St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, January 3, 2021
“He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
WE’VE JUST PRAYED that God’s incarnate Word shining in its new light would pour that light over us, in order to enkindle our hearts and beam through our lives outward. Does that suggest any change in your life, from the dark, bitter, guilt-laden days of 2020 into something wonderful, scary, brilliant, unfamiliar? Does change thrill you, or frighten you? Or make you feel judged? Hopeless? Angry? Change comes when we get sick of what we’ve always done, and finally realize that what we keep doing gives us the same unsatisfactory results, every time. Maybe try a new way. Then we change.
We did wait for the end of last year with some hope for changes, I imagine. We got changes in 2020 that were unbidden, unwelcome, and uncomfortable. A virus imposed on us irksome ways to do normal things, with some hotly debated policies, and ‘15 days to flatten the curve’. We got murder hornets, the Pentagon’s release of some UFO videos, and Uncle Sam giving us back some of our own money. California lost population to places like Idaho and Tennessee. There was more, but you were there. Time for a change? Yes, but be careful here.
I name no names here, but I’ve twice heard presidents claim that any change would be better than no change. I hope you see the trap in that logic. If you think things couldn’t get worse, you haven’t read history. Its lessons have been forgotten. We are living in a time of unprecedented world peace, prosperity, safety, and opportunity for all. That’s not political campaign-ese, that’s a fact. Check any of the indicators for human suffering in the world over the last 200 years, and we’re in the sweet spot. So… don’t agree too quickly about a blank check called “change.”
Things could always get worse. And it’s also true that you and I can always do better, be better people, live more meaningful and significant lives, and see the fruits of those lives go on to make all life better. Wouldn’t that be the real reason for change? Not just fear or frustration?
I’m old enough to remember cars that had mechanical odometers, the little window on the dash that kept track of miles you’d traveled with dials for ones, tens, and so on. But they only went up to 99,999.9 miles. If you drove just a few blocks more, it all rolled up to zeroes. Some of us eagerly watched our odometers climbing toward that goal, and it was exciting to watch the nines all turn over to zero.
In similar manner, we all watched the dates on our cellphones last Thursday night turn from 12-31-2020 to 1-1-2021. This is a new decade. (The one in the one’s place tells you that.) Breathe a sigh of relief. A real reset just occurred. Don’t let all the changes come from outside. I think a great many of us have already been learning that lesson. Take over your life and then turn it over. It’s really a time of turning. Not just away from something, but toward Someone.
It’s the 10th day of Christmas. Ten Lords leaping. We’ve watched the leaves turn from green to yellow, orange, red and brown. We’ve felt the air get chilly and donned warmer clothes. Change is in the air. How do we identify what needs to change and mount the carousel for turning our lives around? New Year’s resolutions last about as long as the rare snowfalls that may dust the ground here in Chico. They don’t stay.
Well, here are some suggestions:
Say you have a bad habit. Right? Identify it. Call it by name. Set it over here. Talk to it and see what it wants. Examine its motives and, in light of what you know is healthy and holy, suggest to yourself a better way to get that desire that doesn’t include the old bad behavior. Set that new path in place and start using it. That’s change.
You’ve lost a relationship, or it’s gone sour, and you miss what used to be there. Seek out that person and express your sense of loss, making yourself the culprit, asking forgiveness, wanting to make it up. You may, in your mind, recall offenses done by them, but then you already know that. What you may learn is how many offenses you gave to them, and now you’ll know what to do to build a bridge. The kingdom of God is built on bridges of friendship. Bridges traveled by you.
Your prayer life has a flat tire. What used to be new and exciting about your faith in God has become old, rote humdrum repetition. Or maybe this Zoom church thing has let you get comfy with pajama church, sofa surfing while half-attending and black screening us. I understand. New faith becomes old faith. It always needs something. A really great book on this would be The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. If you mean business, read it and put it into practice. Reading’s fine, but taking to your knees and a little self-discipline, basic though it be, will work a ton better than all the Zen self-help suggestions of looking within.
Is your inbox, do-list, workload, well-meant goals and plans so full you can’t get started? You’re defeated already and you don’t know where to begin. Stop. Examine that list and see what’s really a thing, and what’s not a thing. “Being more efficient with my time” is not a thing. But clearing your desk of the piles, paying off bills, washing and folding laundry, going through stuff to see what goes to Salvation Army and actually taking them there: those are things. It may not be the whole inbox, not 10% of it maybe, but make small concrete goals and keep them. Then a brief celebration, after which you tackle… task no. 2.
Take time to talk to God. If you don’t know how to talk to God, use the Family Prayer section in the back of your prayer book. Those are fantastic prayers. Don’t worry that you didn’t compose them: they say the things we all need to tell God. But pay close attention. These are fabulous expressions. Then do the other thing every good conversation has. Listen. You probably won’t hear words, though you may. But impressions or mental pictures may be ways He speaks to your spirit. Let it happen. Give Him time to break down your defenses. It’ll be worth it. Pray the Litany. He always listens to prayer. Appreciate that He is on the receiving end of your attention. When you say Amen, wait for Him to say Amen too, before you hang up.
Take care of the temple. Your body is the temple of God’s Holy Spirit. It should be taken good care of by you. Feed it well – not too much—good food, not junk. Take it out for a walk, holding hands with someone perhaps. Get your blood moving. It’s got to last a lifetime. Your odometer isn’t topped out yet. Maintain the engine. Don’t let the Dunlops get too big.
Every Christian do-list tells you to read the Bible. But we Anglicans may not know where to start, unless we’ve incorporated the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. That little section at the front of your 1928 has an Old and New Testament selection twice a day, and it takes a few minutes. Give God 15 minutes and read most of the Bible in a year, Psalms several times. Good stuff. Hear God’s voice by reading His Word.
Turn off the bubble machine. I’m dating myself. Lawrence Welk’s TV orchestra had old school special effects that made fog or bubbles float behind and around it as they waltzed at the Avalon Ballroom, Myron Florin on his accordion. (You had to be there.) Anyway, we have our own bubble machines now: computers, big screen TVs, cellphones, iPads, Xbox, and I don’t know what—and we’re being constantly entertained, but not fed, not loved, not touched, not connected with other people. Not social media or chatrooms. I mean put the dang thing down and look in a human face. We’re becoming subjects of one huge mad-science experiment, in which we are the rats. Do you believe me? Hello?
I met a pastor from Florida who saw his people in the pews on their cells and had them all hold them up, then had them all invite whoever they were texting to come to church, right now… We’ll wait.
Jesus was the new thing in Israel right about the time He decided to go back home to Nazareth where He’d grown up. In the synagogue, He took the scroll of Isaiah and read the passage from our lesson today: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD…” Then He put the scripture down and said to His old neighbors, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears.” He was claiming to have the Spirit of God, the Messiah come to their town in His divine Person. It was too much to believe. They’d always prayed for this change, theoretically, but when Messiah actually came, they were insulted. This kid they’d known all His life. They tried to throw Him off a cliff. You can’t go home, they say. Jesus would agree. Change must be something we’re ready for, or we simply get mad.
We can be mad, or we can laugh at ourselves. The car’s odometer turning from all nines to all zeros is a built-in lie. They just didn’t have a dial for the 100,000th place. Each of us has an inner clock, you might say, that is running to some point when we’ll stop counting days, stop waiting for midnight on New Year’s Eve, and those numbers all turn to zeroes. Those zeroes are no cheat, no lie, no broken gage. It’s eternity. You won’t see that dial change again. We’ll be done with that kind of time: the divine time begins and has no end. We’ll live, grow, learn—even up there, but we’ll be all done here. While we still have our numbers spinning, wheels turning, seasons changing, new decades coming at us, let us examine our lives in the light of what we’ve received, and find out from our Lord what needs to change. Happy New Year.