November 27, 2022

1A First Sunday of Advent 

Without a Vision

GOSPEL

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”   Matthew 24:36-44

SERMON

In the Book of Proverbs there is a verse that reads: “Without a vision, the people perish”. Vision calls us into our future.  Vision, and the hope it bears, provide the fuel that can keep us moving in the direction of tomorrow.  Without a vision we can only be stuck and trapped, either in the past, or within the limits of the present moment and its immediate needs.  

Without a vision, churches can be paralyzed by their traditions.  “We always did it this way and, by God, we will always do it this way.”  For example, “We never ordained women, so we will never ordain women.” But there is Tradition and there are traditions.  It is critically important to differentiate between the Tradition of the Church – tradition with a big “T”, and what might be a history of personal preferences and even long-standing universal or parochial idiosyncrasies – traditions with a small “t”.  We bear forth, as a great responsibility, the Apostolic Tradition, but we are at our best when we are poised to surrender all other traditions for a Kingdom inspired vision.  Being stuck is not a virtue. Flexibility – a willingness and readiness to embrace change – is.

As we can be paralyzed by our traditions, without a vision, churches can live in a place where they cannot see beyond the constraints of the moment – the building, its maintenance, operating expenses and limited financial resources.  Rather than Church being a Spirit-filled community of disciples engaged with making disciples of others, the meaning of church is reduced to a brick-and-mortar structure – a building I go to once a week to get my God fix.  Buildings and finances certainly have their importance, but any church that is to be viable must necessarily take and embrace those risks that alone nurture the possibility of a future that is kingdom-oriented and kingdom-driven. 

I do see great merit in living in the moment, however the authentic moment must always include a reference to the future.  This reference to the future gives the present moment a fullness that it would otherwise not have and keeps it from being hollow.

Doesn’t a student’s anticipation of finishing school and being successful in the marketplace give a measure of fullness to the present moment for that person?  Doesn’t someone’s anticipation of moving into a new house give a measure of fullness to the present moment for that person?  Doesn’t someone’s anticipation of having a child or grandchild give a measure of fullness to the present moment for that person? 

I believe our parish has been working at realizing a vision that among other things embraces diversity by becoming one congregation that ordinarily worships in two languages but otherwise stives to share all other aspects of our common life.  As we prepare to transition to new leadership, we will be striving to implement the next iteration of that vision by calling a bi-lingual and bi-cultural priest as the next rector of Holy Cross/Santa Cruz.  We have also been working with a vision that appreciates church, not as a siloed experience, that is focused exclusively or primarily on itself, but as a missional community the stives to be present to and be of service to the wider community.  Our involvement with the Kingston Interfaith Council and the Alliance of Black Ministers and our working in and with its diverse members for the sake of charity and justice are also vision driven, that we might know the Kingdom Oneness for which Jesus prayed at the Last Supper.  Again, our outreach to and our working with the many volunteers from the wider community, who daily make UIDN such a convincing witness to the power of love, advances the vision of the Beloved Community where none is in need because they shared what they have. 

I would hope that our anticipation of this community growing in grace, and continuing to bring forth signs of that grace, can give a measure of fullness to the present moment for us. I have been phoning individual volunteers to thank them personally for their service to UIDN.  Each person I phone makes a point of letting me know how enriched they feel and how grateful they are to be part of this effort.   

Through all this there emerges a ripening experience of unity that transcends personal preferences as to traditions, creeds, social and cultural differences.  Within the household of faith, it involves an evolving experience of oneness that transcends the gathering of friends and incorporates fellowship moments that intentionally acknowledge and celebrate our oneness in baptism. It involves a deepening experience of communion that transcends a mere being together, with a longing to pray and share faith with one another. 

Such can give a measure of fullness to the present moment for us that it would otherwise not have. Living in the moment can ring hollow or be fat with delight.  But it can only be fat with delight if it is considerate of tomorrow.

Today’s scriptures are about vision.  They give us a window into God’s vision for tomorrow.  Unlike our visions, which realize their satisfaction within a relatively short span of time, God’s vision will see its victory, in what often appears to be a remote and almost mystical time.  Isaiah’s vision is of a Heavenly Jerusalem.  

It is a vision of the mountain of the Lord’s house.  It is a vision of the Lord’s dwelling place.  All can fix their eyes upon it and use it as due north on a compass, to find and take direction.  It is a vision of catholicity or universality – all nations, tribes and peoples will come streaming together.  It is a vision of universal peace.  Nations will live by God’s priorities; they will take direction from these; there will be no need for arms; swords will be beaten into plowshare and spears into pruning hooks; conflict will give way to the will and reign of God.

Present realities always seem to confirm that God’s vision will only be fully realized in a remote and almost mystical time.

The vision of Jesus in today’s gospel is a vision of what has come to be called The Rapture“Two will be standing in the field, one will be taken the other left; two will be grinding at the mill, one will be taken the other left.”  It is a vision of being taken home.  Those who seek and love and desire a future with the Lord will be taken into Isaiah’s heavenly Jerusalem to live forever in the peace of God’s plenitude – fat with delight – for to be in the Lord is to be without want.   The Rapture too is set in a remote and almost mythical time and will take place, when the Father decides.

Is it all too remote to be relevant?  I think not.  It is only irrelevant to those who will to live hollow lives. In an evolved spirituality, the reference to the future, gives the moment its openness to the plenitude of the Holy.  Living in the moment can be hollow or it can be holy.  If seizing upon success in business; if moving into a new home; if becoming a grandmother; if looking forward to our Christmas liturgy together as a faith community, can engender a new ripeness in the moment, such that in our dreams, imaginations, and even choices, we are already where we want to be, certainly in terms of savoring the delight, then just consider what a day is like when it holds a sense of being home with God.  I hope that each of us can enjoy some days like this.

For home with God is not remote.  Jesus makes this clear, when He says the Kingdom is already within you, if you desire it.  It is to live in the world, but not be of the world.  It is to march to the beat of a different drum.  It is to live the vision of God.  It is to live the vision of God, one person at a time and one community at a time.

In a world at war, it is to be a person of peace and a community of peace.  In a world driven by revenge, it is to be a person of reconciliation and a community of reconciliation.  In a world of violence, it is to be a person of compassion and a community of compassion.  In a world in which it is so hard to break free of the nation or tribe, it is to be a catholic person and a catholic community. In a world that makes an idol of patriotism, it is to be persons and communities of loyal and passionate dissent.

God’s vision appears remote and seems to be set in a mythical time.  But for the individual or community that seeks first the Kingdom of God, the realization of that vision is happening now, in the present moment. Eternity is already contained in the present moment.  Eternity is already lived in the present moment. Thus, the present moment can be lived in plenitude, when it is lived in peace, reconciliation, and compassion.

That is why Saint Paul can say, with the greatest conviction, that salvation is nearer to us now than it ever was before. “The night is over.  The day is at hand.  Wake up from sleep.  Clothe yourself with the armor of light and cast off the works of darkness.”

Our visions for the future while limited can nevertheless be good.  But it would indeed be unfortunate if we content ourselves with our visions alone.  The most successful business career can come to dust overnight.  The most wonderful house will only be home for 50 years or so.  And grandchildren eventually forget their grandparents as life moves on.

God is inviting us to seek and find our futures in His story, and the meat of our present moment in His story.  To engage the invitation is to be alive in a way that has no equal.  God’s vision is the only real antidote to perishing now and perishing forever.  Amen.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna

November 27, 2022