Tag Archives: Transformation

From the Inside Out

A Sermon for 16 October 2016

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 31:27-34. Listen for God’s word to us.

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

If you’ve ever been put on a diet, then you know how hard it can be. The doctor tells you your pants are fitting just a little too tight. Or maybe for another health reason you have to cut out sodium, or caffeine, or sugar. You’re sent home with the list of what you can and cannot eat. The list that’s to dictate whether or not you can enjoy all your favorites like chocolate cake and deep fried green tomatoes and beer or wine or whatever. Out of sheer willpower, some people can handle such external directives – for a little while or maybe even for the rest of their lives. Most cannot, which ends up causing other problems when we cheat. But maybe, just maybe somewhere along the way you came to your own conclusion that you only will eat what truly will be healthy for your body. Fresh vegetables and ripe fruits. Grains and nothing processed. These your body begin to crave and when you stop to really listen to exactly what your system needs, you find it’s an ice cold glass of water instead of half the bag of chips. Living like that – hearing from the inside out just exactly what your body needs – makes a shift in nutrition doable. Energizing even.

Internal motivation just seems to work better over the long haul. Athletes with that drive to be the very best in the world at their sport tend to reach their goals more often than those who have to be prodded along by an over-bearing coach. Ones who are naturally curious tend to really learn – and keep at it long after being handed a diploma at 12th grade. Those who appreciate beauty find a way to create something themselves, somehow. Being guided from the inside out – from the life-giving passions within instead of the external expectations of others leads to happier, healthier, persevering people. From the inside out assures we have matured in who we are and how we freely choose to live our lives.

From the inside out could be the title of the promise of God declared here by the prophet Jeremiah. For all we know at this point in their history, most of the people are in exile. Jeremiah seemed especially upset because Judah sought to put Temple worship as the pinnacle of religion – the abiding sign of the Davidic dynasty. And because they did, they sought to resist exile. Unpopular though his opinion be, Jeremiah was opposed to fighting against Babylon. He saw it as the road to national disaster. Rebellion against what seemed inevitable would only lead to more harm from the stronger kingdom. Besides, Temple worship, the royal religion of Jerusalem, was a “false religion, sure to fail,” Jeremiah proclaimed every chance he got (The Harper Collins Study Bible, 1993; p. 1111). They did not need to risk it all to try to retain it. Instead, the people needed to return. Return to the faith of their ancestors. Be changed from the inside out. Embrace the road map for what will work in life together and what will not. Making sacrifices in the Temple would not do. Clinging to practices that certainly would no longer be possible for waves of those exiled to Babylon or heading out to Egypt; fighting for the kinds of outer practices in the Temple that no longer could be was futile – at least as Jeremiah saw it. Rather, the good news Jeremiah proclaims here in chapter 31 is that another way is possible. A better way that God indeed promises to give the people. “The days are surely coming,” says the LORD through the prophet Jeremiah. When “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:27-34). . . . The days surely are coming when we will have within us all we need to live as God desires – no matter if we find ourselves exiled to Babylon, fleeing to Egypt, or left back behind in the ransacked city of Jerusalem as the poorest of the poor were. One commentator writes: “The remnants of both Israel and Judah would enter into a new covenant and faithfully follow God’s law, for it would be written upon their hearts” (Ibid.). They will know it from the inside out.

From the inside out. . . . It’s possible to think of this inside out living in a few different ways. Take, for instance, the return to living according to the commandments – to having the ways of God written in our hearts. Once upon a time long before the supposed security of the bricks and mortar of the Temple, the people understood the whole moral code of the commandments as God’s gift to them of the best way to be the people of God together. The Light of God shining to all the nations. But if it wouldn’t get inside them; if they started to see it as something other than a gift. If they grew spiritually lazy and stopped being truly led by the love of God; then there were going to be problems. If the love of God isn’t within, we can have an external list of all God’s laws to follow; but we won’t likely carry them out. Or we’ll live by the letter of the law and forget the whole reason behind it. We’ll get caught up in trying to earn something by how many from the list we can follow. We might even start comparing ourselves as better, or worse, than everyone else. We’ll be led from the outside and sooner or later it will cause problems on our insides – bitterness or arrogance or fear.

From the inside out – God’s law written on our hearts –also is a beautiful metaphor for the Spirit of God living in us. The Divine dwelling inside – as happened when first God put the breath into us. God’s ruah, God’s Spirit exhaled right into the very first ones and every one of us since. We may not always feel that Presence within; but rest assured: it is there. Just waiting to be awakened. Waiting to be stirred up – moved as when we feel compassion, or love, or righteous anger over the violation of human dignity. That too is the law of God written on our hearts. God internal – in us – to be the compass that points us in the right direction, to the right action, to the needed word that we do know when we do as the Psalmist said: when we be still (paraphrase of Psalm 46:10) to let the swirl of angst and external expectations and voices of everyone else settle like muddy water finally calming into a crystal smooth pool in which we clearly can see. Be still, like that, on the inside and indeed we will know the prompting of God’s Spirit in us. Hearts transformed by God.

Of course, from the inside out presumes we trust enough not only God, but also ourselves. How many of us see ourselves as so incredibly marred that something so Holy as God’s Spirit never could dwell in us? Could something as pure as God’s unconditional love move us from the inside out?! Jeremiah’s words shout yes! Notice the depth of God’s love in Jeremiah’s prophecy? This is a re-start between God and God’s people. A chance for true forgiveness after the people of God have transgressed. What husband – as God is named here in reference to God’s people – what husband re-commits to a new covenant after the original vows have been trampled all over? What partner is ready to begin again when actions have caused such heartache? One able to honestly declare this: “I will forgive and remember the violation no more.” (paraphrase of Jeremiah 31:34). . . . It seems almost impossible for us, so much so that we often hear someone say, “I can forgive, but I never will forget!” According to Jeremiah, that’s not what God says. God forgives AND God forgets. Together we are free to begin again. . . . I’m not sure this is something anyone of us really can do, which might be why so many harbor guilt for whatever ways we’ve messed up. We hardly can forgive ourselves, let alone forget the disasters we’ve done in our lives. But God’s not like that. Not according to the promise of the new covenant initiated by God. . . . It’s an act of the greatest love that God hopes will get in us – stick in us and stay there so that we might begin to live a little bit more like that. God desires so deeply to be in this intimate dance of life with us that God changes us from the inside out. And it all is done by God’s love – transforming the hearts of every last one through God’s amazing gift of grace.

Here then is the new creation: God in us, transforming from the inside out.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit. Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

Transfiguration: A Transformation Metaphor

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
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15 February 2015 – Transfiguration Sunday
Click here to read scripture first:  http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+9:2-10

Even though I wasn’t good at the guessing last week: for those of you who attended our church history celebration last week and brought in your baby photos, wasn’t that fun? Seeing so many of us from just a few years back? . . . Being able to see the dimples that remain in some, the eyes that gave you away, the smiles that never change. It was so good to see each other at different stages in our lives. It got me thinking about how much each of us has changed over the years. I mean, think about it: since those baby photos were taken, how much have you grown, learned, done? Aspects of us might always stay the same so that we remain recognizable – at least to ourselves. But so much more of who we are has changed dramatically. We no longer are just those sweet lil faces in the photos. Each of us has grown and adapted on such unique journeys through the path that is called our, individual life.

For some reason, those photos from last week remind me of the other change we’re hearing about in the gospel reading for today. It’s Transfiguration Sunday so it’s not just any old change the gospel of Mark writes about. It’s Jesus. Pretty much at the half-way point of the story between his baptism and his death and resurrection, it’s almost as if Jesus deliberately wanted to transfigure for them. According to the gospel of Mark’s record of it, six days after Jesus first tells his disciples that the path he’s following will lead to his death, but not to worry because three days after that he will be raised again. Six days after Jesus first tells how this all is going to go down; he leads Peter, James, and John up a mountain.

Now, mountains are important for Jesus and his people. Those first disciples certainly knew that. Significant encounters with God took place on mountains. On the top of a mountain, Moses too ended up with a glowing face. On the top of a mountain, the great prophet Elijah came face to face with God. And on the top of this mountain Jesus and his friends are climbing, a voice is going to tell these three lead disciples to LISTEN to what Jesus had to say. And, it wasn’t some big pronouncement he was about to make – like the transfiguration and the voice were the trumpets pre-message to get everyone’s attention for the most important words that are about to be spoken. No: Jesus already had told them the most important words they needed to hear.

In Caesarea Philippi – the ancient place where folks retreated for restful restoration at Mount Hermon’s Banias Waterfalls, which happen to be the source of the north to south waters that make up the eastern border of the land of Israel. There at the geographic start of it all, Jesus asks them who they believe he is. After Peter correctly answers: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29), he and the others refuse to accept the definition of Messiah that Jesus gives. Because Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One of the God who isn’t quite as some might expect. Jesus tells that he is going to suffer, be rejected, and killed, before he finally rises again (Mark 8:31). It’s a natural human response, I think, to want it not to be so. I mean, who among us wants to suffer. Rejection hurts – it can crush our egos all together. None of us actually want to be killed – literally or metaphorically. We know this or things like swallowing our pride, and starting over after a divorce, and saying goodbye to our loved ones on their deathbeds wouldn’t be as hard as they always seem to be. Though Jesus never attempts to tell why it must be this way, it just is. Resurrection comes only after death. And just to be sure those disciples actually LISTEN and ready themselves to live likewise, the appearance of Jesus changes dramatically as a voice calls: “This is my Son, the Beloved. LISTEN to him!” (Mark 9:7).

Jesus changes – transfigures with the light of God shining right on through his eyes because he needs his disciples to know that they will need to change too.  Step by step becoming a little bit more like him.

It’s the path of transformation to which he calls us. Of dying to self daily in order to follow behind this God revealed in-full in Jesus. And transfiguration, at least according to the gospel of Mark’s telling of it, shows some of the classic human responses to change. Did you notice that? As soon as Jesus is transfigured and a few other bodies appear along with him, Peter proposes they hold on to the moment. Settle in to things as they are and never let go. Resist all future change. He suggests they make three dwellings – perhaps reminiscent of the annual Jewish Feast of Booths which originally celebrated God’s provision through the 40 years of wilderness wanderings and eventually commemorated the magnificent harvests of the Promised Land. Perhaps Peter intended those dwellings as symbolic of the one Moses came down Mount Sinai the second time with instructions for. He had been told how to build the Tabernacle or the place for the Dwelling of God. Either way, Peter is missing the point. The glorious change of Jesus they are experiencing is not for the purpose of clinging to that exact spot. It’s for them to heed the warning that the life of discipleship will look like his: giving ourselves away, no matter the cost, in order to be raised again. It’s a new way of life they are to learn. Being transformed bit by bit.

As the story unfolds, fear sets in next. Of Jesus transfiguration, the gospels all record the human response of absolute terror. Fear. We know this stuff, right? . . . Fear so often is a part of any process of change. Transformation is tough. Opening ourselves to being changed is consenting to a process in which one thing is certain:  uncertainty.  Something most of us don’t really like. We never can know what it all will be like as we change. Those disciples never could have guessed they eventually would break away from their Jewish ways as they gathered and grew into a whole new way of being. They couldn’t have imagined traveling to far-away places or staying close to home to tell people they didn’t really know about the gracious love of God, which they experienced in Christ. The healing and helping and outpouring of the Holy Spirit they came to know as they followed after him. We know they were afraid – they scattered in the garden when Jesus was arrested. They hid while he was crucified. They were in shock at the message of his resurrection. . . . Do you know those wonderful words of Eleanor Roosevelt? Cuz it sorta seems like the first disciples needed her pep talk: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do” (Eleanor Roosevelt, pinterest.com/overcoming fear quotes). This week I also came across these words regarding fear: “Fear is an idea-crippling, experience-crushing, success-stalling inhibitor inflicted only by yourself” (Stephanie Melish, Ibid.).

This process of transformation to which the transfigured Jesus calls us reminds me of the practice of courage I once heard about. It was an assignment for some class. To come up with one daily discipline and journal about it for 30 days prior to the start of the class. I guess one woman found her life incredibly settled – probably because she felt afraid of everything. So she created the practice of courage to see what might happen. Every day for her 30 day assignment, she had to shake it up. She had to do one thing she had never done before – especially if it was something she was afraid to do. She reported to the class that some days were little things like taking a new route home from work or eating at a restaurant she’d never been to before. Some days things were a bit tougher, like actually having the conversation with her boss about what had been bothering her for months at work. One thing she did, as a novice violinist who had never played in front of anybody but her teacher and her teacher’s other students, that woman practicing courage entered a talent show and played an introductory solo violin piece in front of 500 people. She reported to the class that her fingers nearly sweated off the strings and it might not have sounded like Yo Yo Ma, but she did it. She looked fear in the face and did something she never dreamed she could accomplish. During the practice of courage, every night she kept the journal required for the class. There she’d tell of what courageous new thing she did, what she noticed as she did it, and any other insights she was gaining from that intentional commitment to doing something new. She told how it was getting a bit easier to do new things and how fear was beginning to be less of a driving force in her life. . . . Upon reading the student’s final paper on the practice, the instructor of the class was so inspired by the process that she decided to give the practice of courage a try too and even encouraged others to do so as a way to grow deeper in discipleship of Christ.

Maybe it’s a practice some of us might want to take up for the season of Lent that’s sneaking up on us. A great way to begin to gain a little more breathing room in the face of any fear. Try one new thing each day – especially something that terrifies us – and pay attention to what happens in us along the way. Bit by bit changing. Transforming into who God intends for us to be. Be it scary. Slow. Unwelcomed even. But what a glorious journey the transfigured Jesus calls his followers to undertake. May we open ourselves a little bit more to the amazing process!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015