Ordinary Time 2017
There are times when I get exhausted from the constant pull of the Holy Spirit to shape and remake my heart and soul, so that I can be more aligned with the will of God. I imagine you do too. There are times when I wish I could escape for just a moment back into my Sunday school faith and believe it is as simple as believing Jesus loves me. I imagine you do too. There are times when I want my life to be simpler, when I wish I could compartmentalize my life into church on Sunday and the rest. I imagine you do too. But I know that’s not my life as a Christian. Rather it is to be deeply fed by times of silence before God and in spiritual retreats, by receiving the prayers of our healing ministers, by finding a group of spiritual friends with whom I can wrestle with the issues of today set within our three-legged stool of scripture, tradition, and reason, so I can continue the hard work of discernment of God’s new revelation among us that instructs me how to faithfully live in response to the movement of the Spirit.
Give us this day our daily bread. These are familiar words we pray together every Sunday, right before the bread is broken in the Eucharistic prayer. Have you ever wondered why we pray these words at that particular moment? Right before Jesus’ body is broken so each and every one of us can receive and take within us the holy presence of Christ? Why does it matter to us that this particular prayer is on our hearts when the sunlight from the altar window shines upon the bread, which seems to glow with holiness as I break it apart, so we can each be fed with this sacred meal? Give us this day our daily bread. We don’t say, “Give me this day MY daily bread” – this prayer sets us within a community. The prayer is spoken by all of us, for all of us. It draws us into a place of understanding that we are all equal – equal in God’s love, equal in our share of God’s abundance, equal in the blessing we take out into God’s world, God’s vineyard. One doesn’t get more if one has had an exceptionally faithful week of prayer, scripture study, and good deeds. Nor does one get less if one is kneeling at the rail for the first time in 20 years and had somehow forgotten about God all that time. It is this fact that makes the invitation to the Eucharist so appropriate and poignant, “So come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often, and you who have not been for a long time or ever before, you who have tried to follow and all of us who have failed.”
If I want a God of power and might to always line up on the right side of my judgment and take decisive divine action to eradicate my enemies, then I have to imagine that I might be on the opposing side of someone else’s judgment, and then I would want God’s exuberant mercy to be upon me, so I must in turn, want God’s exuberant mercy to be upon them. We need to look into the messiness.
The God who is Love acts – to liberate and save, forgive and heal, acts to empower us to join God in creating that future where everything finally will be reconciled and made whole. So let’s take a look at the condition of our own Christ garment. Where is it frayed, wearing thin, or maybe even starting to tear? Perhaps you are in need of liberation from something that’s dragging you down, holding you back from mirroring Christ’s love. Maybe you have difficulty accepting the fact that God believes you are worth saving. Or maybe there is a situation, a sin, a habit with which we repeatedly wrestle. Perhaps we need assurance of forgiveness and the courage and faith with God’s help, to begin again. Maybe there are tender wounded places in us that need healing, which we keep well hidden. Most of us will have at least one situation where we need the Spirit’s help to put love into action, to let Christ’s light shine through us.
I am proposing to you that to hate, as to love, is meant in the Bible to be more than a feeling within our hearts, but rather that which invokes appropriate action. There’s a wonderful plaque at Holy Cross Monastery which says, “Love must act as light must shine as fire must burn”. When we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are not being called to have a warm fuzzy feeling for everyone in the world, but rather we are to act in this world as God acts with us, with compassion, mercy, and always toward justice. When we are called to hate evil, we are not called only to have a passionate dislike for someone or something, we are to act to resist and eradicate that which is evil in this world.
It is a courageous act of civil disobedience that helps change the tide of history. They are the first two links in a chain of many people who will eventually be lead out of slavery and oppression in Egypt by Moses. Liberation starts here, with two women willing to say “no” to an act of cruelty and injustice.
So, the first challenging question is: does God see the emptiness or negative space in our souls and yearn for us to become more? or birth more of God’s goodness in our lives? The answer to that question for each one of us is “absolutely yes”. The second challenging question is: rather than seeing the emptiness or incompleteness that we need to fill, does God see the negative space, wishing that we have it all? Does the generous and abundant God want to give us more? The answer to that question is undoubtedly “yes”, but the question to ourselves is “Can we receive that?” Can we take it all from God? For that will involve opening ourselves, creating a space for vulnerability, for change, for radical reorientation of our lives, to letting grace cling to and release pain, to finding ourselves worthy of God’s love. Each challenge is right and hard, whether it is allowing ourselves to be transformed to become all that God desires of us, or whether it is allowing ourselves to be transformed to receive the fullness of God’s love. Negative space has power, but God’s love has greater power. Let us allow that, God’s love, to be what drives our lives. Amen.
The lesson we learn from these phenomena is a vital one. We mustn’t try to hold on to these mountaintop experiences. Whenever we see glimpses of the kingdom of God and reach these mountaintops we must let them shape us, our actions, our faith. How was Peter different as he journeyed down that treacherous trail? By letting our intimate encounters with God shape us, however brief or fleeting they may be, we afford ourselves the opportunity to live as servants of the Lord. The transfiguration allowed Peter and the others an understanding of the future of Christ– no not just his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, but this our worship and modelling of the values he so tried to teach. My parish family, this the future of Christ!
We don’t know which scenario it might have been, but Jacob had perceived the presence of God and either thought that that fleeting moment of revelation of God was all there was, or that he was “done” in his quest or love of God, or that the revelation required no response, rather than understanding that after finding God, the hard work begins of obeying, relinquishing control, offering your whole self, and the re-ordering of your life’s passion, work, thoughts, and behavior to something larger than yourself. This pattern of seeking, finding, relinquishing, and offer your whole self is something that shows up in our story of the pearl of great value, and we pray happens to you each time you walk into this church, or journey to your sacred space where you regularly find God.
I’m wondering, if you were to imagine the cairn, this mound of rocks or pebbles, which indicate the way deeper into God for you, as a metaphor for your spiritual activities, for that through which you order your life to reach God, what would you put together to form the mound? What would you pile together? Where would you gather the rocks from? How would you arrange the stones so there was balance in your spiritual life? Perhaps your stones would be your prayer life, times of meditation, scripture study, listening to or playing music, listening to the giggles of your grandchildren, moments of silence during church, or walks in the woods. What are the pieces you need to gather, so the “cairn” of your soul can keep you pointed to the place of God? Jacob found the knowledge of God to be the gateway or portal into God’s dwelling. How do you come upon the knowledge of God that brings you into God’s dwelling? We learned in our story today that it was God’s initiative that led Jacob into this knowledge of God. We can trust that God is taking the initiative with us, in this moment as well.
What makes this reality truth for me, that we are hard-wired to crave God’s blessing and God is hard-wired to give it, is our shared experience at the end of each worship service, when I offer you God’s blessing. It is so clear to me that in that moment, when I lean forward onto the altar, that I peer into your souls with the eyes of God’s heart, and with love from my own heart, and I see the need for blessing deep within you that God does, and I marvel that in those few words I utter, “the blessing of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always” with the intention of drawing God’s presence near and within each one of us, I know we each are blessed by God. I know that we will each go out from the service, some of us scattering until we meet again next Sunday or next month, some of us coming together in prayer, service, or learning throughout the week, but I know we have been united in a way that does pass all understanding, we have been united as recipients of God’s abounding grace, and we have been blessed, and deep within us, that blessing has met our deepest need. It is one of the truest moments of my week, when I know I am most aligned to God’s desires. We never have to say, as Esau did, “Me too! Give me a blessing too” for we have been given that blessing, not to own, not to hold back from others, but to allow to seep deep within our soul, and touch our deepest need and to be healed.
All of our passages today are about new life: the new life being offered in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, the psalmist calling the bride away from her home, Paul calling the faithful to begin new lives away from the bondage of sin, and Jesus telling his disciples that in their relationship with him, they will find a new understanding of power and of service. New life, in all of these situations, means becoming a stranger to one’s former life, distancing ourselves from who we were, looking at our life from a new perspective, or identifying within the landscape of our soul that which we need to be estranged from, what you need to let go of, all of that which is not of God. This can be an exciting and scary process, and it is always really hard work to allow this transformation to happen. We seem, naturally, to resist this change, but our scriptures give us helpful examples of how to prepare ourselves to do this hard and holy work of becoming a stranger to our old lives. I think it has to do with how we welcome the stranger.