Astounded is a rare word in the NRSV Bible- it is used 14 times in the New Testament to be precise and except in one case it always refers to the actions or words of Jesus. Actions and words that authoritatively shake up traditional ways.
We have heard before that Jesus will bring a new way, and this morning we have a chance to examine what that means.
Jesus taught in the temple and on the hillside in ways that brought people to examine their actions and their understanding of the law.
The tradition was to teach the law and never stray from it so to avoid the wrath of God. If you did the right things, God would love you….? But Jesus taught that loving God and each other was the point and not just keeping the law- God loves us anyway.
Jesus taught that the law only worked if it is led by the gospel of love. He asked people to examine the spirit of the law. In other words, when we love God and love one another, loved them even more than our-self, the law falls in place naturally – obedience to the law comes from a loving heart.
In Deuteronomy we read that God created humans to be in relationship with God. This perfect relationship of God’s desire is called “The Kingdom of God”.
When the people were freed from slavery in Egypt and had travelled through the wilderness, God gave them the 10 commandments. We read that the people were so terrified of the sound of God’s voice that it almost destroyed them. Perhaps it was more like the things God was asking that they didn’t want to hear – things which put an end to their new found self-centred life. They really did not want to listen to God – not listening was more tempting.
This stone that I hold can represent the temptations and sinfulness that fills people. (put the stone in the small burlap bag) The people found themselves holding on to this ‘unclean spirit’, thinking it would build them up, put them in control. ~ In fact it only weighed them down and kept them in the wilderness for a longer time.
God said, ok, if you can’t listen to me, I will send prophets, but the message from the prophets was not appreciated either – and the people killed and abused the prophets. You will read about this if you are entering in to the February Bible Study of Jeremiah.
The message from the prophets simply encouraged people to love God, but the people would rather love themselves, feed themselves, worship themselves, cultivate prestige for themselves (Put more stones in the bag.) They filled their lives with unclean spirits, with temptation and man made false gods. ~
In our lives we probably carry a few stones of sinfulness around with us too. We want to be in control of how we love, who we give money to, who we invite to the table. That’s trouble because we usually are too selective. There is a temptation to decide who is worthy of our love. This is much like the man with an unclean spirit who spoke to Jesus in the temple – “what have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth?” These are the words of someone who would prefer to hoard their love and kindness, ~ someone who would rather tick the boxes of doing the right thing rather than opening their heart to self-sacrifice in love.~
Sometimes we put ourselves first, look after our own interests with some to spare, sometimes we hurt others, – (add a few more stones to the bag) ~
We all have the stones or an unclean spirit that we carry around, most of them are small stones, but there probably are one or two bigger ones, and maybe even a burden that is huge – regrets or bad choices. (the bag is pretty full by now) and we wonder if we will ever walk free.
Jesus says be quiet evil one and come out. (Begin to place the stones around the baptism font) Jesus says this with the voice of love, not a voice of terror. Jesus’ authority comes from the knowledge that the kingdom of God is as near as it has ever been. Jesus speaks with authority because Jesus is filled with a different spirit.
That same spirit fills us at our baptism when we are marked as a child of God and filled with the Holy Spirit.
All these burdens that we could carry around have been drowned in the waters of our baptism. (Push the stones into the water) Our heavy burdens are drowned – they die at the moment of our baptism and the space created is filled with the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.
That is the action of a God of love.
Believe this and go forward in a path of love and caring for others, founded gratitude for God’s love.
Today I invite you to find a stone and place it where you can feel or see it regularly, to remind you that unclean spirits and tempting desires have been given to Jesus and we are set free. ~ J Perhaps when we are able to gather again in the church, you can select a stone from the font. We will leave them here for a while, reminding us that sin in us has died, drowned in the waters of Jesus’ love and sacrifice. We need carry it no more.
Our hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit to astound us! We are free to find ways to lovingly feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, stand up for those who are persecuted, and to love God with total abandon.
Without the burdens of sin we have the opportunity to see the kingdom of God at hand, – a kingdom where all have what they need, living in loving relationship.
This is God’s deepest desire, this is God’s plan. Let those stones go (dump the rest into the font ) – they have already been dumped into the waters of God’s love and banished forever.
As we approach Lent in the church calendar, our journey to God through baptism and covenant will take us on a meaningful and joyful path. I pray the words from scripture and our meditation will touch every one of us as we journey together on Sunday. May we be astounded! Amen.