Sermons on spiritual maturity
People were saying all kinds of things about Jesus. People always have, and will continue to say all sorts of things about Jesus. The disciples report on the word from the street. “Some say you’re John the Baptist, come back to life. Others think you’re the great prophet Elijah, returned. And some others think you are another in the line of our great prophets.” All their answers suggest that most Galileans think Jesus is the forerunner of the Messiah. That’s a safe bet. It’s easier to believe a Messiah will come, than to believe one has come. A Messiah yet to come makes no demands, calls for no change. Jesus listens, just taking in the disciples’ report. Then he looks at them and says, “But who do you say that I am?” Can’t you just see it? The disciples’ heads all drop, eyes to the ground, and they intently begin to study their feet. No one wants to be the first to make eye contact with Jesus. Well, there always comes a time when what other people think and say is just not enough. It’s Peter who finds his voice. He has allowed God to show him in his soul who Jesus is, so he breaks the awkward silence and speaks his truth: “You are the Messiah”.
When we create with God, which we do with each breath that we take (for aren’t we always creating our life), in both our proactive and re-active responses to life’s events, it takes real thought, discernment, and intention around balancing how much is our work and how much is God’s work, in this co-creative activity we do with God.
We are celebrating the season of Easter, when our scriptures open up for us the many ways Jesus will continue to be revealed to us, through a new perspective on scripture, through the bread and the wine, through our love given and received. The scripture lessons during this season also present the framework for the way to be church. As our gospel story reveals to us today, Jesus, the grace of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, is the vine, that which connects us, that which gives us nourishment and life, that which draws us into one being, one Body of Christ. This connection can heal our soul and body, provide us hope in our times of darkness, reveal to us our belovedness, move us from despair to hopefulness, from fear to courage, from loathing to loving.
This holy work of truth telling, of allowing God to seep within our souls to spotlight that which needs to be washed away by the tears of Jesus, that which needs to be held in love by Jesus’ healing touch, that which needs to be sanctified, claimed as holy within us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, all of that is the intentional work of Lent. I invite you to let Jesus do this work for and with you, as you offer yourself, all of yourself, to follow the One who loves you beyond measure. Jesus was inviting the disciples and is inviting us to look at our greatest fear often hidden deep within the recesses of our heart and mind and to look at our deepest pain straight in the eye, so it can be transformed into something that can be life-giving for us or for others.
Finally, Mary’s “yes”, her uniting her purpose with God’s, without crying, “I cannot” or “I am not worthy” or “I don’t have the time”. Mary did not submit to God’s request with gritted teeth or through coercion or with an unwilling heart. It was her consent that opened her up to bear the glory of God into this world. It is our consent, and only our consent to God, which will bring us to that place of fulfillment and peace,…
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.
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.
We don’t know which scenario it might have been, but Jacob had perceived the presence of God and either thought that that fleeting moment of revelation of God was all there was, or that he was “done” in his quest or love of God, or that the revelation required no response, rather than understanding that after finding God, the hard work begins of obeying, relinquishing control, offering your whole self, and the re-ordering of your life’s passion, work, thoughts, and behavior to something larger than yourself. This pattern of seeking, finding, relinquishing, and offer your whole self is something that shows up in our story of the pearl of great value, and we pray happens to you each time you walk into this church, or journey to your sacred space where you regularly find God.
All of our passages today are about new life: the new life being offered in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, the psalmist calling the bride away from her home, Paul calling the faithful to begin new lives away from the bondage of sin, and Jesus telling his disciples that in their relationship with him, they will find a new understanding of power and of service. New life, in all of these situations, means becoming a stranger to one’s former life, distancing ourselves from who we were, looking at our life from a new perspective, or identifying within the landscape of our soul that which we need to be estranged from, what you need to let go of, all of that which is not of God. This can be an exciting and scary process, and it is always really hard work to allow this transformation to happen. We seem, naturally, to resist this change, but our scriptures give us helpful examples of how to prepare ourselves to do this hard and holy work of becoming a stranger to our old lives. I think it has to do with how we welcome the stranger.
I pay attention to those who come last, for often some of my most important conversations are with people who come “at night,” people who are afraid or feel unworthy to come to me or to our church in the light of day. It is often from the darkness of night, don’t you think, that we bring our deepest questions, or search for some purpose to our lives, other than our mundane existence or routines.
Jesus stands in prayer a few yards away. And as he reaches his hands up to God, his face is transfigured. A strange, but beautiful glow. And his clothes, they are transformed too. They now dazzle as if the weaver had captured lightning, blended it with the fabric, and woven it into the garment. And then, as if this was not enough supernatural phenomena for one day, the Hebrew lawgiver, Moses, and the greatest of the prophets, Elijah, emerge from nowhere and converse with Jesus. What a day it was.
As Christians, we stand at the gate of our own Jerusalem each time we peer into our own souls, into that holy city where God resides within us. The process of making our hearts ready to receive the holiness of Christmas is one of cleansing ourselves from distractions, purifying our souls from the darkness which creeps in occasionally, forgiving others and ourselves, and releasing our reliance upon ourselves. This is our Advent work, so that when we awake on Christmas morning, we will be ready to receive the Christ child into our lives, again and anew.