Sermons on stretch your mind
The kingdom of God is near and the more we are able to open ourselves, prepare a place within our hearts by clearing out that which we no longer need or that which hinders us from seeing the new opportunities, or to release old hurts or shame, we can settle into God’s mercy that will lead us forward. The truth I wish that priest had told me many years ago is that God’s Advent (the in-breaking of the holy into…
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.
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.
For, by Matthew’s pairing the movement of the Holy Spirit with an event such as Jesus’ conception, which would easily be perceived as scandalous by outsiders, Matthew asserts the theological claim that Jesus was from the beginning and remained to the end, seen as a scandal in the eyes of our world. Jesus, the incarnation of amazing and transformational love breaking open the societal norms and conventions of the day, was a scandal. This is a very challenging message for most of us, when we realize that God breaks into our world through that which we or others often consider to be scandalous. We have been taught to dismiss, turn away from, and distance ourselves from anything scandalous, but here Matthew is telling us to look within the scandal to find the marvelous deeds of God.
We come to church to be refreshed, restored, renewed, and it happens because we go around the carousel. We go through the service, again and again, and our hearts anticipate the forgiveness, nourishment, and the abiding Spirit we receive each week. This is good; one of the purposes of our liturgy and one of the gifts of being a part of the body of Christ. Comfort through the familiarity of being renewed to meet the world again, only to return the following week, is part of the gift the Church offers us. However, the startling and fiery message of John the Baptist we heard in our gospel story today is calling us into something else, something deeper, something which prepares us for our connection to Jesus’ resurrection. For this is also what we come to church for: tapping into the resurrection of Jesus and being changed, being offered new life, seeing life in a brand-new way. This goes beyond refreshment, restoration, and renewal. Resurrection involves complete change and is included in John’s message through the word repentance.