Cincinnati Church Sermon
August 19, 2018
Rev. Renee Machiniak
“Who Do You Say That I Am?”
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and, sorry I could not travel both. And be one traveler long I stood and looked down one to where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear, thought as for the passing there had worn them really about the same. And both that morning equally lay, on leaves no step had trodden black; oh, I kept the first for another day, yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubt that I should ever be coming back. I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence,
two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
There is a dirt road that borders the Almont New Church Assembly property – Tubsprings Road – and every time I walk down this road something wonderful happens! One year, during a spring Women’s Retreat there, I was strolling down this road contemplating about the spiritual journey and the importance of having a relationship with our Risen Lord. Those of you here who know and love Almont are familiar with the point in the road where there is a clear intersection that offers four directions to the traveler. I found myself wandering to the center of this intersection, where I paused, considered which direction I might go and then Robert Frost’s poem came to mind.
I put myself in the mindset of traveling on a spiritual journey and I stood for a while facing each of the four directions. I turned and first saw a very flat, yet beautiful, landscape of beginning crops and open farmland. I turned to the next direction, and saw the same thing. I turned to the third position, and again, the same landscape. But, down the fourth road – ah – a big rock! Much like what I imagine Isaiah referred to regarding our Lord as our Rock…except I’m pretty sure Isaiah’s rock didn’t have graffiti on it! This rock had graffiti all over it! Now right next to this rock, there stood a big beautiful tree that reminded me of the tree of life. I thought to myself that this is the road that I want to travel!
So, meditating upon the spiritual journey and the Lord as my Rock, I headed down the road toward this big rock and the beautiful tree. That is when it happened. As clear as the bell that rings from our quaint little Almont country chapel, I heard inside my heart – the voice of the Lord ask a question. He whispered, “Who do you say that I am?” It was just after He spoke to me – that a funny little toad hopped by and I then became distracted away from the Holy Presence within my mind whispering the question: “Who do you say that I am?” Though I was briefly distracted, my mind returned to the question – which seemed to open my RELATIONSHIP with the Lord in a new way; in a way that has deeper dimensions to it and in a way that keeps the question alive as my response deepens and evolves over time. The moment faded as I walked back to the retreat center…but the question, even all these years later, remains alive in my mind, relevant and guiding. Jesus asks each one of us: “Who do you say that I am?”
I believe – with all of the changes taking place in our church, and for each one of us personally, it is a useful time to look at this question with more intent; to ask ourselves who we believe the Lord to be; our values and priorities, and everything that we do, flows from our answer to this question. Swedenborg invites us to consider that our concept of God determines every choice we make, what we say and how we live. I invite each of here this morning to consider the question for our journeys. I invite us to talk about it at retreats, association meetings, at regional meetings or perhaps in our worship experience this morning.
Now, every once in a while, someone comes along who witnesses their personal spiritual journey and who reminds us of the reality and the power of the presence of the Risen Lord. We are given hope and sustained by their stories. Years ago, a man came to our church in Royal Oak, Michigan, for the first time and, after sharing worship with us, purchased a copy of Emanuel Swedenbor’s book,“Heaven and Hell.” The next week he returned and urgently asked to have coffee with me to talk about his thoughts on the book and his personal faith journey. We met and he told me about a most amazing occurrence.
He was born a cultural Jew and raised in New York. At the age of nine, he contracted polio and became very ill. At that time near the end of World War II, most of the children who had contacted polio died. One night, he felt the presence of the Risen Lord, specifically, move through his body and heal him completely. He knew he was made well by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ and, as it turned out, the doctors confirmed soon after that this boy was clear of the disease. The doctors could not explain it and to this day, many years later, he searches for the unfolding meaning of his healing. His life questions include: “Why did I survive when so many did not? What is my purpose?”And he continues to search for the unfolding answers.
Now, I bet that this man has a pretty clear sense of the answer to the Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” Indeed, he reported that he felt the reality of the Lord’s omnipotence, his omnipresence, his omniscience…within his very bones and blood. With a humble tone to his witness, he confirms Peter’s conviction: “You are the Messiah, the Christ of God.” But perhaps many have not had this kind of direct encounter. And this is – as it should be. Our individual journeys are all supposed to be different and unique. We choose different paths; we respond to different aspects of God according to our needs and experiences. Honoring diversity of experience and open-mindedness is a rich part of our theology and tradition in the church! But we do get glimpses every now-and-then of the Holy Spirit that moves among us so personally. We receive what we need to sustain and inspire us. The Lord knows our hearts, our questions, our fears, our growing edges, our joy, our purpose.
For myself, I feel the Lord present as a voice inside that speaks to me. That spring, I was guided by a clear voice inside that spoke the question to my heart. And then as I sat with it, the first shift, of many, happened. The question, “Who do you say that I am?” shifted with a focus toward myself and the question then became “Who am I?”
The two questions worked off of each other in my mind, as if they were in a gentle dance, so that I have come to see that the two are clearly intertwined. There is a direct relationship between my living experience and understanding of the Lord and my own sense of myself and the center of my being. The more time I spend praying and living with the Lord’s Divine-Human presence, the more I am aware of – and awake to – my own sense of self, my potential and the various levels of my inner darkness that tend toward secrecy and selfishness. The Lord’s light uncovers what needs to be healed and, with our sincere confessions and repentance, we integrate with Divine matrix within in so many miraculous and mysterious ways.
For most of us, I believe, it is fairly easy to acknowledge the Lord when we are in the midst of the joys of life. But we can, more and more, seek to merge the Risen Lord’s Spirit into our darkness and into our times of suffering. After all, our Lord knows our every need from the Divine sufferings endured in His life and in His death. The Divine made full contact with us.
Bringing the Risen Lord into our daily spiritual practice is an intentional shift to bring ALL of who we are into the Light. During my seminary years at the Swedenborg School of Religion, I met weekly with a Jesuit Priest who invited me to bring all of my perceived struggles/problems to the Lord by practicing a simple discipline: Imagine that the Lord’s finger reaches out to touch my challenge; see the Risen Lord touch my challenge and then walk away from it. Let it be, let it go and give it completely to God. Let the Lord transform what is being experienced into something new, something touched by Divine Will, Divine Understanding, Divine Power.
• I invite each of you here this morning to think of a personal challenge in your life and to imagine the Lord simply touching that challenge now …
When we ask the Risen Lord to be with us at every crossroad along the journey, our suffering transforms into deeper understanding, rich moments of beauty and merciful living. The point is, then, we no longer suffer alone and life expands. WE are changed. Our longing for something more is filled with an intimacy with God.
This intimacy is needed more today. Rev. Paul Zacharias published an article in the Messenger years ago suggesting to Convention that, in order for our church to survive and to move successfully through all of the changes taking place today, we must be willing to shift our mindset and grow – both in a personal sense and as a church collectively. I believe that the shift we need is to move closer to the Lord’s presence, to live in the mystery of Divine Presence and to walk with Him by our side – every step along the way. All of life, then, becomes holy.
Let us pray:
O, Lord, we thank You – for the gift of this time here together with You. As we continue to walk our faith journey down the road less traveled and as we discover more of who we are, keep us near You; safe under Your Providence and open to Your Spirit. Amen.