Sunday’s sermon: Never Too Far Gone

never too far

Text used – Isaiah 55:1-9

  • Believe it or not, we find ourselves at the 3rd Sunday in Lent already. You may remember from a few weeks ago that our Lenten series this year follows a popular song – “She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles.[1] When we started our Lenten sermon journey together, we talked about a common theme – in the song, in our lives, in the world around us: running on empty.
    • Hear it in the song
    • See it in our own over-busy, over-scheduled days
    • Feel it in our over-stressed, over-burdened lives
    • This is one of the main intentions behind our table of obstacles. No matter what it is that pulls your attention away from God, the further we get from that crucial spiritual connection, the emptier we often feel. Sometimes, we find ourselves so removed from our relationship with God that we end up feeling like we’ve gone too far – like somehow, there isn’t a way back.
      • Too doubtful
      • Too difficult
      • Too dark
    • And even though I find Lent to be a powerful time … a time of self-reflection, a time of really looking at ourselves in entirely and truth, a time of examining who we are – the good, the bad, and the ugly … Even though I find Lent to be a powerful time exactly because of this self-examination, it can also be a challenging time … exactly because of this self-examination.
      • Spiritual practice of examen[2]
        • Technique devised by St. Ignatius of Loyola[3] (Spanish knight turned hermit, priest, and theologian from the 1500s who founded the Jesuit order[4] – those who are often working on the “front lines” of the Catholic Church for justice such as Jorge Mario Bergoglio … better known as Pope Francis)
        • Examen = introduced by Ignatius in Spiritual Exercises[5]
          • Premise: a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern [God’s] direction for us
          • Many versions that have been adapted throughout the centuries – basic idea: 1. Become aware of God’s presence. 2. Review the day with gratitude. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5. Look toward tomorrow. → Think of it as sort of a daily inventory of yourself and your spiritual life and your connection with God. “Where did I see God today? Where did I need God today? Where might I have overlooked God today?”
  • Intentional times of self-examination like this can help us to learn a lot about ourselves and a lot about God. But it’s also a double-edged sword. You see, when we look into the depths of our being, we very often find things that we don’t like.
    • Elements of ourselves that we would rather keep hidden – parts of who we are and what we do and how we go about being in the world that we feel we need to work on
      • Hear quite a bit of that in our song – [PLAY SONG]: “She’s imperfect … but she tries. She is good … but she lies. She is hard on herself. She is broken and won’t ask for help. She is messy … but she’s kind. She is lonely most of the time.” → Naming with brutal honesty all of those things about herself that she wishes were different … transformed … better. All of those things which we sometimes feel can pull us further and further away from God. Everybody has a list like this. Think about it for a minute.
      • That’s what self-examination is for.
        • Not just about building ourselves up – about finding those things that we love about ourselves
        • Also about finding our growing edges – places for improvement within ourselves
          • Hearts
          • Souls
          • Lives
    • Danger of self-examination in the dark – getting caught up in all of those growing edges … getting overwhelmed by our shortcomings and weaknesses … dwelling on all the mistakes we’ve made → Everyone has those moments: times when you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night rehashing your mistakes over and over in your mind, going over past words and actions and decisions that we wish like heck we could change. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the times, those moments come to us in literal darkness – in the deepest, darkest part of the night. Because it is in that darkness – darkness of the world around us as well as the world inside of us – that we sometimes feel we are beyond God’s reach.
      • What St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul” – that experience of feeling beyond God’s reach, feeling too far gone from the presence of God
  • And yet, in the face of those feelings of emptiness, of struggle, of pain, of desolation, of fear … In the face of all those thoughts and concerns that we think make us unreachable, we hear the words from the prophet Isaiah: All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk! … Listen and come to me; listen, and you will live.[6]
    • Reassurance of the abundance of God’s mercy
      • Unearned
      • Unrestrained
      • Unconditional
      • It doesn’t say, “You who are thirsty … and perfect.” It doesn’t say, “You who are thirsty … and totally put together.” It doesn’t say, “You who are thirsty … and unbroken.” It just says, “You.” God’s compassion and forgiveness are not reserved only for those who seem to be “right” in whatever form that takes – right job, right family, right prayers, right life.
        • Picture that often pops up on Facebook:
          imperfect disciples
  • But what’s the one thing all those people had in common? They said “yes” to God. → may have taken some time (Jonah), may have endured some ridicule (Noah, Martha), may have had to swallow their pride (David, Sarah), certainly had to take a leap of faith (all!) … But they still said “yes” with their words and, more importantly, with their actions! → scripture: Seek the LORD when [the Lord] can still be found; call [God] while [God] is yet near. Let the wicked abandon their ways and the sinful their schemes. Let them return to the LORD so that [God] may have mercy on them, to our God, because [the Lord] is generous with forgiveness.[7]
    • Takes some effort on our part (Seek the Lord … call on [God], etc.)
    • BUT reinforces the promise (Let them return to the LORD so that [God] may have mercy on them, to our God, because [the Lord] is generous with forgiveness) → The Lord is generous with forgiveness. Generous! “Liberal with giving or sharing … abundant … prolific.” Friends, this is our God, a God for whom we are never out of reach, never too far gone.
      • Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.”[8]

[1] “She Used to Be Mine,” written and performed by Sara Bareilles. From What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, Epic Records, released Sept. 25, 2015.

[2] “The Daily Examen” from Ignaitan Spirituality, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen, accessed Feb. 28, 2016.

[3] “Ignatius of Loyola” from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Loyola, last edited Feb. 25, 2016, accessed Feb. 28, 2016.

[4] “Society of Jesus” from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Jesus, last edited Feb. 26, 2016, accessed Feb. 28, 2016.

[5] Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, published in 1548.

[6] Is 55:1, 3a,

[7] Is 55:6-7.

[8] Lk 15:3-7.

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2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: Never Too Far Gone

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Where We’re At | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Preciousness in Brokenness | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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