Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent 1: Signs


The table is ready

Makes me feel good, coming into the sanctuary, seeing it all ready for worship. The work we did yesterday--Teddy, Jay, Stephen-- worth it. Appears that Sanctuary has added festive wreaths to the mix. And Teddy has a pot of hot mulled cider simmering...

I couldn’t find our traditional brass Advent wreath yesterday so I brought my blue ceramic one from home, made years ago by Latvian potter Valda from Pittsburgh. It was a special commission. I gave her the idea one Christmas. A longtime friend of my late Uncle Leon, she would host an annual open house with Latvian cookies and mulled wine while in the living  room you could see her tree decorated, in the Latvian tradition with real candles. Every year she would terrify her guests when she lit the candles. It’s OK, she’d say, I have a bucket of water nearby...

So I also brought the communion set she made for me. Not doing any good at home. It’s a risk, I know. Things have a disturbing way of disappearing around here, even from locked rooms. 

I should have known. We did all that work yesterday getting Rachelle’s stuff ready to be  moved out. The desk guy at Capital Hall said he hadn’t seen her in days. So of course, today, right before worship, she shows up. I can see the looks on Stephen and Teddy’s faces, their hearts sinking. 

And of course, right before worship, she’s all worked up. 
Why didn’t you tell me? 
We’ve been telling you for months.
How am I going to help people, I don’t know where anything is..
It’s all very neatly packed up.
Well.they’ve messed everything up, I knew where every item was...and some of my best things, my pretty things, my beautiful things, I showed the young lady, they’re gone pastor, they’re gone, what am I going to do?
Rachelle, Rachelle, I can’t have this conversation now.

I see the congregation gathering. She will be in there, opening boxes, rummaging through things...Rachelle, please wait until after the service,please...

I look out and see Tracy and her partner Su Young and I smile. Soon her two sisters will arrive as well. And there will be another visitor, a young woman, dragged in, it will turn out, by Rachelle.

We begin with O Come, O Come, Emmanuel... and I have Teddy light the first Advent candle. 

We say our prayers, read our scriptures. And then, with Marc’s help, Something’s coming from West Side Story comes over the sound system. 

Could be! 
Who knows? 
There's something due any day; 
I will know right away, 
Soon as it shows. 
It may come cannonballing down through the sky, 
Gleam in its eye, 
Bright as a rose! 

Who knows? 
It's only just out of reach, 
Down the block, on a beach, 
Under a tree. 
I got a feeling there's a miracle due, 
Gonna come true, 
Coming to me! 

Could it be? Yes, it could. 
Something's coming, something good, 
If I can wait! 
Something's coming, I don't know what it is, 
But it is 
Gonna be great! 

With a click, with a shock, 
Phone'll jingle, door'll knock, 
Open the latch! 
Something's coming, don't know when, but it's soon; 
Catch the moon, 
One-handed catch! 

Around the corner, 
Or whistling down the river, 
Come on, deliver 
To me! 
Will it be? Yes, it will. 
Maybe just by holding still, 
It'll be there! 

Come on, something, come on in, don't be shy, 
Meet a guy, 
Pull up a chair! 
The air is humming, 
And something great is coming! 
Who knows? 
It's only just out of reach, 
Down the block, on a beach, 

So why did I do that? It’s Advent....and something’s....coming...something’s coming...and like 
Tony in West Side Story.....we are filled with anticipation. And not even sure what it is we are waiting for. Just that something’s coming...

Every year, we go through three Advents at the same time. First of all, we’re waiting, getting ready for this year’s  Christmas that is coming...but we also remember all the Christmases of our lives. And even  more....we’re getting ready for Jesus. His return. The coming of his kindom, his reign, his beloved community. 

We experience time chronologically but also in cycles. So every year when I see the decorations go up, I have a sinking feeling. Another year coming to an end, another year of so much left undone...where am I, where are we, on our journey? All in the hustle and bustle and stress of a holiday season. 

So we need Advent. To carve out some time. Some space in time, out of time, to get ready...

Our Luke passage (21: 25-36) is all about signs and portents...People are always looking for that...and it’s not like we don’t see them...Any age, any time is filled with its own apocalyptic images. Enough to prove the end is near. In Bible study, we learned that the devastating earthquake in Pompeii informed some of Mark’s apocalyptic imagery.

(I shared the story of the man in Far Rockaway....the wall of water, the screaming car alarms, electric wires hitting the water, wading through floating garbage...almost losing his daughter in law...)

It doesn’t get any more apocalyptic than that...

We lit our first candle today for the Prophets..those who help us discern the times. Strikes me that today, scientists are our prophets now...They are trying to get us to see that actions have consequences....put too much carbon emission in the air, you get global warming...destroy the wetlands, you get catastrophic flooding...actions have consequences...

Like I said the first weekend after Sandy, don’t talk about natural disasters...the hurricane was weather...the disaster human made...a direct result of our policy decisions.

The call of the gospel  is to not  give in to our fears...and I always note that the worries of this world are right up there with dissipation and someone said, worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.... you almost draw it to you....

And I want us also to see that the  redemption  spoken of by the prophet (Jeremiah 33: 14-16) is collective, not they said at Midland Beach in Staten Island, the problem here is individualization of crisis...

Signs...We see signs......I tell them of the story of the Occupiers and police on Staten Island....the wariness, slowly beginning to work together daily...the growing mutual see the Occupy signs and NYPD/FDNY signs side by side...that’s somewhere between hell freezing over and Jesus coming again...signs of the coming world we’re supposed to live into...signs of the alternative reality we’re called to live in now....

That’s what I have, this first Sunday in Advent...signs....

a candle for Stephen Festa
we remember
Before we gather for communion, we stop to commemorate World AIDS day. I remind the church of the deep history of the AIDS crisis at West-Park. I recall the creation of God’s Love We Deliver meals on wheels program for people with AIDS. I point to the Tiffany window restored in honor of and dedicated to Stephen Festa in 1987. And light a candle by his plaque. And we light candles in memory of those we have lost. And invite their spirits, and the spirits of all who came before us in this place to join us in our communion. 

As I lift up the bread, I recall that food justice is at every level....production, distribution, consumption...and think of all the hands involved in our loaf of bread, from seeds to store... and how grapes too must go through that process...and that in the end, it is we who are transformed into the bread of life, the risen body, to be leaven, to bring ferment to our world.  

As the people come forward for communion, I hear Tracy as she comes to Hope, a little unsure what to do...I’ve never dome this before...she says... 

We sing Come thou long expected Jesus and gather around the table. And I read the day’s Epistle lesson as a benediction:

9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 
And we sing our amens, return to Teddy’s hot mulled cider.
Stephen invites the Sanctuary NYC folks to share in our AIDS memorial candles.  Later, I’ll look and see that they did and that  all the candles are lit and glowing...
The young woman who was visiting comes forward. Tells me that she was dragged in by Rachelle. That she was raised Catholic, with serious issues with church. And that she didn’t know it could be this way I like the intimacy, the caring of your community she says...And I thank her for her presence. 
Ramon is preparing for his ballet. He came in as we left yesterday. Didn’t hear Jeremy when he called. Jeremy had to come down to the Gate to borrow keys. A package of bacalao in his hands. It’s a long story , he said....
Tracy and her sisters
I take a picture of Tracy and her sisters. You’re like an Asian, she said,always taking pictures...

Rachelle renews her assault. Her high pitched, staccato words like a dentist’s drill boring into my head. Later she will set up a display on the steps. Tired, I finally say, if it bothers Sanctuary, they can deal with it.
She sees me going up Amsterdam and follows. Telling me her medical miracle, living with scleroderma. (I told her I knew the story)And of her miraculous rescue from a car accident and the cop who called her an angel. She tells me an angel of mercy. She says I am an angel, too. .This is going on too long. I a exhausted. Remember the first West-Park rule. Remember...don’t try and have rational conversations with irrational people...

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