Sermons on defining moments
Our work is to place our “no’s” at the threshold, and give them to God, fully release and open them to God’s creative work. This can be hard work, for we often feel defeated and overwhelmed with our own “no’s” or those society says to us. But God’s “yes” is waiting for us.
How we define our origin story matters. If we find ourselves telling our narratives beginning with a God in relationship with us who is loving, attentive, and creative, then our life will unfold in a more loving, attentive, and creative way, and we find we are then bearing the image of God into the world with faithfulness. Our lives can be messy along the way; it can feel chaotic and out of control; it can yearn for certainty and order and when we find that desire thwarted by the creative force of God, it can feel very disorienting. But this is also a most alive place to be, for it is one when we are often most open to love, most able to live into the source of inspiration, most able to see the doors flung open around us, most able to see the God within.
Because I know that Episcopalians find truth and strength in knowing when and how to take the high road, making the hard choices and seeking God’s truth expressing God’s love to all people, and working toward healing and reconciliation. This was the emphasis at our recent General Convention — addressing the problem of gun violence in our country; standing with and praying alongside the people in the border detention centers; addressing God’s call for racial reconciliation; witnessing to the #Metoo movement and calling the church to own the damage done in her name. These are hard, politicized issues that our church is grappling with and responding to – and yet, we also find truth and strength in claiming and living into the broadness of God’s love, which means we meet people wherever they are, and have the ability to hold two opposite points of view in communion. In some cases, we use such odd phrases as “both/and” meaning we don’t need to choose one or the other, but can see the truth in each position. One of the most helpful things I learned in seminary was in our pastoral theology course. Our instructor taught us to practice replacing the word “but” with “and”. For instance, instead of saying, “I hear what you’re saying, and I know you believe you’re right, BUT …” We say, “I hear what you’re saying, and I know you believe you’re right, AND, … I have a differing point of view”. It’s amazing how that word shift changes the dynamic of a conversation, equalizing the power, so people can listen to each other, without the defensiveness charging in.
When we “brush up against grace”, in all the many ways it comes upon us, we are invited into our own grief work, into our own places we need to offer or receive forgiveness, into our own truth telling, so that the resistance can melt away until we find our truth, the truth of God, the truth of the way of love, that we will take to our graves.
“Look within yourself,” Jesus implores them. But they don’t. What we would have hoped would have been the turning point in the story– the disciples’ transformation into a living and breathing faith — doesn’t happen. When the seas calm and Jesus begs them to go into the dark and foreign places within their own souls, to examine why their fear has overridden their faith, they don’t. Instead, they focus their attention on understanding Jesus, rather than understanding the difference Jesus makes in their lives of faith.
When we create with God, which we do with each breath that we take (for aren’t we always creating our life), in both our proactive and re-active responses to life’s events, it takes real thought, discernment, and intention around balancing how much is our work and how much is God’s work, in this co-creative activity we do with God.
So let us, in our age, in our part of the ongoing salvation history between God and God’s people— a love affair, really— do what our foremothers did once they got a grip: proclaim the Good News. Let us go to whatever Galilee we find ourselves in to seek out the risen Lord who has gone before us. Let us do as he asks. Let us dispel the darkness in his name and thereby illuminate the Kingdom coming into this world.
“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.