Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn to one of the foundations of our faith – transformation.
We listen to a Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 read by Barbara Donohue, a scripture lesson that speaks of transformation.
Scripture Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Later that day, Jesus left the house and sat down by the lake shore. Such great crowds gathered that he went and took a seat in a boat, while the crowd stood along the shore. He addressed them at length in parables:
“One day, a farmer went out sowing seed. Some of the seed landed on a footpath, where birds came and ate it up. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. This seed sprouted at once since the soil had no depth, but when the sun rose and scorched it, it withered away for lack of roots. Again, some of the seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. And some of it landed on good soil, and yielded a crop thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was sown. Let those who have ears to hear, hear this!” . . .
“Now listen to the parable of the sower. When people hear the message about the kindom of God without understanding it, the Evil One comes along and snatches away what was sown in their hearts. This is the seed sown along the path. Those who received the seed that fell on rocky ground are the ones who hear the word and at first welcome it with joy. But they have no roots, so they last only for a while. When some setback or persecution comes because of the message, they quickly fall away. Those who receive the message that fell among the thorns are the ones who hear the word, but then worldly anxieties and the lure of wealth choke it off, and the message produces no fruit. But those who receive the seed that fell on rich soil are those who hear the message and understand it. They produce a crop that yields a hundred, or sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Reflection from Kim
Yes, Sam Cooke was right. Change is gonna come. And it is well overdue. We know that change is needed – in many ways in our lives and in our world. And we know that change happens. It is inevitable. Change happens in society – just look at all the changes we are dealing with due to the Covid pandemic. And change happens in technology. Look at all the things we are constantly adapting to there. Change is real and it is happening. But what is the nature of the change around us? Is that change indicative of transformation toward justice, toward compassion, toward understanding?
One thing that surprises me is that I don’t think people tend to associate religion with change. Actually, I think many people associate religion with the opposite of change. They associate it with the status quo, with holding on to the past, with resistance to change. And there are valid reasons for having that impression about religion.
But fundamentally, Christianity, the way of Jesus, is about change. It is about transformation. Jesus wanted to help people see that they could be part of the commonwealth of God, here and now. It could be experienced in this life, among us, in community. Jesus is known for telling his followers who were struggling and living under occupation, that he came to give them abundant life. Those who followed Jesus left everything because they experienced a different kind of life with him. They were transformed.
And of course there is story after story in the New Testament about people being transformed through an encounter with the Divine Love that was embodied in Jesus. Zacchaeus goes from being a greedy tax collector to a generous philanthropist. Mary Magdalene is freed of demons. She is transformed. The Gerasene demoniac is also freed of demons. Again, transformed. A man born blind sees. Paul is blinded by the light and goes from persecuting Jesus followers to planting churches. There is simply story after story about people having their world turned upside down by Jesus. In Jesus we see that Love is an agent of transformation in people’s lives and in the world.
The way of Jesus is about transforming individuals and it is also about changing social arrangements and religious structures that diminish life. That take advantage of people. That create victims. So the gospel of Jesus is about social and individual transformation. It is about creating justice, the social aspect of transformation, as well as healing and wholeness, the more individual side of transformation.
Of course these two dynamics work together. For society to change, people need to change. When people change, they change society. So transformation happens in many ways that interact and blend.
People were attracted to the way of Jesus because they experienced new and vibrant life. If it was about maintaining the status quo, they would not have felt compelled by his witness and his words. Jesus offered transformation. He was about change.
So, that is what the church is about. It is an agent of change in the lives of individuals and in society. The church is about making transforming love real here and now in this world. No person, no situation, is beyond the transforming power of Divine Love. Not a murderer, not a drug addict, not a rapist, not a racist, not a president. No one is beyond the power of transforming love. And no system or institution is beyond the transforming power of love – not a justice system, not a religious system, not a caste system, not an economic system. Every system and institution, our social arrangements, all have the capacity to be transformed.
The story we heard this morning uses the imagery of seeds and plants. For plants to grow, transformation is involved. You put soil and seed and sun and rain together, and through a process of transformation food emerges. Nature is a beautiful teacher about the power of transformation. Change and adaptation are necessary for growth, for survival, for life. And Jesus is about offering people life in its fullest. So with our faith, we expect change and transformation. We never give up on anyone or any circumstance. Transformation is always possible.
But while plants and nature are largely controlled by genetics and external conditions, human transformation is largely controlled by inner conditions, by choices, by will. What Jesus shows us is that we have a lot of power over how we change and grow and are transformed. Remember the story about the rich young man who comes to Jesus seeking eternal life? In the story, Jesus tells him to sell all that he has and give to the poor and come and follow Jesus. Jesus offers him everything he was seeking. But the man cannot do it. He chooses not to be transformed. He does not embrace change and growth and abundant life. There is much choice involved in human transformation.
To choose to follow Jesus is to choose to engage in a lifelong process of transformation through love, mercy, service, and grace. And this process is usually not a direct route, as the crow flies. It is a process that happens in fits and starts. One step forward, two steps back. Just look at the disciples – they are repeatedly backsliding! Transformation is often a process driven by external circumstances that confront us with new challenges. And we must decide how we will meet them. We may move ahead in one area of our lives while lagging in another. We may make great strides only to back track. We are not always the fertile soil of the parable. Sometimes we are the path, the rocky soil, the shallow sand, the thorns. And sometimes we are a mixed environment!
And this is the case in society as much as in our individual lives. Many different conditions. Many different stages of change and openness to transformation. Right now with Covid 19 and the increased focus on racism, we are in a wonderful moment ripe for transformation on the social front. Hopefully we will collectively choose to seize this moment to make needed changes moving us toward justice and human rights for all.
Our faith calls us to embrace the process of transformation in the direction of love. It is about our becoming more loving, living the love within us. And that takes a lot of growth and change. It is a lifelong journey.
If you just want a friend group, you can join a bridge club or a golf club. And that can be wonderfully enriching. That kind of significant social interaction doesn’t ask you to submit yourself to a process of radical transformation.
But church, faith, that is about drastically changing your life. Your values. Your use of time, talent, and treasure. Your world view. Your actions. Your commitment to the common good. Your self care. All of it. When we find ourselves on the path of following Jesus, we are opening ourselves to growth and change and engagement that is transforming.
And that can be scary and threatening. I have seen people who have come to church for a while and then left. Why? There may have been all kinds of reasons given. But I suspect that the one common thread is transformation. The church was fomenting transformation in their lives, encouraging growth and change in the direction of universal, unconditional love. The gospel was working on them. And that was coming into conflict with some other attitudes and views and the person was not willing to change. The social and internal programming was very strong, and they resisted transformation.
I have seen others who have come to church and opened themselves to the transformation that can happen in the context of Jesus’ love, and they have grown and blossomed and flourished. And it is beautiful to see the glorious transformation.
Faith is about change. It is about growing toward the light of love, compassion, reconciliation, and justice. It is about being the change you wish to see in the world, as Gandhi put it. If we want to see an anti-racist society, we need to work on ourselves as well as the policies and systems that perpetuate racism. It’s a both/and. But it is about change.
If you don’t feel like your faith is engaging you in the process of transformation, then examine how you are engaging with your faith and the church. Maybe you need to go deeper in your faith practice to experience the transforming power of love that we see in Jesus. Maybe there are things that you are letting get in the way of the transformation process. Look for those things and work on removing them.
From “Behold I make all things new,” [Rev. 21:5] to “Your faith has made you well,” [Mark 5:34] our faith promises us change. I heard Tom Power on the radio program, ‘Q’ refer to an Instagram post: “Normalize changing your mind.” Yes, that is what Christianity teaches. Normalize changing your mind, and your heart, and your spirit. All of it. Transformed by love, for love, for ourselves, each other, and this precious world. Amen.
As you listen to the music from Hilton which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.
(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)