May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen
I love to read….my students down at MCV would say that I am one of those people who has never met a book that I didn’t like. I can get so engrossed in a novel that I can be lost for days – as a result I tend to read more non-fiction something that I have to think about something that I can take in small snatches when time permits. But, every once in a while I love to get a book that I can dive into and not come up till I ready to lay it aside. A couple of weekends ago I hit on one at the local Barnes and Noble “How Starbucks Saved My Life” subtitled: ‘A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else’ the next day was one of those rainy Sunday afternoons we had nothing else on going on so I jumped in, finishing the book as the shadows of night approached.
I also enjoy drinking coffee (a book and a cup of coffee, almost Heaven). Almost any afternoon after work you can find Sandra and me at the Starbucks over in the Fan on Robinson. The author of the book Michael Gates Gill, tells his story-born into a wealthy New York family he was given every benefit an only child – he spent his summers at camp – he was educated at the best schools. He graduated from Yale in 1963. A friend of his from Skull and Bones called to say that he was setting him up at J. Walter Thompson, an internationally known advertising firm he interviewed and was hired. For the next thirty years, he was a successful member of the company – he worked hard – did what he was told – showed up when he was supposed to – sacrificed time with his family to meet the expectations of the client and of his company. Twenty-five years into his career he is given his notice….no need to report to the office. With kids in college he loses his house in the suburbs, his marriage, after a few years of consulting he finds that business drying up, he’s running out of money, he has no insurance. Sitting in a Starbucks, dressed in his expensive dark suit, his leather brief case on the table, checking his computer calendar and finding nothing. A young Black woman sitting at the next table over leans over in a somewhat joking voice asks him if he wants a job – totally out of the blue. Turns out that she was there for a Starbuck’s job-fair hadn’t had any candidates – she was passing the time. She asked him – “You want a job?” To her surprise, after a moments thought, he says that in fact he would like to have a job. Maybe hard times open you up to risks you would not otherwise consider. The rest is the story of the book, a revealing account about the culture and insideoperations of a very successful new business on the American scene. It is also the story of Michael’s introduction to hard, honest work – cleaning the bathrooms, managing the cash drawer, learning how to call out and to make and deliver fancy drinks with six or seven descriptors GRANDE SKIM LATTE, FOLLOWED BY A TALL CARMEL MACCHIATO AND A VENTI TWO PUMP NO WHIP, SKINNY, MOCHA. Starbucks does save him. He reunites with his children, develops a sense of pride in his relationships and work, he has a regular check and even, as important, good health insurance.
I thought a lot about Michael when the pictures appeared in our Richmond paper – men and women walking out of Circuit City, carrying their personal items in small boxes, jobs gone south, maybe even their severance packages lost, pictures that are being repeated all over our country. Tough times our two presidential candidates ran on platforms calling for change, each trying to outdo the other on what they could hope for at the same time most of us know at some deep level that the change has already happened. Doing business is not the same as it was even 5 years earlier. We live in a global world of business. Government is trying to catch up. We are just holding on, trying to adjust looking for leadership that can carry us though these times of re-definition and meaning. Michael Gates Gill was supposed to work for 35 years, to retire with a gold watch and benefits, to watch his family grow up and follow suit. He had been loyal to his company, he could expect his company to be loyal to him but, in this age of global economy, that promise no longer exists.
On this second Sunday in the Advent Season, 2008 we know that the world has changed. Government and business are trying to catch up. Mark’s Gospel for today captures words of another time of change. The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, The Son of God The voice of one crying in the wilderness…prepare your way. John the Baptizer appeared proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from everywhere went out to see him, confessing their sins, baptized by him in the River Jordan. It was another time of change – the people of God were down on their luck – the promise of Isaiah that they were God’s people, the hope of the new land, flowing with milk and honey. All that lost in captivity to Rome, their temple caught in political manipulations not unlike us today. These people were looking for meaning in their lives where was the promise, the hope for any future people who were looking for a prophetic voice of change the return of Elijah – a messenger who could help people make sense of what had happened. John’s take was a basic return to the fundamentals. The problem is that we haven’t been faithful, it is our problem and we need to get right with God. John called people to confession, recognition of their sins, to a Baptism that washed away the impurities. It’s a familiar theme – back to basics, look to the law for a solid foundation, hope that some external force, some God far off will recognize our plight and will reach down to us will make it right, Forget about G.M and Ford-bail us out!
Stripping away the superficial feels good, getting down to our core belief simplifies life. John was half right – the people had forgotten their values. They had given up hope for their future, a voice crying in the wilderness is better than no voice but, the Gospel for this Sunday reminds us that the expectation of the law is only half the story. John speaks through Mark, saying that another one is coming, one who will bring true change, the Good News of a different way of seeing how God works.
That is our Advent hope and wish. Anticipation holding our breath as we wait for that new word. Prepare ye the way says the prophet Michael. Sitting in a Starbucks, all hope lost, the vestige of a past life around him but, no hope for his future, when a job is offered. Working at Starbucks was not in his plan, not the promise of his life but, a discovery of something unexpected. It is the radical story of a baby born in a stable, real people, real work. God enters history in an unexpected way. Jesus speaks to people where he finds them. Fisher man – leave your fish – tax man repay-the people that you stole money from, man in the gutter, feeding the pigs-get up and go home the father is waiting. It’s not about the law, it’s not about the pomp and circumstance, it’s not about place in society, it’s about seeing God as you look into your neighbor’s eyes. It’s about discovering your sense of vocation, what have you been created to become. Michael’s pouring coffee at some store in New York but, he also found time to write about his adventure his education, his contacts result in a book that’s on the table at Barnes and Noble. A book tells a story about redemption, finding your way back to your self esteem, re-connecting to your kids, taking reasonability for your mistakes. He hasn’t given up his day job. Starbucks does have good benefits but, he found something more important: self worth and happiness. That was the kind of change that John anticipates. He knows that something is coming – prepare you the way, get your house in order, get back to basics but….also listen, watch for something that is coming. Finally this, the election is over, all the news now is about what is coming, millions of people flocking to Washington to celebrate, to hold out hope for what can happen, but, this election had a major sub plot that was of major import – history in the making. We elected our first African American President. I am not sure that we yet fully understand it’s meaning But, the next morning after the election when the word of who the next president would be was clear, I entered the hospital looking into the faces of the African Americans I met and saw a sense of gladness not always so obvious every morning when I come into the hall of the Gateway building down at MCV. I run into one of the men who empties the trash cans. Most days we simply greet each other. He’s one of those people who are often invisible to the rest of us who are there for different reasons. On that Wednesday I stopped by him for just a moment and asked how he was doing. He looked at me for a moment then said simply “I’ve waited forty years for this moment”. That’s a real advent, for him and for me, hope for a future never expected. Our country prepares for new leadership. Today we are preparing for a new revelation of God in our midst – “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God” amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Ame