A sermon preached at St. George’s Anglican Church Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, March 11, 2018.
4th Sunday of Lent – Year B
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Perhaps you may have noticed that throughout Lent, we have been healing some of the difficult words of our tradition.
We started with repentance, as being an invitation to freedom instead of a threat of punishment. Then we had humility, which, rather than making us feel small, helps us see ourselves in proportion to God’s hugeness, and find our place in the huge beauty of God’s vision for the world.
Last week’s word would have been easy to miss. We talked about trusting God’s vision that we become a free and faithful people, and relaxing into following the way God asks us to walk. In truth, the word for this is submission – not the kind of submission where we’re broken and abused, but where we trust, and accept and follow as God leads us into new life and new emotional health and new spiritual vitality.
Repentance, humility, submission – all very powerful words, which have been misused and damaged over time so they no longer give us a taste of the beautiful, dynamic, magnificent life God dreams of for us.
The word discipline also needs healing. Like repentance, humility and submission, “discipline” is an invitation to an ever-more-beautiful life of faith.
I had a young friend in Vancouver; Raymond. Well Raymond sunk into a deep depression after a car accident; a depression that stretched on and on. But at last, one phone call, I could hear that something had changed. He was feeling much better, in fact had been feeling increasingly good over the past several months, and was now more centered in himself and feeing better about himself than he had ever felt.
And what was the drug that produced this miracle? No drug: someone had prescribed at least one smile at someone every day, at least one “thank you” to a stranger every day, and to say hello to at least one person every day. That was all. And double that on days he felt miserable. And to forgive himself if he missed a day, but he had to try to keep on, each day.
A discipline of three small conscious positive choices, every day.
It was a discipline that changed Raymond’s life. Every day, he exercised this discipline: his smile, his thank you, his hello. Every day, little by little, he took his life into his own hands, and chose how to live it, in small ways, starting by what he could do. It crept into his way of living his ordinary life, and quietly transformed it from the inside out.
Another example: When I first went to seminary, I’d only been a church-going Anglican for a few short months. I still had that joyful kind of mania that affects recent converts. But at seminary they told us straight out: there will be days you won’t want to pray; there will be days you don’t want to go to Church – but just keep on. Do it whether you want to or not, and it will see you through. They then apprenticed me to a church with 3 services every Sunday morning, and expected me to show up at 7:30 am, vest and serve at all three, every week.
Boy, there were days I didn’t want to be there! There were days I desperately wanted to be in bed! But there was a discipline to it. And that discipline has seen me through some tough times in my life, I can tell you. Times when I don’t want to go to church at all, but I keep on, and God catches me and carries me through. Times when I don’t want to pray, or don’t know how to pray, but the discipline gets me to show up, and God does the rest.
In our Wednesday night Lenten Study on the Book of Esther, we’re learning about character – but we’re also learning about discipline too. We’re learning about making good, wise, godly choices, and then persevering in those decisions regardless of how hard it is to hold the course.
Vashti decides she will not be humiliated by her king in front of his drunken party; and regardless of the pressure against her to relent, she perseveres.
When Esther is taken into the palace, to compete in the style of The Bachelor for the position of Queen against hundreds of catty, competitive, scheming teenagers, she perseveres in her kindness, thoughtfulness and compassion against all odds.
When Mordecai overhears a plot to kill the king, he acts to bring it to the king’s attention, despite the huge risk that the king might disbelieve him and punish him instead.
All of these instances show discipline: the determined continuation of a positive behaviour, despite pressures we face or excuses to slack off.
Down through the ages, discipline has been a characteristic of the Christian life. Without discipline, we’d have no saints; we’d have no martyrs; believe me, we’d have no clergy. We’d have no churches – in fact we’d have no church at all, because the first Christians had to persevere against incredible pressures to give up what they believed in, and become meek and obedient Roman subjects. But in Christ they had found something worth dedicating themselves to, habits and practices that made them different that opened their eyes and their hearts to a whole new, beautiful, liberating way to live, and they weren’t going to give it up easily.
Here too, God is opening our eyes and our hearts to a new way of being; and it’s going to take some discipline for us to follow the path God invites us to walk. God is inviting us into new kinds of healthy relationships with one another; where we’re reconciled to one another; where we learn how to trust one another; where we heal from years of unhealthy power dynamics, and we learn to turn to one another and listen and learn from one another.
This is the vision God is opening to us here at St. George’s: to become a new people together; to experience the new life in Christ, together. And probably most of us have a big, beautiful “yes!” in our hearts! – and that yes, over time, will take discipline. For it will not always be easy to live that yes.
There will be days when that yes is hard; when it’s easy for bitterness, or memories of old hurts to rise up like bile in the throat; when trust is a hard thing to practice; days when we don’t even notice the old habits creeping back. There will be days when you’ll be tempted to gossip about one another – and it’ll be hard to resist. There will be days when you’ll be worried someone is trying to sideline you like they did that one time – and it’ll be so hard to give them the benefit of the doubt. We will all fall down, at one time or another.
But we are called to the discipline of the new life we’re offered here in Christ. The discipline of getting up, brushing ourselves off, learning what we can, apologizing when we need to, and persevering in being healed and reconciled, and made new.
God is opening the door to us to experience this new life, and nothing would make God happier than if we said yes – not just once, but again and again and again. Step by step; determined choice by determined choice; step by step, walking into God’s whole, new beautiful liberating way to live: a free and faithful people; brothers and sisters through Christ our Lord.
Friends, this is a vision worth striving for. May we do everything in our power to see it come to pass in our midst.