The Second Sunday after Pentecost: June 3, 2018
The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
One of my favorite stories of all time is the Harry Potter series. I especially love book five, Order of the Phoenix where fifteen-year-old Harry returns to Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry to find everything in flux. His best friends Hermione and Ron are busy being school prefects. His beloved mentor Dumbledore barely notices him. He is grieving the death of a friend, struggling against the rise of Lord Voldemort and wrestling with the wizarding community’s denial of the truth.
Harry, the famous ‘boy who lived’ becomes the infamous ‘boy who lies’ overnight.
And in the midst of all these swirling changes, a new teacher comes to Hogwarts — the odious bureaucrat Dolores Umbridge. Within weeks, Umbridge rises to the rank of Hogwarts High Inquisitor launching a battery of rigid rules and repulsive regulations — her oppressive regime roots out joy and sucks the life out of the school.
When Umbridge ultimately usurps Albus Dumbledore as head of Hogwarts, Harry is faced with a choice: he can either surrender to Umbridge’s bestial, burdensome bureaucracy and live in a culture of fear or he can live by another rule of life – a rule rooted in compassion, courage, and truth.
Like Harry Potter, we have all experienced change in our lives — some changes more desirable than others. How do you face life when everything is in flux? Do you resist change like the Umbridge and the Pharisees from the Gospel, burying yourself beneath a burdensome, bestial, bureaucratic way of life. Or do you seek out another rule to live by — one that is life-giving, not soul-sucking.
Let’s just take a moment and imagine all the burdensome, bestial, bureaucratic rules of the world. If you’re having trouble, just think of the DMV or the IRS. Think of all the unjust laws or a just law used for unjust means. Now, consider the Umbridge’s and Pharisees of your life — those whose rigidity around rules does more harm than good.
Now imagine if you could leave all those rules and people behind and live a new way — a way of freedom and friendship with God. What if that new way could be as joyful and free as walking with Jesus through a wheatfield. Imagine that walk with Jesus…what would you do? What would you say? What would you see on your journey together? Who would be walking with you?
As you continue on this path with Jesus, I wonder would you be more likely to trust God and others and embrace the challenges and transformations that come with life’s changes? Or would you rather hold on to what you know and resist the opportunity to grow?
Today’s Gospel challenges the meaning of Sabbath – a core part of Jewish spirituality and identity. Sabbath was a time set aside to rest and relish in God’s gift of goodness and holiness in Creation. A day to remember the power of God’s liberating love that led Israel on a new journey out of bondage in Egypt. A day to reflect back and look forward on our continuing journey with God each week.
Sabbath was important — so important that if anyone violated the Law, they would be exiled or executed.
This is why Jesus and his disciples get into trouble with the Pharisees — not for trespassing on someone else’s wheatfield; not for eating someone else’s crops, but for for violating the Sabbath.
Jesus’ says, “the Sabbath is made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath” — this response is not a rejection of the Sabbath, but a redefining of one’s relationship to the Sabbath rules and rituals — he’s saying it’s all this and more.
Walking through the wheatfields, Jesus invites his disciples to step off the familiar paths and make a new way of life — to shift from living for the Law of Sabbath alone to living a Sabbath centered life where where God’s goodness and holiness and liberating power of love can be experienced in all things.
Such a path of closeness with God can be challenging and transformative. We’ve all had times when we have had to take a different or new path.
Just this past week, I completed my journey through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises — better known as a retreat in daily life. This journey was incredibly challenging and deeply transformative. It has helped me to see retreat or Sabbath not just as a specific time or set of practices, but a way of being.
Over the past year, this spiritual journey with Jesus has completely changed my life. It has changed the way I relate to myself, to God, and others in the world. Much like the disciples walking in the wheatfield, I have found the way to live a Sabbath-centered life – to move towards deeper friendship, freedom, and service with God.
Along the way, one of the rules that helped ground me and that I continue to live by is called the Principle and Foundation. To me this outlines the goal of the Christian life — and can help move us towards living in ways that are more life-giving.
All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance…
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening life in me.
(Contemporary translation of Ignatian Principle and Foundation, David Fleming, SJ)
What are the rules that you live by when your life is in flux? Are they life-giving? Or soul-sucking? How do these help or hinder you to love, praise, and serve God and others?
And wherever you are on your journey with God , may you always desire and choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in you. Amen.