Saint Hilda's House

through the gates and into the city

Sermon: 'The Voice of One Crying Out in the Wilderness'

This week, St. Hilda's went on the road to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Milford.  I was invited to preach, then Seth and I were blessed to get to know an incredibly warm and welcoming congregation.  Here is my sermon from the day: I hope it is a respectful reflection on the tragedies America has witnessed (and continues to witness) as a result of the racial and economic inequality woven into much of Western Society.

See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.

A new year has begun.  For many, it has begun with anger and despair. We don't need to settle every question about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner to know that they were not the natural consequences of a just world.  We don't need to settle every question of blame and retribution to know that a 12 year old being shot for whatever reason is not good news.  

For all that this year is beginning with pain, death and protest, however, we still stand also at the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This Advent is not just the advent of a process of mourning: it is the advent of a process of healing which hides above, within, and below all the words that we see fit to say.  We stand at a point of origin for both death and life, both despair and hope.  

If this is true, however, the question still stands: what are we to do in the light of this truth?  Should we, for example, therefore read the words of good and bad news together with a feeling of hope, not allowing them to prevent us from carrying on safe in the knowledge that all will be well and all manner of things will be well?  Well, yes, but this yes must be qualified; after all, if the import of this truth can be reduced to the fact of a feeling, then we have painted a very thin picture indeed of the Kingdom which John the Baptist was sent to proclaim.  Indeed, if we limit hope to what we feel in our hearts, if we express it only in our emotional reactions to news stories, then we may even have made a deception of hope in the face of real suffering.  We cannot understand hope as just an inner state.

I had not dreamt death had undone so many....

I had not dreamt death had undone so many....

Neither, however, can we understand hope as a function of action alone, as if all that mattered were that we act as we think best, since God will therefore make all things possible for us.  This can just lead into another deception, one which conflates Gospel hope with human idealism and understands possibility as above all a matter of will.  All things might be possible for God: this does not, however, mean that we have reason to uncritically believe that our best intentions are indeed for the best things, nor that they shall be done on earth or heaven.  

Where does this leave us, then?  If the good news is cause for hope in the face of all injustice and pain, but the import of this hope cannot be reduced to the form of thought or action, then what are we to do in the light of the good news?

There are, of course, many possible answers: I am going to focus on one, however.  It is one suggested by today's Gospel, in the words of Isaiah: 'see, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare you way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.'  I am not going to focus on what it is to prepare the way.  Instead I am going to suggest that our first concern in this time of beginnings may well be this this: to try and turn our whole being towards hearing the voice of that messenger, crying out in the wilderness.

The wilderness is where we are.  It is our home, and a voice is crying out within it.  It is crying out in the lives of the poor, whether those who don't have enough money or those who don't have enough love.  It is crying out in the tears and the laughter of those who are alone.  It is crying out in the lives of those who hunger  It is crying out in the lives and deaths of those who suffer from the same systematic injustice from which I have benefited.  And before we turn to the question of how we are to feel or what we are to do in the light of either bad news or the Gospel, we who might not otherwise have listened must first turn to that voice: we must try to hear it.  This means more than reading the news or conversing for minutes of a day, however: it means that we who do not know our own cries must in some way seek to be with that voice.  We should seek break bread with any who cry out; we should seek to live with them; we should seek to ask questions and be both convinced and convicted by their answers.  In short, we should seek to live in community with those whose voices are crying out in the wilderness.

A huge thank you to Rev. Tricia and St. Andrew's in Milford for hosting us.  

A huge thank you to Rev. Tricia and St. Andrew's in Milford for hosting us.  

I am a member of St. Hilda's House.  We are an intentional community of young adults trying as best we can to live in community and in communion with that voice.  I warmly invite you to join us after coffee hour if you would like to hear a little more of what that means; right now, however, I am going to try and draw out one aspect of our hope: that we can learn to hear that voice in the wilderness by living with and working with those who cry out, both in joy and in pain.  Our hope is that we might share in the lives of others to such an extent that we can see people as they are, not from a point above or below, but from a point of genuine companionship.  Our hope is that, by living with others, we might learn how we are to prepare the way of the Lord, through the concrete demands of love which Jesus Christ makes of us in the face of our neighbour.  

Within all this, we also hope that we might be so taken by the voice in the wilderness that our lives begin to echo it.  We hope that we might therefore begin to point first and foremost to its source in Jesus Christ, as we meet him in the stranger.  As the Digital Missioner Saint Hilda's House, my job is to explore the ways in which we can use modern technology to do this, and I will also be talking briefly after the service about a few ways that we can maybe use the Internet in the service of the Gospel.  

Right now, however, I just hope that these words here might be able to point towards that voice today.  I pray that, as this advent begins, we might seek to hear the voice in the wilderness anew, and through it hear the call of Christ to us.  I pray that we might hear again the voice of John calling us to baptism and repentance.  Above all, I pray that the hope we find in this voice proclaiming the good news might be more than either feeling or action: I pray that our hope might begin with our building both community and communion with all who cry out in the wilderness.  For it is precisely for this community that the good news begins; and it is precisely in this communion that we are brought to the peace of God.

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