St. Giles’ Episcopal Church
December 2, 2018 – The First Sunday of Advent
“The Way of Love”
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, has invited our church to seriously consider how we can actively become the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. As he has reminded us, “In the first century Jesus of Nazareth inspired a movement, a community of people whose lives were centered on Jesus Christ.” Jesus continues to inspire this movement, and we are called to join with others, to center our lives on Jesus, and to bear witness to Jesus’ way of love to the world.
Last summer I provided you with a handout on “The Way of Love.” You may remember that the first section of that handout was Bishop Curry’s statement of what we seek as people of the Jesus movement. What we seek – the big picture of what our lives as Christians are about. To review:
“We seek love: To know God’s love, to love, and be loved by others, and yes, to love ourselves.
We seek freedom: From the many forces – sin, fear, oppression, and division – that pull us from living as God created us to be: dignified, whole, and free.
We seek abundant life: A life overflowing with joy, peace, generosity, and delight. A life where there is enough for all because we all share with abandon. A life of meaning, given back to God and lived for others.
We seek Jesus: The way of Jesus is the Way of Love, and that way has the power to change lives and change the world.”
The Presiding Bishop realizes, as Christians throughout the centuries have realized, that we need guidance in making our commitment to Jesus concrete in our day to day lives. The witness and experience of others whose lives are centered on Jesus can help each of us to do just that. Curry has outlined seven “Practices for Jesus-Centered Life” and his office has produced materials for us to use. Some of those materials are on a table in the parish hall for you to take home. We will be using the Covenant of “The Way of Love” as our statement of faith and commitment to Jesus each Sunday in Advent. And each week my sermons will focus on these seven practices for a Jesus-centered life.
The first practice is “Turn: Pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus.” In Mark’s Gospel we find a very succinct account of Jesus calling someone to follow him (2:14): “As Jesus was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at a tax booth, and he said to him ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” Bishop Curry comments on this short call story: “Like the disciples, we are called by Jesus to follow the Way of Love. With God’s help, we can turn from the powers of sin, hatred, fear, injustice, and oppression toward the way of truth, love, hope, justice, and freedom. In turning, we reorient our lives to Jesus Christ, falling in love again, again, and again.”
To turn to follow Jesus we must first pause. What an appropriate reminder on this first Sunday of Advent when our focus is preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, God Incarnate, at Christmas. Pause. Stop moving. Stop thinking about your secular Christmas activities. Stop writing lists of what to do and what to buy. Stop listening to advertisements. Stop shopping online. Stop looking at Christmas trees and decorations for your home. Stop. Pause. This pause has power, if only we will use it to listen for God.
Pause and remember what we seek: love, freedom, abundant life, Jesus. Now have the courage to look at how you are planning to spend the next three weeks to prepare for Christmas. How do your plans fit in with seeking love, freedom, abundant life, and Jesus? We only have so much time, so much energy, and so much money. What will we do with them? How will we express our love for others most meaningfully? How will we love ourselves? How will we honor our need for freedom from anything that pulls us away from God? How will what we do give meaning to our preparation for Christmas and to our lives each day? In this season of joyful preparation, how will we spread joy by generously sharing with God’s people who are in need? Where will we seek Jesus? Will others glimpse Jesus through us?
Perhaps more than during any other season of the year, at Christmas time we tend to repeat “traditions,” in our families, among our friends, in church. Many of these traditions are perfectly in keeping with The Way of Love. Some, perhaps, are not. We may allow ourselves to be drawn away from Jesus by the secular world, especially the world of commerce. We waste our resources. We lose our peace. We become unfit for spreading joy, peace, and delight.
Some of us believe that we lack the freedom to change. But we do have that freedom. Levi was a tax collector. That was how he earned a living, provided himself with food, clothing, shelter, and whatever else he bought. Jesus said, “Follow me,” and Levi followed. He turned his back on his former way of life and followed our Lord in the way of love. We can do the same, and we can begin this Advent by turning intentionally toward Jesus and walking in the Way of Love.
The second practice for Jesus-centered life is “Learn: Reflect on Scripture each day, especially on Jesus’ life and teachings.” Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). Bishop Curry encourages us to make reading Scripture a daily practice: “By reading and reflecting on Scripture, especially the life and teachings of Jesus, we draw near to God and God’s word dwells in us. When we open our minds and hearts to Scripture, we learn to see God’s story and God’s activity in everyday life.”
“When we open our minds and hearts to Scripture.” There are many ways to approach reading the Bible on our own. The writings collected in Scripture are ancient writings, spanning thousands of years, written in cultures very different from ours. In the Episcopal Church we value using our minds when we read the Bible. That means learning something about the background of the writings, their context, what they meant to the people who wrote them and for whom they were written. Using a study Bible is a fine way for us to learn what we need to know from biblical scholars who have distilled their knowledge for the general reader. Being a student of Scripture is one aspect of being a disciple.
We need to approach the Bible with more than our minds. We need to engage our hearts as well, if we are to “fall in love again, again, and again.” This is one suggestion that you might find helpful. Choose one of the four Gospels and become very familiar with it. Luke would be a good choice since we will be reading Luke in church this year. Each day read a small portion of the Gospel that reports something about the life of Jesus – his conversations with his disciples, his encounters with the public, his teaching, his prayer to God. Once you know a Gospel well, you will be able to find these passages easily. Before you read through the passage, center yourself in prayer. Open your heart to God. Ask God to speak to you through the words you will read. Then, as you read, allow your heart to dwell on whatever calls out to you from the page. It may be one word, or a visual image the words inspire, or a feeling you have about what you have read. Whatever it is, remember and ponder it as you go through your day. How might this portion of Scripture influence how you see the world, other people, yourself? How might these words help you live the Way of Love?
Today is the beginning of a new year. A perfect time to reflect on our lives as followers of Jesus. A perfect time to choose the Way of Love, to seek God with all our hearts, our minds, our strength, and our souls. A perfect time to seek Jesus, who said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). So be it and amen.