Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch
“Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow”, (these long 20 days or so, of Lent this far), “Rejoice! that you may exult!”
We are getting closer to Easter, slowly, but surely. It is officially mid-Lent; Laetare Sunday, also known as Mothering Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, or even Rose Sunday. You can tell from our deviation from the norm in wearing pink vestments instead of the usual purple.
Diane Carlisle wrote a nice article to explain the history of the day which I won’t repeat, but rather commend it to you to read later (after the sermon of course). So for now just rest assured in knowing that this Sunday is a reprieve from Lent. It is the intermission of sorts, a timeout to take a deep breath, collect yourself, and keep going as we enter the second half.
So, as we continue on our Lenten journey over these next few weeks, with our faces now turned towards Jerusalem, we begin to think about Holy Week. I want to spend some time thinking about the spirit and the soul and how they play a role in transformation.
Last week, Doyt’s sermon talked about the distinction between the spirit and the soul and how the cross sets the trajectory for us always towards God always for God’s eternal purposes. To briefly summarize the difference again, the spirit or heart or will is the place from which we make our decisions, and it represents that place where our true character resides. The spirit is the place we would peel back and look into if we wanted to see a person for who they really are. But the soul is different. The soul belongs to God. It is full and complete and belongs to God for eternity. That distinction between the soul and the spirit is so important that I wanted to repeat it.
Now let us return to Jesus and the inevitability of the cross. I use the word “inevitability” because the movement to the cross had inertia. You see, Jesus knew it would happen. Inertia is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity. That was Jesus, moving towards Jerusalem, steadily towards the cross.
Because of his life and because of his truth (which is the inertia of moving towards the cross), because of that Jesus was always on the move. And this is honestly true because if he had stayed in one place can you image what might have happened?
Hypothetically, he would have driven the authorities to kill him sooner and that couldn’t be. Because he knew what was to happen, that he was to die in Jerusalem and on the third day, rise again. He foretells this passion story over and over. Then, when Jesus finally turns his face to Jerusalem, he sets it all in motion.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus doesn’t avoid conflict or arguments; in fact, he sometimes seems to go out of his way to stir up trouble. He torments the powers that be by doing rebellious things like healing on the Sabbath. But there is one thing he very clearly does not do. He never denies someone else his or her choice. He never thwarts the free will of another person. And he always allows them expression of their spirit. In fact, he goes out of his way to avoid any situation in which inhibiting the free will of another person could even happen.
Jesus, you see, had human choice. He had human spirit, because he was human as well as divine, and every choice he made was for God, to honor God. This was precisely what set him on a collision course with humanity. This was part of the inertia, the pulling and tugging that kept him moving right along the path headed straight to his final Passover with his friends, to the Garden of Gesthamane, and ultimately to Calvary.
What is fascinating about Jesus is how he knows us, how he understands us. Jesus knows the heart of humanity. Jesus understands us better than we understand ourselves, and he is obedient to the truth. We even share the human spirit. But then it flipped.
For Jesus, the limits of his humanity ended at his death. The power of humanity over Jesus ended at his death. He finished making decisions as a human being. Humanity had crucified him once and for all. But what was not finished, not by a long shot, was God’s power, because that is everlasting. God’s power never ends. The chance for humanity to inflict harm or control or even to exert their free will upon Jesus was over at the cross. But God’s power is eternal.
So, what do we see when we gaze at the cross?
For the Israelites in the wilderness, looking at that bronze serpent on a pole, it was a reminder of their history: what had happened in Egypt, their escape, and their time in the wilderness. It served as a reminder of their limitations, and it was their savior when the venomous serpents bit them and they needed healing.
What do we see when we gaze at the cross? It’s different, right? What we see when we look at the gold processional cross, or a veiled cross, or a bejeweled cross is different than what we see when the giant wooden cross is dragged in here on Good Friday and placed in a stand for us to venerate. Or, when you go on Pilgrimage and get up early in the morning to actually walk the Stations of the Cross while carrying a real cross around Jerusalem. For us, the cross is a reminder of our own culpability, our own shortcomings, and it’s a big reminder of Jesus and the powerful choices he made to allow inertia to pull him all the way to Jerusalem, all the way to that cross, all the way back home to God.
It’s really no different for us. That’s what we aim to do on our own spiritual journey. We have a soul and it belongs to God while it lives inside our body. Then, we have a spirit that is ours to care for, to tend, to nurture. We can choose to live our life the way Jesus would live our life if he were you or me. And that would mean making every choice for God, to honor God. To love God, with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength.
That is a very tall order and most days, I’m certainly not up to the task because I’m human, and I’m selfish, and while I love God, I also love my life and my interests. Quite frankly I love living in Kate’s kingdom too. So I have a long way to go. I imagine most of us do on this path we call our spiritual journey. But it doesn’t have to seem impossible, or out of reach. It can be simple.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and teacher, said it best when he said this, “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging and believing’ instead of a religion of transformation.”
Transformation is growing your spirit up into your soul. Your soul belongs to God for eternity, but the spirit belongs to us. The choice is ours. It is about the transformation of our spirit as we engage the spiritual journey and choose to form, train, develop, and mature that spirit.
As we step into the second half of Lent and join Jesus in turning our faces towards Jerusalem, let us think about transformation. Think about what you can do to grow your spirit into your soul. How might you engage the spiritual disciplines to grow your spirit? You could set aside time for daily prayer if you haven’t already. Read a book that will grow and stretch you, something by C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, or any number of theologians.
We have only one more Sunday between now and Palm Sunday and then we are plunged into the midst of Holy Week. I invite you to begin planning your Holy Week. Pick up the Guide at the back of the church and sit down with your calendar and very intentionally plan out your Holy Week journey this year. That is an excellent way to grow your spirit and nurture your soul.
How are you going to join Jesus in his inertia towards the cross? How are you going to engage your soul and your spirit, distinct as they are, in the walk from Palm Sunday through Good Friday and on into the resurrection?