Sermons on growth
The opening lines of the movie Amadeus highlighting the genius of Mozart and the divine gift of his compositions, begins with words of an aged Antonio Salieri, speaking from a place of despair and ridicule, and reflecting on the first time he heard the beginning notes of Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in B flat major — “On the page, it looked simple, nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse. Bassoons, Basset Horns. Like a rusty squeezebox. And then,…
“the unending truth of God in our lives is nothing we ourselves can construct.”
This humble monk, whose statue represented authenticity, truthfulness, prophecy, and a simple love of Christ, was surrounded by glitter and gold. Mosaics, beautiful perhaps in another context, but wrong in the way we understand how Domingo lived. In this moment of contrast, between glitter, gold, and opulence of his shrine, and the simplicity, honesty, and authenticity of Domingo’s heart, the parable we heard in our gospel today screamed in my heart. I could see the distinction between living from the deepest part of our authentic being in the living Christ and living from the glitter and gold part of our being, the flashy, socially and politically correct, popular part of how we present our lives.
Living within the tension of what we believe the Kingdom of God is all about and the harsh reality of our world can be very difficult. We, like the many who marched alongside Jesus on the descent into Jerusalem, imagine a better world, one where love rules, where truth prevails, where people are respected, where voices of the innocent are heard, where the vulnerable are protected, where reconciliation is the only option, where God’s dream of love becomes real.
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.
Though we may find grief is at our core, often it is unchecked assumptions about how life should be, or our childhood beliefs about what is right and wrong, or our privileged status, or the way we expect our lives to turn out, or our own agenda. Regardless, it asks us to join with God to build a life larger than that within us which can consume our lives.
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.
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.
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.
I’ll end by returning to where we started—talking about the church year. I like how this Season after Pentecost roughly corresponds to the growing season in our northern hemisphere. And being in this rural community, it’s easy to witness just how difficult it is to grow things. Several years I’ve noticed that farmers have had difficulty getting crops in because of too much rain in the early part of the season, only to be faced with the loss of that same crop later because of drought late in the season. I’ve thought also of the force, drive, and energy it takes for a tiny seed to shoot up a tiny tendril that manages to plow through several inches of dirt just to make it to the surface, let alone survive gnawing critters in order to reach maturity. And that’s what this Season after Pentecost is about: the struggle, hope, and faith it takes to grow. Let’s continue to grow together this season, encouraging each other to be Christ to and see Christ in each other and in our neighbors—that’s all we need to do to make disciples because being Christ and seeing Christ is one way that Jesus is with us “always, to the end of the age”. Amen.