A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on February 27, 2022
Luke 6:39-49 — [Jesus] also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
You can imagine the scene.
It’s 1620, in the unsettled years of the emerging Protestant Reformation.
You’re in Leiden, in the Netherlands, where you’d fled when it was no longer safe to be a radical Protestant in England.
You’re gathered with all your friends, all your family – your belongings, everything you have, piled in barrels and boxes off to the side.
And your pastor, the man who’s led you for years, is speaking to you for the last time. For these many years, this person has helped you along the Christian path, has helped you discern God’s particular calling, in this time full of changes. This pastor has been the source, the foundation of your faith.
Now you have been sent forth, you are leaving, and he is staying behind.
Today, you hear his last words….
The reports say: “He took occasion also miserably to bewail the state and condition of the Reformed Churches, who were come to a period in religion; and would go no further than the Instruments of their Reformation. As, for example, the Lutherans: they could not be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw. For whatever part of God’s will, he had further imparted and revealed to Calvin; they will rather die than embrace it. ‘And so also,’ saith he, ‘You see the Calvinists. They stick where he left them; a misery much to be lamented. *For though they were precious shining lights in their Times; yet God had not revealed his whole will to them; and were they now living,’ saith he, ‘they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light as that they had received.’ “
I seriously doubt that Pastor John Robinson, standing for the final time among his congregants, whom we know as the Pilgrims…. I doubt he realized the long-term effect of his words, but, when they are taken seriously, they are indeed one part of the foundation of our church life together.
We follow Jesus Christ, and that is the same, yesterday, today and forever. But how we do it? It changes. Sometimes daily. And it’s been Pastor Robinson’s words which have pushed us to understand that we are not locked into repeating the past just because we’ve always done it that way. He said, “the Lutherans could not be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw”. Don’t take it as a slam on Lutherans. It’s a plain truth about human life.
Pastor Robinson reminds us, however, that we need to be open to seeing how our world has changed, is changing. Our denomination, some years ago, re-discovered this idea and put it this way: God is still speaking.
Of course, we’re not always ready to listen. And sometimes we find it challenging to accept the changes that march before us. Sometimes it feels as though the bottom has dropped out of everything we thought was great. It’s one thing to change worship by adding heat or air conditioning to the space. It’s another to do something that makes us less comfortable.
Here’s the reason I think Pastor Robinson is right, that we must be open to change and new ways. The testimony is found in the words of our Gospel reading…. Jesus asks, why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? and then, a verse or two later, tells a story about a man who built his house on sand instead of rock. When the river burst against (the house), immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.
The stories are typical of Jesus – he wants us to understand that these stories are about us, right here, right now, not just stories from long ago. Those specks in our eyes – in this case, think of them as the things which accumulate and keep us from seeing clearly. When our perceptions are cloudy it’s more difficult to make sound decisions, so it’s as if we’re building on a foundation of sand.
But so far, I’ve been talking about the down side of getting stuck in the past, or in the customary, or in the warm-fuzzy, never challenging parts of life. Let’s turn that around. What this means is that we need not be stuck. We do not have to keep reproducing yesterday, or remain in a place that no longer speaks to today’s challenges. We are free.
We are free…. free to examine our assumptions. We are free to put aside the strictures of yesterday which hurt so many people. We are free to welcome the outcast. We are free to be our true selves. We are free to follow God.
This isn’t easy. Many of us have been taught all our lives to stay in our lane. It’s easier that way. And looking around doesn’t mean thoughtlessly adopting new ways just because they are pretty, but taking the time to work out what they say, in the long run, about God and about us. Working with change means we need to take the time to understand who we are and what we believe. Think of it as the difference between just taking everything for granted, and coming to understand what’s happening and why. It’s often challenging, but so rewarding.
As we do it, as we learn our past and plan for our future, we become ever more free in Christ, and the foundation on which we stand is strong and firm.
God is still speaking. We are still listening.