Sermons on defining moments
“Grant us the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love. Grant us the grace of a strong soul, O God, grant us the grace to be strong.” John Phillip Newell, a contemporary Celtic theologian, offers these words in an evening prayer from his psalter, Sounds of the Eternal. In our gospel reading today, Jesus reveals the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love, and “live and move and have his being” as coming from the place of a strong soul. Jesus is focused on overturning that which distracts or inhibits people from fully worshiping God, be it the unjust sacrificial temple tax system that excludes the poor from entering the temple he found in Jerusalem or the many priorities we place in our lives over that of worshiping God. Jesus knows that when we worship God with all our heart, mind, and soul, we can do no else but acknowledge and embrace a holy anger set deep within us that empowers us to right the wrongs, to overturn the imbalance in an oppressive political or religious system, to fight for justice and peace, and to care for the least among us, as Jesus did.
The Rev. Barbara Hutchinson, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church “In those days”. In those days, when God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. “In those days” darkness covered the face of the deep, chaos abounded, and God intervened and said, “let there be light”. God continued creating and delighted with each step of creation…
This rhythm of release then embrace is the deep pattern of our spiritual lives. In our baptism, we release ourselves from the draw and claim of culture and convention upon our lives and souls, by renouncing the evil forces in this world first, and then we reach for and embrace the draw and claim of God upon our lives and souls, adhering ourselves to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It is the rhythm that biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman speaks of in the cycle of disorientation of our lives, when the prevalent culture doesn’t fit us anymore, which when we release it, opens up that place of granting permission to God to shape us through love, or as I so often speak of, the deconstruction of our world as we know it, for the reconstruction to emerge. There’s often barely a pause, hardly the space of a breath, most likely a shared motion of the release and the embrace that moves us along the track of God’s Kingdom. God is always asking us to let go of something, a stuck way of thinking, a habit which no longer fits, a hardness in our heart, a worry about something that will never come to be, so that we can grab onto that baton of the Kingdom of God and run with it, move into whatever will come our way, with a trust and faith in God that Andrew and Peter and James and John had in our story today. In these call stories, there were no sidebar conversations recorded, nor detailed deliberations offered as to the wisdom of becoming fishers of men. There was no hand-wringing action reported, no endless lists of the pros and cons of staying or leaving. Maybe that happened in real life. But the story is written the way it is because Mark doesn’t want us to go there, doesn’t want us to be distracted with the practical implications of the ask. Pick up that baton and go! “Follow me. Grab that baton and go!” says Jesus and they do.
As Jesus was emerging from the water, God tore open the heavens. This was a dramatic, compulsive, and directive motion of God, which released an immense amount of spiritual energy, and forever changed the relationship between heaven and earth, between God and humankind, through the ministry of Jesus. When we feel spiritual energy, when we have a desire to get rid of what no longer fits us, we are like Jesus breaking through the plane of the water, beginning the process of receiving the Spirit, once again, and it is the same spiritual energy with which God tore open the heavens and released into our world.
God’s word, the logos, speaks to us each day. Our challenge is to allow Christ to lift the veil for us to see and articulate the truth that is within us and each other. May we see within our relationships the presence of Christ’s healing balm, our salvation, and may we be moved along on our journey, that wild roller coaster of a ride with God, toward a generosity of spirit, which was in the beginning.
Finally, Mary’s “yes”, her uniting her purpose with God’s, without crying, “I cannot” or “I am not worthy” or “I don’t have the time”. Mary did not submit to God’s request with gritted teeth or through coercion or with an unwilling heart. It was her consent that opened her up to bear the glory of God into this world. It is our consent, and only our consent to God, which will bring us to that place of fulfillment and peace,…
There is a little poem I think about this time of year. Some people dream the dream Some people live the dream Some people defend the dream God bless the defenders The Lord said “who shall I send and who will go for us” and I said “here am I; send me. Amen.
Because Jesus stayed in the tomb, contained with the earth, with the massive round stone rolled across its entrance, Jesus sanctified, made holy, saturated with the presence of God, the darkened container he was put in, and therefore sanctified all the darkened containers we put ourselves into. But the point of the story of Jesus is that he didn’t stay there. And his resurrection invites and implores us not to stay there either. God’s mercy, love, and compassion draw us into these places of alienation and disconnect. We resist going there often, sometimes by saying, “We’ve always done it that way” as a reason not to move into that place of uncertainty, where the old begins to fade away before we can see the new. Or sometimes we resist the draw into exile because it’s easier to fortify the sides of our containers with bolstered arguments or fiery threats. But the pattern of faithful living, that paschal mystery we often speak of, moves us into a place of exile, of self-reflection, of noticing the places of disconnect between what God has asked of us and what we are doing, to the land, or in our lives, or in our relationship with God, for they are all connected, of acknowledging what we have done or left undone that has caused harm. But then the Spirit turns us again toward God, when God’s mercy, love, and compassion can strip from us all that we have falsely created, to return us to what God has created within and around us. If we listen closely enough, in these times of exile, which our own lives may be in now, or our country may be in right now, we can hear God’s voice saying, “Come and see, I am bringing you to a new way of experiencing me. Come and see.”
There are moments in our lives, sometimes fleeting or seemingly nearly beyond our grasp, when we catch a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, when everything lines up and everything seems right. We may describe these moments as “being in the flow”, or of a sense of wholeness or peace that overcomes us, or experiencing a surge of newness, or a spark of creativity, or a place of deep and holy nourishment, or stumbling into a thin place. These come to us by grace, for we can never orchestrate them, but only enter into them when they are revealed to us. While in these states, we are experiencing what this Forest Season of Creation is all about – that living place where nourishment abounds, where both birth and death happen, where the life-force is strong, where there is a sense of being held as part of a greater whole.
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.
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.
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!