Sermons on total surrender
Living within the tension of what we believe the Kingdom of God is all about and the harsh reality of our world can be very difficult. We, like the many who marched alongside Jesus on the descent into Jerusalem, imagine a better world, one where love rules, where truth prevails, where people are respected, where voices of the innocent are heard, where the vulnerable are protected, where reconciliation is the only option, where God’s dream of love becomes real.
“Look within yourself,” Jesus implores them. But they don’t. What we would have hoped would have been the turning point in the story– the disciples’ transformation into a living and breathing faith — doesn’t happen. When the seas calm and Jesus begs them to go into the dark and foreign places within their own souls, to examine why their fear has overridden their faith, they don’t. Instead, they focus their attention on understanding Jesus, rather than understanding the difference Jesus makes in their lives of faith.
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…
We are grains of wheat. That is what we are. We can stay by ourselves, alone and rigid, encased in a hard shell, holding the embryo of what could be, of what God could be through us and deep within us, imprisoned by our unwillingness to let go of those things we hold to be safe and true through our understanding of ourselves, each other, or God. Or, we can die to ourselves and we can become the bread of life, giving life and nourishment to others and bearing much fruit for the Kingdom. “Come and die”, Jesus says.
I am proposing to you that to hate, as to love, is meant in the Bible to be more than a feeling within our hearts, but rather that which invokes appropriate action. There’s a wonderful plaque at Holy Cross Monastery which says, “Love must act as light must shine as fire must burn”. When we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are not being called to have a warm fuzzy feeling for everyone in the world, but rather we are to act in this world as God acts with us, with compassion, mercy, and always toward justice. When we are called to hate evil, we are not called only to have a passionate dislike for someone or something, we are to act to resist and eradicate that which is evil in this world.
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.
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 Peter exhorts them not to give into fear. He suggests rather, in the midst of trials and persecutions for “doing good”, for living as Christ did, to prove themselves faithful to the essence of Christ, with the deep belief that people will recognize that, and lives will be changed. His model for evangelism was, in my summary, “live a good life, by a quiet and steadfast witness to what you believe to be true, and people will want it too and people around you will be changed.”
Within this action is a statement which says that following Jesus is not an onlooker sport, but one which calls us to participate. We must know it and live it. We can’t just be happy that Jesus presented a different kingdom, one of God, one of love, without dedicating ourselves to presenting that same different kingdom to our world today. We must be servants to each other. This is how oppression and systems of injustice are torn down, not through violence, but through service and love. This is Jesus’ message. This is why he died on the cross, to invite us to go there too, into the death of the world as we know it and the resurrection of the world as God dreams.
The baby in the manger means more to us than reaching the outsiders, although that is a core role of the church. It means that Jesus is born for all of God’s people, including those who have been outside so long that they’ve given up on God, those so down in despair, so blue at this time when everyone else is celebrating, those who look in the mirror and wonder who this is who they have become, for it seems to be the worst of themselves. The baby in the manger is the good news we must believe in, as we are sitting in the pews, celebrating and living the good news in Christ. We must believe God is sending angels out into the fields, wherever they may be, hospitals, recovery units, prisons, homeless shelters, refugee camps, cancer units, or into our hearts.
Yet, over and over again we learn from the tradition of the church and each other’s experiences that when we keep God at the center of our lives things work better. When we follow the way of Christ, life works better! Things work better because we become more aware of how precious our limited amount of time on earth is. Things work better because we become more aware of those around us and their needs and desires. Things work better as we focus more on God and less on the self-inflicted things that trip us up.
In our gospel story today, Jesus tells us that he wants us to jump into the deep end with him, again and again, and live there. Jesus makes it clear that he is not interested in half-hearted discipleship. Jesus wants our whole being in the depths with him, to come up for breath from time to time, yet always ready to do it again.