Sermons 2003-2004

"Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel"
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

"Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel", Advent 1, 30 November 2003

Advent 1C 2003; Luke 21:25-31

When I read passages like the apocalyptic sections of today's lessons, I am reminded of times when I felt in the middle of an apocalypse, that I must surely be standing at Armageddon on the day of battle.

There was one very long day in the spring of 1967. The 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry Regiment, of which I was a member and commander of its Company B, was involved in a major resupply effort, moving ammunition and equipment from the Division Base to Our Brigade base many miles to the north near the Cambodian border.

The mission of the infantry battalions was to clear and secure the long roads through villages, jungles, rice paddies, and rubber plantations.

The center of the sector to which I was assigned was a walled village in which the road took a sharp left turn toward the north. The name of the village was Ap Bau Bang. Ill never forget the name of the place and Bang was appropriate: we called it claymore corner because of the many Viet Cong claymore mines that were fired at us. The claymore mine was an above ground shaped charge directional mine which blew steel pellets at a lethal speed for several hundred feet. We were in the middle of what we called Indian country, driving off sniper squads and avoiding camouflaged claymore mines all day.

It was a fairly normal day in the Vietnam War until one of our tanks in the divisional cavalry squadron hit a mine in the middle of the road that the engineer minesweepers had missed. The crew got out but the tank caught fire and its main gun ammunition began to explode. While the explosions were taking place and the big black column of smoke towered over us, it got worse.

We had an aerial artillery observer flying above us who saw a platoon of Viet Cong snipers moving toward us. He called for artillery fire and adjusted it. On his last adjustment he called for a fire for effect, battery six rounds. This meant six artillery cannon firing six rounds apiece.

Unfortunately the artillery plotters made a very large error and as we were standing there watching the exploding burning tank, we heard the frightening scream of incoming artillery. It is a screaming like you cant imagine until you hear it. And you only hear it you are very close.

I knew instantly that these were the first six of 36 rounds coming in right on top of us. And my radio operators and I dove for the nearest bomb crater, fortunately nearby. We happened to be in some tall rubber trees. Some of the rounds burst in the treetops, some on lower branches all the way down, and some on the ground. Shrapnel and splinters were flying all around us. The ground shook with the concussion. And 30 more rounds yet to come. We heard their screaming sound and the shell bursts from ground to treetop for what seemed an eternity before it ended. It seemed to me like earthquakes at Armageddon on the day of battle.

And particularly and most recently when I read today's Gospel I am reminded of how many of us felt during Hurricane Isabel when it struck the Northern Neck: "...and on the earth distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken...."

As the winds of Isabel swiftly reached hurricane speed as they came across the Great Wicomico River, I saw waves not only picking up but being hurled against the shore banks and exploding high into the air where the winds grabbed the water and hurled against our house. The winds came roaring and screaming across the open soybean fields, sounding like the scream of artillery shells except that it didn't end until morning. It, too, seemed an eternity. And the sun hid its face from us behind the darkness of swirling clouds.

We wondered what the morning would bring. We wondered how great the damage would be. We wondered how our lives would be affected and changed and for how long.

In thinking some more about the connection between a natural cataclysm like Isabel and this apocalyptic pronouncement by Jesus in Saint Luke's gospel, I thought of the way the fiercely howling winds had stripped the leaves from the trees. And of the false spring that followed as the trees budded and tried to releaf, causing great discomfort for those of us who suffer from allergies in the spring. "Look at the fig tree and all the trees," Jesus said. "As soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves. So also when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near."

Well, I was certainly of the mind on that very long day in Vietnam thirty-three and a half years ago that the Kingdom of God was a lot nearer to me than I wanted it to be. And that was not at all the only day then or since that I have felt that way. It felt a little bit like that day in Vietnam during Isabel, as the tremendous force of creation was unleashed over us.

The interesting thing about the kingdom of heaven being near and Isabel is how it really seemed the kingdom of God was near as people pitched in to help each other. Teams formed to cut lanes free of fallen trees and haul limbs off of roofs and out of yards. Those with generators offered to shelter those who had none and needed shelter. The local Red Cross chapters in the two counties responded magnificently with meals and water and emergency shelter. The National Guard trucked in ice and water. FEMA and other agencies arrived with money, as did the duPont Fund.

One young man even carried his generator in the back of his pickup truck from house to house in his neighborhood and powered refrigerators for several hours in turn, so that frozen and perishable food would not be lost. And so for some of us, for a time, the kingdom of God seemed very near.

There were, however, the people whose greed overtook their good sense and charged outrageous and exorbitant prices for people who needed trees taken from off their houses before worse damage was done. Somehow they missed the part about the Kingdom of God being near.

The apocalyptic language used in our Zechariah and Luke readings can be frightening, with its predictions of destruction and war and natural disaster and the end times. The prophets of ancient Israel used such frightening language to call the Israelites of their day away from the worship of idols and back to the worship of the one true and living God. There is much about human nature that doesnt change, however. Some people were frightened into submission and others were not.

But the sun continued to come up each day without fail, and so each generation in its time stopped paying heed to the fright threats of the prophets. And so new prophets arose from time to time as the people began to follow idols of whatever description, much as people do today. By Jesus day, the voice of the prophets had not been heard for many centuries.

The interesting thing about these apocalyptic readings as an aside, our images of the skeletal Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Famine, Plague, War, and Death, come from such writings the interesting thing is that too often we hear the threat of the Apocalypse and end times and dont hear the subtext of the real message it conveys. Almost lost in the fire and brimstone of Zechariah is this: "Thus says the Lord of hosts, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I shall be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness." (8:8)

And almost lost in the apocalyptic language of Jesus is this: "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (21:28)

The greatest message in both readings is that in the end, God will become King over all the earth and the kingdom of God will prevail.

This is the first Sunday in Advent. It is the New Year's Day of the Church Year. It is a time when the days grow shorter and shorter and the darkness at night seems almost never to end, a time when evening comes too quickly and dawn seems reluctant to steal across the land.

But it is a time when we are moving toward the light that is to come. In temporal time we are moving toward the winter solstice of December 21, the longest night and the shortest day of the year. But on the next day, December 22, the days begin to lengthen almost imperceptibly. And three days later, in sacred time, God's time, Christ is born, and the Light is reentering the world.

Keep a good Advent. We often hear of keeping a good Lent, but keep a good Advent. Focus on the Light. Focus on Jesus and the mission we share with him in the world, to prepare for his coming again.


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