Stir Up Your Power

Today we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath.  This is Mary’s Sunday.  And this is Stir Up Sunday – the clue that it was time for folks to get their Christmas puddings started.  Why, you ask?  The collect that begins worship for today begins, “Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us;” Ladies, get your puddings stirred up.  Christmas is coming.

Some of you are probably expecting to see Deacon Pat up here this morning.  I got a call early Friday morning that she was having a medical issue.  As she spoke, my Army medic mode kicked in and I realized this might be pretty serious.  I told her to have her son Will get her to the hospital right away, as in NOW.

That’s how it is, one thing after another.  Life sometimes smacks us upside the head.  Yes, I know that it’s Joy Sunday.  We lit the pink Advent candle, but life intrudes.  Stuff happens.  Where is the Joy?

The JOY is in the real world.  The work and problems given to our hands and minds – there’s the JOY.  We have commitments, errands, dishes to wash.  I always give thanks at the beginning of each morning while I’m sitting on the side of the bed waiting to make sure I have my balance that once again, I can put on my pants one leg at a time and get to it.

After Pat’s early morning call, I called Barbara to make sure we had follow-up, as she lives much closer to Pat than I.  I then went and found the newspapers to see what else God might have on the morning’s agenda.  Then I opened up the computer to check the e-mail.  Finally, I got to work on a sermon that I hadn’t planned on writing this week.

If God was going to stir up divine power, I realized that I’d better, and quickly, stir up my gumption if I was going to be part of this action.

Like Fr. Malcolm Boyd used to say, “Are you running with me, Jesus?” 

Unfortunately, it seems, God has some pretty poor material to work with.  I’m talking about us.  About me.  But with God, we shall be sufficient.

“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!”[1]

Sing, we will!

In this time of festive preparations for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, out of the blue, my friend Dick called with tickets to the Claremont Chorale Christmas Concert.  Indeed, we will sing.  What a treat.  Sure, we will enjoy the music, but much more than that, the joy is to be surrounded with such a group of kind, thoughtful friends.

As our House of Hope team looks forward to another trip back to West Virginia, funding sources are finally coming together.  One of the programs we will borrow from is Recovery Point out of Huntington, West Virginia.

While in West Virginia on our last trip, if one was looking for meager material of humble beginnings, we found them as we visited a rehab center run by the clients themselves.  In recovery jargon, it is known as a peer-to-peer operation.  There were no medical or other professional staff.  The curriculum is solely The Big Book of AA.

Our version of the program will include medical detox.  It’s much more humane.  And definitely more effective in getting folks through the recovery.  To go cold turkey is hell.  Just read Dopesick or watch the new documentary based on that work on Hulu.[2]

As we were shown the facility and spoke with residents there, it was obvious, one could not get to more humble beginnings.  As we were leaving, a fellow in an orange jump suit and in shackles was being escorted in by a couple of armed deputies.

Behold, this place was, in living color – orange, the Christmas miracle come alive.  Out of degradation and desperation, God was including one more person in God’s great plan of salvation history.  Yes, from Abraham, Joram, Ruth, and a whole bunch of other people we’ve never heard of – right up to Bathsheba, Solomon, to Joseph and beyond – the story continues until it comes to such as you and me.  And a smelly, sorry-ass fellow in an orange jump suit.  Gloria. Gloria!

Recovery Point in Huntington is solely a men’s facility; there’s a separate women’s facility in Charleston.  It seemed like there were about one hundred men living there, mostly in their twenties and thirties. 

I was astounded at the organization and the ethic of recovery I witnessed in those men.  Two of the biggest learnings accompanying the journey to sobriety are respect and accountability.  All chores are done by those living there from cleaning up and making one’s bed to kitchen duty and mentoring those coming out of detox.  The place ran like clockwork.  Discipline was strict.  Consequences were meted out for screw-ups.  And it was all accepted with equanimity by those who knew in their gut that Recovery Point was their last, best chance. 

Now, I sure wouldn’t want any of these men seeing the office and desk I came home to.  They’d know I’d flunked recovery from the chaos.

In Luke’s telling of Jesus’ baptism, hundreds are flocking to John to be baptized into a righteous life.[3]  John tells them that to prepare they must put on a new ethic, the garment of righteousness and humility. 

To the tax collectors, “collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”  To the soldiers (and we would say to all policing authorities) “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”  And Black lives do matter, along with the lives of all our citizens.  Decent behavior and compassion will be the sign of your entry into the Kingdom of Salvation. 

It would be almost unbearable, what the Baptizer would have said to Wall Street tycoons and bank presidents.  “Do not send battalions of lawyers up against union organizers.  Do not cheat your depositors by setting up bogus accounts and burying them under enormous fake fees.”  Recovery leads to joy, but it’s a hard road.

Like, as with the clients of Recovery Point, recovering capitalists would find new joy in some of the simpler pleasures of life – a warm cup of coffee in the morning and a dazzling sunset at eventide.  Yes, a cup of joe and a cup of joy to begin each day.

Right there at Recovery Point, Huntington, West Virginia!  Gloria.  Gloria!  This was far better than any Miracle on 34th Street.  This was the real deal.  Miracles created every day through newly found sobriety.

And to top it off, the following day back in Charleston at Starbucks, I spied a young woman wearing a Recovery Point jacket with a friend.  I introduced myself and mentioned House of Hope. They told me that they were staff at the woman’s center in Charleston.  

Thinking back, my pickup line that morning was probably one of the weirdest, most unlikely, that may have ever worked.  Anyway, these two women came over and shared some of their stories. 

One shared of her seven-year-old boy in an institution.  He had been damaged from her neglect when she was stoned.  Recovery’s not easy.  She will live with that reality the rest of her life.  But here she is, picking up the pieces.  Here she is – Stayin’ Alive!  Stayin’ Alive!  All the work of Holy Spirit baptism.

The dead are brought back to life and the blind see with new eyes.  She finally has hope for something better.  Christmas Miracle in Charleston, West Virginia!  Gloria.  Gloria! 

We know how that story begins – a single step.  And Mary answered the angelic messenger, “Let it be unto me according to thy word.”   Gloria.  Gloria.  “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion.”  

As we offer up prayers this morning for Deacon Pat, let us with joyful hearts, reflect on all the love she has given over the years to St. Francis — the joy she has brought to so many.  And we pray that she will have many more years of ministry in our midst.  Now, let us light that pink candle for JOY.  It comes each morning, fresh with the sunshine.  Amen.

[1] Zephaniah 3:14, NRSV.

[2] Beth Macy, Dopesick (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2018).

[3] Luke 3:7-18, NRSV.

                  St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach

                  Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

                   Advent 3 (Gaudete Sunday)
                December 5, 2021

Stir Up Your Power

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