Rev. Jeff Mansfield

There's a Crack in Everything -- Don't Panic

The whole world has gone Christmas crazy! And here we are, the Church, just getting to the first Sunday in Advent. All around us it’s Jingle Bell Rock and the twinkling of Christmas lights and Kurt Douglas as Santa Claus on Netflix, and here we are talking about the Apocalypse, for goodness sake. 

Beloved, do we have a communications problem here? I mean, has the world gotten the messaging of the holidays right while the church is just stuck in the past? What’s the point of four weeks of Advent, anyway – talking about apocalypse and repentance and waiting, waiting, waiting, when we could have it all right now? If we wanted, we could rush to the carols, to the sweet babe in the manger, to the shepherds, the wise ones, the angelic choir, the light shining in the darkness! Why don’t we? To the world outside, Advent is just the calendar countdown to waking up to a pile of presents, but the rest of the season arrives without any waiting at all in a frantic mob of shopping as soon as Walmart opens its doors after Thanksgiving dinner. What the heck are we waiting for?

Where to Look

What is truth? In the age of Russian interference, fake news, and alternative facts, Pilate’s infamously nihilistic question, “What is truth?” takes on a different sort of feeling for us. Pilate was a gloomy philosopher who was wondering out loud – rhetorically and sarcastically – if there was any such thing as truth. We believe that there IS truth. We have a bigger problem than a world without truth. We live in a world where the truth seems pretty obvious, but half the whole world seems hell-bent on disbelieving that truth that seems so plain to us. We don’t have a truth problem – truth is truth, fact is fact – we have a people problem. We know that we can trust the truth. But we don’t have much faith in most people to accept and act upon the truth in a way that will make the world a better place.

What’s interesting in regards to Pilate is that despite basically saying to Jesus that there is no such thing as truth at all, a little later in the day, as it’s looking more and more like Pilate is going to have to crucify Jesus, he drops the too-cool-for-truth act. He has one more question for Jesus. He’ll ask him, “Where are you from?”

All In

So, we went to the polls on Tuesday. Some of us went once to vote and came a second time to the church building to hand out cookies and juice to our neighbors who were filling out their ballots in the Chapel just across the hall. We voted and we volunteered. Some of us gathered here for Tuesday Evening Worship and we prayed for our country. Then we whipped out our phones and scrolled through the initial poll results. And we woke up on Wednesday morning with one big question on our minds:

IS DEMOCRACY DOOMED?

The results? Meh, Mixed. Reply Hazy, Try Again in 2020. We’ve been beat up so bad for the last two years, its hard sometimes not to think that the whole endeavor – democracy, liberalism, progressivism, voting, protesting, advocating and organizing, the very Realm of God itself – is maybe a lost cause.

Sons of Thunder

I took a train to New Haven on Thursday afternoon. I was headed up to Yale Divinity School. My dear friend and colleague from my days at First Church Somerville, Rev. Molly Baskette, invited me to go to the Convocation dinner with her. She would be there to receive an alumni award for Distinction in Congregational Ministry, and I was more than happy to make the trip to celebrate her.

If you’re going to be honored in public, when all eyes are on you, when people say nice things about you, and give you a standing ovation, when you are recognized and thanked, it’s nice to have someone there in the room who really knows you. The victory is sweetest when a few of the eyeballs looking at you are in the heads of people who love you, people who get you, people who won’t forget what was said and done, people who will remember how awesome you are long after the etched glass trophy has gathered its dust and gotten lost at the back of the shelf, people who will be able to remind you how awesome you are, and why, when the day comes – and it will come – when you begin to doubt yourself.

The Final Mile

Some people say that the first steps are the hardest steps to take. The procrastinator in me tends to agree. It’s hard to get started. It’s hard to find the time and the energy. Especially if it’s a big project, especially if it’s going to require some sort of conflict or change or pain in my life, it’s easy to find something else to do for a little while – or maybe for years. Do we have any procrastinators out there who agree it’s hard to get going?

This fall I’ve been running more. I try to get out three or four times a week. I run from my apartment in Crown Heights along Eastern Parkway to Prospect Park, around the park loop, and then home again. I manage 7 or 8 miles at a go. For the first mile, I feel like I’m still twenty-years-old. Around the second mile, I age a decade or so. By the fourth mile, I remember I am, in fact, forty. And once I finally get home, I lie down on the floor and tell my wife I think I’m gonna die. The miles get harder as you go. It’s the final stretch that will kick your butt, not the first steps. Any joggers agree – it only gets harder as you go?