In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
So, how did you do with reading the Collect for last Sunday through this past week? You will remember I suggested at the end of my message last week that I wanted to encourage us all to read the Collect as an affirmation that the Lord is at work in our lives all through the week.
Moving from that question let us take some time to consider what the Lord might be wanting to engage with us over this week. I have to admit to you that the idea of spending time reading, and considering or contemplating, the Scriptures in a regular way was something that I have struggled with, in the business of my life.
I have friends who talked to me in the past about developing a Rule of Life - a pattern of daily prayers and Scripture reading, which I set for myself. This was something of a foreign concept to me until I went to Seminary and then I joined the Diocese of Ohio.
When I was in Seminary I committed to reading the Morning Prayer Service every morning, once I was Ordained. Morning Prayer was how each day began at Trinity School for Ministry. All the students, faculty, and staff were encouraged to attend.
I found myself coming to understand how that discipline set the tone for the rest of the day. In fact, some days, it was attending Morning Prayer that helped create the focus I needed to get through my classes and be prepared to write the necessary papers I had to complete.
So, once I came to Christ Church, I found a way to follow the service on-line. So, each morning I pull up the service on my phone and committed some time to reading the Morning Prayer Service.
So, I had the part in place. Then my spiritual and devotional life took a big step forward when the Bishop invited one of the Brothers of The Society of Saint John the Evangelist to come and speak at Winter Convocation.
He spoke about developing an actual Rule of Life for ourselves. I wondered how I might go about that.
After Winter Convocation I heard about the Brothers of the SSJE the Daily Meditation, they send out, to my routine.
Then after some more time, I progressed a little further and I looked up the Sermon, from which the Meditation came, and I began reading that as well.
Some days when I come to the Morning Prayer Service, I have to be honest here and say that some mornings, when I am feeling particularly anxious or rushed about what I have coming up in my day, I manage to only reading the Psalm or Psalms, The Old Testament, The Epistle, and the Gospel. Other days I read the whole service, and I stop and bring my concerns and joys before the Lord, at that point of the service where I am invited to do that.
Recently I also added a short Daily Devotional from Alistair Begg called Truth for Life. Alister is a Pastor at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls. I occasionally listen to him on the radio when I am driving. He has a wonderful Scottish accent which reminds me of my grandfather.
As I look back now I realize that all of this has been foundational in what I look at as my Rule of Life.
Now, I certainly don't want to sound as though I am boasting. However, I want to encourage us all that none of us comes fully formed. We all can seek a deeper and more personal relationship with the Lord.
That is why words like journey, traveling, and engaging, resonate powerfully with me. I certainly know that my life and relationship with the Lord has to be cultivated. I cannot achieve the things, which I perceive as God's will for me, without having some resource other than myself.
This Advent Season we have talked, perhaps we have experienced, a lot about the opportunities we have to give a little more time to our prayers and our study of the Lord's written word for us.
At the Healing Service on Wednesday I quoted several Scriptures about quietness and rest. I don't have time to read them this morning, but I will list them here and I will be happy to send them to you if you request them. Isaiah 30: 15, Zephaniah 3:17, Psalm 37:7 I hope I encouraged those who watched the service to a deeper understanding of the need for quietness and rest in our lives. That rather than bemoaning our inability to get out and do all those things that we want to be doing that we might actually take the opportunity to make positive use of the time we have.
The Collect this morning says it so well:
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
There is an expectation that we will have a daily visitation with the Lord. Are we making space in our day for that to happen? Making the space in our day, allowing for quietness and rest, by setting aside some time for the Lord to visit and speak into our lives.
Now, don't fret this does not mean that we will sit and watch the world go by.
We heard in the Old Testament reading for this morning that it was after David had established the Kingdom that he found himself in a time of rest. In fact, the scripture says: " the Lord had given him rest." David speaks to Nathan and wants to do something to honor the Lord.
Nathan initially seems to give David the go-ahead to do what he wants. But then the Lord speaks to Nathan and directs David to a different task.
"Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever."
It was in a time of quietness and rest that the Lord spoke. In the Epistle this morning from Romans, Paul shares an incredible piece of information. I hope you didn't miss it.
"Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen." Romans 16:25-27
Not only has the mystery been revealed, but we can explore and engage with what has been disclosed for ourselves. But we have to take the time, we have to set time aside.
The Gospel this morning is a wonderful example of what we are talking about. I don't know how many times I have read this Gospel from Luke. Time and again I have read it in my personal devotions and in the public reading of the Scriptures. Many times in the past I have read and heard Mary's response to the Angel. First in amazement and then in quiet, restful, acceptance. " Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”"
My emotional responses to Mary's words have been "all over the map." At times I have been in awe of her ability to say yes. At other times I have been amazed that she could have such faith at such a young age. Then, there have been times when I have also been incredulous because I find so difficult to comprehend that kind of simple obedience.
I have to admit I had one of those serendipitous moments as I read and prepared for this message this morning. You know the kind of event I spoke about last week or the week before. Where suddenly something will just stand up and stand out from the printed word and I will comprehend something in a totally new way.
All of my understanding of this passage changed, hopefully forever, this year as I read the phrase: " The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." I am going to step out on a limb here this morning and suggest that the way Mary found favor with God was because of her relationship with God. Mary knew the Lord, Mary was in relationship with the Lord.
I am going to suggest that Mary took the time - she took her opportunities for quiet and rest - to seek to walk with the Lord.
So, in this season of Advent, the time of waiting and watching, this time of Love, Hope, Peace and Joy, how are you doing with creating times of quiet and rest so that the Lord may speak into your life. How are you doing with developing your personal relationship with the Lord?
I hope you might find encouragement to consider developing your own Rule of Life. Prayer, the reading of Scripture, and conversation with the Lord. In your own way, in your own time, and with your personal desire to know the Lord.
Perhaps a place to start would be the prayer from the Holy Eucharist Rite II:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Isaiah 30: 15
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11: 28 - 30
Several months ago, early in the days of the pandemic I came to church one Sunday morning and I was preparing for Sunday Morning Service. I stood right about where I am now and looked out into the sanctuary. I think it might have been a Morning Prayer service. Jim and Paul were here and they were also busy about their preparations for worship.
We were all very new to this experience of streaming our service and I believe each of us was feeling our own level anxiety about what was happening and what we were doing. It wasn't happening the way that we wanted it to. We were dealing with our inexperience and the inadequate equipment we had at the time. Poor sound quality, not a lot of wifi bandwidth and not a lot of knowledge of how to do this.
I have to admit that I was particularly anxious about my own Sermon preparation and presentation. I had questions about my vocal quality and my accent being hindrances to people really being able to understand. When Paul had raised the question of us broadcasting our services at a vestry meeting early in his term on vestry I had tried to defer that decision.
As I look back now I have to admit that I think God really does have a somewhat warped sense of humor. For all the reasons I stated above I had pushed back against the idea. We talked about it in general terms, maybe, possibly, sometime in the future we might.
Then the pandemic hit and we found ourselves scrambling around trying to work it out on the fly. There was this little voice in the back of my head going: "well if you had listened to the Holy Spirit speaking to you through Paul you wouldn't be in this situation."
I took a deep breath and tried to bring some level of calmness to what I was doing and what I was thinking. I guess I must have thrown up a prayer and asked the Lord to help please, get through this service this morning without stumbling too much. That my dyslexia and my anxiety would hold enough so that I could the words on the page, particularly during my sermon.
As I stood there I remembered one of the Brothers of SSJE sermons. They were doing a series I think on the desert fathers. I stopped and thought about what it must have been like for those men?
The world they were living in was in chaos, the church was under attack, many people were suffering for their faith. I thought about the response of the desert fathers. The deep indwelling faith that they had. The majestic words and thoughts that they produced.
Suddenly I found myself considering their response. I found myself asking the question what did they do? They took themselves out into the desert. They lived in caves and small huts, isolated from the rest of the world and then. They prayed. They went through the liturgy that they developed, they went about the routine of their lives and they committed what they were doing to the Lord.
As I /we look back now we can see that the life of isolation and dedication in many ways saved the church at that time.
I suddenly had this urge that this may well be my "monastic" moment. It really didn't matter how professional what we were doing was. It didn't matter how many people were watching or engaged with us through the medium of live-stream. It was a question of being faithful to what we had been called to do.
To do it with grace and a deep sense that "if the Lord is in it" then all we had to do was go through the prayers. To go through the liturgy that we had chosen. To go about the routine of our lives and do the things we were committed to. In the knowledge that what we are doing is for and unto the Lord.
So, what does that have to do with our service tonight? Well, we find ourselves in a pretty isolated spot this evening. Here at Christ Church, it is just Jim and me. Paul is working tonight so he can't be here to operate the video. It will be very static, there won't be much movement in the video trying to catch special elements or moments. We really have no idea how many people will be viewing what we do.
All that doesn't matter.
If we do what we have committed to do and do it for and unto the Lord. He will honor that. As we bring our needs and the needs of the community before the Lord we are expressing the faith of the Centurian and Jarius in the one who as Isaiah expresses it: "was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed."