Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Rev. Marcia M. Lockwood

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The theologian, Walter Brueggemann, in his book The Message of the Psalms, talks about the seasons of our lives, and that as predictable as these seasons are, they are like cycles that each of us go through.  The first season he calls orientation.  That’s the time when everything seems to be going according to plan.  It’s a time of equilibrium, stability, security trust.

Most of us like to live in that space.

But then, something comes along unexpectedly that disrupts it all, someone we love dies, an unexpected illness, an accident, a divorce.  Something that disrupts our lives and moves us out of that safe secure space, into a place Brueggemann calls, dis-orientation, where things are anything but orderly or predictable, or where we want to be for very long.  Our natural inclination, is to get out of dis-orientation as quickly as we can, because it’s uncomfortable there.

But then again, unexpectedly, the loving God in our midst, causes something quite unexpected to happen, that yet again pulls us out of the pit of dis-orientation, into a new orientation and we find that we are changed and have a new identity that transforms us into a different place.

* * *

A perfect example is, Paul.  He begins today with what sounds like his curriculum vitae.  He was circumcised when he was a week old.  He is an Israelite by birth, he’s of the tribe of Benjamin.  A pure blooded Hebrew!  As for keeping the Jewish Law, he is a Pharisee.  All the best credentials a Jew of his day could hope for.  And separate and apart from his birthright, he zealously does everything he feels he is called to do.

Then out of the blue, out of his season of orientation, something happens on the road to Damascus.  He encounters the resurrected and living Christ, and is knocked off his horse, right to the ground.

This is what Brueggemann,calls dis-orientation.  Everything in his life is turned upside down!  But through God’s guidance, through Christ, he gets a new identity, a new orientation, a new purpose, if you will.  But, not only does he get a new identity, he gets new name!  Saul becomes Paul.

We see this in the scripture over and over again.  Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul—Paul, Simon—Peter.  And Peter, becomes the rock upon which Christ will build his church.

* * *

A couple of years ago I attended a conference for retired clergy.  All of us were over 65, a lot of years behind us.  One of things we were asked to do, was to complete something called, A Life Journey Exercise.

At the top of the page was a timeline with increments ranging from age 10 to 75.  Across the timeline we were asked to divide our lives into segments.  Then, we were to describe significant events or issues that occurred in each segment.  Then, we were to identify each segment with a metaphor, or a song, movie, or book title, that best described each segment.  Then, if that wasn’t enough, we were to reflect on why we segmented our lives the way we did.

It was an amazing exercise!

First of all, it took hours of deep reflection to recall every event and issue of my life.  But finally, when I was finished, what emerged was my entire life there on just one piece of paper!  The ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows, the unexpected twists and turns, that changed the course of my life.  There, right before my eyes, I could see the seasons of what Brueggemann calls: orientation, dis-orientation and new orientation, or what I like to call the ‘little deaths and resurrections’ of my life!

* * *

Life is interesting.  Like Paul, some people start out thinking they have all the right credentials.  In their early years they spend a lot of time trying to succeed and live up to them.  And if they do, like Paul, they take great pride boasting about themselves and all their accomplishments in life.

Then, when life begins to knock them around and things happen that shake them up a bit, suddenly life becomes very different.  What matters, I suppose, is how they handle their changed lives!

For Paul, his life changing event, was Christ!  From the day he encountered the living Christ, his life was changed forever!  He became a new person, the whole direction of his life changed.  And, of course, the rest is history!

But there’s one missing piece in our story, and that is, today Paul is writing from prison.  He’s been there a longtime.  He’s had plenty of time to reflect on his whole life.  And he knows his death is near.   From the core of his being he speaks of his faith in Christ.

Everything in his former life that was so important to him, everything that drove him to lead the life he led, he now considers as mere rubbish.  “Whatever gains I had, he says, I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”  Christ is the rock of his salvation, and with certitude, he presses on to face whatever he has to face.

* * *

Every single one of us has experienced unexpected events in our lives.  Some have managed to survive, pick themselves up, and keep going.  Others have perhaps, lost their way.  But the words of Paul today encourage us to keep the faith.  The words of Jesus remind us of where our faith comes from. “Have you never read in scripture, he says, The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  This is the Lord’s doing.  And it is music to our ears!”

The rock on which our church was built.  The rock that centers our lives.  The rock that we cling to when life gets difficult.  The rock, that was rejected, the foundation of our Christian faith, is Jesus Christ our Lord.

This was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing to our eyes!


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