Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Just when most protestants start the count-down to Christmas, we liturgical Christians can’t go near the holly and the ivy, the mistletoe and the other marks of celebration, but first must clean house spiritually.
What works of darkness do you intend to cast away?
My question intimdates me, because only 11 days from being 73, I still don't trust my ability to discern my own works of darkness.
I was raised in Alabama in the 1930s and 40s, deep behind the Cotton Curtain, by parents who loved me dearly. Yet they taught me, as they had been taught, that "Nigras" (they chose that form intending to be polite) were created inferior and while they should not mingle with us socially, should be treated fairly.
That view was maintained at our Baptist congregation, at my prep school (the same one that Ted Turner attended with me, and that Senator Howard Baker and The Rev. Pat Robertson attended a decade earlier), and it was maintained when I entered Baylor University as a freshman in 1954 -- 55 years ago.
When I analyzed works of darkness in my life then, it did not cross my spiritual radar to include racism or sexism or heterosexism. I thought that only a few godless Yankees would turn religion into political agendas, stirring up trouble.
Meanwhile, I knew that you shouldn't smoke, drink, cuss, chew or beat your wife -- not that I was tempted to do any of those things. I knew about my secret desires but avidly suppressed them, the guilt from which made me all the more fervant in worship.
And at Baylor, I learned of a new sin to add to my list: 'mixed bathing.' When Texans told me that God opposed 'mixed bathing,' I wondered what would ever have possessed anyone to be heathenish enough even to think about taking a bath naked with someone of the opposited gender!
Many of our priorites for the "works of darkness" were wrong for most of us freshmen at Baylor in 1954, but what similar community understandings blind me to systemic works of darkness in which I willingly participate right now?
I have little trouble listening to my conscience: I have great difficulty educating it. Thus I would emend the opening of today's collect: "Almighty God, give us the wisdom to discern what is good and evil and then give us the grace to cast away the works of darkness...."
Let’s personalize Jeremiah’s witness to our own time and place:
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for the United States; and its President shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Washington will be saved and the nation will live in safety. And this is the name by which the righteous branch will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."
Hope is indeed audacious.
The psalmist suggests that we are not to be weighed down for sins long past:
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.
I sometime find it harder to forgive myself than to believe that God has already forgiven me. Sometimes my sin’s most devastating consequence is my perception of it as indelible.
In the 1970s while working in London, I sought the counsel of a priest. He listened patiently and said, “Your story is very moving but it sounds rehearsed, like you might have perfected it through several iterations. Is this something you are really feeling, or are you stuck with some private shame as safer than or more certain than taking on uncharted directions for your life?”
A few “Hail, Mary’s” and “Our Fathers” were almost redundant after this priest opened my heart again to the living God.
As I try to discern my own "works of darkness" I continually find it easiest to focus on old sins that are no longer pressing problems -- habits I feel more comfortable confessing. Feeling guilty becomes for many of us a drug of choice. That is not healthy. Jesus died for our sins; he does not expect us to grovel.
I was delighted when a friend of mine at last completed his jail sentence and was released. We had met during one of his earlier releases: he saw an ad I had placed in a local paper in Georgia, inviting writers to a regular meeting at which we would read our new work and critique the new work of others. He wrote lousy poetry, but he took criticism to heart, re-wrote and returned meeting after meeting. He went on to write some good work.
I did not see him again after we moved to another state, and then I received a sad letter from a prison in Florida: he told me that he been convicted for armed robbery of a convenience store. He stole a six pack of beer and then sat in the parking lot of the store drinking it all. He passed out and was sound asleep when the police were called.
“I did not know how to cope with the freedom I had,” he wrote me. “A conflict arose at work and I felt trapped between two adversaries. It seemed I could in no way win, and so I freaked out about it. I suppose I really hoped to be arrested. I know the rules of the joint. In here I am not given much leeway to do myself harm.”
That pattern continued through two more incarcerations and release, and then he determined he could live responsibly outside. He worked for a time as a carnie. He met a woman who loved him, and after about two decades together they’re still living successfully outside the joint but below the poverty level on the edge of the desert in Arizona. His poetry continues to improve, and he haunts the public library.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” Plagiarize Saint. I am sure that he gives us permission to use his words as our own and send then on a hand-written note to 5-10 persons that need to hear that from us. Who in your life gives you joy just to think about? Do they know that?
Jesus invites his disciples to live on the edge with Great Expectations, unafraid of all the disasters and signs and wonders that will herald his approach.
“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” Really?!
Have they left already? Has the second-coming happened already?
Or did Jesus have a faulty iPod calendar?
Don’t ask; don’t tell.