Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, PLEASE, send your Holy Spirit upon all those gathered here today and demonstrate to us that You, God, are working in our midst and we pray that you would open our hearts and our minds to the concept that the Kingdom of Heaven IS at hand. In the Name of Jesus, AMEN.
Homily[audio:Sermon Rev Rob Szo – St Stephens Anglican Church 131208-Advent2.mp3]
From the moment our Rector, Rob, asked me to talk today, I couldn’t help but wonder WHY should I be up here (?) So now I think I know how John the Baptist felt —- NOT that I’m comparing me to him, oh……NO! J the B played a most important historical role in linking God’s saving activity of the OT to His saving activity in the person and work of Jesus.
I will however equate the reason I am here and his reason for doing what he did — as both being sanctioned by God. I also believe that he must have been as humbled to his task (in the wilderness) as I am in the confines of this safe and secure setting.
When John Smith wrote our family profile for ConneXion last year, he did not include the part about me being in prison……oh yes, I spent 10 yrs in a self-made prison. In John’s defence —- I didn’t tell him the whole story but I intend to give you a synopsis of it here:
In what I will describe as a “church incident” I was clerically put to one side and on a personal level, deeply hurt in what I would explain as …for having lost my life long church. In fairly accurate chronological order I first Became:
***Note**** for those just reading this (who weren’t there, Dec. 8th) you have to imagine: for each numbered word below, I stuck a white 1 ½ inch PBS plastic pipe (with the word written on it) into a pre-drilled hole in a stand on the lecturn. Eventually it formed what appeared to be “PRISON BARS”
1. RESENTFUL : felt infringed upon; accompanied by a certain amt. of distress; I felt like “they” had broken the law of normal in my life; resentment is usually a passive emotion and may or may not lead to :
2. ANGER: believe me — I got angry; I felt so annoyed as a result of my perceived grievance against me. Anger too CAN be passive. I know people who get angry and don’t show it. However, if and when it does show outwardly, (at least for me), I inevitably became:
3. BITTER: that’s when resentment and anger can be displayed outwardly; can turn unpleasant; I was unable to accept any explanation or responsibility. And why should I ? I was right and “they” were wrong. I became sarcastic to the pt. almost being evil. This is the harmful stage; it ate away at me from the inside and it’s no secret, at least spiritually — it can kill you. But, despite all proof to the contrary I continued to claim: I’m not bitter. I could prove it —– so I moved on to being:
4. INCENSED: a couple of steps (or more) above ordinary anger. I provoked myself into a fury! This is where rage is born and R, A, & B, intensify and may result in violence.
Luckily that didn’t occur (at least not publicly —- God Bless my wife and family.) No, I just moved on to being:
5. DEVIOUS: insincere stage; deceitful; underhanded; moving away from all proper and accepted standards; it the start to thinking about retaliation —- because, remember I was right!!! … and they were wrong! So yes, revenge was in sight. Funny thing about that word, revenge: in the Dict. It’s on the same page and only 4 or 5 words from Reverence. AND, get this, one of the definitions is: “a return match regarded as a LOSER’s opportunity to even the score.”
EPHIPHANY!!! I was the ‘loser’ “They” were all out there living normal lives without any turmoil or stress over the incident we’d all been a part of. I,….WAS….(the one)…IN….PRISON.
Please notice the acronym formed: R A B I D — All of this can cause frothing at the mouth; convulsions and in some cases, even death!
Then came the Voice of the One crying in the wilderness, …….JOHN (the Baptist) SMITH, crying into my “wilderness desert prison” saying, let’s prepare a way for the Lord to come to you, as Isaiah had said when he described a barren landscape which the people of God had become.
The “key” there was to prepare a way for the Lord to come to the people with “refreshments”: strength (for weak); sight for Blind; water for thirsty; and on and on and on. How many times has our Rector, Rob, said; we don’t seek the Lord; HE seeks us. Two weeks ago he said: “Reconciliation comes from God. It’s His move towards us.”
Isaiah said, “Woe is me, I am Lost” I say, woe was me; I was lost; I was in prison; now I am found; redeemed; forgiven; J the B said, “Repent” the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I was pleased to have it confirmed by our faithful bible study group that implicit in the word repent is to forgive. Repent = “turn around” forgive others and ourselves, the latter of which is sometime the hardest.
From the words of the Christian song: “Forgiveness” “Hardest thing to give away. Goes to those that don’t deserve it. Opposite of how you feel; takes everything you have, just to say I forgive you. It can destroy pride; it’s angers worst enemy; even when everyone else says you’re justified (not to forgive) that ‘still small voice’ says L I G. But it’ll clear away the Bitterness; Anger; Resentment; Rage; and Revengefulness and sets the prisoner……..FREE!
Last year I needed to place all this baggage at the foot of the Cross of Jesus……. So I do that now and out of view; left and forgotten and it is important that I walk away w/o any of it.
John the B. (Smith) made straight the paths to prepare a way for the Lord…………..to me. And God did SEEK me out. I heard Him “in the night” and I said, “it is I Lord, I have heard you calling. I will go Lord, and hold your people in my heart.” Then I went to Rob and told my story and he said, do you want to come back(?) I said, if you support and guide me. He said, let’s go see the Bishop and you all saw the results at Rob’s induction. From then til now is history. And…. That is why I am up here!
In conclusion: Allow me to summarize. This is where I tie in with Rob’s previous sermon again. I don’t intend to copy Rob, only I feel something this important bears repeating. Further, I firmly believe God made this connection. Our Rector, Rob, said, “Nothing is outside the scope of God’s reconciliation.” (unquote) Similarly, no one is outside the scope of God’s forgiveness.
The late, Bishop Morse Goodman, 5th Bishop of Calgary, said, “No Sin is Greater than God’s Love!” Wherever we’ve been, whatever we’ve said or done, there is a John the Baptist nearby, put there by the Lord God Almighty Himself to provide you a way to prepare a straight path for the Lord to come to you and remove all blame, resentment, anger toward others and grant pardon for ANY mistake and thereby free you and redeem you to that new person that is already inside you. And allow you to experience the Kingdom of Heaven which is near and at hand.
My prayer is to bring any obstacle that is imprisoning your soul or blocking former friendships or burdening your heart, to the altar rail today; lay it all at the foot of the cross (I’ve got the pile started) and make all things compatible by bringing us all together into the one body of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour and we can live TODAY in His Kingdom.
From memory, our new Bishop elect said yesterday: It is a time in history when God is calling (seeking)us; it is a time in history when God is equipping us with gifts; it is a time in history to follow, obey and fulfil His will.
I offer ALL of this to the Glory of God. AMEN.
I have a question for you, however I only want you to answer it in your mind (no hands in the air) because it is really a ‘trick’ question: How many of you think this gospel reading is about John the Baptist talking? ……….because it isn’t ! This is the Voice of God talking through him. There is one BIG difference in that J the B spoke “fearlessly” to anyone whom he felt were living their lives without an awareness to the presence of God. He was fearless —–I’m scared silly, right now!
But the message is the same: God is working here and now……..right in our midst. We thank God for sending us Rob to lead us, but that is the point. God called Rob to come here. It is God working through Rob that we see great benefits. None of us are schooled, trained or qualified or ordained to consecrate or pronounce absolution. God does that, working thru Rob. God needed a lowly human to go out into the community and work with the homeless and recovering addicts, so He called me. That’s God working with those people that need it, through me. God needed someone to guide and direct our youth, so He called Nathan in. Our great present success with our young people (confirmation is ongoing for the first time in years) is God working HERE, thru Nathan.
God needed someone to provide us with one of the most beautiful forms of worship every invented: Music, so he called Bambie (Joanne & Michael) to do it because of her (their) gift(s). That’s God working right HERE ! Our Wardens; the choir; our Lay Readers; our secretary; our women’s guild; our council; our treasurer; our maintenance man; our coffee preparers, etc. etc. etc. And that is not in order of importance………..oh…NO! Nor does that EXCLUDE anyone or any service that I haven’t named. You’re all involved. I couldn’t name everything that goes on here or everyone who does it, because Rob and I and Nathan have an 11:00 o’clock engagement down the road where God is also working very hard through a whole new set of human names. The Point here is that God is working here and His Kingdom of heaven is near……..is HERE!
Did you know that Rob cannot perform a Eucharist if no one is here?! He needs you! Even if it is only one of you —– he needs you. More importantly……God needs you, everyone of you to do His work here. I can’t go do my work outside without the people who need the help; Nathan can’t do his work w/o the children and youth; Bambie (Joanne and Michael) can play to an empty house, but what would be the point. Would the choir sing their anthem if you weren’t here. No. Proof that God needs you to do His work……..HERE!
OK! God is working in our midst. So now, the work begins. It’s our job, collectively as a Parish but also individually to determine, (as Archbishop Hambidge laid out to us): “What is God calling us to do?” It doesn’t mean that if you don’t have a specific job title or you’re not on at least one committee then you are not involved. Of course not! It means, individually we have to pray for God’s guidance to show us what His will is (for each one of us) and as a Parish and then we ALL should support whatever work that will entail to accomplish what God is calling us to do.
Now I quoted J the B’s claim that the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” However, I left out one VERY important word. “Repent”,…………for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.