What Do Christians Think About Lent?

God’s New Thing

Our God is always doing a new thing.
Let us pray.
Almighty and Everliving God, in whom there is no variation or shifting shadow due to change, show us what you’re up to. Show us what you’ve been up to, show us what it means to be unchanging and yet to always be doing something new. Be with us this morning, and stay with us. Amen.
We are in the season of Epiphany, the season of revealing, of realizing, of new things,
“See I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle.” Our God is always doing new things.
And who knew that better than poor Eli, from our first reading this morning? He’s been a priest in the temple for his whole life, and now he’s training up this young man who apparently has the privilege of hearing directly from God, something that hasn’t happened to Eli in years and years, and what does young Samuel hear? That God is about to upend the way that things have always been, that God is going to be replace the social standing and the power of the priest with the social standing and power of the prophet in the ancient near east, that God is going to do a new thing.
Samuel heard from the Lord that God was about to shake things up, on His way to make something new happen, and it actually came at the expense of Eli. What do we do with that? We’ll come back to it, I promise, but let’s look at what’s happening in the New Testament this morning.
Paul is giving a wild exhortation in the letter to the Corinthians and there’s a lot to focus on in this section, no question, but the part that I want us to see with some clarity is toward the end of the section, where Paul says, “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” For thousands of years the Spirit of God, Pneuma, Ruach, the very life-giving and life-sustaining breath and presence of the living God was housed in the Temple, only, and before that in the ark of the Covenant, in the tent of meeting, only, but Paul is telling us that is simply not the case anymore. The truth of it is that the Spirit of the Living God has fallen afresh and not only is the presence of God not limited to the temple or the ark or any geographical location or specific place, but is everywhere, all the time, all at once, AND is housed in us, in the Christian, WE are the temples, we are the home of the Spirit of the Living God, the Living God lives in us. This is new and different and fresh and confusing and confounding, but it’s real. God is doing a new thing.
Always, Always, always is our God doing a new thing.
Christ calling Philip from Bethsaida and Nathanael who is incredulous and yet convinced, a new thing. Jesus being identified as the Son of God, the King of Israel, Jesus telling Nathanael, “very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” That’s new! The very incarnation of God in Jesus, God wrapped up in flesh, God become man, that’s N E W. God is ALWAYS doing a new thing.
So what do we do with that? If God is  always doing a new thing, does that mean that God is always changing? Is God always in flux? Is God’s mind changing all the time? If we believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, what does it mean to say, like Isaiah says “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”?
To find our answer, I think we look to a ready example we have in our day, specifically, tomorrow, Monday, January 15th. Tomorrow is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day that celebrates and commemorates all that Dr. King did in his life and legacy for the cause of equality in his day and ours’. We know that Dr. King was a Civil Rights leader and an Icon who fought tooth and nail for the equity of African Americans, women, and workers, and shined a bright light on the plight of the oppressed, and within all that, we cannot forget that Dr. King was a pastor.
He was a brilliant theologian who never allowed his theology to stop at the end of the sermon or the book, but took it all out of the pulpit, and worked toward the new thing that God was doing in the world. Dr. King had a Christology, a belief about the person and work of Christ that cast Christ as a “trailblazer.” Christ as Trailblazer, the one who forged the path, the one who walked it first, “the firstborn of all creation” as the apostle Paul says in the letter to the Colossians.
Dr. King didn’t go up the mountaintop and see the glory of the living God all on his own, he followed the path up that mountain that was already blazed by the Living God in Jesus Christ. Christ as Trailblazer laid the path for Dr. King and countless others to follow for the cause of Justice, Civil Rights, and Equality.
God was doing a new thing in the time of Dr. King because God is always doing a new thing, and God is doing a new thing in our time today, too. We serve that same God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, who is always doing a new thing, bringing life from death, and growth from decay, raising up that which has been cast down.
So how do we see what new thing God is doing? Where do we see, resurrection, salvation, redemption, life from death, that which was cast down being raised up? Wherever that’s happening, that’s where God is. To find out what the new thing God is doing, see where God is already at work. Wherever the spirit of the Living God, the God who would go down into death and come back for the sake of those he loves, for the sake of us, wherever that God is at work already, that’s where we go.
Our jobs as believers, as Christians is not to do the new thing ourselves, or to make something happen all our own power, but to see where the Living God is already moving, working, active in the world, and to show up there, too. Our job is to find where God already is, and catch up.
And how freeing is that? How freeing is it to see that we are not meant to do this all our own and that God is not just some lovely idea, some actionable concept, that urges us to do good in the world, but that God is REAL and is already on the move, already working in the world, and we just have to go wherever resurrection is happening, or needs to happen, wherever that which is cast down is being raised, or where it needs to be raised up, and join with God in the work of redemption of the world. God’s already saved the world, no question, that’s not on us, we just have this opportunity to go and be a part of the salvation that we ourselves have already experienced.
Our God who is always doing a new thing, has called us to this work, this eternally new work, and our response, the only reasonable response to a God who could get up out of the grave, is to follow wherever the spirit of the Living God is leading. That’s our job.
So where in the life of our church, in our lives individually, specifically, do we see resurrection happening? Where does it need to happen? Are the food-insecure on the east side of Fort Worth being fed? Is God calling you to be a part of that ministry? Is that where the Living God is already at work? Do people need coats? Do people need help? Is there an instance of injustice that demands our attention? You want to know where the presence of God is at work? Look to where people need help, and go there. Look at where God is already moving in your own life, and go there. And here’s the thing: following the Living God, following Christ the Trailblazer costs something. It cost Eli the priest his social standing, it cost the apostle Paul his pride, and it cost Dr. King his life. It costs something, of course it does, but that cost is worth it because life spent following wherever our Trailblazing God already is, is the only life worth living.
This Living God, who would go to the grave and come back for us, who promises to come back at the end of all things for us, the Living God who would care for material, physical life of the lowly, the beaten-down, the oppressed, The Living God who is the almighty trailblazer of Dr. King in our time, is always on the move, is always working and acting in the world, and is always, ALWAYS, doing a new thing, and our job, as those who follow that almighty trailblazer, is just to catch up.



Good morning everyone, I hope we’re all doing well this morning on this, the second Sunday of Advent. Advent, this time of anticipation and hope and watching and waiting. The advent wreath, a symbol of that waiting, with its lit and unlit candles, showing how far we are in the season and how long we’ve got left to go, before the coming of our Lord. It’s a great visual, come to us by way of some German lutherans in the 1920’-ish, standing for the four Sundays. In our day, the Four Sundays of Advent have come to stand for Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, in that order. So that would make today, the second Sunday of Advent, Peace, right? That should be the theme that we see throughout our lectionary readings and that should really be what my sermon is all about.

But these readings… Today’s readings are sort of anything but peaceful. Not saying that there’s no peace here, I think that there still might be, but really, Advent is anything but peaceful. Jesus’ birth took place in a time and a location that was anything but peaceful, we live in a world that is anything but peaceful, and I think trying to spin Advent, especially today’s readings in Advent, into something peaceful is doing a disservice to the text and a disservice to the world that we live in.

In the Medieval era, and for centuries after, the four Sundays of Advent didn’t stand for Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. They stood for the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. The Season of Advent, as is clear in our readings, is not just about the birth of Jesus, of course it is about the birth of Jesus, but it’s also about the second coming of Jesus, when he shall come again with trumpets sounding, to complete and inaugurate the Kingdom of God, where all things are made new. That’s what Advent is about. The Birth of Christ and his second coming, the beginning and the end.

The Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell, seem more than a little appropriate for the readings and the focus of this season, especially when we look at our world today. But that’s always been the case. The world has always been on fire, literally or metaphorically, countries have always been at war, people are always hurting, suffering, grieving, looking for hope on the horizon, a light shining in the darkness, a light the darkness cannot overcome. Hope is clearly the central theme in our Advent season, but, as Rev. Fleming Rutledge puts it, “Hope is a very meager concept if it is not measured against the malevolence and godlessness of the forces that assail the creation and its creatures every day.”

So today, as you may have gathered from this lengthy introduction and historical explanation of Advent’s Sundays, I want to talk about the second of these Four Last Things: Judgment. I want to talk about what sits at the meeting point of Judgment and the Repentance that John the Baptist spoke of in the Judean wilderness, repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ. And I want to talk about how seeing ourselves rightly, seeing the world rightly, for what it is, for what we are, without any of the lenses and filters we use to dress it up, or make it seem better than it is, can actually give us an iron-clad hope to hold on to, a way to see the light flickering in the darkness, that even the deepest night cannot overcome.

So, Judgment. A terrifying word, yes. But why? I think because the notion of judgment, the prospect of judgment has come to be synonymous with condemnation or punishment. But is it? Is Judgment the same thing as condemnation? The same thing as punishment? No of course it isn’t! It’s not the same in the Greek that the New Testament uses, and it’s not in our language today, even if we’ve come to use them in the same way. Categorically, Judgment is not the same as condemnation. Condemnation and punishment can be the outcome of judgment, or a judgment, sure, but judgment itself is something entirely different. Judgement is simply calling something what it is, seeing something rightly, as it is.

Judgment more than anything is about dropping the pretenses and being honest about what a thing actually is, or how it is, where it stands. It’s about being honest, telling the truth. John 3:17, the one right after the big one, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Our God stands ready and willing to judge us, to see as we are, broken, hurting people, and not to condemn us, but to save us.

Judgment is a terrifying prospect because we can’t control the narrative, or the flow of information. But how liberating and freeing it is when we can drop all our masks, be the person we actually are, the person that lives somewhere behind our face, and stand before a God who already knew it, and guess what, still loves us, as we are.

So how does the repentance that John calls for in our gospel fit into all this? John the Baptist, whose camel-hair vestments and locust and honey diet simply does not fit behind the cardboard doors of our advent calendars; when we crack open today’s slot looking for a chalky piece of chocolate we find a wild vagabond shouting for our repentance. I am striking no new ground here when I say that repentance is not necessarily about penance or feeling bad about what we’ve done. Sometimes it is, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the word repentance, metanoia for all my Greek freaks out there, is a changing of our minds. A shifting of perspective, a reversal of decision, a choice to see things differently, do things differently. That’s repentance. Not self-flagellation or walking around under a storm cloud of our own guilt; changing our minds, doing and seeing things differently.

I read a book about a month and a half ago, and I read a lot of books, these glasses are not just for show, but rarely do I read a book that so… shifts the way I think about myself and changes how I see the world around me. “Low Anthropology” by David Zahl, an Episcopal lay person who lives in Charlottesville, VA, is all about how a “low anthropology” is actually, as the subtitle says, the “unlikely key to a gracious view of others (and yourself)”. Anthropology, the study of humans, is all about how we see ourselves and other people and he makes the argument that having a low anthropology, a lower, more realistic, view of humanity, is actually better than a high anthropology: this expectation for humans to be more than we are.

Zahl outlines three “pillars” of a low anthropology: Limitedness, Doubleness, and Self-Centeredness. I know this sounds like a tough sell, but stay with me. Limitedness, because people are bound by their limits, what they can and cannot do, the life that they’ve led, etc. Doubleness, because all people, regardless of who we are, where we grew up, what education we have or have not had, as Paul says in Romans, we do the things we don’t want to do, and do not do the things we want to do. And Self-centeredness, because at the end of the day, we are, as we always are, tied to ourselves.

I know that this sounds like an indictment or a condemnation, but I think if we sit with it, we can see how freeing it is. This is a judgment, not a condemnation, this is seeing ourselves, and humanity, rightly, judging correctly, telling the truth, being honest, about who, what, and how we are. And if we’re honest, it’s simply exhausting to pretend like we’re not. It takes too much energy and it’s just not worth it when we’re already loved as we are.

I don’t share that just as a book recommendation, but because it outlines something that is repentance. Seeing ourselves, truly, as people who are limited, who are double-minded, and who are self-centered, is a freeing thing, and it’s only here, when we’re honest with ourselves, that we can turn to see the hope that we might be something else, something new, a new creation.

This is repentance. Changing our minds, seeing ourselves correctly, seeing others correctly, seeing the world correctly. Not expecting people to be more than they are, not expecting ourselves to be more than we are, THIS is repentance. Changing our minds, shifting our paradigms to something that’s true, not because we don’t want to be more, but because we realize we can’t be outside of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.

This is judgment; being honest and seeing ourselves and the world honestly, as people who are broken, hurting, suffering, incapable of doing and making change on our own. This is repentance; believing that truth, trying to, acting like it’s true, because it is, and then living like it.

So where is the hope? This is Advent and while I think we ought to focus on the last Four Things, because those last four things are actually always with us, Hope is still the central and abiding theme of this season, and hopefully, of our lives, and I’ve just outlined a vision of judgment and repentance that basically says, we’re not as good as we think we are, so we ought to stop acting like it. So where is the hope?

Here. I think it’s here. In our Acts bible study class, we just went over a portion of Acts chapter 3, where the Apostle Peter is giving a speech to a crowd after a healing miracle, about how we are waiting for the ultimate restoration of all things, but while we wait, we can experience, what he calls, “moments of refreshment.” I can stand up here and say that we’re all broken people, who have been hurt and who hurt people, who are limited, double-minded, and self-centered, and I can know that’s true, but I can also know that because of the influence and impact of Jesus Christ on my life, those things aren’t the last truth. I can see how my relationships with people who have hurt me and who I have hurt, have gotten better, have been restored, because of my relationship with Jesus Christ. I can say that, know it’s true, feel it, deep in my bones, and still know that I’m still going to hurt people. These are moments of refreshment, but they’re not the end.

The end is the ultimate restoration, when I won’t hurt people anymore and they won’t hurt me. When the wars will cease and we won’t have to weep over bombed-out hospitals, or over children separated from their parents, and shootings and violence and everything else that tears our hearts apart and makes us feel like there’s no good left in the world. But we see it: that candle flickering in the darkness, the one that teaches me how to restore my relationships, the one that illuminates families reunited after being lost to one another, and people taking care of complete strangers in the absence of anyone else. That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness, no matter how deep it is, cannot overcome it.

That’s the hope. These moments of refreshment in an otherwise broken world point to a time when the brokenness will be restored, when every tear will be wiped away, and all things are made right, brought back to life, to their wholeness, but we’re not there. Judgment, not condemnation, but judgment, seeing things rightly, honestly, seeing things as they are, is the first step to being able to hope. Denying the existence of pain and suffering, downplaying it, ignoring it, looking at something else and avoiding it, is a cheap imitation of hope. It’s not hope at all. It’s willfully naive and ineffectual  optimism. Hope, real hope, judges rightly, and struggles forward, knowing the hurt and pain and fear and anxiety is real, but struggles anyway. That struggle is repentance. Believing, HOPING that there really is something coming, something more, something on its way, that Jesus really is coming, is repentance.

For now, it’s Advent, and like Karl Barth says “the Church has no season but Advent,” and we have no season but Advent because here, we sit in the darkness, of a broken and breaking world, looking at a flickering candle, judging and repenting; looking forward to that day when our God will come and make all things new.


Christ is King

Christ is King

This Sunday, Christ the King, is probably one of my favorite, if not my favorite, Sundays of the year, because it’s a day that we as a church plant our flag in exactly what we believe. Today, on the last day of the Liturgical year, looking back at what we’ve already done, and looking forward at what is coming, we say “Christ is King.”

To make that claim, to say that Christ is King, that Christ is Lord, is to at least 3 things. “Christ is King” is a political statement, it’s a personal statement, and it’s a Cosmic statement.


Firstly, it is a political statement. Even in the first century, especially in the first century, and even now, to claim that Christ is Lord is to claim that he alone sits on the throne. No one else, no Caesar, no emperor, no president, no secretary general, is the ruler over our world or our lives, Christ alone is. Politics is not just about who holds the keys to war or the nuclear codes, or who has the power to drops bombs on people who can’t retaliate, politics is about how we structure society and how lives are arranged in spaces, who has access to what spaces, and how people are systematically organized throughout the world. And the Kingdom of God over which Christ reigns says that the poor and oppressed should be treated with the dignity they’re owed as people who bear the divine image, wherever and whoever on earth they are. The rule and reign of Christ the King sees Christ as the judge of all the nations, and takes their works into account, whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, visited the prisoner, gave a drink to the thirsty; to judge, ultimately, whether his people saw themselves, saw their very lord and King in the faces of those who had nothing. When we claim Christ is King, this is what we’re saying.


To say Christ is King is also a personal statement. Christ is not just Lord over the nations, but Lord over our very lives. Christ did not come just to make us better people, but to make us new people, to raise us from the dead. In our baptisms this is what we’re saying. Christ becomes the Lord of our Life, the King of our life, when we take on the very death that he died and are raised to the resurrected new life that he himself lives. He’s given us a new community, a new way to be in the world, and in this way, the political dimension and the personal dimension are inextricably intertwined, linked. And Because of this, when we claim Christ as King, our lives ought to change, materially, noticeably change; caring for everything that Christ cares about, showing and sharing the love that has been shared with us. When we say Christ is King, both personally and politically, this is what we ought to be saying.


Lastly, to say that Chris is King is a undeniably cosmic statement. When I say cosmic I don’t necessarily mean “space and stars” and everything, “out there,”… I mean the whole of reality. Christ is Lord over everything, to say that that is a statement with Cosmic dimensions is to say it lays claim over every aspect of reality. Jesus Christ, the one whom God has “raised from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come, and has put all things under his feet and has made him head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all,” the savior of mankind, and our systems, the very commander of all creation, who even the wind and waves obey, who “sits upon his glorious throne with all the nations gathered before him,” is the same One, who, as Rev. Fleming Rutledge puts it, “at the very apex of his cosmic power, reveals that the universe turns upon a cup of water given to the littlest ones in his name.” That is our King.

When we say that Christ is King, we acknowledge Christ’s moving through and in the world as the only thing worth emulating, patterning our lives after. The One who would go to the cross and submit to the powers and principalities of this world, the ones who had no real power over him, but submit to them anyway, that is our King. The One who would rise up from the grave, shaming those power and principalities, and give us a new life, the only life worth having, in the face of a world that would claim otherwise, THAT is our King.


We’re lucky enough to have a pretty rare cross on our wall, here at St. Martins. It’s different from most crosses that we see in Churches. Most will either have no body on the cross, or will have the broken, battered, beaten Christ upon it, but here, we have Christ in full adornment of Eucharistic vestments. This cross is called the Christus Rex, or Christ the King Cross. It shows the paradoxical nature of the God who died and who rose up to give himself for us. It shows us that our God is our Great High Priest who can sympathize with us and with everyone, whose nature is not to fix every problem we have by waving his hand and making it all go away, but to be with us in our suffering and in our grief, to give us the sure hope of a future where every tear will be wiped away. It shows us the seemingly contradictory nature of a King who would stoop down to where we are, to be with us, to grant us new life, to show us how we ought to live.

So today, here at the end of the year, take some time to reflect with me on what it means for Christ to be King, politically, personally, and cosmically, and what that might be calling us to do, how Christ our King might be calling us to change. We’re moving into the advent season, a season rooted in watching, waiting, anticipating, hoping, for the return of Christ our King. The King who loves us and gave himself for us, the king who went to the grave and came back for us, who made us as we are and loves us as we are, and is coming once more to this earth to make all things new. All of that is coming, yes, so today we take a moment and plant our flag right where it ought to be, where reality dictates it be, and we say, full-throated and with every confidence in creation, “Christ IS King.”