Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Spiritual Identity: Crossed out” February 28, 2010
"I pray that God may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:16-20
We are at the end of our sermon series on Luke chapter 9:23: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.”
As my preaching professor always said, every sermon should end at the foot of the cross. I know I don’t make it there every Sunday, so to make up for lost ground we are going to begin at the foot of the cross today.
As the cross is rooted and grounded in the rocky terrain of Calvary, we must root and ground ourselves in the cross, because the cross is rooted and grounded in love.
A love that ‘surpasses knowledge,’ according to Paul’s Letter.
If you read the end of each of the four Gospels you don’t find the same people or the same number of people or the same gender of people at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ when he died. It’s a mixed bag.
Some of those looking at the scene of crucifixion from a distance in Matthew are different than those looking on from a distance in Luke; in another Gospel we even find Roman soldiers there at the end.
In none of the Gospels are there crowds of people to witness the event. Certainly not throngs numbering in the thousands or even the hundreds like we saw during Jesus’ ministry. Where did everybody go?
As the church and as disciples, we must ponder this question during Lent. Who will be there on the darkest parts of Jesus’ road? We believe Jesus wanted companionship along his salvation journey; he was human after all. At the same time, though, we understand the lonely nature of his path. Our poets write of the dark night of the soul; instinctively, we understand. Yet Jesus promised that we would not have to walk alone.
In the last line of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus promised that he would be with us always, to the end of the age! I will be with you always, to the end of the age. Mt. 28:20b
How deeply we trust in that promise will set our course as followers. And no matter how ever-changing our course of faith may be, that promise never goes away.
This promise is a living thing, it has the power to change us if we let it. How? The Apostle Paul’s prayer to his friends in Ephesus this morning is timely:
“I pray you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit...as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
On our spiritual way, we may have companions, but no one walks the journey for us. Our steps may be solitary steps, but because of Jesus, we need never feel lonely as we take them.
Solitude is not the same thing as loneliness. That is the lesson of Lent. Yes, the 40 days of Lent are meant to be a magnifying glass for our souls. Today is number 12 in the 40 days.
And I know we are encouraged to give something up for Lent. However, if that is the only thing that happens during Lent, then we’ve kept the core lesson at arm’s length.
The Lesson of Lent: Solitary but not lonely
Loneliness is corrosive and destructive. When someone is truly lonely, it eats away at the fabric of what it means to be human.
I believe Jesus spoke of this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel,“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus does have something to say to the lonely, and it is not ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die.‘ He says that in him, the kingdom of God on earth is yours for the taking, right now.
Solitude, on the other hand, is an important part of spiritual development. We choose to be in solitude. Throughout time, saints, as well as sinners of the church have practiced solitude. Solitude is a vehicle for accessing God. Solitude may look different for each one of us. But don’t be afraid of solitude. It is an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Loneliness, however, describes much of the modern human condition. I’m reminded of one of my congregants from the Rohnert Park church.
This woman worked as a nutritionist for the Council on Aging. Part of her job was to visit individuals who had signed up for Meals on Wheels. She would speak with people about proper nutrition, eating habits and such.
But she quickly learned that deep spiritual issues could easily surface during conversations. The biggest issue? The staggering loneliness people were facing. Sometimes her visit was the only human contact people had in weeks. Some had no family, no friends, no neighbors looking in on them. Some had burned bridges. Some had mental illness. Loneliness hurts--hurts everybody.
Another, even more disturbing example of loneliness. Dan Shay has been a moving force in Sonoma County among the homeless. For a while Dan was even nicknamed ‘chaplain to the homeless.‘ Dan was the guy who almost single-handedly kept the Armory Shelter meals and overnights organized and staffed with volunteers when that program was up and running.
One time when the Rohnert Park Church was taking its turn serving the evening meal to almost 150 people, I asked him about general statistics regarding the homeless; the most shocking was that in 2003 Dan learned that over a hundred people had died on the streets of Sonoma County. No identification. No one around. Died alone. The term used is indigent. The spiritual issue is loneliness.
Then is loneliness some type of default setting in our broken and hurting world? In a world rent asunder by violence, neglect and despair, people do hunker down and keep their distance, thinking somehow that will keep them safe. But to wall off and invite loneliness goes against the grain of human nature. At the core of human existence lies the need to be with others.
We understand that many will choose these lonely paths. But as the church of Jesus Christ, we say that this is unacceptable. We invite people to come together at the foot of the cross.
And when we are rooted and grounded in the abundant love of that cross, then we are empowered in our inner being to seek out the lonely and the lost.
The love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
Paul’s Letter says there is a commodity of immeasurable dimensions--that commodity is the love of God, signified by the cross. It costs you and I nothing; in fact, it is without price. But simple arithmetic doesn’t cut it. There is a higher calculus here.
Paul says please, try to imagine what Jesus did for you and me. How broad, how long, how high and how deep? By plumbing the depths of God’s love, we engage that ‘power that is at work within us.‘ The power of the Spirit.
This is why we come here, this is why we go to the foot of the cross. To claim our power so we might seek out, with Jesus, those in need. By committing to Jesus at the cross, we partner with him to fulfill this mission.
So is the command from Jesus in Luke really the impossible possibility?
“...If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.”
Becoming followers, denying ourselves, taking up a daily cross?
More than any person or entity, Jesus has something to say into the chaos that leads to the destruction of loneliness. That something is this: You will be healed in me; in me there is life beyond life. But there is also comfort and power in life.
“If any want to become my followers.”
Why should I follow Jesus, or anybody for that matter? The question reminds me of that familiar bumper sticker: “I’ve tried everything else, and Jesus is the only one who works.”
Yes, Jesus works. How? Another answer in prayer from Paul:
“I pray that Christ will dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Faith is the mechanism by which we invite Jesus to come visit, then live, in our house. Faith is the gift of acceptance.
The more accepting we are of everything, of life, of death, of the present moment, the greater will be the gift of faith is bestowed upon us. As Paul McCartney sang, “Money can’t buy me love,” and you can’t buy faith, either.
I suspect that if one could buy faith, it would quickly become our most priceless commodity.
Faith leads us to trust. Trust and faith are not the same thing, but they are cut from the same cloth. Sometimes faith comes first, sometimes trust comes first. Faith and trust both involve investing in something or someone other than ourselves.
“Let them deny themselves.”
Deny myself? Isn’t that some sort of impossible IMpossiblilty?
Can we get real here? Don’t you think that way more than half of the difficulties we face in life are self-imposed? We can’t get out of our own way most of the time. The first inkling I had that this was true was when my sisters just flat out refused to play board games with me any more.
This started happening at about the age of 8 or 9. They couldn’t take it any more. If you wanted to play monopoly with me, or checkers, or baseball in the street, you had to endure a 15 or 20 minute lecture on the rules of the game. And if the rules were unclear, I learned to interpret them just slightly in my favor.
Then I was the same guy, that when he could see that he was going to lose, would overturn the game board. Or I’d suddenly get a violent stomach ache. Not only was I a tyrannical player, I was a poor loser. Very quickly my sisters learned that it just wasn’t worth it.
Am I in the right room here?
I had part of it right. The game had to be fair, sure. That is a justice issue. Life is not fair, but at least the table has to be level. But my personal drive to be right all the time was the real obstacle, the real spiritual issue. All that time devoted to the rules. You talk about a Pharisee.
I had to turn to the light of Jesus just to lighten up. Some don’t feel they need to turn to Jesus, I get that. But for those who have never been asked, or those who are lost without hope, I will get out of my own way and let Jesus; and perhaps you will too.
To deny oneself, get out of our own way, is a practice, a discipline. And as disciples, we are called to practice something known as vulenera-bility. The ability to be vulnerable. Scary word, scary idea. And there is no more vulnerable place than at the foot of the cross.
“Take up your cross daily and follow me.”
Practicing the way of Christ begins and ends at the foot of the cross. Taking up a daily cross is not the stuff of promos and info-mercials. Forget 6 minutes to sexy abs, Christ calls us to 6 weeks to trust in the Spirit. Our physical health is important, but we must put the horse before the cart, my friends.
In order to ‘accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine‘ as Paul prays today, we must be willing to trust something other than our puny tools and paltry techniques.
The vulnerability we find at the foot of the cross is the best power tool ever devised.
The way of Christ is not the easy way, it is the way of hope.
Taking up a daily cross to follow has nothing to do with cheap grace, only abundant grace. The kind of grace that takes us deeper, broader and higher into a friendship that will not fail us.
This is day 12 in our 40 days at the foot of the One who has everything we really need and nothing that we merely want. Taking up a cross requires daily solitude, total fortitude, and a focused attitude.
The abundance that Christ invites us to be part of obliterates the boundaries and fences of the conventional order; wakes us from wallowing in our broken dreams to lead us to new dreams with roots so deep, we will never fall when buffeted by whim and fancy.
Do you want to be purpose-centered, or preference-driven? It is the same question for the church as well. Purpose-centered churches become places where the Holy Spirit gets let out.
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit. comes.” Acts 1:8
Is following Jesus an impossible possibility? Yes. And it takes an honest, vulnerable relation to bring about transformation. No more half-way measures, only the fullest measure from the one who magnifies the power at work within us. Give way. He will take you all the way.