St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Leaving Stability, Embracing Life – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    February 27, 2022

    We read in today’s Gospel from Luke, a story from a transitional time in the life of Jesus.

    Jesus has completed his ministry in and around Galilee. He has taught about God’s forgiveness through healing people who could not be healed, making them clean again in the eyes of society. And he has taught people about God’s justice in his Sermon on the Plain, which we have read over the past 2 weeks. God’s justice as that which overturns the world’s so-called justice and the world’s power. And he has performed miracles like feeding the multitudes, teaching about God’s abundant, wild, and extravagant love for absolutely every one.

    In the narrative of Luke’s Gospel, we have a full understanding of this person Jesus and what he teaches. But as the story moves on, it becomes apparent that this Good News is not “good news” to everyone. Not everyone is ready or willing to experience the equanimity he preaches about. Not everyone is ready to accept God’s love and seek out God’s justice. There are many people who would rather stick to the world’s justice regardless of the death it brings.

    It’s not a surprise because there are parts of us – inside ourselves – who are so attached to things that we don’t even see how we get in our own way of receiving God’s love. So, there’s no judgment in that.

    All systems seek equilibrium – a state of being in which there is no growth, just stasis. Stability. Inertia. Whether we realize it or not, we are invested in every system of which we are a part and, once we establish a place in that system, why would we want to see it change? Even those who are oppressed by the system are often afraid of changing it.

    Transformation is difficult. The system resists it. I mean, how easy is it to adopt a new habit, for example? Resistance is so real that sometimes we even have to trick ourselves into learning something new. It’s even more of a challenge for emotional patterns. How hard it is for someone who has experienced hopelessness to have trust, to have faith in hope itself. Or for someone who is so used to feeling anxiety that they have no idea what it would feel like to be free of it.

    And this resistance is what Jesus has come to fully comprehend at this point in Luke’s story: That for God’s justice to reign, for this great love that he has taught about to become real and tangible, he is going to face actual physical resistance. As a matter of fact, his very life is being threatened.

    This is the transitional time I referred to earlier. Jesus sees this.
    And so, what now? Do we recognize the challenge and give in? Refusing to step into the discomfort and, even pain, of seeing this through? Or do we step into it? Fully realizing the risk into which we are moving?

    We all face times like this in our personal lives. Sometimes way more often than we care to. Where the choice is something like: Is the pain of moving forward worth it?

    And, as communities, as church, we also face times like this. We like to think that the church has always been the way it was in the 1950’s, where churches in American were bursting and Sunday schools had dozens of children. But the truth is, that was more of an anomaly. We see fewer and fewer people seeking a church home, at least the way we used to define “church.” So, are we willing to face the harder questions? Are we willing to have something as precious as an alabaster jar cracked open, as author Stephanie Spellers asks us, and allow the beautiful love of God to flow out and create something new and beautiful?

    If nothing else, we receive some very good instruction from Jesus when it comes to these moments in our personal and collective lives. He goes off to pray. What a concept!

    Rather than muscling his way through it and insisting he knows how to manipulate what’s happening, Jesus humbles himself in prayer. He takes the time to set himself apart from the world, from all the voices that are either shaking their fingers at him or praising his name, from all the people that are placing him on a pedestal or in their sights, and from his own personal desires and needs. And he goes to listen for God’s wisdom in the silence of his heart.

    Right before today’s text, however, we have a very important scene. As a matter of fact, it’s so important that I’m surprised it’s not a part of the text.

    Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

    It’s clear, from this text, that Jesus knows exactly what kind of resistance he is dealing with and, therefore, what kind of betrayal is likely to come because it’s already on his proverbial doorstep. And, in the face of all of that, Jesus says, essentially… “No. Let’s not tiptoe around this. There is no sitting on the fence. If you are a disciple, this is the choice you make. You choose love. You choose life.”

    And so, Jesus takes Peter and John and James to go off and pray.
    Does he know what’s about to happen on that mountain?
    Does he bring them so that they will see and understand exactly what kind of transformation we are talking about?
    Does he offer it to them as an opportunity for transformation themselves?

    Who knows. I think, more important than wondering about Jesus’ motive here, the question is: Then what?
    What did Peter and James and John do with that experience?

    The Transfiguration by Sieger Koder

    These mountaintop experiences we have are moments when we are offered a gift. We can learn something new about who we are and who God is. We may suddenly have some insight into something that has been troubling us or we may simply drop into an ocean of calm. Some people are forever changed by these kinds of experiences and, sometimes, can get so enamored of them that they try to recreate them or build a memorial to them in some way.

    And there’s the temptation – to create a system, to freeze a moment, to exist in one dimension and stay in place. Stasis. Stability. Inertia.

    For Jesus, when he came down the mountain, he set his face toward Jerusalem. Which is to say, he stepped forward into who God was calling him to become. He left stability behind to bring life.

    This is why we call him Savior. Why we know him as the Christ.

    The God of Life, who we worship, is the very foundation of our being. God has breathed life into us and we have become and still are becoming. These carbon-based bodies we have been given are ever changing, ever evolving, just as all life is. Stasis is a denial of this reality. Stability is a rejection of life itself.

    In fact, the insistence to refuse change is death. Now, it is not the same death that we will all encounter when our body ceases to breath, that is a transition. The refusal to change is true death. That which refuses love because it refuses life. I realize it seems contradictory that, in accepting his death, Jesus chooses life, but that’s what is happening here. Because he chooses love.

    This is what we claim to believe as Christians. And this is why the path of Christ is called the narrow way. To follow Jesus, to become his disciples is to choose life, not stasis… when the whole world has been created by humanity to maintain stability. And that sometimes means we give our lives.

    For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 

    We believe in the Resurrection because death is NOT the final word and so, today, this scripture reading about the Transfiguration… is this epiphany, this recognition, this mountaintop moment, when Jesus becomes what he has been created to be, what we are actually all created to be. Living, not to sustain ourselves, but to become a part of the generative process that is life itself. And, in so doing, live into our calling.

    But it’s never really easy to discern what God is asking of us because we have the world and our own needs and wants and desires and traumas that are pulling at us.

    But the question is always: Where is God’s Love calling us to be?
    Where and how are we called to give of our life?

    We begin our journey of Lent this coming week. Today, we say our last Alleluias for a season, and we enter into Lent. A time of practice and prayer. A time of renewal and discernment.

    As always, as the season of Lent begins, we find ourselves in that transitional place with Jesus. On the mountaintop where we are being asked to step forward into life, to set our face toward Jerusalem. To, in a sense, lose our lives so that we may gain life itself.

    What will we do with this time of renewal?
    Who will we become during this mountaintop experience?