God be in my mouth and in my speaking – God be in our heads and in our understanding, in the name of Christ, AMEN.
Maybe it does not always feel like this. Maybe some of us have been too often disappointed, too often bored, too often patronised.
So maybe it does not even often feel like this.
But when the preacher appears in church, or on Zoom, when he or she stands up to speak, it should feel, I think like the homecoming of someone who we know is bringing gifts. Perhaps a friend or relative who has been travelling, spending time in another country – they walk through the door carrying strangely shaped parcels – they greet us - they hand over their precious cargo.
We are the unwrappers – we pull the paper off and look – where did you find that? what is it? Is it just for looking at or am I meant to use it?
Our preachers are the ones we send out to explore what Karl Barth called ‘the strange new world of the Bible’. Send them out with only the lectionary for a map -
Sometimes, like this morning perhaps, they appear looking tired – maybe it was a long journey – maybe they got lost – is that a strange gleam in their eye – what did they see and hear out there? who did they meet? and what did they bring back? what did they get for us?
If that is what a preacher does and if I am your preacher today, then I am here to say – I brought you something back – I brought you gifts – I brought you something wild and something gentle.
The wild thing is a gospel – the gentle thing a letter. They need to be unwrapped – so we can see what kind of things they are.
The wild thing comes from Mark – the scholars call it “the little apocalypse” – which helps to warn us off, because apocalypse is a wild word. It conjures up Dante, Milton, Conrad, Coppola, Brando –
Mark 13 is a strange world to walk in – it begins like a crazy film scape – where the editor moves us in and out of time – life flashes back and forward – angles keep changing – lights flash on and off – the hand holding the camera shakes – because everything is shaken – everything in heaven and on earth is shaken and the sun goes dark and the stars fall – and all this because Jesus Christ the Son of Man is coming with great power and glory. Coming with angels to gather in his own from the four winds.
Mark seems all too clear this is where history is going – how could it not be so – the world, the life, the time which came from God is going on and into God and Jesus the story telling rabbi prophet is coming on the clouds.
And Mark it seems, was sure that Jesus said this would all happen soon – so soon that you could hardly dare to sleep at night – so soon that time was short, so soon that everything must be rethought, recast, reworked, revised – so soon that the hope and dread of this coming must shed its light and cast its shadows over everything you did.
And if that seems embarrassing, confusing, misguided – here’s something to ponder - the church not only failed to edit out his apparent blunder – it kept on reading it, reading and repeating it – and on this Sunday above all, it said to itself – on Advent Sunday we will read this gospel. It said to itself and we say to ourselves – there is something deeper than a mistake going on here.
So that when we hear it, we hear these strange discordant claims – and with them hear the claim that these words shall not pass away, though earth and heaven shall.
This is perhaps what the poet Fergus MacFionnlaigh meant when he spoke about “the word of truth which is heavier than the world”.
Not that you know the day or hour, because not even angels, or the Son of God knows this – this is not yours to know – yours is to watch and stay awake – yours is to scan the horizon – to watch for breaks in the cloud – yours is to pray the Maranatha – every day – pray Maranatha – every day pray Come Lord Come.
Here then, is a gift for Advent Sunday – something wild – something to disconcert you, shake you up, make you expect God to show up, and to remind you that the cosmos, universe, time and space itself are his… and you are his.
The gentle thing is a letter – a letter from Paul – Paul the great misunderstood genius apostle pastor – bete noire of liberal Christians – the strange darling of post Marxist philosophers like Zisek and Badiou – Paul is writing to the church at Corinth – writing a letter full of grace and truth – sure of his calling from God – sure of his standing in Jesus Christ. Paul is writing to a church in a time of unsettlement – a church where people disagree and quarrel – a church in transition with questions about its leadership – a church where some are awash with money and others are deep in debt, a church where the lives of some are sexually chaotic, a church where some speak in strange tongues and others don’t – a church confused about doctrine and practice – a church filled with life and love and rage and anxiety and questions.
To this church, Paul writes gently, warmly – he thanks God for them – they are the saints with all God’s people everywhere – he writes to tell them, gently, purposefully that they are a people full of grace, a people who have been enriched by Christ in every way – He writes to show them that even in this time when they are waiting for their Lord – for Jesus Christ to be revealed – even in this waiting time - they have all that they need. They do not lack for any spiritual gift – they should look round at one another and see gifts, hear gifts – and they should see how they are being given strength – strength through the witness to Christ among them – strength being given them by Christ himself – strength in the time of waiting - strength to endure and overcome and to be free from guilt on the day of Christ’s coming. This is the strength of Christian community – the strength of being held and fed, graced and enriched by those who are their sisters and brothers and the strength of being held by the faithfulness of God.
Here is a gift for Advent Sunday – something gentle. Something to ground us, to quiet us, to confirm us – something to remind us who we are - the church of God, called to be saints, those living in the fellowship of Christ – those who are freed from guilt and given everything we need to be God’s people.
These are God’s gifts to us as we begin again today – as we begin again in God’s time, as we begin to walk with God into another Christian year. These gifts are given as we take up the ancient rhythm of Advent and learn again to pray Maranatha. Are given as we remember that the Christ by whom all things were made, the Christ once born at Bethlehem has died, has risen, that Christ will come again – that Christ will come to us today – in word and silence, in the touch of the women and men around us - that Christ will come in bread and wine. That Christ will come today and everyday – will come at Christmas – and will always come until his coming brings the end of time itself.
And when he comes, he comes as both the Lion and the Lamb.
You sent me on a journey and I brought you something back.
Something wild and something gentle.
This speaking is a way of trying to give the same gifts given to me in my listening to the Word.
What they are and what they are for – where we will put them, what they are good for – these are questions to be answered by us all in the hours and days ahead.
For now, we have been given something gentle and something wild -
These are the gifts of God for the people of God.