Feasting on Last Week's Word...
Sermon: “The Free Way”
Sacred Texts: Isaiah 43: 16-19; Phil 3: 13-14
Rev. Melissa Engel
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Here we are in
week 5 of our Lenten journey. We have wandered through the wilderness, blessed the travelers, wished each other “buen camino,”
dreamed and imagined the possibilities God has for us, experienced God's all-encompassing love and grace that welcomes us and all
to the table and back home into God's loving arms. We have followed Tom on his journey on the Camino to Santiago—getting the guts
to start the journey, being courageous and humble to turn around and go on a journey into understanding of self and other, being
surprisingly welcomed to a table.
Last week, Laura
preached on the story of the prodigal son and the amazing welcome back home from his father and of the other son. In Tom's journey
in “The Way,” a gypsy boy runs off with Tom's pack when he is in a pub and the great chase begins. Tom and his fellow pilgrims take
off and try to run him down and the boy disappears. Disenchanted by this experience, Tom is determined to go home to America as
soon as possible. He has lost the ashes of his son, the only thing that matters to him, and he is done. But just then, the father
of the boy who stole Tom's pack appears in the bar and apologizes, handing Tom's pack back. There is apology and forgiveness. The
man invites Tom and his fellow pilgrims to a party with his family and friends—they move forward together in the spirit of
celebration. The next day, the father has his son carry Tom's pack to the edge of town where Tom and his fellow pilgrims continue
on their journey. The boy understands what he has done by carrying the burden; yet he too gets to let it go, lay it down and move
forward. This scene illustrates the grace-filled welcome and acceptance of each other despite the hardships when we make it right
with each other and reconcile so we can move forward.
I share about this
scene from the movie because there is no future without letting go. Without forgiveness. Today's scriptures are all about moving
forward. Keeping on the journey despite the hardships. Making it right with each other and God. And deeming those moments as
In Paul's letter
to the Philippians that we heard today, he talks about moving forward. A little earlier in the chapter, Paul mentions who he was
and who he is now: he was a Jew, a Pharisee to be exact, who persecuted followers of Christ until he met Christ himself and changed
from Saul to Paul that very day. He says that he had a lot going for him, he was considered very righteous, yet when he met Christ,
he realized that all those things that made him righteous got in the way and didn't matter. They got in the way of his longing to
be like Christ.
He is writing this
letter from his prison cell, mind you, so when he speaks of moving forward, he is speaking metaphorically of our spiral-like
journey to become one with Christ in this life. This imagery of a race comes from Paul's time: the chariot races at the first and
greatest circus of all: the Circus Maximus in Rome. The charioteers HAD to be intent on the race. There is no way they could look
back since one false move threatens their losing the race and possibly even their loss of life!
From his prison
cell, Paul is able to encourage the church in Philippi to keep on keeping on their life journey. Think about this—this is really
remarkable: Paul is writing from his prison cell and giving hope and encouragement to his brothers and sisters in Christ in
Philippi. I can guarantee you that Paul had an easier life before Christ.
Actually, I was at
a leadership event in Idaho a few days ago where I got to meet with other pastors and leadership members of churches. One of the
speakers we got to listen to was Shane Claiborne who is known for living the way of Jesus. Really embodying the ways of peace and
community. One of the things that Shane says is, “Jesus wrecked my life.” Meeting Jesus wrecked his life. Put a wrench in the way
he was living, his priorities, who he was and he changed everything.
This was Paul's
experience. Wrecked. Completely wrecked by Jesus, sitting in a prison cell for his journey to become like Christ, for the sake of
Christ. Yet Christ is his strength, helping him to persevere. No looking back, no being nostalgic of the easiness of life before,
the power he had before. And he is passing on this wisdom to the church, and now to us, to not dwell on the past.
doesn't mean that the past should not be reflected on. The past, in fact, can transform our understanding of the present and the
future all because God is.
Do you have those
moments in your past where you can look back and see when God stepped in and wrecked you? Wrecked your old way? Whether it was one
moment or the tapestry of our lives as a whole, we can at least find some way to see and talk about moments of death of self, death
of our old ways and moments of transition and wilderness, and moments of new life, of a new way. These moments, these strung
together woven moments in the tapestry of our lives, they are held and strung, they are woven by our God.
Our God who has
been there; and if you don't see it, I invite you to think about who is God for you? What is your image of God? God calls us back
to creation and deliverance through the prophet, Isaiah today. God's presence over the seas—over chaos. God parting the Red Sea and
delivering the people of Israel from oppression. A God of steadfast love. Our God who is the Source and Giver of Life. Our God who
sustains us and redeems us—welcoming and loving us throughout our whole journey, the things that we have been through, the times we
have been turned around and don't see God.
We must look at
our journey as a whole: to see God, to see where God has been in our past, to see how we have gotten through those hard times and
moved past them, forward—since that is the only way, whether we go straight on the path or not.
I gotta say, of
course there are detours on our paths. And those detours end up being the path itself: we learn more about God. About ourselves.
About how to be in relationship. Being with the Board of Ordained Ministry for my interview this past week in my ordination process
reminded me of how I describe my calling. Everyone else talked about their moment when they knew that they were called into
ministry and I always described it as a path. A winding path with detours. With doors that slammed shut and windows that opened
I used to be
nervous and ashamed that my life story sounds different than the stories of others, but it is my path. And a path, a process, is
how I describe life and the faith journey into the Love of God. The process of discovering and living into God's grace that bears
so much fruit in our relationships. The way you describe your calling in life, in God, is nothing to be ashamed of.
Whatever your path
has been, I want to say that you are on your way and already there—God's love is here and now, wherever you are on the journey.
Here, on this Sunday before Holy Week, Christ is almost to Jerusalem. We are almost to Jerusalem. Christ is almost past suffering,
as are we. Christ is almost beyond the tomb, as are we. Christ is almost rising, as are we.
So, looking to the
future where God is doing a new thing, we press on toward the Love of God. Yet, we know that we must acknowledge those things we
are still holding onto. Those hardships. Those things that keep us looking back and dwelling.
The pilgrims on
the Camino in the movie, “The Way,” came upon a cross and laid down rocks and other items to symbolize their laying down of their
burdens. Laying down the things they better understand now because of the journey. And they did so at a sacred place, a marker like
our spiritual ancestors made to God when they got to a place where they noticed God. It's time. Let's notice God and mark this
Today, we have the
chance to come to a place of ritual reflection near the end of our Lenten journey. I invite you to take the stone you received when
you arrived and to lay it at the foot of the cross. What have you discovered on your Lenten journey? Lay it down. What do you need
to let go of in order to make room for new life? Lay it down. I invite you to press your intentions and burdens into the stones as
you lay them down.
So, come. Come
forward and lay down your burdens. Let go and let us make room for new life that is possible through our Living God, Christ who
lives in our hearts, and the Spirit who loves and challenges us into life together. Come.
Let us pray the
unison prayer in your insert:
our shoes are
filled with stones,
our feet are
blistered and sore,
our faces are
stained with tears.
As we stumble and
may we know your
in the weariness
and the tears
and in the healing
and the laughter
Unburden us from
these weighty things.
Use these stones
to pave new pathways
of love, of hope,
through which we
may travel with joy.
Release us and set
us free to new life.