Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King Sunday, Yr C: Radical freedom

Lectionary:Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. If you love someone or something, you care about them and care for them. When you don’t love, you don’t care.

At our diocesan convention we spent some really valuable time exploring the concepts of fear and love as presented to us both by our featured speaker, Dr. James Lemler and by our Bishop, who in his address to the convention, proclaimed that as Christians we are “called to leave behind our fears.” As I’ve continued to reflect prayerfully on all of this, I’ve realized that the opposite of fear isn’t bravery – it isn’t even love – it’s freedom.

If there is anything we can learn from the life of Jesus it is that he was radically free: free to trust in God and expect the impossible; free to love even the unlovable and welcome them with an equally radical hospitality; free to proclaim the truth by his words and actions, even knowing the that the powerful in the world would push back against it.

In his book, “Jesus Today, A Spirituality of Radical Freedom,” Albert Nolan talks about Jesus’ radical freedom: Jesus “trusted God without hesitation or reserve. He could then quite confidently challenge others to trust God too. He encouraged, strengthened, and liberated people to believe that the impossible could happen.” (Nolan, 88)

And the impossible did happen – over and over again. The blind could see, the lame could walk, 5000 were fed by a couple of loaves and fish, and ultimately, the cross was transformed from a humiliating defeat into the means of salvation of the whole world by the forgiveness of sin.

It was the radical freedom of Jesus, his unhesitating trust in God, that opened the way for freedom and peace. Jesus could give up even his very life on that cross because he knew without hesitation that God’s redemption was certain. The present moment was, for him, just the next step in God’s plan – not the end of it – despite all the evidence at hand in that moment.

How well, how often do we trust God without hesitation or reserve? At our convention, Dr. Lemler talked about “practical atheism” - those times in our lives when we convince ourselves that we need to take control of something because God isn’t. We are willing to wait for God to act on our behalf as long as
1) it doesn’t take too long;
2) it doesn’t hurt too much; and
3) we see evidence that God is acting according to the plan we had in mind;

That’s because, on “the whole [Nolan says] we don’t take Jesus seriously - whether we call ourselves Christians or not. There are some remarkable exceptions, but by and large we don’t love our enemies, we don’t turn the other check, we don’t forgive seventy times seven times, we don’t bless those who curse us, we don’t share what we have with the poor, and we don’t put all our hope and trust in God.” (Introduction)

Why don’t we? I think the answer is simple: fear. In my sermon at Morning Prayer on the last day of convention, I discussed the many faces of fear. That sermon is on my blog, but I know that most of you don’t read the blog, so I’ll review the three faces I discussed that day and add one more.

1. WE FEAR BEING WRONG – which is why we fear what is different from us. How you dress, how you pray, the language you speak, the color of your skin, whom you marry… if you are different from me, which one of us is right? And how can I make you wrong?

2. WE FEAR PAIN AND DISCOMFORT. Ours is a world of quick fixes. Got a headache? Take a pill. Don’t get me wrong - I’m glad that I can take a pill when I have a headache! But that isn’t the way of spiritual life… 40 years in the desert… 3 days in the tomb. Christians are called to wait through the discomfort and trust in God who is already working to redeem and whose grace is enough.

3. WE FEAR DYING – which is strange for a people who profess to believe in the resurrection and who know the end of the story – that death is not the end for us, it is simply the next step in God’s perfect plan for us. What follows death every time, without fail, for believers is resurrection – new life. Still, we fear dying.

4. WE FEAR SUCCEEDING – because that would mean laying aside our favorite excuses and walking ahead in faith. A friend of mine had a terrible thing happen to her years ago. Her community of friends gathered around her, upholding her in prayer, seeing to her needs – as you would hope. It seems, however, like my friend decided she had filled her quota of “bad things” and will tolerate no more. When the littlest thing impinges on her comfort, she cries out and gathers her community around her to take care of her. This is a gifted woman whose gifts are now dying because the flow of her life is mostly inward. Little flows back out – it’s all about her and her comfort.

This particular fear also has the added complication of humility. When we succeed, we must own up that the success wasn’t ours, but God’s. As God’s instruments, we don’t get to take credit, and the world likes credit-taking.

Radical freedom... How do we build that into our faith and into our lives?

We remember the victory of the cross which we celebrate today. Jesus’ love was for God and for us. He put himself and his own comfort last in order of priority, sacrificing himself for our sake. We are called to do likewise.

We remember that Jesus redefined leadership – kingship as the Bible calls it – showing us that true leadership is the way of humility (that is selflessness) and service in the name of God. That's what leads to life.

We remember that the notion that we have any power or authority is in error. God alone possesses power and authority. Isn’t that what Jesus said to Pilate at his trial? Any power or authority we possess is given to us by God and we are stewards of God’s gifts which are to be used for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people.

We remember that it is God who acts to forgive, heal and renew. We don’t know if Jesus forgave from the cross. We do know that he called upon God to forgive and by doing so, he showed us how to respond to the darkest moments in our lives: calling upon God to act, then waiting while that happens.

Finally, we remember that for Christians, death is truly the gateway to eternal life. Unless we are willing to die to the ideas we cling to about God, about church, about this church, about life; unless we die to our need for control, or certainty, or comfort – we can not have the life Jesus died to give us.

We are a people called to run at full speed into a life of joyful, radical freedom - trusting God without hesitation or reserve, and expecting the impossible to happen – for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people.

Today, we mark the day of our rebirth; the day we choose to be radically free and open to God’s leading for ourselves and our church. Today, we lay our fears down and look up at the cross, knowing that the only truth that matters happened there.

We are a people forgiven, healed and renewed. Today, we choose to live as if that’s true. Today, this becomes our mantra, our theme.

When we sin (and we will as long as we are incarnate in our bodies) we will repent and return to God, giving up ourselves in obedience to the will of God – as Jesus did on the cross – and opening ourselves to receive the renewal God has waiting for us SO THAT we can be instruments of God’s transforming love in the world, stewards of God’s gifts for the renewal of the whole world.

I’ll close today with the prayer I closed my sermon with last Saturday at convention - and with the same explanation. As you know, I begin my sermons with the sign of the cross in Spanish. I also usually do the peace in Spanish first, then in English. I do this to honor one half of my half-breed identity: my Spanish half. I will close now using a prayer that honors the other half: my Irish half.

It’s the Prayer of St. Brendan and I think it’s relevant to our rebirth:

Lord, I will trust you.
Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with you.

Christ of the mysteries, I trust you
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in your hand.

Tune my spirit to the music of heaven, and somehow
make my obedience count for you.


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