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"Christ Above All" - Rev. Sarah Walker Cleaveland

Posted on May 24, 2020 by Kathy Miller

Christ Above All

(Ascension Sunday)

Prayer of Illumination

Present God,

            Settle our hearts.

                        Still our minds.

                                    And stir our imaginations,

                                                That we might hear your Word for us this day.         Amen.

Psalm 93[1]

God acts within every moment

            and creates the world with each breath

God speaks from the center of the universe,

            in the silence beyond all thought.

Mightier than the crash of a thunderstorm,

            mightier than the roar of the sea,

is God’s voice silently speaking

            in the depths of the listening heart.

Ephesians 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which Christ has called you, the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance among the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of Christ’s power for us who believe, according to the working of Christ’s great power.

God put this power to work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

And God has put all things under Christ’s feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

––––––––


Christ Above All

As I was reading the scripture passages for this week, I couldn’t help but be struck by Paul’s language of sovereignty, dominion, and ascension: “God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand … far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And God has put all things under Christ’s feet and has made him the head aver all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23).

Because we live in a world where Christianity has become the dominant religion and because verses like these have been used far too frequently to justify crusades, wars, and worse, these are usually verses I would do my best to either avoid or minimize. But this week, in our current context, I heard Paul’s words for the first time as I expect he meant them—not as gloating or triumphal but as comforting and settling. There are a lot of voices in our world at the moment clamoring for our attention, loyalty, and belief. And while that is always the case, the life and death stakes of who we listen to and who we believe feel new. Paul’s reminder that Christ is above all helped me to create some much needed space in my psyche this week as I remembered with whom my deepest loyalties lie.

It is an odd truth of our time that I can tell what I believe by reading my social media feed. 80% of what shows up for me are opinions and beliefs that I wholeheartedly agree with, many of which will inspire me to “like” or even “re-share” as I passively endorse and pass along versions of my own beliefs. But about 20% of my social media feed is taken up by opinions and beliefs that I don’t agree with, things that occasionally make me angry or annoyed, make me scoff or shake my head.

And yet, part of how I know that Covenant is a vibrant and healthy congregation is because some of that 20% that I don’t agree with (and occasionally don’t like) comes from some of you. And, I suspect, a percentage of you feel the same way about what I post, like, or reshare. We don’t always agree. I suspect that we, as a congregation, rarely if ever see things in exactly the same way. And if this were another sermon, I would preach about Paul’s image of the church as a body in which we all play a necessary role (even if some of us have to be the armpits). And there is a lot of good truth in that—churches where everyone believes similar things or sees the world in similar ways tend to stagnate and grow insular.

And yet … were it not for some of your social media feeds, I would more easily be able to discount the voices and opinions of those I disagree with. I have no trouble, after all, discounting politicians who say what I consider to be dumb things. And I am more than capable of choosing who among the talking heads comes closest to espousing what I want to believe. But when one of you shares an opinion that is not my own, it gives me pause, which, frankly, is inconvenient, and often a little uncomfortable. Because I know you all to be good people doing your best to navigate the same gauntlet of voices and opinions that I am, it is far harder to discount you than the ridiculous politicians or pundits who I’m certain are spouting nonsense.

And so I, like I suspect many of you, have found myself quite torn these past few weeks. On the one hand, I want my kids to spend their summer outside, playing with friends. I don’t want them stuck at home with me, begging for screen time and clamoring for my attention while I try to write sermons and make pastoral care phone calls. I want my parents who live in New York to be able to come and visit. I want to see all of your lovely faces on Sunday morning instead of always seeing my own. And, at the same time, I don’t want to give up this time with my kids, which often feels like an enormous gift. And I don’t want them or me to inadvertently spread a deadly disease to someone who might not be able to fight it and win. I want our doctors and nurses to not be run ragged. I want those who have lost their jobs or are socially isolated to feel connected and secure, financially and otherwise. And, most of all, I don’t want any more people to die from this disease. And those are just the voices in my own head. Add in the voices on the screens and those of the other people around me, and the clamor is quite loud and the decisions and choices to be made feel like life and death decisions that never end.

Is it okay to the stop in at the grocery store just to buy a loaf of bread for dinner because if we don’t have it one of my children will have a fit and refuse to come to the table? Or does that unnecessarily put people at risk and should I just teach my child that their desire for bread pales in comparison to the need to keep everyone safe? Should we hire a nanny for the summer so our kids have more attention and less screen time? Or would that put our kids and a potential nanny at greater risk?

It’s no wonder that tempers are flaring and fuses are short and we’re all a little cranky and tightly wound. Decision fatigue is no joke.

It is into this context, amid all the voices in my head and around me that our scripture reading for this week speaks, reminding me that the voice I most need to listen to is Christ’s. Christ who, in Scripture, says again and again to care for the least among us, those most vulnerable, most at-risk, whether that’s the elderly or the infants, those balancing on the edge of poverty or those walking the tightrope of sanity. Christ’s voice, which I hear in Scripture but also, our texts remind me, in my own heart.

In the beautiful translation of Psalm 93 that we heard this morning, the Psalmist declares that,

mightier than the crash of a thunderstorm,

mightier than the roar of the seas,

is God’s voice silently speaking

in the depths of the listening heart.”[2]

Silently speaking in the depths of our hearts. God’s voice rarely yells, rarely even tries to compete with the voices of those around us, but it is always there, it is part of what being created in the image of God means, part of what the Holy Spirit helps to accomplish, this ever-present, silent yet mighty voice of God speaking in the depths of our hearts. If only we would find ways to hear it. To turn down, even if only momentarily, the voices around us. To find a way to let our attention settle into the depths of our being. To remember that it is God who breathes in us.

Doing this doesn’t mean we’re all going to hear the same thing. Diversity will still be alive. Disagreements over the right course of action will still occur. But when we find ways to listen for Christ’s voice, in Scripture, in the depths of our hearts and when we trust that those around us are also doing their best to listen for, and prioritize, Christ’s voice in their lives, in their choices and decisions, we more fully live into Paul’s image of the church not as a building but as the body of Christ in the world—the fullness of Christ, who is above all.       Amen.

Benediction

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and I expect for us as well, was that, with the eyes of our heart enlightened, we might be able to see the hope to which Christ has called us. We are the church, in all our different beliefs and locations, but to live into the fullness of that calling requires us to listen not only to one another and the experts in our midst, but also to the voice of Christ speaking in the depths of our hearts. So, as you go into your week, may you go knowing that you go with the abounding love of God, the astonishing peace of Christ, and the ever-present, if silent, voice of the Spirit speaking within you. Amen.



[1] Translation by Stephen Mitchell, A Book of Psalms: Selections Adapted from the Hebrew. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

[2] Ibid.

 
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