Darkness and Light

The Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman

Advent I, Year A

Sermon: 1 December 2019

Hello to you on this, the first Sunday of Advent.

From the words of St. Paul this morning to the church at Rome: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment from you to wake from sleep. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

I love those words — for the whole message of our faith is about leaving darkness behind and moving toward light, toward love, toward the open arms of God.

“Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Paul, more than anyone, knew the truth of these words as he wrote to fellow Christians at Rome. Darkness from all sides would soon envelope his body, for he would be jailed and executed for his faith in Rome, the very city to which today’s epistle is headed.

Laying aside the works of darkness… putting on the armor of light…. are not passive acts.

Paul was taking an active role in laying out his life of faith — and encourages us to do the same.

And that is what is so essential about this season of Advent. As God moves toward us in human form, we are called to move toward God. And that’s not always easy.

Many years ago, I traveled with a group of young people to Appalachia for a work study trip. Part of the experience was hiking 60 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the part that goes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

That trek started with getting a permit, and then having the park ranger check our backpacks to make sure we were ready for whatever lay ahead.

We were ready to go early in the morning. But the ranger didn’t show up till about 11 a.m. Don’t know what he was doing. But we waited… and waited. (Perhaps he was catching wild animals, saving lives, drinking coffee, probably a combination of all three.)

So it was almost noon when we set out. And as we hiked up into the mountains, it began to rain. And then it started to snow. The weather was like Minnesota weather last night: cold, freezing, dark. Soon our group of seventeen became separated. I was in the second group, and happened to be walking with a Boy Scout named John near the back. He knew enough to make sure that everyone stayed together. But then the person at the head of our group fell to his knees; he couldn’t lead anymore.

John went forward. You have to stay here, he said. Don’t lose anybody. So I stayed there, for miles and miles, upward through the rain and the snow. We were trying to reach the shelter that the park provides, and to catch up with the group ahead.

And back there in the darkness, I wanted to go faster, for I knew I could. But there was a very out of shape woman ahead of me — ironically one of the teachers who had signed up to lead the group — who could only move slowly. Exhausted, step by step, over rocks and slippery slopes she climbed, and so did I.

Well, we didn’t lose anyone. We finally slept on the trail with a few plastic sheets over us that night, and made it to the shelter the next day, having trudged successfully through the snow and the ice and the rain.

Eventually we set up our tents and slept on the trail. We all made it to the shelter the next day, having trudged through the snow and the ice and the rain.

And that to me speaks of Advent — and symbolized our Christian life of faith as well. Out of darkness into light. Out of treacherous conditions into safety. There will be rest at the end, when we reach our final destination. There will be light and warmth and healing. We will be reunited with those who have gone before. We will see people we love again.

But there’s a lot of trudging in the snow and dark to get there. There are plenty of false trails to take. There is the temptation to leave people behind, especially if they are limited, if we don’t like them, or if they are holding us back. It takes humility to stay in the back, walking slowly helping those who are of limited ability. But it just may be that they are the people who teach us enough to show us the way home.

———————-

Advent, and our faith, even if we can barely move, is a two-way street, taking life day by day, sometimes even hour by hour, or minute by minute.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us: “Be ready. You don’t know when the final hour will come. Prepare yourself. Keep those lamps lit. Don’t be caught off guard.”

We are called to do what we can to move ahead, casting off the works of darkness around us, putting on the armor of light. Even if we are not strong, even if we are tired of the people around us, even if we think we’ve done all we can, even if… even if…

Let me conclude with a wonderful prayer in the Prayer Book, written by Theodore Parker Ferris, rector of Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, from 1942 to 1972. And it goes like this: “This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.”

Let us together make this a gallant Advent, no matter the shape of the world, no matter the internal or external condition of our bodies and souls. Let us take on, together, the Spirit of Jesus. And working our way up the trail together, let us heed Paul’s words as we wake from sleep, laying aside the works of darkness, and most of all, putting on the armor of light.

Amen.

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REOPENING of Saint Paul's Church 27 June at 10:00am - click for details

Dear Saint Paul’s faith community members and friends,

God’s peace be with you! Rejoice! Rejoice! Given the decrease in COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and the increase in the number of people who have been vaccinated, we are excited to announce the re- opening of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church building on Lake of the Isles on Sunday, 27 June at 10:00AM. We will have a beautiful and joyful worship with Eucharist, and coffee hour to follow. For those of you who are unable to come to the church building, a live Zoom stream will be available. Look for the Zoom link in the E-pistle.

Saint Paul’s COVID-19 Response Team Members (Mark Anderson, Steve Riendl, Angie Paulson, Jacob Manier, Rev. Janet MacNally, and Rev. Ramona Scarpace) have put together guidelines for worshiping together in-person. These guidelines are based on information from the Centers for Disease Control, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. The team asks that, in the spirit of loving God and neighbor, everyone follow the guidelines as listed below. If you have any questions or concerns about these guidelines, please contact Junior Warden and COVID Response Team Chair Steve Riendl at sriendl@stpaulsmpls.org.

IN-PERSON WORSHIP GUIDELINES: Attendance

  • No pre-registration for worship is required

Your Health

  • If you aren’t feeling well for any reason, please take care of yourself at home. You may join the service via Zoom.
  • If you have any personal health questions or concerns about attending in-person worship services, please speak with your medical provider.

Creating a Welcoming and Safer Environment

  • Greeters and ushers will be on-hand to assist you with seating, service bulletins, questions
  • The church and restrooms will be cleaned before and after each Sunday worship service
  • Hand sanitizer and masks will be available
  • All books will be removed from the pews. Worship bulletins will be available in paper and electronic format.

Masks and Social Distancing

  • If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask or socially distance. You may wear a mask and socially distance for your own comfort level.
  • If you are not vaccinated, please wear a mask and socially distance.
  • If someone is wearing a mask, please keep socially distant from them.

Seating

  • Saint Paul’s Church seats approximately 250 people. Given our regular Sunday attendance numbers, there is plenty of room to spread out.
  • We recommend that family groups sit together.
  • Fully vaccinated people may sit with other fully vaccinated people.
  • If someone is wearing a mask, please socially distance from them when selecting a seat

Singing

  • Congregational singing is permitted.

The Peace

  • Please remain in your seats for the Peace. Use a wave, a nod, a smile, etc.

The Eucharist

  • Clergy and those assisting at the altar will sanitize their hands in view of the congregation.
  • Communion will be of bread only. We will use gluten-free wafers for all. Receive the bread in your hands.
  • The common cup of wine will not be used at this time.
  • You may receive at the altar rail kneeling or standing. If you are unable to or do not wish to come up to the altar rail, please notify an usher, and the bread will be brought to you.
  • Note: Rev. Ramona, and Rev. Janet are fully vaccinated.

Coffee Hour

  • To be held at the back of the church
  • Coffee and lemonade only, served in disposable cups
  • A limited number of people will set up refreshments and pour
  • No foods at this time

Nursery

  • The nursery will be available and staffed.
  • The nursery will be cleaned before and after each Sunday.
  • Parents must give contact information (name and phone number)

COVID-19 Tracing

  • If Saint Paul’s becomes aware of a situation where someone who attended the service receives information that they have contacted COVID, Saint Paul’s will notify people of the occurrence via the E-pistle.

We give thanks for the gift of coming together in-person to worship God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of life. We give thanks for all who worked so diligently to create and distribute vaccines. We give thanks for those who put themselves at risk to keep others safe. We remember those who have died and hold their families in our prayers.

We look forward to seeing everyone on Sunday, 27 June!

Blessings,
Mark Anderson, Senior Warden
Steve Riendl, Junior Warden
Rev. Ramona Scarpace, Priest-in-Charge

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