Benediction Online

Sunday, April 06, 2008

On Becoming Holy and Being Faithful

We Episcopalians tend to be a little squeamish. You don’t hear us talk much about Jesus’ blood. Of course we do during the Eucharist when we remember Jesus words ‘this is my blood of the New Covenant’, but apart from that, we don’t bring it up much in conversation. I actually can’t remember hearing any of you talking about the blood of Jesus. A brief glance at the hymn book shows that we don’t focus on it there either. Not for us the wonder working glorious blood of the Lamb, not for us being washed in the blood. In fact such bloody imagery is almost enough to make most of us vegetarians.

I mention this because the writer of the first epistle of Peter says that we are ransomed, not by silver or gold but by the blood of Christ. Our squeamishness tends to make us rush past it, but there are some important truths in this imagery which I want to spend a few minutes on this morning.

In the ancient mind, life force was contained in the blood – it makes sense, because of course we can bleed to death very quickly - they understood blood as essentially the same as life. Jesus’ blood is a metaphor for Jesus’ life force. Jesus did of course bleed during the crucifixion but even if he hadn’t we would still be ransomed by his ‘blood’ because his life was given.

A ransom is demanded when someone is kidnapped; or when someone is a slave a ransom might be paid to secure their freedom. So in talking about ransom, the writer is suggesting that we have been rescued from a state in which we had been captured against our will and were not free. Baptism is the sacrament of our freedom; it is the outer symbol of our inner ransoming. So when we dip our fingers into the water in the font, or when we sprinkled each other with water, it is a visible and tactile reminder that we have been ransomed, we have been set free.

But the ransom is not in itself the complete solution. When the money is handed over and our prison door opened, we still have to walk out. Our freedom has been procured but we have to avail ourselves of it, and that is the aim of the spiritual journey. We live with the problem of human nature, our mixture of good and bad parts, and the need for us to be transformed through the renewal of our minds so that we become holy. The few verses before this reading in 1 Peter tell us to become holy even as God is holy.

The theological term for becoming holy is sanctification. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us that sanctifies us, but this isn’t a passive thing. I think it’s very tempting for us to be spiritually passive. We may be outwardly busy, ministering in the workplace, serving in the Abundance Shop, finding ways to raise funds so that we can continue to worship God in this building, but inwardly we’re sitting back waiting for the Holy Spirit to do God’s thing.

The disciples trudging to Emmaus didn’t get it. Even though the resurrected Jesus walked alongside them, even though he explained the scriptures to them, they just didn’t get it. Their minds were too full of their grief and confusion. They were intent on getting to Emmaus. They were too busy with other things to notice what they were missing. I’m sure if someone had asked they would have said they would give anything to be with Jesus again. They were too preoccupied to notice who was talking to them.

It’s not enough for us to get busy with what needs to be done and just hope that God is handling all the spiritual stuff. Yes, God does call us to be active and to do things to make the world a better place, but that action becomes empty unless it is filled with the spiritual juice that comes from being attentive to God.

Jesus knew the two disciples had a lot on their minds and so he explained the scriptures to them. One of the two important places for us to be attentive to the Spirit is through the scriptures. I think if I could just once be transported into a scene from Jesus’ life this is the one I would choose. I would love to hear Jesus himself explain what happened and why. But the words he would choose for his disciples of the twenty first century might be different from the words he chose back then.

And this leads us to some difficult about scripture reading. We think it must be difficult and we don’t know enough about the Bibles or we’re not clever enough or we don’t have time. There are several things that can help. We make “Forward Day by Day” available each quarter which each day gives a page of thoughts stemming from that days Bible reading. Our Sunday morning Bible Study is going to be learning more about the Apostle Paul in the next few months, using material from the biblical scholars Domininc Crossan and Marcus Borg. This will help you to understand much of the New Testament much better. But the most important thing is just to read it and ask the Holy Spirit to interpret for you.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus still didn’t get it. And they probably wouldn’t have done if their manners hadn’t suddenly caught up with them and in keeping with standards of Middle Eastern hospitality, they asked Jesus to stay. This is hugely important. They invited Jesus in. The single thing that takes us from being good natured churchgoers to people who are on the spiritual path being set on fire by the Spirit of God, is to ask Jesus in. This is not a once for all born again experience which you can point back to and say on August 7 1966 I accepted Jesus. Maybe there is a date that’s important to you like that, but being attentive to God, becoming sanctified, means asking God over and over again. Not because God goes away but because our natural tendency is to forget. Our natural tendency is to put our heads down and keep trudging along the road, and not notice God.

But God does try to break through to us. It was at dinner that the disciples finally recognized Jesus when he broke the bread. In that familiar gesture they suddenly realized who they were with, the one who had said, “This is my Body broken for you”. We too recognize Jesus in the eucharist when he is especially present as we, the Body of Christ, gather together and remember and experience in the bread and the wine, God’s touch of love.

Today is my last Sunday with you until August. I am going to be taking the time to complete the academic work that God has given me to do, and I am deeply grateful to you for your support in this. For the next three months I will be here in Los Osos but I will not be worshipping with you and I will not be among you as your teacher and pastor. However if we bump into each other on the street or in the market please don’t feel that you need to shun me – I will be happy to chat. I know that I will miss being here, but I am leaving you in very good hands, both human and divine. Services will be taken by Faye, Donna and Mary Elizabeth with the occasional guest, our administrative needs will be served by a number of people and the vestry will continue to manage our financial, practical and outreach activities.

Several of you have expressed your concern that we might lose momentum while I am gone. This will not happen provided that each of you continue to do your own spiritual work. It is summarized at the end of the reading from Acts and in almost the same words in our Baptismal covenant – continue in the apostle’s teaching, the breaking of bread and the prayers. When we do that, when we continue individually and together to seek God’s face and to serve God in our homes and community then we come out of our prison, we claim the ransom of Jesus’ blood as our own. Then God is glorified and as we lift God up, our church will become irresistibly attractive to those seeking and thirsting after a true relationship with the divine.

So this is my request to you. In my absence, stay faithful to that which God has called you to. Read the Bible – let’s all plan to read John’s gospel during the next few months. One chapter a week is enough. If you need a Bible there are boxes in the back. So read John’s gospel, come to church so that you can worship God here and meet God in the eucharist and in the Body of Christ gathered for worship. And above all, pray.

Pray that you may be made holy. Pray that God will be glorified in our worship and service, and pray that hundreds and thousands of people may come to a life-giving knowledge of God through our ministry here.


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