Monday, December 23, 2013

I Dreamed a Dream

A sermon preached at St. Andrew's On-the-Sound Episcopal Church in Wilmington, NC on December 22, 2013.  The text was Matthew 1:18-25

Let me share with you the night that I, like Joseph, ‘awoke from sleep.’ With a spirit full of cynicism, I rode in my parent’s Suburban to Englewood Baptist Church on the night of March 14, 1999.  My parents had been begging me to go to the youth group, but I had absolutely no interest in religious games and tired sermons about ‘right living’ and ‘getting saved.’  But I had a weakness that my parent’s expertly exploited to get me to go that night: WCW Uncensored 1999. It was the Pay Per View wrestling match to end all wrestling matches.

My parents begged me to go to church.  I begged my parents to buy the Pay Per View.  And a compromise was reached.  If I went to Youth Group that night, they’d let me watch Spring Stampede.  Being the intelligent young man that I was, I agreed speedily, though a bit begrudgingly.  I had no interest in church.  Though I liked the new youth pastor we had, it was still church.  And that church was full of kids I went to a Christian school with, kids I knew to profess one thing at school yet live a different life after the bell had rung.  I had no interest in playing the part of a Christian.  I was far too interested in trouble making than to care about Jesus or the life of the Church.  But for WCW Uncensored, I was willing to do anything, including sitting through what I was sure was going to be a poorly delivered sermon.

These many years later, I don’t remember the sermon exactly.  I don’t remember the songs we sang, or the games we played.  There may have been pizza and soda, I’m not sure.  But I do remember one thing: I met Jesus there, as if for the first time, and my eyes were opened and I ‘awoke from sleep.’  As Joe was preaching, he began to speak about the unconditional, unquenchable love of God.  And how that love was fully revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And how that love was for me.  For me, one who had no time for God, who had no appreciation of the story of Jesus, no care about the power of the Spirit.  In spite of my rebellion, my cynicism, my general unworthiness, God loved me and deeply desired my love in return.  I was awestruck.  As if Cupid’s arrow had pierced my heart, I fell in love with God.  To quote from the Song of Solomon, read at my ordination to the priesthood last week: “Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go.” No longer asleep, missing the wondrous workings of God in my midst, I awoke, my spirit took flight and today I’m more alive than ever because of that night.
It’s twists and turns like mine, and like Joseph’s, that reveal to me the power of Christ’s coming into this world.  Joseph was a righteous man, faithful to God as God was understood by him.  And when his young fianc√© became pregnant without Joseph’s aid, he knew in his heart that he couldn’t remain with her.  His righteousness wouldn’t allow him to scandalize her, but paradoxically it was precisely that righteousness that initially prevented him from discerning God’s working in the blossoming womb of Mary.  And God, who is creative beyond measure, used even a dream and a night of fitful sleep to open Joseph’s eyes and awaken him to the new reality unfolding right in his midst. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” When Joseph awoke, he was a new man.  He was suddenly convinced of the truth of Mary’s story.  His eyes were opened, and he received the as-yet-unborn Jesus with opened arms and a new sense of vocation.

If God can use a dream to awaken Joseph, or a wrestling match to bring me into the Church, I wonder what God is using, right this very moment, to awaken you?  In a time full of gift wrapping and spiced egg nog, are you listening for the voice of God trying to awaken you to a fresh sense of Christ’s presence in the world? Two more days until Christmas Eve.  Two more days until we’ll gather here again and pray with a renewed sense of appreciation and thanksgiving, “Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit.” Listen for the voice that calls can wake you to a new sense of vocation, a new sense of identity as a child of God made new by Jesus’ birth. Though Jesus meets us every moment of every day, we have an opportunity to meet Jesus again as if for the first time.  Together, let’s plan on being transformed once again.

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