Sermons on life-sustaining and life-giving love
During Lent, when we encountered the “in-your-face” Jesus, the one who purposefully caused disruption in the temple, the one who vehemently pushed back against practices of social injustice, the one who chose always to be politically incorrect, the one who touched the untouchables, who deliberately crossed over social boundaries and made a point of speaking this truth to those in power, and not necessarily speaking that truth in love, I longed for Jesus the Good Shepherd. I yearned to hear…
The God who is Love acts – to liberate and save, forgive and heal, acts to empower us to join God in creating that future where everything finally will be reconciled and made whole. So let’s take a look at the condition of our own Christ garment. Where is it frayed, wearing thin, or maybe even starting to tear? Perhaps you are in need of liberation from something that’s dragging you down, holding you back from mirroring Christ’s love. Maybe you have difficulty accepting the fact that God believes you are worth saving. Or maybe there is a situation, a sin, a habit with which we repeatedly wrestle. Perhaps we need assurance of forgiveness and the courage and faith with God’s help, to begin again. Maybe there are tender wounded places in us that need healing, which we keep well hidden. Most of us will have at least one situation where we need the Spirit’s help to put love into action, to let Christ’s light shine through us.
Pentecost is a time of celebrating God’s surprises in our lives. Often, it’s fun and exhilarating to run and catch up with the Spirit who is leading us into new life, new ways of being, new callings to answer, new ways of being church. And sometimes, it’s hard, and we feel out of breath, and we want things to slow down, or return to what was. I think this is a very natural reaction because surprises are unexpected and we can be thrown off by the lack of our control, or by the direction the Spirit is moving us toward, one that we may not have chosen ourselves. The Holy Spirit is a wild and crazy thing and yet it always empowers us to join with the first disciples in witnessing to the truth of the risen Christ. I think this is one of most helpful things for me to remember when I’m feeling exhausted by the changes the Holy Spirit is demanding of me – it’s for a good purpose. It’s so I can be a more faithful witness to what lights up my life, to what offers me joy, to what gives my life purpose, what inspires me to become the best I can be – the presence of Jesus in my life.
Dialogue happened, lives were changed, and the living water began to flow more freely. This all seems to be a part of God’s plan.
The Magi’s coming to Jesus, like the family’s coming to their grandpa, was neither arbitrary nor serendipitous, but destined. For this is why we have been created: to exchange our gifts of love. This is how we are God’s people, reaching to be changed, moment by moment, into the image of Christ, by an exchange of gifts. For each time we give to someone that which says, “I know you, I love you”, whatever form love will take, whether in a smile, a caress, or in an honest conversation, they and we will be changed.
This is what John the Baptist speaks of in our lesson today: the baptism of the repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It’s actually not the sins themselves that he wants to wash away, for God has already done that. It is our repentance of them, our turning away from them, our stretching our minds beyond them, our conversion to a life which no longer allows them. John the Baptist wants us to release ourselves from whatever prison we find ourselves within, which keeps us from the love of God. This is what we’re called into today by the prophetic voice of John the Baptist. Our actions, or our failure to act, the attacks, wounds, insults and slurs we have inflicted upon others or which have been inflicted upon us, these can stay with us for years, even though God has long ago has washed them away. For grace comes first. God shows up. God invites us to repent, to “go beyond our mind”, so the mountains we construct to protect our souls, can be torn down and washed away.
It is this life force, this Kingdom of God come near, this divine love, this presence of Christ planted deep within our souls, which nourishes, supports, stabilizes, and energizes us, and is the still point in a world that is constantly changing.
Jesus offers us God’s invitation to take a different road. Losing life to find life. It’s not a very heavily traveled road because it is difficult, and yet at the same time wondrous. The unexpected lies just beyond each bend – things like grace, beauty, forgiveness, community.
One major key to finding this real relationship with God through Christ which John’s gospel offers us is the practice of ABIDING. . . Learning to abide is about allowing the Spirit to teach us how to live and walk through the full spectrum of life’s tensions – hanging in there with God while God continues to stay with and hold onto us, loving us for now and always.
Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is that which gives life, true life, eternal life, life that sustains and nourishes our souls so we may experience the kingdom here and now, and so that we may be raised up with him on the very last day.
Now the people in Nazareth are neither especially bad, nor blind, nor particularly unreceptive. They made a mistake many of us are prone to. They expected the ordinary, a human being, to do ordinary things. Or they expected extraordinary things to be done by extraordinary people. Not an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. They took Jesus at face value. They remembered Jesus as the kid who lived two doors down, who kicked the ball in the streets with his friends, or could be found in his father’s shop, learning the carpenter trade. The people of Nazarene couldn’t look beyond Jesus’ ordinariness to figure out how he could do extraordinary things. Instead they dismissed the whole package.
We can stare at the empty tomb in disbelief as long as we want. Jesus is not there. Jesus did not die for what we want to believe in, but for the love God has been trying to give us from ‘the foundations of the world’.