Saturday, December 13, 2014

Voices Crying in the Wilderness

RCL Advent 3B
14 December 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus texts:  Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11 & John 1.6-8, 19-28

         This past week I received a flurry of e-mail messages from my Facebook friends warning me that my account had been hacked.  An imposter was using my profile to send ‘friend requests’ to people who were already enrolled as my friends.  This request offered many of them thousands of dollars in exchange for information about their financial institutions.  To compound the problem, if one of my friends accepted this imposter’s request to become a friend, their own Facebook accounts could be compromised.  The result was an ever-expanding digital weed field, as this imposter’s seeds took root in the soil of my network of friends.
         Fortunately, the damage was quickly limited.  I increased the security on my Facebook account and, as luck would have it, the imposter did not do a very good job of impersonating me.  His use of the English language was quite distinct and all of my friends were fairly certain I do not have thousands of dollars to offer freely.  Betty Boland, our Treasurer, need not fear that I have been raiding the Rectory Fund or any other fund of the Parish to make such offers.
         In the days following the breach I found myself in the position of trying to prove to my friends that I was the ‘real’ Richard Geoffrey Leggett.  My friends would send messages with test questions or situations to find out whether I was truly the person who was their friend.  Some of the questions were simple, others more complex.  My favourite question came from a friend in Winnipeg:  “You’re in a scrum on the 1st of March.  What are you doing?”  Apparently my longer answer was to his satisfaction.
         In today’s gospel John is asked to identify himself.  Is he the Messiah?  ‘No,’ says John.  Is he Elijah returned to earth to announce the coming of the Messiah?  ‘No, I am not,’ John responds.  Is he the prophet that Moses predicted would come, a prophet greater than Moses himself?  ‘Wrong again,’ John replies.  Then who?  “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” is the final answer of John. [1]
         There is much to unpack in this simple quotation from Isaiah 40.  How do we know a voice for God from the other voices in our lives?  Where is the wilderness in which this voice rings out?  Who is responsible for making straight the way of the Lord?  Today I cannot offer my thoughts on all three of these questions, but my experience of this past week led me to reflect on the first question:  How do we know a voice for God from the other voices in our lives?
         God’s voice is an anointed voice.  In the time of Isaiah and of John to be anointed was to be marked out for a special vocation.  It was a public act that had life-long consequences.  Priests were anointed to serve the people of God in their liturgical life.  Kings were anointed to serve the people of God in their political life.  Prophets were anointed to serve the people of God in their covenantal life.  All three:  priests, kings, prophets were called upon to lead their people in doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.
         God’s voice speaks good news.  When those who are oppressed in any way hear the good news that their burdens can be lifted, this is God’s voice.  When those whose hearts are broken by whatever kind of sorrow the world can bring upon us find their heart-strings re-woven and re-tuned, this is God’s voice.  When those who are held captive by social, economic and political forces find freedom, this is God’s voice.  When those who believe that God does care for this world hear the truth that this world is beloved by its Creator, this is God’s voice.  When those who live in the physical, emotional or spiritual ruins of their lives find the strength and will to re-build, this is God’s voice.
         You and I are just such a voice.  When we were baptized, we were marked with the cross, the sign of God’s enduring and passionate love for the whole of creation.  We learned who we truly are and, in the ways that we are able, we have undertaken to live out this love in concrete ways every day of our lives.  When we have witnessed the baptism of others, we have renewed our commitment to this vocation, acknowledging our shortcomings but also giving thanks for God’s faithfulness to us in all times and in all places.  We are counted among those whom God has anointed, set apart for a life-long ministry of proclaiming the good news.
         We know that we are such a voice because who we are is shown by what we do.  Our story as a Christian people is sometimes told as if it were only marked by spectacular failures.  While it is true that we have not always lived up to our vocation, the signs of our faithfulness are all around us.  Public education in the Western cultural tradition is a product of the Christian movement not the state.  Organized health care, as well, has its origins in the compassion of Christians throughout the centuries not in the benevolence of the state.  Slavery was brought to an end, in part, through the efforts of Christians throughout the world.
         In recent decades our voice has been raised to confront those attitudes and practices which have treated women as second-class persons.  We have confessed our failure to uphold the dignity of First Nations and continue the struggle for justice and reconciliation.  We are still engaged in the struggle for the recognition of the full humanity of gays and lesbians, whether in the church or in the world at large.
         Here at Saint Faith’s God has anointed us to preach good news to the many newcomers to this neighbourhood, some who have knowledge of our faith, others who do not.  Through the Pastoral Resource Centre we are helping those in need find housing and security.  Even joyful occasions such as the Christmas Sale have at their heart raising funds to support people whom we are likely never to meet.
         We have been anointed by God’s spirit to be a voice in the wilderness of our own times  that dares to speak on behalf of Christ, the one who makes straight the way of God.  Just as John spoke that word in the dangerous and hostile world of Palestine in the first century, so we speak this word in a more comfortable and at times indifferent world of Vancouver in the twenty-first century.  All around us are people who long for a community of purpose, a community of compassion, a community of prayer and thanksgiving.  Let us lift up our voices, for the Spirit of the Lord is upon us to proclaim the good news that in us, through us and with us Christ is making straight this world’s crooked ways and making level this world’s daunting heights.  Amen.

[1] John 1.23.

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