- The Rev. Arianne Rice
Yesterday I joined with about 200 or more people in a joyful worship experience down in Alexandria. Do you know what makes for a joyful worship experience? Well prepared liturgy! We were gathered together to sing and pray and raise our hands and lay our hands on 8 men and women, Matt included – to ordain them priests in God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church – and we were done in under 2 hours! That is preparation.
The preacher delivered an inspiring sermon which was definitely well prepared – on chapter 6 of Isaiah – where with an eagerness only the
newly ordained know – the prophet Isaiah also raises his hand to say, “Here I am Lord, send me!” And yesterday, like every other time we read that scripture we leave out the next part – where he has second thoughts….
Anyway, it was a joy to be there. And if I’m totally honest, as much as I would have loved to have been here, and seen Matt ordained at our altar – putting together worship is a lot of work, so I was really grateful – to just show up, stand where I was told – and enjoy the rarest of gifts, getting to worship in a pew with my daughter. All the preparations had been done by everyone else – Matt included, he even brought our banner for the procession.
As I know and you know – preparing for the big events in life takes a lot of work. And this the second Sunday of Advent – preparing for the big event is what it’s all about.
Merciful God who sent the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation!
See, I am sending my messenger ahead to prepare the way!
You, my child shall be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord and prepare his way!
The word of God came to John in the wilderness – as it is written in the book of Isaiah – the voice of one crying out – prepare the way of the Lord makes his paths straight!
The word hits us like a 2x4 – prepare, prepare, prepare.
And if the big events in life – like ordinations – or getting ready for Christmas – require so much preparation – what on earth must be involved in preparing for Almighty God.
Do you feel up to that task? Are we up to the task? What does preparing for God, preparing for salvation, even mean?
This is going to really surprise you. Jesus has the answer. He tells us exactly how to prepare. Go into a room and close the door – and pray (Matthew 6). Pray in the secret of your heart, he says. You don’t have to say anything, prepare heaps of words – just open your heart to your Father in heaven.
Remember when Martha and Mary are preparing to host a big Christmas-like dinner at their house for Jesus and a bunch of other people (Luke 10:38ff)? And Martha is frustrated that her sister isn’t helping? She is just sitting there at the feet of Christ? Martha, Martha, Martha – Jesus says, not frustrated with her, just hoping she will pause in her preparations to see – that Mary is preparing, truly preparing by being with God.
The first task is the hardest task – we are much better at the busyness. But the first task, for which I was grateful to be reminded of yesterday – is to pattern our lives on Jesus. And what he did, and what we need to do – over and over and over again – so we can be reborn.
And its hard to pattern our lives on a lot of things Jesus does – healing the sick, casting out demons, proclaiming the good news, reaching out to the poor, calming the storm, feeding the 5,000, walking on water, speaking out against injustice – laying down his life.
Those are hard and we tend to see them as impossible. But there is one thing Jesus teaches and Jesus does that all of us can do – he goes off by himself to pray. Giving our heart, mind and spirit to the one who gave us a heart, mind and spirit – is the first and most important task – each and every day.
This week I also attended a lecture – a talk – by Laurence Freeman. He is a priest and Benedictine monk who is the director of the World Community of Christian Meditation. Which, as you can imagine was what he talked about. Reminding me of the earliest definition of prayer – the laying aside of our thoughts, our petitions, our intercessions. Because, as Jesus says, God with sighs too deep for words, knows what we need to pray.
He reminded us, certainly reminded me, of something I’d forgotten. That the monastic movement – which began in the 4th and 5 centuries – people going into the desert, like John the Baptist – to pray, so that the word of God could come – that started not with priests, but with laity. We think of monasteries as where the super-religious are, but it started with people in the pews. Who felt that as the church was growing more religious – it was getting less spiritual. Preparing people more for church – than for God. And they wanted to get back to basics – reading the teachings of Jesus and prayer. Less doing – more being.
The first people to go out into the desert – like John the Baptist – were the people who felt that the church was getting overly concerned about being church – preparing people for church. That religiosity was more important than spirituality. And they wanted to get back to basics – reading scripture and prayer. Alone and together. Less doing – more being.
The day of his lecture, Freeman had been at Georgetown talking with students. Georgetown is home to the John Main Center for Christian Meditation. Teaching classes in the MBA program – such as “Leading from the Center” – what meditation has to offer leadership. And also offering space for ecumenical and interreligious group prayer and meditation. Encouraging individuals in the discipline of a regular practice.
And Freeman was engaged in a conversation with a student who was religious in their discipline – 2x a day, 20minutes – can you imagine. And the student said – but what am I doing it for, again? When will a see the result? What am I hoping to achieve?
When we prepare for things, events – that tends to be how we look at it. We put in our efforts and then we get our results, our reward. But we didn’t pray – Merciful God who sent the prophets to preach achievement and accomplishment – did we? God sent the prophets to preach repentance. Advent is a season of repentance.
And repentance doesn’t mean saying, “I’m sorry” it means – turning our hearts, mind, body and spirit – over to the one who gave us a heart, mind, body and spirit. Repentance means – thy will be done. And that is hard – to lay aside our thoughts, our goals, our preparations – and allow God in, to prepare our hearts.
The scripture this morning that talks more about preparation than any other – is St. Paul – who in prayer and gratitude reminds us that God will complete the good work begun within and among us. God will bring us to fruition – not our preparation – but God.
So consider the gift of that preparation – a gift you can give yourself – to lay aside your busyness of doing – the busyness of thinking – and rest, abide in the one in whom we live and move and have our being. Abide in love.
I can only imagine what our world could be – if every person, ,every day – laid aside their thoughts to abide in our creator. Perhaps that is the second coming the God of Love is waiting for? Amen.