Sermons on growth
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.
Disorientation is really hard. It’s uncomfortable. It makes our heart hurt. It shakes our beliefs to the core. All that we have believed had been true is suddenly not. It’s what the psalmist wrote about and it’s what we experience in life over and over again, if we’re honest with ourselves. The prosperity gospel tells us all these things are bad, and yet the gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that in each of these moments, resurrection is possible. And that’s the difference between what the psalmist experienced: if it’s bad, it must mean God is absent and needs to be reminded to pay attention and us, as Christians, who will say, if we are disoriented, if we are experiencing something that appears and feels very bad, then God is present and is inviting us into something new. This is a huge distinction. Reorientation, not the previous state of orientation, follows disorientation in the Christian faith
For the sake of our 21st century reality, let’s for a moment write ourselves into Jesus’ story – taking the place of the wounded man, lying by the side of the road. Now ask yourself this question: who is the person that you would rather die than have come help you in a time of need? And who is the person or group whose members would rather die than stop and help you? This is a tough and provocative question, to be sure. Here are just a few possibilities: Imagine an Israeli Jewish man is robbed, and a good Hamas Palestinian member saves his life. A liberal Democrat is robbed, and a good conservative Republican who supports the NRA saves her life. A white supremacist is robbed, and a good black, inner city teenager saves his life. A transgender woman is robbed, and a good anti- LGBTQ activist from Westboro Baptist Church saves her life. .
In our modern-day terms, Paul’s words might read as this: there are no gay nor straight people, there are no people of color and no people of no color, there are no immigrants or citizens, there are no democrats or republicans, there are no monied people and those without, there are only people being united in Christ. There are outward distinctions, but there is no inward spiritual difference. And this is what Paul says is what matters: only our relationship with Christ. If we have turned our heart toward Christ, if his body and blood feed us, if we are nourished through the care of others, then the only identity that truly matters is who we are in Christ. This is the gift offered to us. If our core identity is one with Christ, then we can no longer be judged by others nor be judgmental of others, we can no longer be ostracized to the margins, nor ostracize others to the margins. Instead, we search for those on the margins and draw them inward, as Jesus did, so they too know they are loved by Christ.
“Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
I once remember living in mid-air. I was wholly terrified and equally exhilarated. I felt unprotected, yet strangely safe. I felt as though my world had cracked open and the contents of my life’s story had came spilling out, never to be reassembled with the same plot, without even a glimpse of the new stories yet to be written.
The disciples knew that following Jesus meant acknowledging their sins, and Jesus had taught them that the worst were the self-righteous who claimed to be better than other people. The disciples wondered if real peace required self-sacrifice. Could forgiveness require that we give up something? Isn’t it enough to just believe and be near Jesus? Why is he demanding that we maim ourselves in order to follow him? We know that there are places where people do not forgive each other. There are places where instead of caring for the poor, feeding people who are hungry, protecting refugees, and healing people who are sick the powerful keep their wealth to themselves. There are places where those who are great abuse, oppress, imprison, and kill the weak in their community. There are places without water, where suffering never ends, and the fires of violence never die.