Saturday, June 23, 2012

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

The Nativity of John the Baptist
24 June 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Isaiah 40.1-11; Psalm 85.7-13; Acts 13.14b-26; Luke 1.57-80

For an audio file featuring the sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. service on the 24th, please click here.

            “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”  I sang these words as I was rafting down the Yampa and Green Rivers in northwestern Colorado during the summer of 1978.  Although I had resigned my teaching position at Regis High School in Denver at the end of the academic year, I had agreed earlier in that year to accompany a group of students on an Outward Bound trip.  Since I was one of a very small group of teachers who had any camping and rafting experience, the Principal was holding me to my obligation.

            So, on a calm stretch of river, passing through a canyon known for its echoes, I sang.  First I sang that opening phrase from the musical, Godspell, sung by John the Baptist:  “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”  Then as the echoes began to die, I sang the “Hear, O Israel”, the Jewish confession of faith:  “Shema Yisrael.  Adonai elohenu.  Adonai echad.”  (Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”)

            I have no idea what prompted me to sing these two texts.  Perhaps I was in a pre-seminary frame of mind.  After all, I was bound for seminary that coming September.  Perhaps the sheer beauty of the river and canyon caused my heart to raise my voice in praise of the Holy One whose name is to be blessed at all times and in all places.

            Maybe I was feeling a bit like John the Baptist out in the wilderness.  No doubt there were some folks in the boast and some folks scattered along the river banks who needed to be called, invited to enter or re-enter into a relationship with God.

            Because we Christians have been around for two thousand years, we sometimes forget that we are here, just like John, to point to the One who is to come, to prepare the way of the Lord.  The church, as precious as it may be to God, is not an end but a means to God’s promised reign of justice and peace.  We are messengers, ambassadors if you will, who have been sent out into the world to invite our sisters and brothers to join us in bringing light to those who live in the shadows, in freeing those who live in fear and in liberating those who are held in bondage to ancient hurts.

            But how shall we prepare the way of the Lord?  There are many and various ways, but let me suggest only one this morning.  We prepare for the Lord by offering our neighbours steadfast love, what the Hebrew scriptures call chesed.

            Steadfast love is about planning and working for the long haul.  It is a fundamental commitment to a life-long, a generations-long ministry to all sorts and conditions of people.  Our predecessors here at Saint Faith’s knew what steadfast love was about by  bequeathing physical assets to us to use as a base of operations in this part of the city.  They knew what the needs were in their own time, but they entrusted to us the vocation to identify and to respond to the needs of our own time.  And they prepared the way for the Lord.

            Sometime this week we shall conclude the sale of the Rectory.  While some may see this as a sign of decline, even desperation, on the part of an institution whose relevance has passed, I believe that it has been a decision born out of a deep commitment, an expression of our steadfast love for our community.  We are committed to be here for the long haul and we are prepared to make hard decisions to make this possible.  And we prepare the way for the Lord.

            Later today Christine will be ordained to the diaconate.  The ministry into which she will be ordained is an expression of steadfast love.  She and her sister and brother deacons are the church’s agents in enabling all of us to be the presence of Christ beyond our doors.  They are often voices in the wilderness, comforting the afflicted and summoning the privileged to action.  And Christine and her diaconal colleagues will prepare the way for the Lord.

            Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist.  Canadian Anglicans are one of a handful of Christian traditions that expect this feast to take precedence over a Sunday, a rare liturgical event these days.

            It’s true that the first French settlers saw themselves s preparing God’s way in a hostile wilderness we now know as Qu├ębec.  The early English and Celtic settlers who followed the French shared a similar vision in other regions of Canada.  Their visions were imperial and colonial, an attitude that we have struggled in recent years to shed.

            But the vocation of preparing the way of the Lord is not necessarily imperial or colonial.  It is a vocation of witnessing by word and action to a God whose steadfast love remains unknown to many of our contemporaries, whether rich or poor, recent immigrant or descendant of the first European settlers, young or old.  There is a longing in the hearts of so many to know that they are loved and valued, that there is a deeper meaning to life than the acquisition of goods and wealth.  They need to hear us, in our many and varied ways, singing and living these words:  “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”

            And our neighbours will know that ancient hurts can be healed, that darkness can be filled with light, that the shadow of death can be lifted and that peace, genuine peace, is possible.

            “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”  (Isaiah 40.5ab)  Amen.

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