Sermon for May 7, 2023        Fifth of Easter                         “Covered Ears”

In the story from Acts about the stoning of Stephen, we hear that Stephen sees heaven open before him and Jesus standing there, a beautiful image and one that begs further understanding. But the people gathered covered their ears so as not to hear, so intent they were to stone Stephen. For too long people have covered ears to astounding truth and beautiful understanding because it did not fit their particular view of God, Jesus or the world.

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes writes and Anneke Oppewal comments on: “Transitions can only take place if we are willing to let go of what we have known, the world’s we have created, and our assumptions about “how things are.” To let go is the precursor to being reborn. We discard the baggage of societal expectations and, like a morning glory, open to the possibilities of each new day, each new moment, even if those possibilities are shadowy and disorientating. 

Unfortunately, in the West, we don’t let go of anything. We hold onto reputation and material goods long after they are no longer needed. We store acquired stuff in every nook and household cranny before renting a storage unit so that we can continue to hold onto our stuff. Dazed, we clutch at relationships long after they are on life support and cling to a past that no longer exists, grasping, desperate, and confused. 

We say that we are letting go, but, in our society, letting go is more like a tug of war. We diligently guard our stories (true or not), our lifestyles, and our belief systems until they are ripped from our sweaty palms. And yet, letting go is a necessary part of transformation…. 

Letting go may be the only path toward rebirth.” And to let go means we also have to uncover our ears and our hearts and let God. And to that God says: “let not your hearts be troubled….” 

I don’t know where you tend to ‘feel’ trouble, and if it has ever been bad enough for you to feel that you heart is aching in your chest with whatever it is that has happened. It is that kind of suffering, that kind of trauma Jesus is talking about here. Not just a little bit of discomfort but true, heartbreaking, gut wrenching trauma. 

Jesus speaks these words in what is called the ‘final discourse’ in the gospel of John where he is preparing his disciples, at the last supper, for his death. I am going he says. I am going, there is no doubt about that, but that won’t be the end of it. I will be back, I won’t leave you orphaned, there will be a new and different phase following the one of absolute and gut wrenching loss. 

In Jesus’ journey with his disciples there is going to be a time where loss and grief will be heartbreaking and challenging. He comforts them by offering them hope and the assurance that where they will be going after he has gone will be a place where Jesus and God will be catering to them and providing for them. 

I found a quote this week from Maria Popova that really reflected the place where I imagine they were at, only days away from the crucifixion and Jesus talking in no uncertain terms about his coming death and departure: 

“On the precipice of any great change, we can see with terrifying clarity the familiar firm footing we stand to lose, but we fill the abyss of the unfamiliar before us with dread at the potential loss rather than jubilation over the potential gain of gladnesses and gratifications we fail to envision because we haven’t yet experienced them.”

I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me, in the middle of overwhelming grief and anxiety to trust and not let myself be troubled, it will take me a while to take that on board and get myself out of panic and glass completely empty mode into something more positive and hopeful. Especially if the something hopeful involves believing, trusting, that something will happen that doesn’t fit in with what I think is possible. 

Don’t be troubled. Trust. 

Rather than inviting us to wait until we die to be passively taken to a place where we’ll all get a good rest, it is an invitation to enter into a journey of trust, traveling from place to place where God and Christ are present, deeper and deeper into relationship and intimacy with them until we come into a unity that is beyond words and time.

Christianity, over its two thousand years in existence, has seen many such movements of renewal and energy. As well as times of decline that needed re-orientation. 

We’ve moved, as a people, through many stations and stages, found many places, as a community and as individual people, to dwell, to be with God and grow deeper into our relationship with Christ. As living stones, we have been part of many incarnations of that building of faith where trust and intimate knowledge and relationship with God shape life. Circling deeper and deeper into the way, the truth and the life of God in Jesus.

 We don’t know what lies ahead. And it can be pretty terrifying to have to be in that ambiguous place where all we are asked to do is let go of our troubled hearts and trust. Unlike the leaders of Stephen’s day may we have the faith and trust to keep our ears and hearts open to the love and nudges of God. It is after all a journey.