Homily, 30 November 2014
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Isaiah 63:16b-17,19b;64:2-7; Psalms 80:2-3,15-16,18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37 Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? … Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! Jesus said: “Watch!” But what am I watching for? This parable comes in the midst of a discussion between Jesus and his disciples about the end-times and the return of the Son of Man. But I’m not sure that the context provides much practical help. Why am I being watchful? Maybe the answer is in the parable itself. In the parable, the servants are left in charge, each with his own work. The expectation is that each one will continue to work, even without supervision, because it is the right thing to do. I think that’s the key. “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” laments the Prophet Isaiah. Through the scriptures today, in the parable told by Jesus and in the prophecy of Isaiah, God is reminding us to be mindful of what we are doing, to be alert to our actions and motivations, to give heed to our work and how we go about it. “Watchfulness,” in this sense means “mindfulness.” Now, if we only understood our work. What is it we are supposed to doing – in order to be mindful of it? This time of year, when the days are short and the nights are cold, we watch more movies at our house. This last week it was two action movies. One was the latest Star Trek film: “Star Trek into Darkness.” The other was the film “Master and Commander: the far side of the world,” a historical drama set in the naval battles of the Napoleonic wars. The Star Trek movie begins with Spock stranded in an erupting volcano. Against all protocols, Kirk rescues him -- an action that will cost him his command. Sometime later, when they meet again, Kirk asks Spock, “Do you understand why I went back for you?” Spock has no answer. The plot continues on with lots of action and special effects. If you saw the movie, you know that it centers around the manhunt for the villain. Yet the ‘question’ still hangs between them. It’s the theme of the movie. Well, at the end of the movie Kirk and Spock speak again. They have both performed heroic acts to save the ship and the crew. But Kirk’s heroism meant exposure to fatal radiation and he is dying. As they speak, each recounts the actions of the other. And each of them admits that he acted as he did because of the example he saw in the other: “what I did … it was what you would have done.” But Kirk’s wants resolution and reconciliation with Spock. “I want you to know why I couldn’t let you die in the volcano,” he says, “why I went back for you.” Then he pauses, husbanding his strength. Before he can continue, Spock answers: “Because you are my friend.” Friends share common interests; they enjoy each other’s company. They may even enjoy some kind of friendly competition. But friendship is also a kind of love -- though we often don’t talk about it that way. But like all love, friendship can be self-sacrificing and directed toward doing what is best for your friend. Friends value, and are inspired by, each other’s strengths and virtues. “Master and Commander” had the same plot and the same theme. The protagonists are Jack Aubrey, the captain, and Stephen Maturin, a physician and a naturalist. Like the Star Trek movie, the plot centers on the hunt for an illusive and seemingly invincible enemy. And like Star Trek, Master & Commander is about the friendship between two men and how each one comes to understand what friendship demands. For Jack, friendship demands that he give up his obsessive hunt for the French warship if he is to save Stephen’s life. For Stephen, the naturalist, friendship demands that he give up the opportunity of a lifetime, abandoning work that is close to completion in to bring critical news to Jack, his captain. And so, both men learn that friendship requires selflessness and acts of love. There is one more similarity in the two movies. The men are not equals. One is in command and the other is subordinate. Friends also give each other their due, and sometimes that means obedience, as well as loyalty and love. —————— Well, Jesus also had something to say about friendship: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. The story of my life -- the plot and characters, if you will, -- is different from yours. Yet we share a common theme: we are friends of Jesus. In that context, we share the same work: discovering the meaning of friendship with the Lord, and then, being mindful of that friendship at all times. “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” In Advent we try to be especially mindful of our friendship with Jesus, hoping for his glorious return, but knowing that come-what-may, we will meet again. Last Sunday Jesus reminded us of what his friendship means: “whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” This Advent arrives amid troubled times: • Our neighbors in Missouri have been devastated by riots, and racial tensions are high in many cities. • Fellow Christians in Syria and Iraq have fled their homelands in fear, perhaps never to return. • In Africa, the Ebola epidemic persists. • In our country, many are homeless, many are hungry, many are lonely and abandoned. • And maybe, in our own families there is discord and sadness. This Advent, try to be mindful of your friendship with Christ, which means befriending those in need. Live selflessly for your friend and Lord. Enjoy his company, share his interests, do justice to his commands. There is no better way to prepare for Christmas.