May 5, 2019

2019 May5

 

3rd Sunday of Easter - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Karen F. Siegfriedt


Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen
indeed, alleluia!

So here we are, worshiping on the third Sunday of Easter. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the pascal feast by decorating the church with beautiful flowers, sounding the trumpets and organ as we processed into the church, ringing bells and singing “Jesus Christ has risen today.” Filled with hope and excitement and all the joy that Easter can bring, resurrection power was palpable.


As people of the resurrection, we
embrace resurrection, not as a
one-time event that happened
2000 years ago, but as an
ongoing movement in creation
where God continues to change
lives and make all things new.

 

Out of the ashes of destruction, new life can and does occur!

 

Sometimes resurrection is a big event, like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall after 28 years of dividing the country of Germany. Or the rebuilding of Japan after two atomic bombs destroyed its infrastructure. Sometimes resurrection occurs over a period of 40 years as in the case of the American bald eagle. This species of bird was in danger of extinction as a consequence of DDT. Today, the bald eagle has had a remarkable population rebound to the point that they are no longer on the endanger species list. Sometimes, resurrection is internal, such as the healing of the mind when we let go of old ways of thinking and put on the mind of Christ. This was certainly the case of Saul who had a conversion experience of his mind which totally changed his life. What I would like to talk about today is the conversion of the mind, and I will use today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles as my text.

 

At this point in the Book of Acts, Paul is on a mission to arrest those Jews who are disciples of Jesus. “Breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” Saul heads north to Damascus. Filled with self-righteous anger, he is ready to clean up his own faith community and rid it of the straying, unrighteous Jews who are claiming Jesus to be the messiah. On the way, he is struck down by a flash of light, falls to the ground, hears a voice calling out to him, and realizes that the voice is that of the risen Christ. Being blinded by this experience, he is led by the hand and brought to Damascus. A few days later, Ananias, a disciple of Jesus, lays his hands on Saul whereby his sight is restored. For those of you who know your bible, the rest is history. Saul, who later becomes Paul, has a new mindset, gives the rest of his life to spreading the gospel, and is believed to have been executed for his new faith.

 

In summary, Saul is converted from being a villain to being a saint; from being a rigid Pharisee to being an apostle of Christ; from believing that Jesus was a fraud to accepting Jesus as the messiah; from persecuting disciples of Christ to being persecuted himself. This personal encounter with the risen Christ changed the course of Saul’s entire life and shows us what is possible when resurrection power is at work in the world.  

 

The conversion of Saul is considered a ‘prototypical’ conversion experience which few people have ever had. To hold this experience up as ‘the norm’ is not only erroneous but contributes to a faith inferiority complex that can make us feel ‘less than.’ In actuality, very few people have had a Damascus Road experience. However, if we think about it long enough, we can sometimes describe how God has been working in our lives to make us whole.


In general, Episcopalians tend to
‘inch’ towards the kingdom, two
steps forward and one step
backward.

 

This is called the process of sanctification, the movement towards holiness that requires both grace and discipline.

 

The truth is, we all need some scales to fall from our eyes before we can see the world the way God sees it. And until that happens, it will remain quite difficult to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Do you ever wonder why after 2000 years of Christianity, we still struggle to forgive our enemies, turn the other cheek, strive for justice and peace, and generously minister to the lost, the lonely, and the left behind? Until our minds our healed, we will continue to allow our thoughts and emotions to dictate our actions which are often fear driven.

 

Saul is the classic example of a fear driven person. Although he was a devout person, faithful to the Jewish law, his ego had such control of his mind, that he was unable to rise above his rigid beliefs, his thoughts, and his emotions. This distorted mindset, motivated him to perpetrate violence in the name of God without any moral hesitation or guilt. Therefore, it was his mind that needed to be converted for him to realize the truth.

 

After the transformation of his mind, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome emphasizing the importance of a healed mind. He tells the early followers of Christ:“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)  While the Church has held Paul in high regard, it has only given lip service to the conversion of the mind and has focused instead on right belief and doctrine. But without a conversion of the mind, without metanoia, the world will continue to inch along, suffering greatly because of its ignorance.

 

What are we to do? While I have never had a Damascus Road experience, I have had experiences of God that have sent me in a particular direction. One recent experience of healing is through the reading of the book, “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. The book begins

 

“by walking you through your relationship with your thoughts and emotions, helping you uncover the source and fluctuations of your inner energy. It then delves into what you can do to free yourself from the habitual thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns that limit your consciousness…It opens the door to a life lived in the freedom of your innermost being.”

 

While the book is long on promises, it is short on strategies. Here are some insights I have learned about healing the mind.

 

First Principle: You are not your thoughts, sensations, emotions, or pain. You are a child of God who is created in God’s image. Most of us are completely unaware that the majority of the thoughts in our mind are untrue. Yet, we believe them, follow them, become emotionally entangled in them, allow them to change our mood and to change our behavior. This is why our mind is broken. And yet, within each one of us, is a pure consciousness, a soul, that is connected to the mind of Christ. To untether our soul from those incessant thoughts (which some people call the monkey mind) requires us to remain in the seat of awareness where we can objectively observe our thoughts and not get sucked into the seat of disturbance. To remain alert and aware requires us to take a step back, observe what is going on in our mind, and then to let go of those noisy thoughts and emotions. Most of our thoughts bring us back into the past causing us disturbance or they propel us into the unknown future where anxiety distorts our reality and saps our joy. Let me give you a personal example.

 

Last month, Steph and I made the 2.5 hour drive to Monterey to get a military ID. We had set up an appointment for a specific time and left early in the morning. After a leisurely drive and delicious lunch, we made our way to the military base. For some unknown reason, the gate was closed and so we set off to find another one that was open. Google gave us wrong directions and by the time we found another gate, time was running out. After asking for specific directions to the building, we drove around the base, noticing that none of the buildings were in numerical order. As we drove around in circles, the clock ticked 2:00pm, the time of our appointment. The anxiety level in the car began to rise.

 

Having been brought up in the military (past experience), Steph knew the importance of being on time and became anxious. I was worried that they would cancel the appointment (­future thought) because we were late and that our 5-hour round trip drive would be in vain. This fear and anxiety morphed into crabbiness as we parked the car. “The Untethered Soul” book came to mind.  I pointed out that we had done everything right to make the appointment on time and that we needed to look at the thoughts and emotions running through our minds as fleeting reactions to a situation that was not in our control. Suddenly, we came to our senses and refused to get sucked into that rabbit hole of disturbance. Once we reclaimed our equilibrium, we got out of the car and went to the designated office. We ended up being the only one in line and received the military ID without hassle. Imagine wasting precious energy and depleting our joy over happenings that were beyond our control! Thanks be to God we had the sense and the skill to remain in the seat of awareness rather than being sucked into the seat of disturbance by fearful thoughts and emotions.

 

Second Principle: Our mind is to be used as a tool for problem solving, learning new things, engaging in activities, and delighting in God’s creation. We mustn’t allow the mind to be hijacked by fearful thoughts and old emotions that are dominated by the wounded ego, many of which are unconscious. Therefore, it is time for us to make a commitment to take charge of our mind rather than allowing our mind to take charge of us.

 

Third principle: The spiritual discipline of mindfulness is the way to reclaim our mind. By becoming more conscious of our thoughts and emotions as they come up, we let them pass through without judgment. In so doing, we choose to remain in the present moment to experience that peace which passes all understanding.  While there is more than one way to practice mindfulness, the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert-focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment, without entanglement. This allows the mind to return to the present moment while releasing the garbage.


The spiritual practice of mindfulness is a discipline that is vital to all of us who long to heal the broken mind and put on the mind of Christ. It takes practice and time to develop mindfulness. So I encourage you to seek out instruction that teaches this particular spiritual discipline and to practice mindfulness as you wash the dishes, walk the dog, wait in traffic, or even ask directions at the military gate when you are late.

 

In the meantime, I leave you with this blessing:  

 

Beloved, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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