Sermons on transformation
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…
Sometimes I ask God to break my heart with all that breaks his in the hope that I may see with God’s eyes and feel with God’s heart— at least as much as any human can. On those rare occasions when I am able to muster the courage to draw nearer to God’s own broken-hearted compassion— in the face of profound suffering— it guts me, empties me out, and if I endure through this refiner’s fire of love, it ultimately transforms my heart. You know. This is part of the path all of us here walk when confronted with suffering that brings us to our knees.
Because I know that Episcopalians find truth and strength in knowing when and how to take the high road, making the hard choices and seeking God’s truth expressing God’s love to all people, and working toward healing and reconciliation. This was the emphasis at our recent General Convention — addressing the problem of gun violence in our country; standing with and praying alongside the people in the border detention centers; addressing God’s call for racial reconciliation; witnessing to the #Metoo movement and calling the church to own the damage done in her name. These are hard, politicized issues that our church is grappling with and responding to – and yet, we also find truth and strength in claiming and living into the broadness of God’s love, which means we meet people wherever they are, and have the ability to hold two opposite points of view in communion. In some cases, we use such odd phrases as “both/and” meaning we don’t need to choose one or the other, but can see the truth in each position. One of the most helpful things I learned in seminary was in our pastoral theology course. Our instructor taught us to practice replacing the word “but” with “and”. For instance, instead of saying, “I hear what you’re saying, and I know you believe you’re right, BUT …” We say, “I hear what you’re saying, and I know you believe you’re right, AND, … I have a differing point of view”. It’s amazing how that word shift changes the dynamic of a conversation, equalizing the power, so people can listen to each other, without the defensiveness charging in.
When we “brush up against grace”, in all the many ways it comes upon us, we are invited into our own grief work, into our own places we need to offer or receive forgiveness, into our own truth telling, so that the resistance can melt away until we find our truth, the truth of God, the truth of the way of love, that we will take to our graves.
The pilgrims on their ascent up the Mount of Olives reasonably thought power of might won, but we know differently, it is only and always the power of love which will win in the end.
As Jesus was emerging from the water, God tore open the heavens. This was a dramatic, compulsive, and directive motion of God, which released an immense amount of spiritual energy, and forever changed the relationship between heaven and earth, between God and humankind, through the ministry of Jesus. When we feel spiritual energy, when we have a desire to get rid of what no longer fits us, we are like Jesus breaking through the plane of the water, beginning the process of receiving the Spirit, once again, and it is the same spiritual energy with which God tore open the heavens and released into our world.
“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 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.
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.
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.