Monday, December 08, 2008

Sunday, The Second Sunday of Advent
Preaching at St. Patrick's Parish, Bay Shore

Hello, I’m Father David Sellery, from up the road at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. And I am so happy to be with you as we use these Advent days to get ready once again to celebrate the birth of Christ in our lives.

First I want to thank my very good friend Father Tom Coogan for giving me the privilege of sharing in our worship and speaking with you this evening. As you know far better than me, Father Tom actually lives the Christian charity that we all try to preach so often in the abstract. He was one of the first to welcome me to Bay Shore. And when he says give me a call if I can help you with anything, it’s not just a pleasantry. He means it. His latest help was to recommend Wendy Wessler as our new parish administrator. As you may remember Wendy was here at St. Patrick’s working with Monsignor Fagan. She was available and Father Tom recommended her. So we consider, quite literally, that Wendy has been a God-send from St. Patrick’s to St. Peter’s.

Father Tom has such a terrific ecumenical attitude, especially when you consider that his full name is Thomas More Coogan. I am sure that the courageous Saint Thomas More is blessing us this evening as we gather as brothers and sisters in Christ, following the always wise advice of John Paul the Great when he urged Christians to build on the things that unite us, rather than pick away at the things that divide us.

In a very practical sense, one of the things that unites us is the real estate under our feet. As you may know this was the original site of St. Peter’s. And what is now Monsignor Purick Hall was once our parish church. Father Tom told me a great story about that. As you enter St. Patrick’s through the main doors you pass under a relief of Jesus giving the symbolic keys of authority to St. Peter. As Father Tom tells the story, the pastor and the architect of St. Patrick’s had a little fun positioning the hand off of the keys so that they also symbolized St. Peter slipping the keys to St. Patrick to open the doors on this power-house of a church.

But beside a parish history lesson and just sharing what a delight it is to be with you, I’d like to make two simple points: one about Advent and the other on Christian unity.

When I was a kid the big competition to keeping Christ in Christmas was Santa, Frosty, Rudolph and the Grinch. How quaint that all seems in the face of today’s wicked combination of rabid political correctness and materialism gone mad. As a case in point, I ask that you join me in praying for the soul and the family of Jdimytai Damour who was trampled to death at Walmart in Valley Stream last week by shoppers who would obviously do anything to take home a flat screen bargain for Christmas. What an obscene irony – the birth of Christ becoming an occasion to tear each other to pieces to save a few bucks. You can almost hear John the Baptist crying from the wilderness: Repent. Repent. Prepare ye the way of the Lord... the hour draws near.

As I have shared with the folks at St. Peter’s, that doesn’t mean that Advent is for sour pusses and hand wringers. St. Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always. Not sometimes, but always. So, as we wait on the Lord, we rejoice in him. Stop and think about it. The big news is that we have this priceless opportunity for Jesus to be born in our hearts again this year. No standing in line. No pushing or shoving. It truly doesn’t get better than that. As we pray in the Episcopal tradition, and as I have witnessed so many times in ministering to people in pain and conflict, he brings the peace that passes all understanding.

So in the Advent days remaining, let’s get ready for him. Start each day with a devotional moment to seek his will for us. Keep him with us through the day. Give him our worries. Ask his forgiveness. Shelter in his calm. Close each day knowing it is another one closer to him.

As our relationship deepens, what is dear to God’s heart becomes dearer to ours. Our prayers become less a litany of gimme…gimme…gimme…and more a profoundly comforting: Thy will be done. In the ecclesiastical calendar we both share, these Advent days are precious. As we wait to celebrate Christ’s birth we have a rare opportunity to search our hearts, to discover and draw closer to God’s plan for us.

Before finishing with a prayer for Christian unity, let me give you a word from my sponsor. At St. Peter’s we try to keep it simple. In reflection of the Trinity, we have three words that we live by: Renewing…Rejoicing…and Welcoming. We are continually renewing because we are a resurrection people. That is what it means to be a Christian. We are children of Eve. We are sinners. But we know that in the risen Jesus we are saved. And in that knowledge we rejoice. Because, whatever life throws at us, we’re going to be OK. And we can’t keep that good news to ourselves. Because as Christians, if we want to keep it, we have to give it away. So we are a welcoming church. We are not an anonymous group of worshipers, but a close parish family that loves and supports each other and takes that love out into our community.

In God’s good time the finer points of Christian unity surely will be resolved at a much higher pay grade than Father Tom’s or mine. We are comforted that learned, holy people are devoting their lives to sorting through a thick web of doctrinal and organizational anomalies. Down here on the ground, we respect each other’s faith traditions and we try to live up to the profoundly simple formula: WWJD ~ What would Jesus do.

And it is abundantly clear that what he would do is have us be one in his love. So in that spirit I ask that you pray with me:

Lord Jesus,
Who prayed that all should be one,
We pray for the unity of all Christians,
Just as you want it, by the means you choose.
For your purposes, you have allowed us to experience
The suffering of separation.
And through it we recognize our many sins of pride.
Humbly and together, Lord, as you would have us,
Make us one.

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