SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D SAMUEL L. WOOD AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
SUNDAY, JANUARY 30, THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY

Fifty plus inches of snow in a month. Winters in this place always make me think of a story I heard in seminary about a man in Michigan and was just about fed up with the wicked winters there.  He and his wife decided to take a quick vacation to Miami to thaw out, but because he had a business meeting in Green Bay first, he was going to fly straight to Miami from Wisconsin, and his wife would fly down and meet him a day later.  When the husband landed and got checked in, he sent an email to his wife, but he missed one keystroke on her email address and the message went to an elderly woman in Iowa who had been married to a pastor for 40 years but had just that day come home from her husband's funeral. The widow checked her email because she expected to hear from friends and family. Right after she read this email she fainted and her son ran into the room and saw his mom then read the screen.

To: My Beloved Wife 
Subject: I’ve arrived 
Just want you to know that I’ve arrived safely and gotten checked in. 
Looking forward to you joining me here tomorrow. 
Signed, Your Loving Husband 
P.S. Sure is hot down here. 

I never get tired of that joke. But I wonder – If God happened to send an email to our parish today, on the occasion of our Annual Meeting, how would it read? To be sure, it would recount many things to be proud of.  My family and I have been here for a year and a half now, and we are consistently surprised and humbled by the vibrancy of our parish life at the Advent. In so many ways, the state of our union is strong. We are a close-knit family that takes care of each other, whether at our coffee hours or through the Advent Meal Rota.  And you only need to pick up a copy of the Annual Report to see how much has happened this year at the Advent: 

• 2010 was a time of record financial giving in the parish (not to mention all the time and talent parishioners offer)
• Every Tuesday night we serve dinner to more than 75 needy friends in Moseley Hall, and the new Guild of St. Elizabeth formed this year to pray together and bake bread to give to those in need
• Our church school is growing; we’ve had baptisms and confirmations; the diocese admitted one of our parishioners as a postulant for Holy Orders; our Walk through the Bible in Entr’acte has had high and consistent attendance 
• Our house groups are flourishing, including a new Family Group that formed this year
• In the area of liturgy, we consistently celebrated the sacraments and the daily offices, and the music ministry here continues to be exquisite

Much to be proud of. But I think Paul’s words to the Corinthians have special resonance with us on this particular day. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, he exhorts them: “Consider your call,” so I want to take just a couple of minutes for us to consider our own call together. First, let’s look at the call itself, and then pull out three implications of that call.

First, the call itself: Consider – The word “consider” in Greek means to direct attention to or give deliberate, sustained thought to – your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are . . . . (1 Cor. 1.26ff)  Why did God call you? Why has he called our parish family? When we direct attention to our call we see the same thing the Corinthians saw: Nothing in us that warrants our being called by God. What matters to God isn’t our wisdom, our power, our social status; rather, God chooses the opposite of what we would choose if we wanted to start a movement – God chooses the foolish, the weak, the lowly and despised. Why? Because his project isn’t about us, it’s all about him, and it always has been. 

Choosing weak people to change the world is what God does for a living. In the seventh chapter of Deuteronomy, which we’ll be looking at in Entr’acte next Sunday, Moses tells the Israelites: “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he . . . redeemed you from the land of slavery . . . .” (Deut. 7.7-8a) If God chose the smartest, or the most eloquent, or the richest or the most whatever, the temptation would be to look at that person and say “Wow, look what she has been able to accomplish,” when what God wants us to do is say “Wow, look what God can do.” 

Jack White is kind of a renaissance guy – he’s a songwriter, he sings, plays guitar, formed the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, he even acts now and again. A couple years ago a filmmaker shot a documentary called “It Might Get Loud” about White and two other guitarists, the Edge from U2 and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. In one of my favorite scenes, Jack White is standing by a porch, and he takes a board, some nails, a strand of wire and a coke bottle, and he builds a guitar in about two minutes.(1)  What makes that remarkable isn’t the nails or the board or the wire – they’re just plain nails, board and wire – it’s that Jack White took them and built a guitar. We’re supposed to marvel at the creator, not his creation. And that’s what Paul is reminding the Corinthians and us – In a world where you can get famous just by being famous (reality show, scandal), it’s not our notoriety or gifts that matter, it’s the God who calls us and makes us what we are. 

And that has three implications: 

First, fear goes away. When I became a priest – you can ask Renee’ about this – the first thing I ran into was fear. Here I was – I had studied for years, had completed all the formation process for becoming a priest – and I didn’t have the first clue what to do next. I think I spent the first week after my ordination rearranging the books on the shelves in my office because I was afraid I would be a failure because I wasn’t a great teacher or the most compelling preacher or a man with a well-developed vision of what my ministry was supposed to be. But one day I was reading in the gospel of John, and I saw where Jesus told his disciples: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain . . . .” (John 15.16)  And slowly, not overnight, but a little at first, then more, then more . . . the fear began to go away.  If my success or failure depended on God and not on my ability, then I didn’t have to be afraid -- if God wanted to use me, he would. 

Second, when the fear evaporates, we’re free to take risks for God. And our prayers will get much, much bigger. As long as we think our success or failure depends upon us, our own effort or creativity or ability, there will always be a voice inside telling us to hedge; to try new initiatives or continue old ones but always “keep it within reason. Don’t get too carried away."  Dawson Trotman is another one of my heroes – he started a para-church group called the Navigators and had a profound impact on the lives of thousands of people before he drowned saving a woman’s life in a New York lake in 1956. Billy Graham once said of Trotman “I think Dawson touched more lives than any man I have ever known,” and that was true not because Trotman was so gifted but because he believed God wanted to touch all those people, and he prayed like that's what he believed. The story is that he would often meet other Christians and ask them whether they had asked God for anything big lately, and he explained himself in this quote from The Navigator by Robert Foster: 

Do you know why I often ask Christians, “What’s the biggest thing you’ve asked God for this week?” I remind them that they are going to God, the Father, the Maker of the Universe. The One who holds the world in His hands. What did you ask for? Did you ask for peanuts, toys, trinkets, or did you ask for continents? (2)

Indeed, close to the end of his life, he said his single regret was “I only wish that I had asked God for more!”  The more we believe our success as a parish is in God’s hands, and that he wants to use us if we’ll let him, we can risk bigger things and pray more audacious prayers for Boston, for our own lives, for the world.

And, lastly, when you have this picture of God at the forefront of your mind, and when you know God is doing great things not because of you but with and through you, your whole life becomes a prayer of thanksgiving.  In a word, we become eucharistic.  Our parish isn’t flourishing because we’re special -- it’s because God is doing something in Boston and in the world, and he has seen fit to invite us to be part of it.  Nothing makes us more eucharistic, more thankful, than that.  

And the question becomes:  What do we dare to ask God for this year? 

In the name of God:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen. 


1.  Watch the clip from “It Might Get Loud” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjqgliGgvt0

2.  Robert D. Foster, The Navigator (Colorado Springs: Challenge   Books, 1983): 26.