March 17, 2013  — Lent 5

Rev. David Boyd


This is the last of my Lenten sermons that outlines the new directions that our Church Board is initiating. I've talked about wholeness, which I spoke of in terms of Sabbath, the arts and community. This week it is Spirituality.

This week I begin with the Board's statement; again, I think it is eloquent and profound:

We dare to live the way of Jesus embodying the love of God by embracing spiritual practices that broaden our understanding of church and build a spiritual foundation to one's life.

We acknowledge and recognize the end of all sacrifice. We seek a connection to the Transcendent as the death of our old way of being in the world, and a new way of being that sheds a superego-driven life. We dare to live connected to the Source of wisdom and worthiness that dispels fear and anxiety, and that rejects judgment and condemnation.

We embrace the upside-down 'kingdom' that replaces law and judgment with the unconditional love of a recklessly gracious God, given not earned, where wealth, family values, and social esteem are replaced with a wisdom subversive to law, order, religious establishment, social hierarchy, and nation states... a wisdom that embraces the alternate reality of a radical freedom to be whole creations of God.

We dare to open our doors to seekers of spiritual development, to affirm and support those wishing to develop spiritually. We dare speak of the 'way of Jesus' while engaging and exploring other spiritual traditions toward an evolution of common spiritual practices and discipline.

Those are powerful words and ideas. And it sounds ambitious and challenging, doesn't it? But isn't this who we are? Isn't this what we are called to be about?!

All the passages of Scripture today point to this radical turn-about that is God at work in the world.

The Jewish people, their hearts broken, their spirits dashed, their hopes gone, their sense of community shattered... Reborn! Isaiah, the great prophet, the second Isaiah who proclaimed during this time of national despair and brokenness, spoke such powerful words of hope and redemption: "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."

What was this new thing but restoration, redemption, renewal, beginning again? These shattered people were put back together again, in a new way, to take up the way of shalom, peace and covenant love again. God would make a way through the desert to return home. God would give them water to drink. God would make the high places plain and fill in the valleys. They, who left in sorrow will return bearing seeds. They will bring in the sheaves! God will be with them and God will be their God... again.

This is nothing short of radical and startling. This is the starting point to begin a new community of people faithful to the covenant. The spiritual integrity of the Jewish people is the place from which to begin rebuilding, rediscovering energy to resurrect their lives and their sense of personhood, their sense of community. This spiritual energy gave rise to new directions of what it means to be together with others, to live... to truly live! It was the same for Mary, in her home with Jesus, Martha, Lazarus and other friends, when she anointed Jesus with this expensive ointment. It was an extravagant gift... outrageous. This was John's typical way of telling the story of Jesus through symbol and metaphor. The ointment was very expensive, but symbolic of many things... of Jesus' death... of the extravagant nature of God's grace... of the outrageous gift of love... of the costly nature of giving to another in love and hope. It was also symbolic of a new beginning for Jesus and for the community of friends who were left after Jesus' death. This story is nothing less than an anointing into a new awakening.

The quote at the end of the story about the poor always being with you is from Deuteronomy, which says, "You always have the poor with you, but never cease to be open-handed with anyone who is need." (Dt 15:11) The extravagant gift of grace is the means and source for generosity of spirit, for a radical turn around where all are equal.

Jesus preached an upside down kingdom, or as I like to call it, an upside down Commonwealth. It literally means common wealth, wealth that is commonly shared and held for all. This is a radical sharing of love and hope as well as goods and services. The Sermon on the Mount, while being a political manifesto, is a spiritual tour de force. Beginning with the beatitudes, which are remarkable in and of themselves... We are honoured in God's sight. We are honoured by God's love. We are honoured and blessed into new lives that transform and change the world. The end of the Sermon on the Mount is the story of the person who builds a home on rock that can withstand floods and storm. The rock is the spiritual foundation of love, a radical love, an extravagant love, an outrageous love that inspires us to acts of courage, action, discipleship and love in turn! And lest we think that this discipleship is exclusively Christian, we must think again. Jesus affirmed those who healed and challenged and spread the gospel of love but who did not know who Jesus was. And so, operating out of this legacy, we seek to embrace and enhance the spiritual traditions that people find meaningful and that startle us into a wonderment at the gift of life, a true change that chooses life for all over fear or death. "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'," said Andy to Red in Shawshank Redemption. Moses offered two choices, the way of life and the way of death. "Choose life," said Moses.

Richard Rohr advocates that action and contemplation, or social justice and spirituality, are different sides of the same coin. True and deep spiritual groundedness leads us to engage the world for change and the end to oppression, injustice and hopelessness. We want to partner with other spiritual traditions and groups to work together to live the upside down Commonwealth of God. We are all evolving together into a deeper sense of our humanity and a deeper sense of what it means to be connected to one another in this great creation God has made.

In this time of developing peace and hopefulness in our world, we dare to live connected to the Source of Wisdom, the Source of blessing that affirms we are all worthy of an abundant life, the Source of life that affirms, "Behold you are a new creation!" as Paul said in last week's passage.

The Spirit is at work among us, folks. It is loose in the world. We cannot send the Spirit back. The Shekinah is loose and blowing a firm breeze into our lives, shining a bright light into despair and hopelessness, oppression and fear. We are part of this process of unfolding. God is doing a new thing among us. We do perceive it and we do choose to join this force for a radical renewal of all life.