woke up,
she didn’t know what to think
because it sounded so strange--
I mean,  to think she had heard the voice of God
talking to her, in a dream?

Pray for peace?
Peace at that time in Liberia--
after 14 years of brutal and crushing civil war --
seemed absurd.

Estimates at that time
were that 10% of Liberia’s population had been slaughtered,
another 25% had fled the country.
Schools and hospitals closed.
There was no water, electricity or phones.
Starvation, torture, mutilation--
talk about dirty and grimy.

But later that morning,
Leymah Gbowee shared her dream
with some women
at her Lutheran church.

About twenty Lutheran women began
gathering every Tuesday at noon to pray.
They invited women from other Christian churches.

At one meeting, a woman stood and said,
"I'm the only Muslim here,
and we want to join this peace movement."

And do you know what those Christian women said?
They said, “Praise God! Come and join us.”

Muslim and Christian women formed an alliance.
They shared their horror stories.
Training sessions and workshops followed.
They passed out brochures and marched to city hall.
Three days a week for six months
they visited the mosques, the markets,
and the churches of Monrovia:
"Liberian women, awake for peace!"
And they kept praying.
Praying without ceasing.

In the end, these women forced Charles Taylor to peace talks.
After the 2003 peace accords,
these women were instrumental in disarming the country,
registering voters and electing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
as the first woman head of state in Africa.

Pray without ceasing.

Who were these women?
Leymah Gbowee replies,
"They are ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters."

They sowed bitter tears. They went out weeping.
And they acted on their dreams of peace, joy, and laughter
for their beloved country.

These women were resistance fighters.
And they were people just like you and just like me.
Just like us--women AND men alike.

We live in wilderness times.
It is doubtful that wilderness times will ever be in short supply.

But we are still called to raise our voices
so there is never a doubt
that there is always hope.
That justice is always a possibility.

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.

God calls us to resist despair.
to resist injustice.
Our world is not sleek and neat.
dirty and grimy.

We are called to be resistance fighters.
think John the Baptist,
think Jesus,
think women of Liberia,
think you and me.

We are not the Messiah
but we too can be voices crying out in the wilderness.

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