Sermon October 4, 2009
Grace, mercy and peace be given to from God our Father.
As had happen to me on the last few occasions that I was given the opportunity and responsibility to deliver a sermon, I found myself drawn in a direction that seemed to be in contrast to the typical responses to the scripture lesson and the guidance for sermon preparation. Having disclosed that to Pastor Jane, she assured me and said to continue and go where God is leading and to speak as the text unfolded in front of me. So, with that, I pray for the active presence of the Holy Spirit to be with me and to fill this room with mercy and open our hearts and minds to reflect on the meaning and the potential that these words may have for you and your family.
The lessons that often are translated, taught and delivered from this text, generally focus ones attention to God’s intent for the establishment and continuation of marital relationships. And surely this is true as Jesus responds to the Pharisees "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate."
I believe that this instruction is a clear and concise statement of God’s will for how we are to live our lives and hold dear the relationships that unite us in God’s Kingdom. However, just as Jesus found the original question posed by the Pharisees to be a trap, I see the potential for all of us to fall into a similar trap by reading and taking these words as ultimate and finite in their meaning. Think of all of the lessons provided by Jesus throughout his life on earth and how many were delivered with such finite and ultimate conclusions having already been drawn. Not very many when you analyze it right? More often we find Jesus giving lessons in story form, parables that cause us to think and discern their meaning. Jesus, in His wisdom and knowledge, understands that we must find our own path through life to see and accept God’s will. Throughout His earthy life, He challenges those He meets and those that gather around, to explore and examine their lives, all in the context of finding God’s desire for how they are to live. Jesus knows, that God wants us to come forward and to live with Him in our hearts and thus forming our own relationship with our creator. A relationship that emerges from deep within us, so that our lives will have meaning and be an example of the pure love that God offers for us to know, experience and share.
It is with these eyes and in this direction that I want to draw our focus toward the beginning and ending sections of the Gospel lesson that is given for us this day. In verse 5, Jesus says “…because your hardness of heart, Moses wrote the commandment for you”. Hard hearted, in another translation, this part of the Gospel verse is stated this way “because you are hard to teach”. This is the beginning of what I think is the essence for this lesson and in so thinking, it might as well have been any number of instructions that Jesus might have illustrated following that statement. I think the issue is clear but as like with so many of His teachings, the answer is not readily available or resting on the surface of this discussion.
In this lesson, Jesus points out that it was necessary for God to give us laws through Moses because we are hard hearted and ill prepared to fully accept the gift and grace of total forgiveness that He offers to everyone. Our hearts are not clean, they are not open and they are not ready to understand the true meaning of unconditional love and total forgiveness. This love and the forgiveness of all people, should be the first gift that we share with one another. Unless we approach the world with an open heart, how can we be confident and think that we are ready and able to accept living the life God has given to us in His kingdom? We are ill prepared, and because we are ill prepared, we more often than not, fail to see God’s active presence in our lives, in our homes, in our congregation and in our community. Our hearts are hard. We have allowed ourselves to be directed, controlled and led by our worldly view and also from our understanding of our own physical and emotional experiences. We have grown up in the world where there is little room to grow in our spirituality and our understanding of the nature of God and the nature of God’s true Kingdom. I believe this to be the main issue at hand and what Jesus calls out for us to understand and resolve. Simply put, there would be no reason to continue with the lesson or for that matter the lesson be given at all, if it were not for our harden hearts. I hope that as we go through this discussion today, that you may be able to see through your own eyes the forest and not lose your attention because of your focus on the trees.
The lesson on marriage is important but is it primary? That is the question for us today. And that is why this Gospel passage is so carefully approached by many in church leadership positions. So many people and so many leaders are busy looking at the trees. When we as a people look at the trees, the path through the forest becomes unclear. Many people, many congregations many church organizations give far too much time and make far too much effort to parse the exact words of Jesus and their meaning (the trees), and in so doing they miss the most important aspect of the message, our relationship with God and with one another (the forest).
Let’s think about this for a moment, how is it possible to have a proper and right relationship with anyone, if we do not understand how to have a right and proper relationship with our own creator? And in so doing, understand His desires for how we are to live our lives. Don’t be trapped in the debates that often surround this scripture. But if that happens, let it happen with a clear understanding of the full context of Jesus words, and become right with God, learn to hear His call and be able to recognize His face. Then carefully discern His that call for your actions and for your life. Be guided by and with the knowledge of His full forgiveness of ALL sins, the sins that we ALL are burdened with and we ALL are responsible for. If we are truly open in our hearts and minds to ask for and accept God’s call and will in our lives then the lessons of Jesus become clear and evident, requiring little to no explanation and therefore they will serve more as reminders. They will become natural, a part of who we are, a part of how we conduct ourselves in the world. We truly then become God’s hands, eyes and ears for all to see, all to encounter and all to experience.
Jesus makes this point perfectly understandable for us in his instruction to “Let the little children come to me… for such are these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Children, pure of heart, clean from the trappings, misgivings and harsh realities of the earthly world governed and managed by people with human interests not Godly concerns. Children, open and honest, willing to accept and free to experience everything. The world is theirs. The future is theirs. The Kingdom of God is theirs to inherit. This is how we are to approach the balance of our time living among each other. Open, unfiltered, and sharing. Without any judgment and without any prerequisites. Accepting and giving with innocence in our hearts and in our minds. Childlike. Jesus further instructs, “Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
This, this then is the importance of today’s Gospel. Renewal of our spiritual curiosity and renewal of our hunger, like a curious child who hungers for comfort, acceptance, knowledge and understanding of the world around him. We must look to see and experience anew. With fresh eyes and fresh desires to experience everything that God has created for us. To share our lives the way children first share their toys in a sandbox. Remember when you were very young or maybe remember your children’s youth and how simple and easily a child accepts another child and they begin to play together with no formal introduction, no formal guidelines of what to share or what to do or how to do it. Simple and pure, natural response mechanisms that bring young children together at play in a sandbox. This is the nature of God, who created us. Jesus instructs us to approach our lives and our relationships with that same simple understanding. Understanding, that all people who have been placed in the sandbox where we currently play are to be accepted and appreciated for the gifts that are themselves.
The Gospel is clear on God’s intent for how we are to approach our relationships and the significance and uniqueness of marriage. But do not fall into the debates that spring from the words of this lesson, instead, focus on the forest and become mindful of the path that God has created for us to follow. Keeping open our hearts and minds to fully understand the nature and origin of our creation and look for God’s call for how we are to act and respond in care for others. Actively seek God’s presence and God’s voice in directing you through the trees and along the path. The path becomes clearest when we use the eyes of our creator and not the eyes of our own choosing. Open your eyes today, call upon God to guide you, seek the Lord’s presence in you and receive the gift of forgiveness, so that you will be able to give that gift to others that you encounter along the way.
What does it take to be childlike again? How do we shed the burdens of a life lived by and through the control of our intellect? How do we “unlearn” the ways of a sinful world? These are difficult questions to give answer, especially when we approach them through the filter of our own experiences. The unfortunate reality is that when we use this filter, it is often set with the default that contains the bias of human action and negative human response. We need to change the dial and reset the default for this filter and allow more of, or perhaps only those responses in which we can find the joy and thankfulness of God’s will and presence.
We need to be “intentional” in seeking and finding God. We all should be able to agree with these words, “God is everywhere and in all places and in all things”. I know this, because I have heard many of us use these or similar words over the years. But do we really think that? Do we really believe that? What would happen if when we analyze it, we start with the assurance that God actually is in all things and in all places. Now, what happens when we actually, believe and accept that nothing is random in origin but given to us by God. What then? What happens when we encounter a difficult situation with our spouse but before we react, before we respond, we first look to see God their eyes and in their heart. What would change in how we respond? What are the likely consequences when we respond to God’s presence in that encounter? I believe, that it is likely to be a completely different response, which would yield a completely different result.
God has blessed me this year with the gift of new life. Through the help from many members of this congregation and my family, He has surrounded me with love and forgiveness, encouraging me to move forward in my journey and to discover the glory of His presence in this world. Although not always clear, my eyes have surely been opened. However, the real joy in this blessing, comes from being a witness to the discovery of renewal by others. A life alter experience, is to sit in conversation with another and see a transition and transformation to the awareness of God’s presence filling them and for that person to begin seeing and understanding it for the first time. Making everything they see appear new and different, though nothing has physically changed. But from that point forward, for that person, All has changed. The Holy Spirit is working right here in Bethlehem to open the hearts and eyes of all those who seek to deepen their relationship with God.
We have to teach ourselves how to be intentional about building our relationship with God. We need to seek council, guidance and support from one another. The relationship that you have with our Lord is yours and yours alone, no one can create, break or change the relationship that you establish and develop. It is you and you alone to make the choice and allow your heart to opened, no one can make that choice for you. It is you and you alone to decide to attend worship and give praise to God. It is you and you alone who decides to walk with Christ in your heart, and it is you and you alone who can offer the gift of Christ to others. It is here, where we need to support and strengthen one another. This is where the journey meets the road and it is up to each of us to encourage and care for those who seek to know the Lord. It is here, that we are reminded that in the body and blood of Holy Communion each week, we become one with Christ spiritually and physically. It is here by the example of Christ in us that we are able to make available the love of God to those who don’t know Him and it is here, where we find the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.