The Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner preached this sermon at St. Mary’s, Hillsboro, on Sunday, October 7, 2018.
Watch the sermon below or on YouTube.
Read the sermon below.
Where is your heart hard?
The Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner
Sunday, October 7, 2018
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church – Hillsboro, Texas
Pentecost XX Proper 22 – Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
I speak to you in the name of the Living God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Scripture passages for today are entirely fitting for this contentious time in our country. Psalm 26 is the plea that I hear on many lips:
God, we are striving to be righteous and do the right thing, we are trying to rise above, to keep ourselves from getting bogged down in these partisan fights steeped in long-time grievances and fears, but WE NEED HELP!
How long? How long, O Lord? How long, O Lord, will the wicked triumph? How long will this mess continue?
The author of the book of Hebrews reminds us not only that God has always been with us, but also that God is active on our behalf, to the utmost extent. So much so that God does not allow us to get what we deserve in our sinfulness, but has sent Jesus to make us, and all things, new.
The problem is that we have to want to be made new. We talk about God being a God of power and might, but the way in which God is powerful is completely opposite of the way that fallen, sinful human beings usually go about being powerful. In the kingdom of this world, we go about being powerful by force, by verbally compelling, by physically or emotionally coercing, by threat of violence or even violence itself.
The way in which God is powerful is perfectly captured in a prayer that we offer for the church:
“Oh God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God exercises God’s power in love and goodness, in mercy and mystery, in turning the things of this world on their head to bring them back around to the perfection they were given in their being at the time of their creation.
Do you remember when we say that prayer? We say it during times of change, we say it at ordinations, we say it celebrations of new ministry, we say it at parish annual meetings, we say it in the thin places where we come together and dare to ask God to make things new.
Today’s Gospel lesson brings a word about how God’s newness comes. We find this story in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Mark. At the time these events happen, Jesus has been teaching his disciples, healing, casting out demons and telling parables for almost three years. Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. Some Pharisees come to test Jesus, and they do so in their typical way. Control the narrative, defend their own power and position. They ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” A man. Some man. The question is about the law, not about the people involved. Jesus responds, “What did Moses command you?” Jesus does not ask them what they know about the law, Jesus asks them about the call Moses’ command puts on their lives. He makes it personal.
The Pharisees completely miss Jesus’ point. They return to talking about what the law of Moses allows “the man” to do. Again, Jesus turns it right back on them, pointing out that God’s design for relationships was perfect, powerful, beautiful. The laws that the Pharisees are so concerned about just try to contain the messes created, Jesus says to them, “because of YOUR hardness of heart.”
My friends, here’s what we so often forget: God can only make us new if and when we turn things over to God, when we come to the point where we recognize that we don’t have all the answers, that we can’t make it on our own, that God knows better than we do. Lately, we have watched many in our country try to “improve things” by doing exactly the opposite of this: by grabbing what they can get, by fearing and hating others, by defending their territory, by controlling the narrative, by using their might to determine what’s right.
The question for us today, though, is not about them. The question for us today is – where is your heart – where is my heart – hard? In the midst of the political fray these days, in the midst of family strife, in the midst of other injustices you may be facing, what has hardened your heart? What has made you feel justified in grabbing what you can get, fearing others, defending your territory, controlling the narrative, using whatever might you have to leverage a win for your side?
How would things be different if you responded not from a heart-hardened position, but from the position of standing on level ground, as we heard the Psalmist say, from the position of knowing that God is present and active and is bringing all things to their perfection in Christ?
I don’t know about you, but looking at things from this perspective makes me aware of how much time I’ve spent lately being angry and discouraged and disgusted. Looking at things from this perspective makes me want to stop cursing the darkness and start heralding the light. I know that I still need to be active in seeking justice, but looking at things from this perspective makes me want to go about activism in a less self-righteous and vengeful way. I mean, even if someone has done terrible things, even if a group of people have done terrible things, if we believe that the God of unchangeable power and eternal light is even now in the process of putting things right, we can treat others with respect, and even kindness, as we lend our hearts and hands and voices to join God in God’s work of raising up and making new.
There’s something else we can do to keep our hearts soft and nimble, ready for the work of newness: we can invest energy in getting back to basics in our spiritual lives. In the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Screwtape tells his little devil trainee, Wormwood, that Wormwood doesn’t have to get the human he’s supposed to be harassing to be bad, he just needs to distract the human from being good, to keep the human distracted. Well, I think our Lewisian devils are working overtime these days; US politics alone are providing more than enough distractions to keep us spinning endlessly. What stops the spin and grounds us is participation in faithful devotion, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year.
By surveying over 12,000 Episcopalians, priest and researcher Jay Sidebotham has confirmed that the key catalysts for spiritual growth in the lives of Episcopalians are: Scripture, the Eucharist, prayer and the example and guidance of faithful leadership. Your faithfulness in these areas is the very ground of being, the source of your connection with the loving, liberating, life-giving God.
We hear so often that God’s time is not our time. I don’t buy it. I think that God would be delighted for justice to roll down like mighty waters right now. Are we willing to align our goals with God’s goals? Are we willing to align our methods with God’s methods, as God carries out in tranquility the plan of salvation for all?
Today, this week, this month, this year, may we see God’s kingdom come on earth. And may it begin with us.