Sermons on redemption
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church The Rev. Barbara Hutchinson Seven years ago, when I was interviewing here at St. Andrew’s, the Search Committee had written a marvelous Parish Profile for all perspective applicants, outlining a lively commitment to outreach, a devotion to worship, and ongoing opportunities for both children’s and adult formation. I pored over the material, absorbing it like it was the very air I was breathing, circling the phrases and sections I was most drawn toward, and writing in…
The holes in Jesus’ hands and the sword-inflicted wound in his side, from which blood and water flowed, showed Thomas that he is not asked to believe in a God whose new life in Jesus obliterated the worst of humanity, pushing aside the ugliness and violence , ignoring the places of pain or horror or absence, but rather to believe in a God who went into that brokenness and breathed the possibility of new life into all the shattered places, because that’s how the resurrection can make a difference to us.
God’s word, the logos, speaks to us each day. Our challenge is to allow Christ to lift the veil for us to see and articulate the truth that is within us and each other. May we see within our relationships the presence of Christ’s healing balm, our salvation, and may we be moved along on our journey, that wild roller coaster of a ride with God, toward a generosity of spirit, which was in the beginning.
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” A common saying. Perhaps you’ve heard it many times in your life, or have even spoken it yourself. It’s a saying I’ve always pushed back against from a place deep within my gut, not necessarily understanding why, until I studied theology, and then I knew why. My image of God doesn’t include someone sitting upon a throne in heaven, dolling out bad things to people at opportune times, with the purpose of disrupting or destroying their lives, always attentive to the balance of good and evil in their lives at any particular moment, so people can be just on the edge of the good— or worse yet, bringing on the bad thing in life to selected people at the worst possible moments of their lives, just when they are starting to turn things around, or when they are spiraling downward. My image of God is a flow of love, a source of desire for goodness for each part of the created world, a pull deep within each one of us for wholeness, and an inherent life-force reaching toward a rich and abundant life designed for everyone, lived within the healing embrace of Christ. So how would I, how do you, reconcile this image of a God who looks at us through eyes of love, with the God conjured up in this popular saying that seems to imply God is actively involved in bringing bad things into our lives?
There are moments in our lives, sometimes fleeting or seemingly nearly beyond our grasp, when we catch a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, when everything lines up and everything seems right. We may describe these moments as “being in the flow”, or of a sense of wholeness or peace that overcomes us, or experiencing a surge of newness, or a spark of creativity, or a place of deep and holy nourishment, or stumbling into a thin place. These come to us by grace, for we can never orchestrate them, but only enter into them when they are revealed to us. While in these states, we are experiencing what this Forest Season of Creation is all about – that living place where nourishment abounds, where both birth and death happen, where the life-force is strong, where there is a sense of being held as part of a greater whole.
The story of God asking Abraham to offer his only and beloved son, Isaac, to be sacrificed as a test of his faith reveals the hard truth that salvation is going to be a costly endeavor. It sets the story of God and our salvation on a trajectory we often resist, namely that there are costs to being faithful. It is more comfortable to believe in a God who is predictable, tame and safe, than to believe in a God who actually demands something of us, who asks us to offer back to God that which is most precious to us, who promises us resurrection, but holds up the way of the cross to get there.
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.
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.
It is almost unfathomable to me that God leads us into temptation, and yet we pray against that happening each week in the Lord’s prayer as we say, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” If we pray against it happening, it means we must imagine it as a possibility, and one that only the grace or mercy of God can prevent. And our gospel story today reinforces the concept that God leads us into temptation, as it is clearly stated that the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, into the place of testing and temptation. Somehow the time of testing and temptation serves the Spirit’s purpose. Does that seem odd to you?
To be a pilgrim on the Way, to be a disciple of Jesus, I discovered on my trip to the Holy Land, means being willing to go down, deep down into the earth, deep down into my soul, to find Jesus. Literally, we descended many flights of steps at the holy sites, to find the Star of Bethlehem which commemorates the birth place of Jesus, to find the grotto where Jesus lived in Nazareth, or to find the prison cell where Jesus was held the night before his trial.From a spiritual perspective, we went down deep into our souls to ask the same question that John asks of Jesus in our gospel today: Are you really the one? This is the question we each need to ask of Jesus and the one we each need to answer for ourselves. For you will notice in our story, Jesus doesn’t claim the title of Messiah, in response to John’s question, but rather Jesus says, “Look at what I’m doing” and then you decide.
We too hit walls in our lives that the message of Jeremiah speaks to, when the hardness of life seems all-consuming, when the trauma and drama of life overwhelm us, when what we’ve worked for is destroyed, when anxiety around our job security settles around us as an icy fog settles among the evergreen trees along the coast of Maine, when we ourselves, or our loved ones, walk into the emergency room and we’re not sure what the outcome will be. There are times when we crave the reassurance of anyone who may tell us the falsehood that “all will be okay”, or we push the hardness away because we don’t have the energy, the courage, or the mental health to look it squarely in the eye, but Jeremiah reminds us that there is redemption in the hardness.