Are you alive ?
Sermon by Clare Heard, Advent Sunday, 2nd December 2018, United Benefice of Holland Park
Are you alive?
It’s a strange question isn’t it – because clearly you are sitting here, breathing, hopefully listening!....you got yourself to church this morning – so clearly, at some level you are alive.
But do you feel it? Or do you sometimes feel like you are slowly dying inside, no longer connecting with the wonder and joy of our world?
Are you too weighed down by stress, worry, or busy-ness to feel alive? Are you too tired to feel alive? Anyone know what I’m talking about? Those times when we go through the motions, we rush around ticking things off the list, we meet deadlines, we meet people – but it sometimes feels like we are on autopilot, like we’re not really living, because we don’t have the time and space to really breath. We’re not really alive….
So at this point you may well be asking what has all this got to do with advent, and the texts we read today?
As you may already know, advent is not just about preparing for Christmas, but also preparing for the second coming of Christ, and the gospel reading today reflects this.
We are told to look for signs, to be aware of what is happening around us, to be alert. But Jesus also says that this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place – everything will pass away - but his words will not pass away. So how do we understand this?
[Some scholars, such as NT Wright, believe these warnings are about the fall of Jerusalem] but it doesn’t entirely explain some of Jesus’s words here. So to dig a bit deeper, I have recently spent time listing to Rob Bell, a US theologian, comedian and preacher. Bell understands these passages as relating to the present, not the future.
These passages point to heaven and hell, and these are real for Bell, but they are not places we go when we die. They are connected to who we are in Christ now. We are called to accept the gift of a transformative life that can endure even death. Christ comes again each time we accept him into our lives now. Christ comes again in the church, in all those who choose life.
This life is a gift from a God who truly desires life on earth to be like it is in heaven, both now and for eternity, and who lets us serve as partners in this work of reconciling a world that God loves and will never give up on.
Hell is real, but it is a place we create for ourselves as we reject the gift of life God offers to us. There are many events in history and even in the present where we can recognize hell on earth, like the concentration camps, the aftermath of a suicide bomb, those living in war zones, simply trying to survive.
But the choice between heaven and hell, between life and death can also be more subtle. Every time we chose to ignore those in pain, when we turn away from those offering us love, when give in to bitterness and disappointment, we shut down, we die a little.
In contrast, each time we chose to deal with pain through opening ourselves to God’s love rather than becoming bitter, every time we recognize someone else in pain or need and offer them support, every time we stop to enjoy the beauty and wonder of this world, we start to see heaven opening here, now.
So I ask you again – are you alive? Do you feel alive? Are you able to accept this gift of life that God offers?
Isn’t that why we are here? Why we come to church Sunday by Sunday? It isn’t about making sure a place is reserved for us in heaven when we die, it is about connecting with the very source of life each week – making space in our lives for God’s love – sharing in his communion.
Because let’s face it, we’re not always very good at doing it on an hourly or even daily basis. Most of us move too fast, we disconnect from the miracle of our own existence and hurtle through life without appreciating it! This is why Jesus tells us to be on our guard.
It’s so easy to slip into unhealthy patterns isn’t it? We can work too hard, spend too much time on screens, spend all our energy trying to be the most successful, the most beautiful, the best…..and in doing so, we slowly die – we disconnect from life and from God.
If we are going to really live as God intended, we need to nurture ourselves – to take care of, pay attention to what feeds our souls, to what reconnects us to life.
Jesus asks us to look up – to observe the world around us, to pay attention – because it is only if we do this, that we will be able to bring heaven to earth – it is only as we make time for God, make time for others and make time for ourselves, that we will be able to accept our redemption.
As well as it being the first Sunday of advent, we are also celebrating Romilly’s baptism today. And it’s incredibly appropriate that the readings are about connecting with God’s love, recognizing his presence, and saying yes – because this is also what we do at baptism.
We say yes to God – we open ourselves up to his love and we welcome Romilly into that loving relationship God has with each of us and the whole of creation. We welcome her into the church family – we invite her to join us each week as we make space for God’s love in our lives and we promise to help her embrace that love, and become the person God created her to be, so that she too may help to bring heaven here to earth.
Romilly is loved – by her family, by her godparents, and by God. Today, we all promise to continue to love her, to share that love, and to help her say yes to God. We promise to help her to really live, to breath, to recognize the joy and wonder of this life and to connect with the source of all life.
God's essence is love and that essence can never change. Today, Romilly joins each of us here as disciples, students, on the journey to draw nearer to God, to receive more of his love, more of his life, and to share that life and that love with our world.
Reference Rob Bell's book “Love Wins”