1st Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34 & Psalm 51 (p.838 VU)
A funny thing happened to me yesterday. I was at a dance practice, and a lady there heard that I was the United Church minister. She was very friendly and polite, but she began grilling me on what the United Church believes about this and what I personally believe about that.
She was clearly affiliated with a different denomination, and just as clearly she had issues with the differences she perceived in how “United Church people” relate to scripture and to the stories about Jesus.
I found myself having to defend a position of liberal, cutting edge theological thought which I believe allows for a wide range of tolerance for the beliefs of others within the Christian tradition.
And I remembered what the Right Reverend Lois Wilson said in her opening address when elected as the first woman moderator of our United Church. She was faced with a church not nearly as liberal thinking as it is today, and many clergy who clearly felt that women should be at home with their heads covered, being directed by their husbands.
What Lois Wilson said was this: “We are all in this room because of Jesus.” Jesus did not choose to make the kind of distinctions that divide us and turn us against each other. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he said. I reminded this lovely lady of what Jesus has commanded us, and I made reference to the “Living God” who has written the knowledge of God’s Law on each of our hearts, so that we no longer need to teach one another. We certainly no longer, if we ever did, have the right to judge one another. Before Jesus came to be with us there was God. Many have found God in their hearts who do not have any experience or knowledge of Jesus.
If we call ourselves Christians, then Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light of the world. We have a responsibility and a joy to live into that belief system, and I believe it holds the promise of healing for each of us personally, and for the world around us. But the Living God speaks to each of us personally, and each of us will have a different experience of God’s presence in our lives.
O God, you desire truth in my innermost being. There is no substitute for direct and authentic relationship with God as you understand and experience the holy. No one else’s experience is more valuable than your own – nor is it less valid. It is no longer enough to be part of the herd – giving lip service to something you don’t understand. We must all be willing to open ourselves as the Psalmist says, to be washed whiter than snow, and to have a new heart created within us, a heart yearning toward God.
In this season of Lent, as we turn our focus inward to examine ourselves and our choices, we ask for Divine mercy and forgiveness for our mistakes, our trespasses against God and against our fellows, and against all of creation. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”
Deliver me, O God from my evil doing, we plead in sorrow and despair. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” we ask, and then we will praise God and witness to God’s grace and speak of God’s benevolent love available to all.
And when we do that, wonderful things start to happen. We become radiant, attractive beings who other people want to talk to. They want what we have found. We all want to be happy and to be loved and respected. The ways of this world, of greed and competition and violence and coercion, are alien to God’s purpose. Deep in our hearts we all know this. We need only to be quiet and listen to the truth of our innermost being. The Way of Jesus, the Divine Path to God, is the way of peace and of love. There is no room on this path for judgment, or disrespect for the beliefs of others. There is no room for denial of the basic rights of any of God’s children, or for the withholding of whatever good we can do for them.
As people of God, made in the image of the Creator, it is our job to reflect the best image of God’s great Love that we are capable of, into a world of hurting people in great need of healing.
Hymn # 154 MV “Deep in Our Hearts”
2nd Scripture Readings: Hebrews 5:5-10 & John 12:20-33
“The Order of Melchizedek” – the ancient order of the High Priests of Israel, revered in their sacred scriptures as heavenly beings, superior to ordinary people, who interpreted God’s will to the Israelites.
In our reading from Hebrews this morning, we see how in Paul’s letter Jesus is likened to one chosen by God to fulfill the mission of a High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek”. Melchizedek was the first and founding priest fulfilling this function (Genesis 14: 17-19) and was also a king – a very powerful person indeed.
In our reading from John 12, we hear Jesus talking to his disciples about his mission, that “higher calling” of one who is chosen by God for a special purpose. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus will be glorified, celebrated, exalted once he has fulfilled the mission God inspired in him. And he knows that fulfilling that mission means he must die. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Nailed to a cross – lifted up – an image none of us can ever erase from our minds – Jesus has become a powerful symbol, a wound on our psyches that can never be forgotten. His death is a stain on all of our consciousness, a reminder that we too have work to do – to heal and change ourselves and the way we live. His death bought and paid for us, opening us to hear God’s will for us, forcing us to look at who we are and the changes we must make to be Christ’s body in the world.
Jesus lives in us as the seed lives in the soil, spreading and multiplying as it is nourished, and enlightened. His spirit lives in us in a very real way, and his love is the Light and the warmth that brings each of us to fruition. We are called, each of us, to bring our gifts to the table, to be part of the banquet that will heal us all and fulfill God’s holy purpose of creating the kindom of God, a place of peace and love, right here on earth. Let us be willing, as Jesus was willing, to accept the cup that is given to us and to give our blessed gifts without fear or hesitation, to this world that God so loves.
Hymn # 506VU “Take My Life and let it be”