Sermons on difficult decisions
Second Sunday of Christmas, January 5, 2020 RCL readings Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a; Matthew 2:1-2 Here is the little door-lift up your hands, O lift! We need not wander more but enter with our gift. In the name of God who loves us, sustains us and guides us on our way, Amen. Today’s Gospel- actually, all of today’s readings-tell us the story of pilgrimage. They took the journey first- Joseph, Mary on the patient donkey, the shepherds,…
This story becomes real for each one of us when we make that mark of the sign of the cross on our hearts and faithfully follow Jesus into the places that no rational person would traverse. That’s how we find Easter in our lives. Amen.
We are grains of wheat. That is what we are. We can stay by ourselves, alone and rigid, encased in a hard shell, holding the embryo of what could be, of what God could be through us and deep within us, imprisoned by our unwillingness to let go of those things we hold to be safe and true through our understanding of ourselves, each other, or God. Or, we can die to ourselves and we can become the bread of life, giving life and nourishment to others and bearing much fruit for the Kingdom. “Come and die”, Jesus says.
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.
And yet, how can our compassionate hearts not meet these people in the complex layer that lies behind, or beneath, or alongside our rationality in these situations? How do our hearts not break for Hagar, cast out into the wilderness to watch her child die? How could I not have enfolded in my arms that young mother who was allowing a family to be born for others, but not for her. How can we pretend there are children in our societies who go unprotected due to the enslaved condition of their mothers? We can’t and we shouldn’t. We can’t and we shouldn’t dismiss the grief of anyone, whether there were actions or circumstances that should have foretold the impending despair.
Laughter can mask all sorts of hard emotions: shame or embarrassment, and also injury. Maybe the words of the visitor stung her deep inside, broke her heart once again, his words awakening in her the passionate yearning she had for her own baby, and it seemed like the visitor’s words were mocking her, for she was 90 years old and knew that she could no longer bear children. How often do we hear God’s call and almost wish we didn’t, for once awakened, we know we must respond, and sometimes that just doesn’t seem possible? We almost wish the yearning had not been placed in our heart, when we don’t think we can give It birth.
These questions of “Does including the new and different mean that we are letting go of the values that have always defined us? Or do the values that define us compel us to be more inclusive and open?” represent a major turning point in the story of the early church. It is also the crux of much of the turmoil in the contemporary church as it takes little imagination to see how this same question applies to many of the controversies the Episcopal Church has walked through recently. The Episcopal Church continues Peter’s work by continually making the circles ever wider.
Jesus, the King of the Jews, the Son of God, stands squarely before him, bearing all things, empowering all people, and says the only thing that needs to be said to change the world, I am the truth.
The work, I believe, we bring to scripture texts is to find within the spoken or written words, that which both comforts and that which challenges us. We want our relationship with God to be rooted in God’s everlasting and intimate love of us, which we search for and find in our scriptures, and we want our lives: our actions, beliefs, and feelings, to be challenged, so we can live the gospel faithfully within community.
We are to stop living as though nothing has changed. We are to put aside the works of darkness: we are to stop gratifying ourselves by harming and provoking each other; and we are to put on the armor of light, by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
We vow in the Baptismal Covenant to ‘… seek and serve Christ in all persons… and strive for justice and peace among all people.’ We must begin to say the things that come from our changed hearts if we want the world to be a better place for the oppressed and the depressed, which will make it better for all of us. Hear what God is still speaking to your heart, and let your heart be changed by it.
Well, I believe the parable we heard today is incredibly relevant to each one of us, for it speaks to us about how to live faithfully in normal life, which is full of ambiguity; full of difficult choices, full of complex relationships; full of unending demands upon our time, emotions, energy and values.