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Recent Sermons

By What Authority Do We Live?

 

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
January 28, 2018

Last week we learned about Jonah who said No! to God, but eventually followed God's lead even though it infuriated him to see so many people blessed and forgiven. (Of course, I've never been that angry at God. Note: The congregation chuckles. They know me too well.)

This week we turn again to Jesus who said Yes! to God every step of the way.
Mark's Gospel, the first written, on which the others are based, jumps right into Jesus' ministry. First he is baptised. Then he calls his disciples. And now he is off to work. We learn the basics of how Jesus lived and taught and healed and prayed.

This reading begins in Capernaum, a place I visited this fall. The Synagogue where he taught has been excavated. The home of Simon Peter is just a block away. A large church has been built over the archeological site so you can look down into their gathering place. We learn from the reading that Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law, which makes it very clear that the first so-called pope had a wife! We learn here that Jesus acted with a sense of authority that surprised everyone. What gave him that sense of authority? By what authority do we live?

Too often we think of Jesus as so exceptional that we cannot possibly live the way he lived. And certainly most of us don't feel called to itinerant preaching and healing ministries. And yet, we need to ask ourselves, by what authority do we live? How do we make decisions? What essential values and beliefs guide our lives? And if we can say with confidence that our values are deep and real, what prevents us from courageously standing strong in them? Or perhaps we do. and just sometimes forget.

Today's reading describes Jesus' ministry in simple terms. He was a teacher, healer, prayer and messenger.

He was a teacher. All of us have opportunities in our lives to share our deepest truths      with others. Whether it be at the kitchen table over coffee, or in the public sphere somehow, we are all teachers. And as Saint Francis suggested, "sometimes we use words." When we remember the authority of our deepest values, our teachings inspire others whether we are aware of it or not.

Jesus was a healer. We may not cast out demons or be medical professionals. But all of us touch others with our compassionate presence. All of us heal others by our thoughtfulness and caring. We can claim the authority of God's love in our choices to be there for our families, our friends, our children and our community.
        
Jesus spent time alone in prayer. In our frenetic world this may be the hardest example to follow. And even for him there were always those searching him out, demanding more of his time. But he made time for solitude and listening, for meditation and prayer.

If solitude feels lonely to you, remember God's presence, and allow yourself to "Be still" in the presence of "the I Am God." Remember when Moses asked God at the burning bush to tell him God's name, he heard YhWh, Hebrew for "I am the I Am." We pronounce is Yahweh, yhh...whh...the very breath of life! Claim the authority of love as you take time to build your sense of the sacred within and around you.

Jesus shared "the message" of God's Beloved Community, what he called the "Kingdom of God" with all he met.

It is sad to me that over the last 2000 years Jesus' message of the beloved kingdom of God and the deep value that community is meant to be has been replaced by a simplistic statement of sacrifice and atonement. (That Christ died for our sins so we can go to heaven.) Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is within us, that it grows like a mustard seed into a mighty plant, that is may be hidden in the smallest gathering, but where two or three are gathered in the name of the sacred, God is there. The God I worship and serve is the God of Love. God's name is Love. By that authority I reject the idea that God requires a blood sacrifice for my sins, or for any human sins. Rather, I claim the authority of the God of Love in choosing to stand up for all those who continue to be sacrificed on the cross of greed and power and injustice ~ the very human crosses of evil in our time and in all times.

By what authority do we live our lives? What prevents us from standing courageous and strong in the face of injustice in our world? As Alice Walker reminds us, "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

As I was writing these words, a dear friend sent me a quote by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of 'Women Who Run With the Wolves," which has always been a favorite of mine. She said this passage reminded her of me. It reminds me of all of us:
         We do not become healers. We came as healers. We are.
         Some of us are still catching up to what we are.
         We do not become storytellers.
         We came as carriers of the stories.
         we and our ancestors actually lived. We are.
         Some of us are still catching up to what we are.
         We do not become artists. We came as artists. We are.
         Some of us are still catching up to what we are.
         We do not become writers. dancers. musicians. helpers. peacemakers.
         We came as such. We are.
         Some of us are still catching up to what we are.
         We do not learn to love in this sense.
         We came as Love. We are Love.
         Some of us are still catching up to who we truly are.

It is in community that we find the inspiration and support to practice being our best whole selves. I invite each of us to ask ourselves:

Are we using our gifts as teachers and story tellers in ways that serve? Perhaps God is calling us to volunteer with our children or in sharing our skills in worship. Are we finding ways to comfort and be a presence to others? Perhaps God is calling us to reach out to our homebound or to spend time in prayer for the sick.

Are we spending time alone with the sacred on a daily basis? Perhaps we need to form a prayer partnership or circle, or set time aside daily, even five minutes, to listen for God's guidance in that still small voice within.
        
Are we working to build the Beloved Community? Perhaps God is calling us to do justice work beyond our doors. or to volunteer with the homeless through Home and Hope, or to become a member of one of our boards or committees.

These words of Rabindranath Tagore, poet, artist, and first non-European to win the Nobel prize for literature, seem a fitting place to end this morning:
         "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was                      service. I acted and behold, service was joy."

By what authority do we live? May it be by the authority of love, and joy, and service. May it be so!