The Reverend John Smith, Sermon December 18, 2016:
Peaceful Critical Indifference
I entitled this sermon “Peaceful Critical Indifference,” borrowing a phrase coined by theologian James Allison to describe Isaiah’s prophetic recommendation to the people of his day. Early Isaiah’s time was full of turmoil, with lots of political wrangling between the powers around the royal court, vying for people’s support. Isaiah’s prophetic inspiration was that there was a power coming among them so much more powerful than any earthly power, a new Davidic King, who would restore Israel to prominence. Later Isaiah’s vision became even clearer: Emmanuel, God with us, would come among us and be nothing like any other god that humans ever believed in. Believing in this true and living God, in Person, would enable believers to live in this world with peaceful critical indifference, because they came to know the One ultimately in control of their destiny.
This “head” knowledge of God’s ultimate control over creation and history was not enough, however. The believer had to trust his/her everyday life in all its aspects to this Power, revealed in powerlessness and given flesh by a humble young virgin. The whole story from beginning to end was wrought in weakness and impropriety.
Let me explain. Today’s Gospel story relates the struggle Joseph had in taking Mary as his wife. Joseph was a righteous man, and righteous men don’t like being caught in questionable moral dilemmas like being engaged to a woman who gets pregnant during the betrothal. It wasn’t me! Joseph is told in a dream to not be afraid of taking Mary to wife. God was in control. The Holy Spirit was acting. Don’t worry about your self-righteousness: cooperate and trust God’s plan. God is doing something very special with this child. God writes straight with crooked lines! (Matthew’s 1:1-17 Geneology links 42 men from Abraham to Jesus and includes the names of 4 mothers in the whole hereditary line: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba “wife of Uriah.” All these women were Gentiles whom men had taken up with and contributed to God’s plan to bring Jesus into the world. In addition to being Gentiles, there was sexual impropriety and questionable morals among these women and the men involved with them. God’s ways in this world are messy, irregular, and often scandalous!) Mary and Joseph’s story was no different. What is the main takeaway from all this? In a word: inclusion. God’s loving actions that culminate in Jesus’ birth are meant for people everywhere, of every nation, religion, or race. The story of Messiah’s coming is extended to all. God loves you even if you don’t believe, care, or a great sinner!
That’s a wonderful message, but it gets even better! What if, like Joseph, we learn to trust the leading of the Spirit, or, in the words of St Paul, let the Spirit bring about in us “the obedience of faith?” Just as Jesus, after his baptism, was led by the Spirit his whole life, what about us? What does this look and feel like? It is bringing our most often conflicting desires in alignment with God’s own loving desire for all of Creation.
The operative word here is “obedience.” This is not a very popular idea in a time when individuality is foremost. We like to follow our own desires. Our desires though, tend to line up with or mimic the desires of others. Following our desires (really other’s desires), never results in lasting happiness. The only way to true and lasting joy is to attune ourselves to God’s deep desires planted deep in the heart by actual grace given to every person who comes into this world. Responding to this actual grace helps a person follow the desire of the Creator whose love contains all peoples desires and can bring them all into harmony.
This is very Good News. This is the world’s destiny. Political powers will come and go, but we can live peacefully, critically caring for real people, especially the suffering and poor (Mt 25!!), indifferent to all the political ups, downs, and turns of life knowing God is in control. Desire God’s desires. They are within us and all people.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.