Getting Ready for Sunday: By the Rev. Alina Williams

The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent reminds us directly of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian, a “little Christ.” We ask our God to “give us grade to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light” in this life that we are living now, so that “in the last day, when he shall come again…we may rise to the life immortal.” And St. Paul urges the Roman church to wake from sleep. He counsels them, impresses upon them the need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ—to clothe themselves in all that they do in Jesus Christ. And Matthew’s Gospel lesson only reinforces the Collect and the Epistle by conveying a sense of urgency, the need for these things (waking and putting on Christ) to happen as quickly as possible.

And, so, what has this to do with us? Everything, my brothers and sisters; it has everything to do with us. Our recent past, as a nation, as a community in and around Dallas, has taught us that the life that some of our African American brothers and sisters live is very different, much more dangerous than the lives that most Episcopalians in North Texas experience. The darkness they experience is very different than the darkness most of us experience. And, as St. Paul teaches, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).

As a member of the Body of Christ and of the human race that God made, and made good, I am deeply concerned about the light that I am putting on and projecting out into the world. Is the light, light enough? Is the armor of light strong enough to protect myself, my family, my brothers and sisters in Christ from the hate that is spreading like wildfire through our nation, our world? Am I putting on the right armor of light: Am I truly putting on the armor of Christ’s light or am I simply putting on the armor that someone else is telling me to put on?

We must awake! We must be roused from this comfortable sleep—the sleep that persuades us that all is well and there are no problems with “the way it always has been.” This living that we are doing now will, indeed, affect that immortal life that we hope to attain. But more than that, putting on the armor of light, putting on Christ—showing the love of Christ to everyone we meet—that will affect the souls of those who have yet to learn about that immortal life. The renewal movement song that comes to my mind is “They’ll Know We Are Christians.” The world will know that we are little Christs by the love that we show.

The world will not know that we are Christians unless we put on this armor of light, unless we put on Christ fully, completely, and repeatedly—day in and day out, we must put on Christ. In all that we do, we must put on Christ. In all that we say, we must put on Christ. In every dollar we spend, we must put on Christ. In every reaction to hatred, we must put on Christ. In every thought of our minds, we must put on Christ. In every judgment we make, we must put on Christ.

We must put on Christ; and we must do it now. There’s an urgency, my brothers and sisters, and we must awake from our sleep. With clear eyes, open ears, willing hearts, and hands and feet at the ready, we must put on Christ. The time is now, and our call is clear: put on the armor of light; fight the darkness; and show it in all that we do.

Getting Ready for Sunday: By the Rev. Rebecca Tankersley

Luke 6:20-31

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now,

for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,

for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now,

for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,

for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” 

To be confirmed, I was required to memorize the Beatitudes. At 12 years old, I had only ever been asked to memorize a verse or two of Scripture at a time. I loved learning a longer passage – loved the way the words rolled off my tongue. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn.” I’d venture to say that many of us memorized the Beatitudes in our younger days. Of course, when we did so, we learned Matthew’s Beatitudes. This All Saints Day, we take on Luke’s version where blessings are alarmingly juxtaposed with woes and then followed by a seemingly-impossible list of disciplines.

Blessings. Luke’s Beatitudes are plain and literal. Jesus’ concern isn’t the poor in spirit but the actual poor. Jesus isn’t focused on those who hunger for righteousness but those who hunger for food. When Jesus blesses “those who weep” in Luke’s Gospel, he may have in mind a group like Matthew’s “those who mourn”, though the blessing (laughter) is stronger in Luke than in Matthew (comfort). The meek, merciful, pure, and peacemakers receive no mention here. Instead, Luke is focused on the poor, the hungry, the weepers, and the hated – the excluded. Luke wants to share with these, for whom God has a special heart, the good news that Jesus is bringing God’s kingdom in which God’s justice will prevail by turning their current suffering upside down. This is the heart of the good news for Luke: beginning its rhythm in Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-55) and Zechariah’s prophesy (1:68-79) and pounding palpably in Jesus’ first public speech (4:18-19) and parables (see, e.g., 16:1-9, 19-31). God’s plan to turn suffering upside down beats boldly in the Beatitudes.

Woes. Suffering isn’t the only thing that is turned upside down in God’s kingdom. To the rich, full, laughing, and accepted, Jesus issues a warning. “You have received your consolation” (6:24). We cannot expect to share in Jesus ministry – in the promise of the good news – without sharing in his suffering, without carrying the cross and following him into places where poverty, hunger, sorrow, and hatred proliferate (14:27). We may squirm or quake at Jesus’ warning, but if we attend to the message, we can also hear good news in Jesus’ woes. Riches, full stomachs, laughing hearts, and acceptance from others make us feel good, but only for a while. They are temporary “solutions” to an emptiness that will never be filled by the things of this world – an emptiness that can only be filled by relationship with God. When we store up treasures, fill our bellies with fine foods, and distract ourselves with entertainment and jokes that lead us to laughter, we serve idols. We fall into the trap of self-sufficiency. We deny God as Lord of our lives. The good news for us in the woes is the permission to let go of this idolatrous pursuit and the invitation to cling to Jesus – to learn to rely completely on him.

Disciplines. How do we learn to rely completely on Jesus? Here at the conclusion of the Beatitudes in Luke, Jesus encourages us to practice. The verbs in the concluding paragraph of the text (love, do good, bless, pray, offer, give) are good starting points for our practice, though we are rightly cautioned that they can become empty platitudes without an abiding focus on the objects of our practice. Love must be directed to enemies, good to haters, blessing to those who curse. Jesus’ disciplines, much like the promises made by those who will be baptized this All Saints Day, will impossible for us to practice without God’s love and help. Follow the link below and pray St. Francis’ prayer with me, seeking just that: God’s love and help for the journey.

https://youtu.be/agPnMxp5Occ

Amen.

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.