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Old 12-10-2003, 03:18 PM   #1
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A U2 Christmas Sermon

Hi All - just in time for Christmas!
From explorefaith.org:


Bridging the Betweens
Raewynne J. Whiteley

A selection from Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard, foreword by Eugene Peterson.

This book is a collection of sermons from people around the world who have been moved to spiritual reflection by the art and work of the rock group U2. Below, Episcopal priest Raewynne J. Whiteley reflects on lyrics from the U2 song "Peace on Earth" and traditional Advent readings from the Bible as she takes a candid look at the bridge between promise and fulfillment, between heaven and earth.

Song reference: “Peace on Earth”
Biblical References: Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:37-44
The word of the Lord to Isaiah: “Many peoples shall come and . . . they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”
Heaven on earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all this
Hanging around
Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing
Again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on earth.

A city street, and a man stands on a bus, clutching a ticket in his sweaty hand. Then a searing fireball twisted metal and cold silence.

Heaven on earth
we need it now

A cathedral chapel, towers of black metal rise from a tray of concrete dust, and candles stand sentinel over the names of the dead: John, Allison, David, Shawn, Colleen, Donnie, Sal. ...

Heaven on earth
we need it now

There’s dust on the ground, hard packed like stone, and on it two large toes bound with a dirty white rag, a beaten body receding into nameless death.

Heaven on earth
we need it now

U2’s song seems to capture the place that we are in right now. Standing in a hotel lobby yesterday, I saw Christmas decorations and heard Christmas carols playing: “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright”; and part of me wanted to shout No! No! Nothing is calm, nothing is bright! I turn on the TV, and twenty-something have been people killed, mostly young adults, in Israel, and in the Palestinian West Bank two children have been shot dead, and the day before a family died in Afghanistan when an aid package fell on their house, and the day before and the day before and the day before. ...

All is calm, all is bright? What are we doing, heading toward Christmas with its talk of peace and its haloed baby in a manger, what are we doing reading Isaiah with its promises of nations coming together and melting their armaments to make farm tools, when war seems to be escalating, and terror increasing, when all around us is fear and broken promises and death?

It is Advent, and I sometimes wonder if we know what we are doing. I guess, if I had my choice, I’d put aside the war and the pain and the difficulty and run with the baby Jesus and peace and joy, because that’s what life is all about, or at least that’s the fairy tale that we want to believe in. We want the world to be a good place, a place where we are safe and loved and happy, where life is good and babies are typical in their innocence instead of extraordinary. That’s the dream, that’s the illusion of Christmas. That’s why, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, we put up the decorations and turn on the carols. And if I had my choice, I’d really rather our gospel reading for today had begun where it should, with the beginning of the story of Jesus in the first few verses of Matthew.

But if we’re honest, we all know that it’s an escape, an illusion, and real life is a whole lot more sordid, and perhaps the people who put our lectionary together knew better than we do that what we need at this time is not an injection of fairy tale but an injection of reality in all its grimy anguish. And so, juxtaposed with Isaiah’s promise of peace is Jesus’ prediction of pain. He returns us to the days of Noah, days not known for their glory but lamented for their depravity. This time between Christ’s earthly life and his return, this time between promise and fulfillment, will be a time like that of Noah. A time when people were caught up in their own lives and their own interests, when they cared more about the wine they would drink tonight than the beggars lying hungry outside their gates, when they fought for their own importance and laughed at crazy old Noah, giving up everything to follow the call of an unseen God.

It’s a lot more like our world than the world of our Christmas cards.

Yes, we dream of peace, yes, we dream of a better time to come, but in the meantime we have to live in the reality of a world torn apart by selfishness and greed and fear. But that reality is not all there is; that reality is not the whole story. For all that we suffer, for all that we struggle, there is also a promise. A promise that one day all this will end. One day God will come, one day Christ will return, one day there will be heaven on earth, or at least earth will be caught up into heaven, and the tables will be turned, good will triumph over evil and right over wrong, and there will be peace, and love, and joy.

But we live in the in-between times. We live knowing the promise but seeing little hope of its fulfillment. We live caught between fear and faith, between history and hope. There is a gap, and the pain and the suffering and the sorrow which are all around us threaten to overwhelm us.

Christmas, at least as the carols and Christmas cards would have us believe, offers us an escape, a refuge from what we see every time we turn on the TV. But an escape can only ever be temporary, and refuge is fine for a time, but eventually we must emerge into the cold light of day, where the reality is that we live in in-between times, times between the promise and the fulfillment, between fear and faith, between history and hope. Advent is about those in-between times, and Advent is where God will meet us.

We have, on the one hand, a world in a mess, and it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of hope. And on the other hand we have a vision of something better. That has always been the struggle of Advent. Because we are caught, caught in the in-between. Between a haloed baby in a straw-filled manger and angels announcing “Peace on earth” and a bloodied man, on a splintery cross, crying out, “Forgive them, Father. For they do not know what they do.” Between a weeping Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus in a small town outside Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem where all tears will be wiped away. Between the fear of a God who comes like a thief in the night and the hope of God who comes not to steal but to save.

And bridging those betweens is the promise of Easter, the promise of a God who proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life! Whoever believes in me, even though they die, shall live!” The promise of a God who enters a locked room, holes in his hands and side, and breathes peace on his friends. Who gives bread and wine, body and blood as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Bridging those betweens is Christ, haloed baby in a manger, weeping friend by a four-day-old tomb, dying body croaking forgiveness from a cross, resurrected life offering peace, bright image of God awaiting us in glory.

It’s a bridge, this Christ who doesn’t solve the problems or remove the ambiguities or the pain or the struggle, but who says that promise will make way for fulfillment, and perhaps fear can be met with faith, and maybe history and hope do rhyme.

And it’s a bridge, this Christ who is our head and we, the church, his body. So that in our lives, we echo the life of Christ, bridging the betweens. In our bodies the life of Christ resounds, in our spirits, the Spirit of Christ reverberates, ringing out his tears, his forgiveness, his peace, his resurrection, in our world. Heaven on earth. ...

Episcopal Church of St Michael and St George
St Louis, Missouri
December 2, 2001


The book Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog was released December 1 / 2003 (Cowley Publications, cowley.org).

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Old 12-14-2003, 11:22 AM   #2
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I came across these Advent reflections at http://u2sermons.blogspot.com/

Seek - 11.30.2003

I'm going to be looking at U2 songs evoking four Advent themes; the theme for Advent 1 is SEEK.

The obvious candidate for "SEEK" is "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," which is precisely why I'm not using it. Instead, I want to turn the image inside out and think about God's search for us. After all, those who traveled to seek the newborn Word could only do so because his own quest had brought him into the flesh first. So the song of the day is "Drowning Man." Put these words on God's lips in Advent and see what they reveal:

I'll cross the sky for your love
Give you what I hold dear

God who hung the skies crosses them, lovesick for his lost people. Christ, his own Self, the dearest gift, is surrendered into the fragile arms of a peasant woman.

Chorus and verse, over and over, the same message: the One we are seeking has already come out in search of us, and is only waiting for us to accept the offer. "Take my hand...hold on tightly," God calls repeatedly; "if you can," he promises to "be there" with a "love [that] lasts forever."

Stretch - 12.7.2003

"STRETCH" - what the word means is to make room, to change yourself so that you can accomodate or connect with something else -- something that, before you stretched yourself, was formerly too much, too far, or too unusual. Christ born in poverty was a stretch for some people. God born at all is a stretch for more.

The first glimmer of the stretch in U2, for me, is 11 o'clock Tick Tock (which qualifies here for its very Adventy title, too.) They're what, 18 or 19 as they write these almost inane words?

It's all hints, with U2 lyrics this early... but when I listen, I imagine the very beginning as setting up a conflict that endures for the rest of the song: "It's cold outside, but it gets so hot in here." Inside, the "boys and girls collide" to music you're offering them so they can escape from the outside world, where you know
perfectly well "the children [are] crying"; shouldn't a moral person be telling the crowd that "it's time to go" do something about their plight because "we haven't long"?

That is the stretch that is at the heart of the U2 vocation -- having a heart for rock 'n' roll at the same time you have a heart for God's heart. Continually stretching to make room for both is, IMHO, a large part of how this band stays so fresh. And it does keep you on your toes, after all, to repeatedly discover -- and shouldn't this be true for all us, now and again -- that all you can say for yourself is

We thought that we had the answers;
it was the questions we had wrong.

Keep stretching.

Source - 12.14.2003

Lookin' for to save my, save my soul
Lookin' in the places where no flowers grow
Lookin' for to fill that God-shaped hole

The word of the day is "SOURCE"; the song of the day is "Mofo."

All of us have the "God-shaped hole" U2 sing about here. But not all of us are so desparate as the narrator to fill it, to hear the "sound that's gonna drown out the world," to see "the face I had before the world was made." Some of us have our thirst for the Ultimate ripped open early, and the wound is always with us; others pile trash on it our whole lives to keep from having to confront the emptiness.

This song screams the way we all would if we were willing to be fully human. It screams for the Source, for God, albeit in terms suggested by the dimensions of one particular human wound ("Mother, you left and made me someone.") It drives at a meeting with "baby Jesus under the trash." Whether you are one of the wounded or one of the trashed, there's still time to look for him.

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Old 12-15-2003, 07:52 PM   #3
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Thanks for posting these. They are excellent.
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Old 12-21-2003, 10:07 AM   #4
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your welcome verte76

the last one

Union - 12.21.2003

Welcome all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter. Day in night.
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
--Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)

This post is my last contribution to the Advent grid blog.

Despite what you've seen on TV or in the shops, this week the news is not birth, or babies, or shepherds, or stars. The real news is "UNION" - the marriage in Jesus of opposites, "without mixing, without change; [yet also] without division, without separation." That's the classic Chalcedonian definition of how Jesus is both God and human, but it's also a description of marriage.

Earth marries heaven as the Word is made flesh, and so our song is "When I Look at the World." It's a prayer that reveals a touchingly unfeigned admiration of Jesus: I see an expression so clear and so true That it changes the atmosphere when you walk into the room

What grips the narrator is not only Jesus as the Truth, as clarity, the one whose felt Presence changes everything; it's Jesus's steady ability to take into his open heart absolutely every moment of human suffering (and joy, but the ability to attend to suffering is in focus here):
When there's all kinds of chaos
And everyone is walking lame
You don't even blink now, do you
Or even look away

This point of union between God and man is a heart of compassion.

Naturally, we strive to emulate anyone we admire that deeply: "So I try to be like you, try to feel it like you do." But the singer's prayer reveals a discovery that he can't, that his efforts are "no use... without you." To be like Jesus, we need Jesus himself. Only by letting God graft us into the Union he embodies can we find the fruit of that Union manifest in us.

And so the song draws to a close still yearning for this marriage, this Union, with a heartfelt, almost teenage-romantic cry to the Beloved: I can't wait any longer!

I can't wait any longer
I can't wait till I'm stronger
I can't wait any longer
To see what you see
When I look at the world

All wonders in one sight. Heaven in earth and God in man.
....It's 4 Advent and we can't wait any longer.
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Old 12-30-2003, 11:14 AM   #5
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Has anybody picked up this new book? I hope to get my copy soon.
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Old 01-03-2004, 01:44 AM   #6
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I've ordered it, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. I would love to discuss this after I have read it. To be continued!
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Old 01-09-2004, 04:52 AM   #7
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I haven't heard about this book until now! But it sounds very interesting ... I love reading about U2's relationship with Christianity. I wonder if they have it at my Christian bookstore ...
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Old 01-20-2004, 11:26 AM   #8
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Here's another one from FaithandValues.com

Beyond Prosperity
by Jamie Parsley
Song reference: "If God Will Send His Angels"
Biblical reference: Luke 12:32-40

The other night I was talking to an old buddy from high school, Dave, who was telling me about a guy he knows, Nick, who is a very successful businessman. Nick is a member of one of those nondenominational megachurches that are so popular now, and he often goes around preaching and expounding on the Bible. One of the messages that he's fond of preaching about is the belief that God wants us all to be materially wealthy. "God wants us to have nice cars," this guy told my friend. "God wants us to have nice houses, nice clothes, trips to exotic places." But Dave isn't so sure. And so he turned to me and asked, "Is this really what God wants?

Does God want us to be wealthy?" There's a part of me that wanted to respond to Dave by saying, "Fine. If people want to look at the things in their lives as blessings from God, who am I to say anything different?" After all, I myself like nice things-whether it is food or music or fine architecture or what have you. I've fantasized about living in one of those huge houses south of town or on Eighth Street. I imagine what it would be like to have a really fast, expensive, foreign car
or to fly off to Cap d'Antibes.

But the problem with this "Gospel of Prosperity," as it is called, is that it defines our faith in God by the possessions we have. That really bothers me. As pleasant as it sounds, as wonderful as it might be to believe that God is some Santa Claus in heaven whose only wish is to rain riches down upon us, the reality is this: "One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Lk. 12:15).

This is a message that seems to get lost in the version of the Gospel preached by people like Nick. His Gospel is preached by a Jesus I have a hard time recognizing. Nick's Jesus comes across as promising the goods, but not the substance. Nick's Jesus seems to believe that a well-balanced spirituality is somehow dependent upon having material goods; Nick's Jesus is some strange glitzy version of the one I have met.

There was a song by U2 a few years back that keeps going through my head as I think about this type of Jesus:

Jesus never let me down
You know Jesus used to show me the score
Then they put Jesus in show business
Now it's hard to get in the door

In the video, Bono sings this lament about the absence of God sitting in a booth in a cafe. And as he sits, all around him life is going on at high speed. People of all races and ages slide into the booth and carryon animated conversations. There's a fire in the dark street outside, fire trucks come, waitresses pass. And the lament for God goes on, and no one sees or notices it, even when they're sitting right next to it. They just miss the point.

In the Gospels we often find stories of Jesus meeting people who simply miss the point. The story of the rich man who meets Jesus is no exception. It portrays one person in the crowd so distracted by possessions that he's simply not seeing or hearing Jesus. He comes to Jesus because one of his brothers is not sharing an inheritance and he knows that some portion is rightfully his.

Although Jesus-Savior of the world, Christ himself-is standing right there next to him, this person misses the whole point because he is too busy measuring his life in possessions. And Jesus, knowing this, says to him, "Take care, be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessionsl" Exclamation point. Of course, Jesus doesn't let it end there. He has to deliver the punch in that way only he can. He goes on to tell a story, a story about a rich fool who measured the value of his life only by what he had.

The point of the story is to emphasize, first and foremost, that life-our lives-and all the things we have in this life, whatever they may be, are gifts from God. These are our blessings. Yes, my dirty Pontiac Sunbird out there in the parking lot is a gift from God. It gets me where I want to go. It hasn't broken down too many times. That's a blessing in my life. So are my friends and family. None of them are perfect. None of them are millionaires or as brilliant as Einstein. But I consider them gifts from God.

Jesus is not saying that we should get rid of all our possessions. It's fine to have nice things. I like my DVD player and my computer. However, we must not define ourselves by them, nor should we obsess over them. We must not reduce life to what can be bought and sold. The young person who confronted Jesus about the inheritance could have lost the opportunity to receive the love of God that Jesus was offering in what he was saying. We too might miss out on the love God offers us in our lives when we are distracted by our possessions.

What concerns me about the "Gospel of Prosperity" that Nick preaches is that, ironic as it is, it cheapens Christianity. It makes the Church into some gaudy casino. And it complicates our faith more than it needs to. It says to us that the more we have, the more blessed we are. I'm sorry. That's simply not true.

What Nick-like that young man in the gospel-has failed to do is to look. He doesn't see where he is and who is present with him. Rather than expounding on the glories of materialism, he should, as a Christian, be looking at the loving and real presence of God in Christ in his life-a presence that comes to us no matter what possessions we have.

God loves us when we're poor, too. God loves us when we have to struggle to pay the next credit card bill or the student loan or the car payment. We, too, must be careful when we define ourselves by our jobs, our possessions, or our things. We are not what we have or what we can do; we are who we are in the God who comes to us as Christ. And it is that same God who comes to us as Christ, who forgives us of everything we have done wrong, loves as we've never been loved, and redeems us from the monotony of existence.

We are made whole, forgiven, and set free. We are the children of God, the daughters and sons of God. We-all of us in this place and in the world are God's family and we are an integral part of God's story. So today, listen. Hear this Gospel story and respond to it. Jesus helped the young man to refocus his attention and see.

The young man who was grieving over his inheritance became a vital part of God's story. I think Nick will also probably be a vital part of God's story. God loves us for who we are and not for the things we have. That's what we should be
proclaimingl That's what we should be celebrating. Excerpted from: Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog by Raewynne J. Whiteley, Beth Maynard (editors) Published by Cowley Publications. Used by permission.

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