Corona Sabbath 21 HOPE Reflection Text

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 – hope.

We listen to Genesis 21:8-21 read by Kay Rencken???. This is a portion of the story of Hagar. In the narrative, God has promised a child to Abraham and Sarah. They will have many ancestors. But years went by and no child arrived. So Sarah sent her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham, and a child was born, Ishmael. Subsequently, Sarah herself had a child, Isaac. Family relations deteriorate and Sarah instructs Abraham to exile Hagar and Ishmael. We listen to a portion of that wrenching story. Hagar and Ishmael do survive and become the progenitors of a great people who eventually become associated with Islam.

Scripture video

Genesis 21:8-21

We begin by hearing about Isaac, the child of Abraham and Sarah.

The child grew, and on the day of weaning, Sarah and Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah noticed the child that Hagar the Egyptian had borne for Abraham, playing with her child Isaac. She demanded of Abraham, “Send Hagar and her child away! I will not have this child of my attendant share in Isaac’s inheritance.”

Abraham was greatly distressed by this because of his son Ishmael. But God said to Abraham, “Don’t be distressed about the child or about Hagar. Heed Sarah’s demands, for it is through Isaac that descendants will bear your name. As for the child of Hagar the Egyptian, I will make a great nation of him as well, since he is also your offspring.”

Early the next morning Abraham brought bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar. Then, placing the child on her back, he sent her away. She wandered off into the desert of Beersheba. When the skin of water was empty, she set the child under a bush, and sat down opposite him, about a bow-shot away. She said to herself, “Don’t let me see the child die!” and she began to wail and weep.

God heard the child crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven. “What is wrong, Hagar?” the angel asked. “Do not be afraid, for God has heard the child’s cry. Get up, lift up the child and hold his hand; for I will make of him a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went to it and filled the skin with water, and she gave the child a drink.

God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became a fine archer. He made his home in the desert of Paran, and his mother found a wife for him in Egypt.

[pause]

Reflection from Kim

When I hear the word ‘hope’ it brings to mind the line from poet Emily Dickinson – “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Featherweight – light. Not heavy hitting. Seemingly insignificant. Carrying small creatures through the sky on currents of air. Just feathers.

But hope, just a whisper of it, just a seemingly weightless pinion adrift, is what can help us to hold on. Take another breath. Make it another moment. Get through.

The story of Hagar and Ishmael is wrought with the desperation of survival. I would even say that they have abandoned all hope. In this story, it is God that has the hope. The hope for Hagar and Ishmael. The hope for their future. The hope that they will survive. And not only survive, but eventually flourish. And they do.

When life is going along fairly smoothly, we might not think much about hope. Life is good. We don’t have to have aspirations for something else, something different, something more. We aren’t focussed on how to make it through when the song we are hearing is a happy tune.

Hope is important when things have derailed. When the bottom has dropped out. When things are crashing down around us. Like during a pandemic.

President Obama is known for his book, The Audacity of Hope. How was he feeling about hope after the 2016 election? An article in the November 28, 2016 issue of The New Yorker examines Obama’s response to the election. Apparently Obama told staffers in the Oval Office, “‘A lot of you are young and this is your first rodeo. For some of you, all you’ve ever known is winning. But the older people here, we have known loss. And this stings. This hurts.’ He went on, it’s easy to be hopeful when things are going well, but when you need to be hopeful is when things are at their worst.” [“It Happened Here,” David Remnick, The New Yorker, 11/28/2016]

The worst. That’s when we really need hope. Just a feather’s worth. And if we can’t muster it, then it will come to us – from a loved one, a friend, a stranger, an article, a book, an inner insight, a message from nature, a scripture passage. Somehow, when we truly need it most, hope will find us. In the desolate desert. In the garden of Gethsemane. Separated from a loved one dying of COVID 19. Hope is the thing with feathers and it will somehow find its way to us gliding and soaring. It will take us beyond. Giving us a fresh vista. Amen.

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Corona Sabbath 20 HEALING Reflection Text

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 – healing.

We listen to a Matthew 4:18-25 read by Chip Cosper, a scripture lesson that tells of Jesus offering healing to the people.

Scripture video

As Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he watched two brothers – Simon, who was called Peter, and Andrew – casting a net into the sea. They fished by trade. Jesus said to them, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of humankind.” They immediately abandoned their nets and began to follow Jesus.

Jesus walked along further and caught sight of a second pair of brothers – James and John, ben-Zebedee. They too were in their boat, mending their nets with their father. Jesus called them, and immediately they abandoned both boat and father to follow him.

Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kindom of heaven and healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses among the people. His fame spread throughout Syria, and people suffering from illnesses and painful ailments of all kinds – those who were demon-possessed, those who were epileptic, those who were paralyzed – were brought to Jesus, and he healed them. Large crowds followed Jesus, coming from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and Transjordania.

[pause]

Reflection from Kim

As we just heard, Jesus was known for healing every disease, every sickness, all those afflicted with various diseases and pains, as well as those who were demon possessed, epileptic, and paralyzed. This kind of scene is mentioned repeatedly in the gospel of Matthew. Here are a few examples:

That evening they brought to Jesus many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 8:16

Then Jesus went about to all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kindom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 9:35

Many crowds followed Jesus, and he cured all of them. 12:15

When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 14:14

Great crowds came to Jesus, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 15:30-31

In yet another reference, we are told:

Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there. 19:2

And finally, in chapter, 21,

The blind and lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 21:14

With all of these references to healing the masses in the gospel of Matthew, you’d think there was a pandemic happening!

Yes, medical science was less advanced then and there probably were a lot of health issues. But there was also a very firmly entrenched understanding of illness as the consequence of sin. Sickness, blindness, being lame, possessed by demons, all of these conditions were seen as a consequence of separation from God, of violating God’s laws. Physical infirmity was seen as a form of punishment from God. So, many, many people who were sick or infirm in some way were generally ostracized, marginalized, and devalued. They were seen as bad people. They were shut out from the blessings of God. And, evidently, there were a lot of people labeled in this manner.

The numerous references to Jesus healing the masses are intended to undermine this idea of connecting sickness with punishment from God. Jesus rejects this association and offers extravagant healing and welcome to everyone. We see the embodiment of the universal love and grace of God in these mass healing events. We see a huge door, wide open, welcoming all people to the commonwealth of God. Jesus is showing that all of the hurting people in the crowds have not displeased God. God is not angry at them. They are loved. God is seeking them, wanting them to have abundant life.

While we may no longer see sickness as a Divine punishment for sin, we do know that physical problems can result from unhealthy behaviors. We know that stress can create dis-ease which is manifest in physical illness. We know that how we live can contribute to physical, spiritual, and mental unwellness. We know that institutions, systems, and culture can adversely impact our health. And we see this in our context today in many ways. Air pollution is causing increased asthma. Stress contributing heart disease. Food contents negatively impacting bodily health. Lack of access to healthcare causing sickness and even death. There are lots of connections between human behavior and health. But that is science and public policy. That is not theology. That is not Divine punishment.

The Bible begins with the image of the Garden of Eden. Life is in balance. There is harmony. What is needed is provided. There is shalom – a state of peaceful well-being for all of Creation. And the Bible ends with an image of a garden where there is peaceful well-being for all. Everyone is cared for and fed in a system of balance and beauty.

The repeated stories of Jesus healing people is a way of showing Jesus inviting people to the garden, welcoming them to a reality of compassion and abundance. Creating communities of balance and mutual care and interdependence.

The image of Jesus as a healer is really the essence of Christianity. Our faith is about creating a reality in which people flourish and thrive – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. It is about creating a world of belonging and care. It is about abundant life and joy for EVERYONE. That is what we see in these many references to Jesus healing the crowds.

For this kind of mass healing to occur, yes, we know that individual choices are involved, but we also see that culture, institutions, power arrangements, economic systems, patterns of behavior and attitudes also are a big part of creating a healthy environment for everyone. For all to live in a context where they can thrive and flourish, all of these aspects of communal as well as individual life have an impact.

To be healthy, to live in a healthful context, also involves cultivating patterns of human relationships that involve self care, mutual understanding, forgiveness, and compassion. Mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health involve a comprehensive context promoting well-being in all of its dimensions.

During this pandemic, yes, an airborne virus has brought the world to its knees. And no magic wand can wave that away. But it has also exposed the many ways that our personal choices and societal arrangements are contributing to our dis-ease. We see the power dynamics, divisions, economic disparities, and prejudices that are influencing health outcomes. We are very much in need of healing on many fronts!

It’s interesting that after the lesson we heard from Matthew about healing the crowds, we are given the Sermon on the Mount. These are the teachings that tell us how to be whole and healthy and how to create a healthy community. Jesus offers a path of healing and wholeness that encompasses relationships, self care, power arrangements, wealth, and the Earth. Jesus shows us the importance of compassion, service, generosity, and mutual care. Jesus shows us a way of healing the pain we cause ourselves and others individually as well as in society. He offers healing balm for the multiplicity of ways that we make life less than it could be for ourselves and others. It is healing of all that diminishes our lives and the life of the Earth. The foundation is the sacredness of life and Creation.

While we are given many examples of Jesus healing the multitudes, we also see that Jesus did not restrict this healing power to himself. We are told in the gospel of Matthew that Jesus gave authority to the disciples to heal every disease and sickness. Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. [Matthew 10:1, 8]

This work of healing involves us all. We are all needed to minister to the actual physical ailments of one another and to provide support and help as we can. But we are also needed to create communities in which EVERYONE is loved, accepted, valued, treated with dignity and respect, and supported so that all can flourish, thrive and live abundantly.

Jesus did not invite his followers to the ministry of healing as a punishment or a burden. We are invited to be part of the healing of the world because it is a blessing. When we offer the healing power of our faith to others and to the world, we find that we are healed and made whole. Amen.

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Corona Sabbath 19 TRUST Reflection Text

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 – trust.

We listen to a Genesis 22:1-14 read by Earl Waters, a scripture lesson that speaks of trust.

Scripture video

After these events, God tested Abraham.

“Abraham!” God called.

“Here I am,” Abraham replied.

“Take your son,” God said, “your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, ‘Seeing.’ Offer him there as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.”

Rising early the next morning, Abraham saddled a donkey and took along two workers and his son Isaac. Abraham chopped wood for the burnt offering, and started on the journey to the place God showed them. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to the workers, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.”

Abraham took wood for the burnt offering and gave it to Isaac to carry. In his own hands he carried the fire and the knife. Then the two of them went on alone.

Isaac said, “Father!”

“Here I am, my child,” Abraham replied.

“Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “My child, God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”

Then the two of them went on together. When they arrived at the place God had pointed out, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged wood on it. Then he tied up his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill the child.

But the angel of God called to him from heaven: “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am!” he replied.

“Do not raise your hand against the boy!” the angel said. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how deeply you revere God, since you did not refuse me your son, your only child.”

Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. He went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his child. Abraham called the place “God Provides,” and so it is said to this day: “On this mountain YHWH provides.”

[pause]

Reflection from Kim

This story, known as the sacrifice of Isaac, is important in 3 major world religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

The Dome of the Rock, the beautiful mosque in Jerusalem, which iconic in the skyline of the city, is said to built over the rock where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac. So, it is considered holy ground for all three religions that revere this story.

In the Christian tradition, the story is mainly thought of as a testimony to the obedience of Abraham. Abraham had unfailing trust in God after being given that promised child, Isaac, late in life, well past the child-bearing years of Sarah, his spouse. So, Abraham trusted God because God had made good on promises in the past. Take Isaac and make a sacrifice. Well, if God said it, then, Abraham would do it.

Yes, the story is told as one person’s experience, and this person, Abraham, is to be a model for others – to be obedient, no matter what. To trust. No matter what. To be willing to sacrifice even that which is most precious in your life. And this teaching has been used to elicit culture cooperation and obedience from people. Just trust God. No matter what.

Of course there is the whole issue of how you know it’s God – and not your own devious internal workings. Or worse, the twisted self-interested manipulation of the religious leaders defining obedience to God. Neither of which should be trusted.

But there is also a social dimension to this story. Human sacrifice has long been part of religious practice. We may know about it associated with pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, but it was actually much more widespread. We know it was part of religious observance in the Ancient Near East, in the communities and cultures around the Hebrews, and even among the Hebrews. So this practice was commonplace at the time the story of the sacrifice of Isaac originated. Human sacrifice usually involved the most prominent, valued, best people of the tribe. It was the strongest, or most beautiful, who were given to the Gods. The tribe gave its best. The well-being of the tribe was thought to depend on this ritual. This gift to the gods. And it was an honor to be chosen for such an important role.

It would not have been thought out of hand for someone prominent, like Abraham, to have his son selected for this honor. But in the end, a ram is sacrificed, not Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac. Scholars think this story may have been part of the transition of the Hebrew people away from human sacrifice. The story may have been told to help the Hebrews move away from this practice. It may have been used to explain why the Hebrews no longer offered human sacrifice.

At first this seems antiquated and remote. Of course we do not give any legitimacy to human sacrifice today. And telling a story that sends the message that human sacrifice is not required by God is hardly very pertinent today is it?

I remember visiting some ancient ruins in Mexico. The guide told us about practice of human sacrifice. What it meant to the culture of the ancient people. How the person was selected. About how people worked their whole lives to be good enough, to be honored by being sacrificed. It was competitive and a great honor to the family. Parents wanted their child chosen for this important ritual.

And why was this sacrifice important? It was believed that this sacrifice, of the best of the best, to the gods, was necessary for the well-being of the community. This was seen as the most important way of securing the favor and blessing of the gods. It was believed that the survival, the continued existence of the community, depended on offering this sacrifice. So ultimately, being chosen was altruistic. You were giving your life for your loved ones. For your people. This was noble. This is how it was seen in the context of the whole culture.

And here we have the story from Genesis, about this new religious group, the first tribe to be monotheistic, and now this God is calling for the end of human sacrifice. This was potentially a risky, dangerous step. What if it was misguided? It could mean the end of the community, the experiment in monotheism. This could be a death knell for the entire enterprise. What if something was misunderstood? What if God really did want human sacrifice? And they didn’t do it. And God not only neglected them but punished them? What then?

But we have this story. And we do not have human sacrifice. The people made this drastic change. And they told this story to account for this transformation in their culture.

So what we also see in this story is that when we trust God, love, life, it can mean making a huge, risky, society-wide change. We see movement away for assumed practices and conventions. We see the movement toward flourishing, lavish, abundant life. With trust, a new future opens up.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to see some of that today! Can we leave behind for-profit healthcare and embrace healthcare as a human right? Can we leave behind our temples to greed and profit, like Trump Tower, and instead construct communities of well-being for all? Can we abandon systemic racism and replace it with systems of justice and equity in which everyone can flourish? Can we leave behind carbon emissions and embrace healthy, renewable energy and life styles? Sometimes to move into the a beautiful future, to make our way to a land of milk and honey, we have to take risks and trust the new future that is calling out to be born.

This COVID pandemic is showing us the ineffectiveness of many of our established ways of doing things. We are seeing the flaws in our institutions and attitudes. We are also seeing that there can be something better. We are being called to let go of what we have known so that something new and wonderful can emerge.

Christianity has always been a call to new life. The commonwealth of God. Heaven on Earth. People chose to trust Jesus and they found themselves in a new realty – and it was beautiful. It is a call to trust and believe in that new reality – for ourselves as individuals, for our communities, and for our society.

With trust, may we seize the beautiful new future that is being offered to us. Amen.
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Corona Sabbath 18 GRATITUDE Reflection Text

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 – gratitude.

We listen to 1 Thessalonians 5:13b-18 read by Claire Stiles, a scripture lesson that speaks to new believers of the basics of faith including gratitude.

Claire’s video

Scripture 1 Thessalonians 5:13b-18

Live in peace with each other.

We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the faint-hearted, support the weak and be patient with everyone. Make sure that no one repays one evil with another. Always seek what is good for each other – and for all people.

Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

[pause]

Reflection from Kim

I am listening to a beautiful novel by Louise Erdrich. I so appreciate her stories set among the indigenous peoples of this land. In The Game of Silence it seems like one character or another is regularly taking out a pouch and sprinkling a pinch of tobacco. When a bear, needed for food, is killed, tobacco is sprinkled. When an animal provides guidance, tobacco is sprinkled. When a tree gives its branches for the making of a dwelling, tobacco is sprinkled. Repeatedly during the course of every day life, tobacco is sprinkled. It’s not just on a special occasion or at a ceremony. Day in and day out, tobacco is sprinkled as an offering of gratitude for what has been provided.

In every religion and culture there are rituals and provisions for the expression of gratitude. And of course we have this in Christianity. The Psalms are full of expressions of thanksgiving to God. Sacrifices were made out of gratitude. Jesus teaches about gratitude like the story of the 10 lepers who are healed but only one returns thanks. And there are the verses we listened to this morning from the apostle Paul about giving thanks in all circumstances. The Bible is filled with wisdom about gratitude.

There appears to be a universal human need to express gratitude. I don’t think it is because we need to be thanked. I think it is because we need to be thankful. The Psalms don’t thank God up and down and sideways because the God figure needs to be fed gratitude. It is because the people need to express gratitude. In the New Testament we are even told not to expect any thanks for the good we do. It’s not about being thanked. It’s about thanking. Showing gratitude. Because to be whole and healthy and thrive as a human creature, we have a fundamental need to express gratitude.

Gratitude is a reminder that we are constantly benefitting and receiving in ways that are completely outside of our control. We are beneficiaries of boundless generosity and goodness that we have no influence over. Our lives are sustained by thousands of other people whom we never see or know. And we are alive thanks to forces of nature that we did not design and do not control.

To practice gratitude is to realize how gifted we are. It is to acknowledge our dependence and interdependence.

Gratitude is good for us. Gratitude contributes to a sense of well-being. We realize how much we have and how we are continuously benefiting from the efforts of other people and from the world around us. We don’t have to do it all on our own. We can’t. I am trying to thank people more, whenever I can, not for their sake, but to remind myself how I am continuously dependent upon and benefitting from others. Gratitude engenders a sense of peace and security. We realize that there are people who are helping us and who will help us. We are not alone. Gratitude fosters generosity. When we pay attention to what we are being given we are freed to give. We see that there is enough for all. Gratitude gives us a sense of solidarity not only with other human beings but also with nature that is sustaining all of life. Gratitude is self care. It nourishes us.

Now, I want to shift gears for a moment. Gratitude seems so simple and straight forward. We should be reaping the benefits of gratitude day in and day out. We should have hearts brimming with thanks. It seems so easy. But there are forces working against gratitude.

We have an economic system that is based on creating needs, wants, and desires. So that we spend more money. So that business flourishes. So that people have jobs and get paid. So that they can buy the things that they have been conditioned to want. Its a self reinforcing cycle.

To keep this cycle spinning involves creating the impression of scarcity. There isn’t enough so you have to get yours. And this involves competition. So we get tied into competing with each other for what are portrayed as necessary scarce resources, supplies, and commodities.

To create these needs, wants, and desires, we are messaged that we are wanting. We are not enough. We don’t have enough. We are lacking. Our hair is not silky enough. So we need a new shampoo. We are not fit enough so we need a new gym membership. We are not comfortable enough so we need a new car. We are not thin enough so we need an expensive weight loss system. Our relationships are not good enough so we need this product or this service or this experience to make them better. Disney, anyone? We are told that we aren’t good enough and we don’t have enough. There is something newer, better, faster, and flashier that will make us ok. So our economic system functions by creating needs and wants in us so that we will spend our money on goods and services. So that other people can make money. And so that we need to make money so that we can spend more on the things that we are made to believe will make our lives better. It is a rat race.

And this cultivation of neediness suppresses the impulse toward gratitude. We are taught to see what we don’t have, and should want, rather than all that we do have. And this messaging is ubiquitous – it follows us on line, on buses, on our social media, on our phones, on billboards, on the TV, in print media, in ads on school bulletin boards. EVERYWHERE. Our society is masterful at creating wants and desires by telling us what we are lacking.

The spiritual discipline of gratitude gets us off the hamster wheel of constantly seeking that which does not satisfy and instead makes us tired and stressed. Gratitude shows us the abundance of the world we are in. It makes us aware of all that we are being given. And all that we have to give. Gratitude teaches us that we are all interrelated and interdependent not only with one another as people but with the earth and all life forms. We need the fish, and the ferns, and the fungi, and all other life forms to survive. We are dependent on nature, as a nursing baby is dependent on its mother. Our awareness of all of this, with the accompanying sense of abundance and generosity, feeds our souls and gives us a life-affirming sense of our place in the world and of our mutuality.

Especially during these COVID times, when things are uncertain and we feel separated and isolated and afraid, it is important that we keep our spirits up by cultivating the spiritual discipline of gratitude. We need gratitude as Paul says, in all circumstances. And the worse the circumstances, the more we need gratitude to help us stay steady, make it through, and weather the storm.

Much of the time we are on auto pilot. We are not paying attention. We are going through the motions. We are numb. We have compassion fatigue. We are depressed. And we forget about our need to be grateful, to cultivate gratitude, to express thanksgiving. And our lives are diminished without this necessary component of our human well-being.

I am thinking again about the little pouch of tobacco carried by the figures in Erdrich’s novel. Sprinkling tobacco here and there in the course of daily life as an expression of gratitude for all that is being given. Maybe we need some symbolic gesture or action that fits our circumstances to continually remind us to express gratitude. Something more than grace at meals and bedtime prayers. Something that can be woven into our daily lives. So that we can be firmly grounded in the abundance and generosity of the profusion of life and love within us and around us! Amen.

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Corona Sabbath 17 TRANSFORMATION Reflection Text

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.

Barbara’s video

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.”

[pause]

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.

[pause]

As you listen to the music from Hilton which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.

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