On Servants' Wings
A gynandromorph butterfly with the transgender pride flag for the front wing and the rainbow pride flag on the rear wing On Servants Wings
Resources and Reflections by Ari Leigh


Perfect in Love


Sermon for Grace & St. Peter's Hamden, CT on Feb. 23, 2014

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Text:

Text: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:8-20, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21


"Because I live, you also will live"


Hailing from the farmland of KS I grew up with agricultural sayings like

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink"


I haven't spent a lot of time with horses,

but I have seen that same stubbornness within people.


Sometimes our minds latch onto an idea, a question or a season

and refuse to let go

Easter may have started six weeks ago,

but some of us may still be lingering in the introspection of Lent

Others here may be fully embracing the joy of Eastertide

Ready and willing to carry the energy forward to Pentecost and beyond


One gift of the liturgical calendar is that it mirrors the cycles of life

Joy and grief, sorrow and celebration

And it also serves as a tangible marker when the patterns we live by feel out of sync

Our lectionary,

The resource which tells us which readings to use each Sunday

Is designed to align with the seasons.

Readings which build anticipation in Advent,

Ones that reveal Christ as God within Epiphany

Penitential texts for Lent

And of course the resurrection stories for Eastertide


Yet within these texts there is considerable room for the personal season of the seeker

These same readings will speak to us differently

Depending on what we bring of ourselves to them.


This is a great gift

And for this reason I want to welcome all of you.

In whatever personal season you currently abide,

If you are here fully embracing Eastertide joy…Welcome

If you are still lingering on the introspection of Lent…Welcome

If you are already eager for the expectation of Advent…Welcome

And if your focus this morning is on the afternoons Memorial Day Barbeque, You too are welcome.

I've started with a discussion on the seasons because ideas don't emerge from a vacuum

This year Easter has found me lingering over Lent,


The first word in today's lessons that jumped out at me was "REPENT"

When I first encountered that in the readings I wanted to run away.

That word has so much baggage,

So much pain

What could possibly be said on repentance that fit with the happy feelings of Easter?


For as much as I wanted to run, the word stuck with me.

Over time I've learned that when I can't get rid of an idea

Especially one I have reason to distrust

It's likely a sign from the Spirit that it is time to face it

I realized that there must be something to be said from that word

Despite my growing discomfort

And a church which likes to leave repentance in its purple Lenten box.


Repent is certainly a loaded word, at least in my life.

I grew up in a culture where repentance

has been made synonymous with patterns of fear,

fear of Hell

fear of not belonging

fear of exile.

From the streetcorner evangelists shouting "Repent or Die"

to the billboards surrounding my hometown which declare that

"sin is a cancer to all people"


If you only repent, you don't need to be afraid the message declares.

The unspoken ending, implicit in that message

is that if you don't repent you should live in fear.


In my mind repentance and fear intertwined into a nightmare of terror.


Part of why I wanted to forget that word

is that it seemed an impossible task to reconcile such fear

with the joyful hope of resurrection.


Indeed, such use of the word Repent has more parallels with modern advertising than with the Gospel.

Today we are inundated with messages which lead us to be afraid

Adds for beauty products which tell us that we're nothing

unless we're a size 0 model with perfect skin

Adds for cars which sell status as much as transportation

Adds for useless kitchen stuff which imply that we'll starve without the latest gadget.

Be very afraid, our media tells us

If you can't afford one simple thing

You'll be cast out, judged and known as worth less


If I look critically at the demands for repentance I grew up with I can see the same premise.

"Are you lost, depressed or isolated?

Is life without meaning?

Have we got a solution for you!

Repent now and we'll send you a personal boxed Jesus

ready to meet all your salvation needs.

Just wait, there's more.

We'll also include a guardian angel

in the form of this adorable winged toddler.

And there's still more if you call in the next five minutes

we'll double your order of salvation.

That's right, two personal Jesus'

and two guardian angels for the price of one. Order NOW!


That certainly isn't the Good News I'd show up to hear,

and likely isn't what you're seeking either.

In fact I think this is part of what Peter was addressing when he said

"Do not fear what they fear"

The fears I associated with repentance growing up

are the same fears our media uses

to get us to spend more than we have

on junk we don't need.


It is a part of our obligation as Christians to acknowledge

that some of our language,

Some of the gifts we've been given have been corrupted.


So where does this leave us?

I think Christian Comedian Mike Warnke hit the nail on the head when he said

"We're not in the business of scaring the hell out of people

We're in the business of loving the hell out of people"


If we are to "love the hell out of people",

To reach those lost in a prison of hatred, fear, addition and loathing and wrap them in the saving love of Christ

We need to tease out the word repent

from the knot of fear which surrounds it,


In returning to the root word

I learned the term "repent" stems from Hebrew

and combines two verbs,

to return and to feel sorrow.


First, to Return,

Not just a turning away from a current path

But rather a RE-turning back to something that was


Not a fear based turning away from what might be ahead,

But a RE-turning to that which was good and left behind.


A Buddhist monastery once received a huge clay statue Buddha

The statue was displayed, but otherwise ignored.

One day the monastery suffered an earthquake,

which caused the clay to crack and fall apart.

What they discovered astonished the monks.

For beneath the layers of clay the statue was actually solid gold.


Like the Athenians with their altar to an unknown God

and the monks with their statue of clay

We underestimate God,

Masking our inherent value with layers of fear,

Just as the Athenians and the monks

treated precious things as common and cheap

We often treat ourselves,

a priceless treasure,

as worthless trash.


The Unknown God, has been made known to us

And a part of the mystery is that of our own intrinsic value.


Because of our value, we have been called to repent.

As it says in Acts, a day has been set where God will

"judge the world in righteousness

by a man whom he has appointed"


But what does that judgment look like?

Is it the judgment of fear and punishment we hear of so often?

Or something else, that we have yet to experience?


In court cases you can often predict the outcome of judgment

by looking at the judge.


The judge assigned to our case, Paul names as the one

identified by God's raising him from the dead

That is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.


So what do we know of this judge?

We know that he is human, as we are

We know that he is God, never once straying from the fullness of himself in relation to God

And we know that our judge has promised us life


As he says in John "because I live, you will also live"

Our coming judge has lived as one of us

He wept and laughed among us

He is fully aware of the complexities of our lives

And through it all both loves us and

IS the Love that sustains us.


Our coming judgment isn't the fear of the world

But the love of Christ.


Which is in some respects more terrifying.


It is terrifying because it is unpredictable and uncontrollable.


This Judge will not be confined to a box,

sold for $19.95 plus shipping and handling

They will not limit their appearance to our expectations

She will call us to speak before princes and councils

Demanding justice for the abandoned and forgotten

He will draw us into a love so deep that we will no longer see ourselves

Overpowering our fear with a love so strong we would gladly walk to Hell and back again just to tell our neighbor of their great worth.


We have only one way of learning about this impending hope


And that is to follow the call to return to the fullness of who we were made to be

To repent, not from fear,

but in answer to the persistent call of love from Jesus

To turn back from the security of the known

And to plunge headlong into the oceans depth of Love

To die, fully and completely

So that we can emerge from baptism resurrected in Christ


This repentance, this return, this remembering is a journey.

And like all journeys it begins with a single step.

When making a decision to change your entire life,

It is necessary to move by steps,


For example when making the decision to eat healthier

it doesn't make sense to throw out everything in the kitchen


Rather you make a small change,

like buying wheat instead of white bread


Then after adjusting you make another one

And another, and another.


When you do these cumulative little changes you will find yourself reaching a point where things are different,

even if you can't pin-point the exact moment of change.


This steady growth isn't easy,

And in fact "steady" is probably the wrong word.


Some days it may seem like we take two steps forward, then one step back.

On others it may feel our progress is measured by a capricious fate, rolling a die to set our path

When the time comes that those we've called friends for years

say something we no longer can agree with.

And they assume that something is "wrong" with us when we fail to laugh at their hurtful assumptions.


How are we to respond?

With "gentleness and reverence"

To those who accuse us of not playing by their rules

And to ourselves when we fall.


When we are mocked, insulted and challenged

We respond by retreating into the warm embrace

Of the God who has named us his children

Whose gentle spirit will whisper the eternal words of comfort

"I made you worthy, and I love you beyond all measure"


When we are tired, worn out, and exhausted.

When our hope feels like the follies of youth.

We reverently bring our burdens to the altar

In a sacred, holy moment, timeless and immediate

We lay our weight at the foot of the one who has promised

"My yoke is easy, and my burden is light"


This reverent gentleness is only possible through the Holy Spirit

The Spirit of Truth which has been sent into the world,

Nurturing, guiding, and sustaining.


When we wish to mail something valuable

Or even the junk we order in a moment of temporary desire

We pack them carefully with layers of bubble wrap and tape.


How much more so has God taken the care

to wrap our fragile, treasured selves

in layers of protection for this journey


For the return journey of repentance is long,

On it we will leave behind all the things of this world.

All the gadgets which promise safety,

all the things which provide the illusion of comfort.


Yet it is through returning to the fullness of who we were made to be

Answering Christ's call to walk back to place from which we come

That we come to experience the restoration of resurrected life.


Repentance,

Such a Lenten word.

For now I'm content to let it ring in my mind in my heart

Because the word repentance is the symbol of the journey

which leads to the promised resurrection.


On that journey we are not alone,

For we walk with the Judge who is coming

Not to bring fear, but with the fullness of Love.


And that my friends is the Easter message.

Because of Christ's Passion death and resurrection

The road back home has been opened to us.


The gift of Easter is that we can repent, return

and remember who are made to be.

Thanks be to God. Allelulia! Alleluia!



Copyright © Ari Leigh 2019