On Becoming (sermon)

Good morning! It is a joy to be with you at Chapel of the Cross. My name is Amanda Bourne, and I am coming to you from the Diocese of Virginia. I look forward to being your curate over the next year, and joining you in your life and ministry together.  

And what a Sunday to step into your virtual pulpit for the first time. We’ve been staying home for months, and are in the midst of a pandemic which feels endless. We’ve watched our country, and felt ourselves grappling with, the charge that some are more equal than others—whether because of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status or for a whole host of other reasons. We’ve had to weigh our complicity in this as individuals, as a nation, as a church… in a journey that is far from over.

And so we come to church this morning, I think, tired. Weary of a news cycle that feels like it will never end. Perhaps you are tuning in this morning, ready for something normal, something comfortable.

But, unfortunately, the readings for this morning aren’t cooperating. Today’s readings are far from… comforting. Hagar is thrown out into the desert as a result of Sarah’s jealousy. And Jesus tells us that he has not come “to bring peace, but a sword… to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother… and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household”. Happy Father’s day indeed.

You could close your computer now, or turn off your TV now. Such is the advantage of having church at home. But I want to invite you to sit with all of this for a few minutes, to sit with the discomfort of Christ’s words, to sit with the discomfort of being asked what we would be willing to give up to follow Jesus.

I think Jesus is shocking to us, here. The Jesus of the beatitudes can’t say things like this, right? Why should I hate my family? Do I have to reject everything in order to take up the cross and follow Christ? Will all of my dearly held secrets, mistakes, thoughts, be made known? What will being a Christian require of me?

Jesus is shocking to us.

Jesus shocks us, shocks us out of our assumptions of what faith and discipleship look like.

Jesus shocks us out of our very comfortable life plans that we had imagined for our future… our summer vacations, our sense of what “normal” even looks like.

Jesus shocks us out of our stasis—our comfort zones, our equilibrium, our role in society, our daily schedule—and then asks us, still, to follow him.

If Jesus approached you by the sea of Galilee with this message, and then said follow me, would you do it? You know, I suspect that Simon Peter and Andrew might have stuck with fishing if this was Jesus’s opening line.

This question of discomfort makes me think about a children’s book that I grew up with, and perhaps you did too. The Velveteen Rabbit tells the story of a stuffed rabbit: a child’s toy, and his journey to become Real. After a long conversation with the rocking horse about what it takes to become Real, this is what happens:  

“The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.”

He wished that he could become Real without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

And so do we. We wish that we could become real, become more loving, become more compassionate, become better people, become better Christians. We wish that we could BECOME without these uncomfortable things happening to us.

We wish that we could ignore the fact that Jesus says sometimes he comes to bring division and a sword, rather than peace. We wish we could ignore the fact that growing in faith and charity can be painful, that being a Christian and living the way the GOSPEL commands us to can be divisive.

But we know that this is true. We know this is true because we’ve spent the last few months without our normal routines, our regular community gatherings, our worship together. We’ve had to leave behind our conception of how the world ‘should’ work, and own up to the fact that it, and we, are fragile and human.

We now know what it is to be uncomfortable, or worse. So, what do we do with that?

Enter Hagar, the main character in our reading from Genesis. On the one hand, she is dealing with much more than just discomfort. She is enslaved, and then cast aside by a jealous Sarah, left to wander in the wilderness and watch her son die before her eyes.

And yet, in this suffering, this is not the end. A world turned upside down is not her end, is not our end. “the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid… Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”

We are not called to be comfortable, but we are not called to do this alone

We are not left alone, my friends. Our discomfort, our grief, our questions, are where God meets us. God meets us there, and opens our eyes as we discover what it means to be Real. God meets us as we cast aside our stuffing and newness and fear of change, and draws us into being more loving, more just, more fully human. God meets us, and says that “even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid…” Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid of the discomfort, the questions, the unmaking of who we thought we were as we die to sin, to normal, to comfortable. Because it is through this dying that we become alive, become REAL in Christ.

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

May we have the courage to step forth into this journey of becoming Real.

Video of the service and sermon at the Chapel of the Cross.

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