Saturday, December 16, 2006

Compassion: Advent 3C sermon

The first time I saw the movie, “The Matrix,” was New Year’s Eve 1999, as we headed into the new millennium. I was struck by the power of this story and its ability to convey a modern day version of salvation and the Messiah. Granted I was less impressed with its use of high powered machine guns despite the fact that those being shot were not real humans but figures playing parts in a computer generated matrix.

The plot is based on the premise that world is no longer real but has been taken over by a form of artificial intelligence, machines. These machines were once human made but eventually became self-sufficient and dominant. took After a long war the artificial intelligence took over the world. An entire species has been spawned by what was once one machine and they have created an alternate reality based on a computer generated world. Having lost the war humans are now born and bred to be the life source, the batteries for the machines. Humans are confined to a weird cocoon kind of space where their energy is tapped for the machines. To keep the human brains occupied the machine has created a computer generated virtual reality; the people think they are living real lives because of the images in their brains, but in reality they are contained and unconscious, their life energy tapped to support the network of artificial intelligence.

Living outside the realm of this matrix, the computer generated virtual reality, is a band of renegade humans who survived the war. These itinerant people see the matrix and have become adept at maneuvering in and out of that virtual reality in an effort to over come the artificial intelligence. These humans believe they are waiting for The One, a human with special powers, who will be the one to overcome the machines. Morpheus, the leader of this band of renegades has seen The One, whose name is Neo (or one spelled backward), and the movie opens with their early attempts to contact this human through the web of the matrix.

The Matrix is in many ways a modern version of the Christian story of the Incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. Morpheus is a character much like John the Baptist, because he sees and knows who the one is, the one who is greater than he, the one who is the Messiah. And Neo, over time, comes to realize that he is the One. Eventually he dies and then is resurrected with new divine like powers that enable him to see through the machines, they are no longer able to have power over him. And so begins the journey of rescuing human kind from the bondage of the matrix.

Thematically this third Sunday of Advent offers us many different images. First we have this image of John the Baptist. In this reading John conveys some powerful ideas of what he thinks is going on: John knows that he is not The One, he knows who The One is and that this One is more powerful than he. But John anticipates that The One is going to come with a force of power that will destroy all those who do not see and follow The One. John speaks of wrath, fire, and repentance, which much like what happens in the Matrix. And he anticipates that The One who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

And it’s true that in some rare images of Jesus in our Scripture we see him using this kind of force and anger, such as when he overturns the tables of the money changers in the Temple.

But the primary images we have of Jesus from our scripture are of one who loves everyone with deep compassion. Jesus, as The One, sees through humans to their true nature and loves with the kind of love that God offers, a love that welcomes everyone exactly as they are.

We hear John describing Jesus as carrying a winnowing fork with which he will clear out the chaff. Many Christians have interpreted this as a judgmental process whereby the good people are separated from bad people. And while God may one day impose some kind of judgment on humanity, the real problem is that over time humans have taken on this role, humans have assumed the process of judgment, determining on behalf of God, who is good and who is bad.

We see examples of humans judging others all around us, and I don’t mean our legal system. Our legal system is a process intended to keep civil order and maintain civilized societies. The judgment I speak of is seen in the way we humans engage in conflict such as the genocide in Sudan or even the potential for schism in our own denomination as we argue over who has the “right” sense of orthodoxy, of “right” belief. We humans have a tendency to walk a fine line between following our faith and acting like God.

So, perhaps a more helpful way to hear this reading is to see ourselves in that process of winnowing: to see that each human being has aspects of ourselves that can be winnowed away. Each of us has aspects of ourselves that can be worked on and made more whole. None of us is worthy in and of ourselves to ever judge another; each of us can only look at ourselves and ponder how we can be better human beings. Better to ourselves, better to our neighbors, and better in our relationship with God.

This perspective opens the door to the other themes that the Church brings to us on this third Sunday of Advent. As you may notice this is the day we light the pink candle, and you may wonder why we have one pink candle.

This is the Sunday we remember Mary, the mother of Jesus. The pink candle stands for her and for her act of compassion, her willingness to hear God and to take on the call that God gave her, the call to bring forth into the world, The One.

Ultimately the theme for this Sunday is compassion, becoming better people through compassion for self and others. The compassion of God that sought out humanity with a deep desire to be One with us. The compassion of God who loves us so deeply that God comes to us in our lives, in the faces and actions of people who care for us. In the faces and actions of people who challenge us to see ourselves as we are. In the faces and actions of people who reach out to others with compassion. God’s compassion lives in the images we have of Mary, the mother of Jesus – images of both vulnerability and great strength as she took on the challenge to birth God into this world. God’s compassion lives in John the Baptist who calls people to look carefully at their lives and prepare a place for God to come. God’s compassion lives of course in the life of Jesus who shows us the way to love one another with humility not judgment.

On this third Sunday of Advent we are called to make a place in our lives, in our hearts, in our beings, for the love of God to reside. A place where God can come to us in a new way. We are called to take the time to prepare this place in our beings, through prayer, through worship, through our relationships with one another. And when the place in us is ready, God will come.

God coming to us is a journey, not something that happens just once. God comes to us anew over and over as we make a place for God in our lives. Advent is a season that reminds us to take the time to make room for God, to find a way to quiet our lives and invite God in, over and over. And each time we do this God will come again and our wounds will be healed, our hope restored, and our lives made whole again.


revabi said...

mompriest, I am a matrix fan. My hubby is not.

Merry Christmas and Happy New year.
Glad you are part of the revgalblogpals.

Hope the baptism goes well Sunday.

Mary Beth said...

I love this!

Praying for your continued recovery!!

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