December 1, 2019

2019 Dec1_FrIan

Advent 1 - Year A.

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


<Bring out Emergency Supply Kit>


  • Do you know what this is?
  • Do you have one at home?

For as long as any of us have lived in California, we have been urged to have an Earthquake Preparedness Kit – or what the California Department of Public Health calls an Emergency Supply Kit. And we all know that it’s really about earthquakes. And now we are being urged to have PSPS Preparedness Kit: A Public Safety Power Shutoff Preparedness Kit.


The list of items suggested for the Emergency Supply Kit is really long. This wagon-full of stuff cost a pretty penny. I went to 4 or 5 stores to get everything, and still missed a few items. The American Red Cross Deluxe 3-Day Emergency Preparedness backpack is $123.52, but doesn’t include any food or water. It’s suggested that you keep a kit at home, work and in your car. Does anyone here have more than one kit?


This is how we are to prepare for
a disaster – because “about the
day and hour no one knows.”


We are willing to follow the advice of the California Department of Public Health, the Red Cross and FEMA when it comes to preparing for a disaster – about the day and hour we do not know. So, are we as willing to follow the advice of Jesus, and

do we have our Spiritual

Preparedness Kit?
Are we spiritually ready for the

Return of Christ?

Advent is the season during which we prepare for Christmas. Over the past few decades, we church-y types have been reminding people to “keep the Christ in Christmas” and to remember that it’s about the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. It’s to remember what God did for us by coming to earth as a human being at the Incarnation.


The more learned preacher will remind us that Advent is also about preparing for the Second Coming. She or He might choose the Gospel themes of “The Patriarchs, The Prophets, John the Baptist, Mary”. Perhaps the preacher is much more traditional and chooses the Advent themes of the 4 Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Yes. That’s what you want on Sunday mornings in December: a robust sermon about Hell right before your trip to Target for that last-minute gift!


There are more uplifting Advent sermon themes, such as “Hope–Peace–Joy–Love” or “Faithfulness–Hope–Joy–Love”. All of that is right and proper. All of those themes should be a part of both our personal and corporate prayer. But this Advent, let’s explore our preparedness – not “preparing” but “preparedness”.


The word “preparedness” is defined as “a state of readiness, especially for war.” The apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament, in the Book of Revelation and in the predictions of Jesus describe wars and war-like conditions. Hidden within the reading from Isaiah, “in days to come” points toward later references to the “Day of the Lord”, which will be one of disaster. And today, Jesus’ tone is apocalyptic. All of the Matthew ch24 is apocalyptic, and it spills into ch25 with Jesus’ parables about preparedness for the Coming of the Son of Man.


But the “Day of the Lord” is not all bad. The portion of Isaiah ch2 presents the hopeful aspects to the “Day of the Lord”, that it will be an era of prosperity with the hope of restoration. So, are we prepared or preparing for the Coming of the Son of Man as faithful Christians? Do you have a Spiritual Preparedness Kit? What is in it? This is what we will explore in the coming weeks.


We acknowledged in the Collect that there will be a “last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead,” and that “we may rise to the life immortal.” That’s stuff I believe in, personally; that’s why I do what I do: help us see Jesus in our daily lives and help prepare ourselves for that last day when Jesus shall come again in His glorious majesty.


So, what is it that we need in our
Spiritual Preparedness Kit?


The most obvious and fundamental are spelled out at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, which you hear at every wedding: faith, hope and love. This trio is the gallon-of-water-per-person-per-day kind of stuff. Anyone who doesn’t possess faith, hope or love in Jesus Christ, or isn’t willing to develop or nurture faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ will probably struggle with the whole concept of rising to the life immortal.


Beyond faith, hope and love, today’s readings suggest that we need patience and perseverance, and we need patient perseverance.

Our Spiritual Preparedness Kit
needs to have patience and
perseverance in it.


Patience, or rather my lack of it, has been an element of my personality that I have prayed about, reflected on and discussed with role model clergy, tutors and spiritual directors for the better part of a quarter century. One of the practices that was very helpful in developing a bit of patience was silence. My seminary, at the time, really liked silence. It was as if it were the trend of the times, and we often scoffed at yet another period of silence. Any chance they got, my fellow seminarians would throw a 10min period of silence into student-led liturgies. It was annoying and uncomfortable to spend time in silence as a group exercise. And for someone who had recently come from the Silicon Valley, sitting still for more than 30sec meant the loss of an idea and therefore your career!


Occasionally, my morning spiritual workout, if you can call it that, was to attend the meditation that preceded Morning Prayer. The latter was mandatory; the former was not. The Chapel was opened at 7:15am, and the rule was that anyone present was to be in silent meditation. The silence was broken at 7:50am with three knocks on the wooden pew and the opening sentence of Morning Prayer by the day’s Officiant.


This was a form of Contemplative Prayer, which many now practice as Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is described by the Contemplative Outreach Network as:


…a receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.


It is a form of prayer to be practiced alongside many other forms of prayer which suit a particular individual. Like other forms of prayer, Centering Prayer focuses on a personal relationship with God, moving the pray-er through conversation with Christ and on to communion with Christ. We must remember that prayer is about the individual, indeed, but it’s not personal therapy; it is ultimately about getting closer and closer to Jesus.


The name “Centering Prayer” came from Thomas Merton’s description of contemplative prayer as prayer that is “centered entirely on the presence of God.” Merton was a 20C Trappist monk whose quote resonates widely:


“Monastic prayer begins not so much with ‘considerations’ as with a ‘return to the heart,’ finding one’s deepest center, awakening the profound depths of our being.”


And as the pray-er gets closer to Jesus – at that deepest center – patience and perseverance develop as they begin to envision what the Second Coming of Jesus might be like for them.
Centering Prayer takes place here at St Stephen’s on Tuesdays at 5pm in Ramsden Hall. All are welcome regardless of experience. Nothing is required but a desire to attempt to be centered entirely on the presence of God.


In my mind, there are 3 levels to developing patience and perseverance through silence. The first level is spending your own time in silence. For most people, that’s easy. I spend several hours a day in silence. But I’m single and live alone; silence for people who live with others might be more difficult to achieve.


The second level is solitary silent meditation. Making time and space in your life to focus on your personal relationship with God is vital. Some meditate daily; some less regularly. Silent retreats can be good, as well, such as at New Camaldoli Hermitage where everyone maintains silence, and the only group activity is worship 4 times a day. One’s silence during the rest of the day is free for silent meditation.


The third level is group silence, like Centering Prayer. While Centering Prayer can be done individually and corporately, the corporate experience can be a part of developing that patience and perseverance needed for a Spiritual Preparedness Kit. Being silent and being in prayer with other people is, initially, very uncomfortable for most people. We are used to being guided, instructed, led when in a group – there is always a leader. In group Contemplative Prayer and Centering Prayer, there is no leader, and the participant must overcome their anxiety and discomfort in order to get to that place of inner prayer that Centering Prayer is all about. Overcoming that anxiety and discomfort of being in silence as a group may not happen the first time…or the second or the third. But when you do get to that place of inner prayer in silent meditation among others, it is then that the patience and perseverance for your Spiritual Preparedness Kit is developing.


Try Centering Prayer in a group. It’s at 5pm on Tuesdays in Ramsden Hall.


I would now describe myself as “impatiently patient”. I’ve come a long way. But am I patient in my perseverance in waiting for the Second Coming? It is certainly something I believe in, pray for and look forward to, whatever my fate will be. And for me, Advent and Easter are times when my conversations with God on this topic get really intense.


Your Spiritual Preparedness Kit
will be difficult to assemble.


I would like to have a neat and tidy pre-assembled kit to offer you, and I would like to believe that the Sacrament is precisely that. But the Sacrament, the Body of Christ, is what empowers you to start the journey of developing the elements you need from it. You will need to go from place to place, from prayer and praise to guidance and direction in order to develop everything. Through the Sacrament, we receive forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet. It is the grace we need to work on our Spiritual Preparedness Kit.


We are in a time of darkness, as Paul expresses with poetic imagery, and we are moving toward an era of light, illuminated by none other than the Armor of Light, which is Jesus Christ. Allow Advent to be a time to awake from sleep and to nurture your spiritual preparedness for Jesus’ Return.


For today, for this week, Jesus is telling us that we need to have patience and perseverance in our Spiritual Preparedness Kit. Cyprian of Carthage wrote in his treatise entitled “On the Value of Patience”:


Patience is a precept for salvation given us by our Lord and teacher…We must, therefore, endure and persevere if we are to attain the truth and freedom we have been allowed to hope for; faith and hope are the very meaning of our being Christians, but if faith and hope are to bear their fruit, patience is necessary….Patient waiting is necessary if we are to be perfected in what we have begun to be, and if we are to receive from God what we hope for and believe. (Celebrating the Seasons p18)

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