20 February 2013

Lent I Sermon: On Being Full of It

Sermon from Sunday.  

If you prefer the spoken version, here you go.  

Almost Persuaded: On Being Full of It
text: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1)
Lent I – 17.February.2013
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

here is an ancient Celtic tradition called smooring the fire wehereby a a woman, before she retired for the night, would arrange all of the coals of the fire into a circle, divide them into three parts for the Trinity, then go to bed.  In the morning she would add peat to the fire to create a new blaze and more hot coals.  And then one morning, on the morning of her daughter’s wedding she would put some of the new morning hot coals into a metal container and take them to her daughter as her wedding present. 

            One author states that, “The fire has been in the family for many generations.  Generation after generation of women has smoored the fire, each mother passing it on to a her daughter on her wedding day.  In a damp climate where tending the fire is constant work, these are precious family heirlooms.”  As we embark on our Lenten journey together I ask that use this time to set ablaze the smooring fires of our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. 

            In a few short weeks Easter morn will be here, let us prepare to open the doors to heaven by reigniting the fires of our souls.  I take as my text today the first verse of the fourth chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit.  

            Let us pray. 
Living God,
as we pause
for sustenance and succor
for strength and solace
for comfort and challenge
for care and courage
be with us as we seek to fill the brokenness of our hearts with Thy light and love.  Amen.

he Apostle Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth warned the early church not to think to highly of their message of Christ crucified for many will see it as foolishness, a stumbling block from the Greek skandalon. In my translation Paul was telling the first century church, look, when you start teaching and living a crucified life people will not think you are wise, insightful, enlightened, or knowing, in fact they’ll think just the opposite of you, they’ll think you are full of it. 

            And when you’re full of it, amazing things happen.

            After Jesus said YES to the way of God in this world in and was baptized by John the heavens were torn apart and the voice of God flooded Jesus’ soul with the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Immediately after that Jesus was escorted by the Spirit of God to the wilderness for a time of trial and temptation.  I think God wanted to make sure and I think Jesus wanted to make sure.  There world could not handle another halfway Messiah, another separation from the world Messiah, or another deliverance via the sword Messiah.  If Jesus was the Christ then both and he and God needed absolute certainty. 

            And when you’re full of the spirit that kind of dangerous certainty emerges, for you just might change the world.

Before moving on I do want to address the Devil in this story.  You may be tempted (popular word today) to write off the Devil as some kind of Neanderthalic primitive bad guy.  But not so fast, no I’m not asking you to believe in a dude in a red suit with a forked tail, horns, a van dyke on his chin and a trident in his hand.  But I am asking that we realize that the Bible did a clever thing by personalizing evil as a device to introduce the presence of evil in the story; the devil, in the bible, is a rhetorical tool, a great symbol, don’t write him off. 

 don’t know about your past spiritual experiences to know how you relate to this story.  Perhaps you see the Devil’s time of concentrated temptations as the opportune time to strike.  Some would see them as Jesus at his weakest point.  But from my own experiences and the experiences others have shared with me in the past when the Devil ‘struck’ he did it at the time when Jesus was his finest. Jesus was on fire.
God with me,
God within me,          
God behind me,
God before me,
God beside me,
God to win me,
God to comfort and restore me. 
God beneath me, God above me,
God in quiet, God in danger, 

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner commented on the wilderness in the Jewish experience as, it “is not just a desert which we wandered for forty years.
            It is a way of being…
            In the wilderness your possessions cannot surround you.
            Your preconceptions cannot protect you.
            Your logic cannot promise you the future.
            Your guilt can no longer place you safely in the past.
            You are left alone each day with an immediacy that
                                                                                                & Exults.
            You see the world as it is for the first time.

The teasing temptations did not blur Jesus’ vision but rather honed them to a clarity that only emerges from this kind of experience. 

For forty mythical days and forty mythical nights the devil tempted Jesus like a wolf circling him, attacking every now and then, weakening before he went for the kill.  Beaten and bruised, just like those on the ark who for forty days and forty nights were battered at sea, just like the Israelites who wandered the desert for forty years, just like a babe in the womb gestating for 40 weeks.  What kind of new creation would emerge from this experience?  How would Jesus see the world as it is for the first time?

What does it look like when you are full of it?

When the Devil thought he had Jesus on the ropes, weakened, and worn down he went in to throw off the Messiah veil with three core temptations:
                        To turn stone into bread
                                    To rule the kingdoms of the world
                                    To throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple

            These temptations are our temptations.  Now I’m gonna lean on the late William Sloane Coffin for a little help here.  They are temptations to trade in the best for something good.  Jesus could have been a wonder worker simply rearranging matter, a heavenly alchemist providing bread for the people and that would have been good but it wouldn’t have been the best.  Jesus could have ruled the world a loving despotic sovereign like Thomas Hobbes’ portrait of the ruler on the cover of Leviathan and that would have been good but not the best.  Jesus could have hurled himself off the Temple to show God’s providence and care for him and that would have been good but not the best. 

            To be the Beloved
            To be the Love Supreme
            God needed someone who had a singular vision of reconciliation, a vision that could not be thwarted by a pragmatic alternative.  God needed someone full of it.

If you are the Beloved of God then command this stone to turn into bread.  It is written, One does not live by bread alone.

If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’
Worship the Lord your God and serve only God.  

‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,
Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

            When you’re full of it that is the kind of stuff that emerges from your soul, foolish mutterings - because your gripped by
a Love that will not let you go,
a love that will not let you settle for something good when the best is still out there. 

            Deep within us we all have the desire for this best,
            Deep within us all is a fire smooring that is waiting to burst into flame
            Deep within us is the Spirit of God waiting to be filled in excess

            And Lent is the time our ancestors set aside for us to ignite.
            It is the season to see world as it is for the first time.
            It is the season to get and be full of it.

n Palm Sunday I will have the honor and pleasure of baptizing two youth, one being my daughter.  This week they will begin their baptism class.  It is my hope and prayer that through the love and experiences of this community they will become full of it.  I hope their baptism will be the ignition of a life full of the Spirit of God and I hope that the witness and ongoing responsibility to make sure they are full of it will reignite our own call to be full of it.

            It is my hope and prayer that we together will be a foolish community doing foolish things in the name of a God who wills
and a just world. 
            We are going to need to be involved in foolish activities and hear over and again stories of people full of it doing those foolish activities.  I close with this one:


ifty two years ago members of the embryonic Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee boarded buses in Washington DC and headed through the American South to protest the segregation at public facilities with Whites Only signs.  They were known as Freedom Riders. 

            During one of the journeys the bus stopped at Rock Hill, SC (just south of North Carolina border, now part of the metro Charlotte area).  As a 21 year old Baptist seminary student, John Lewis, exited the bus he attempted to enter the Whites Only section of the bus stop.  By the door was Elwin Wilson, a young local white man.  Wilson grabbed Lewis and started beating him till he laid on the ground and blood oozed from his body; he stopped only because someone called the police. 

            Years after the incident Elwin Wilson realized that the young man that he as a young man beat that day was a member of Congress, Democratic Rep.  John Lewis.  A few years ago Wilson, in his faith narrative states that he found the Lord and realized it was his work, for the remainder of his life, to just to help get one person not to hate.  He began his work by traveling to DC, going to Lewis’ office and apologizing.  When he and Lewis met, Lewis recounted the story this way, I said, “I forgive you.  I don’t have any ill feelings, any bitterness, any malice.  He gave me a hug.  I hugged him back.  He cried a little, and I cried.”  

            Lewis continued describing the event as, “a moment of grace, a moment of forgiveness and a moment of reconciliation, and that’s what the movement, that’s what the struggle was all about.” 

            Because when you’re full of it you say foolish things and are involved in the foolish work.

            Brothers and sisters let us, like Jesus,
set our hearts ablaze,
have our souls filled with God’s Spirit,
and let us get busy being full of it. 
Amen & Amen. 

No comments: