Brother and sisters i Christ.
What struck me in the readings today was the theme of history. We all have our own history, we all come from somewhere, we have all been shaped by various choises, by various actions that we have done, or that have been done towards us. And this is what we consider to be our life.
How do we then look on history? How do we look on the history of our lives? How do we approach history in general? Is history written in stone? Is it somehting that cannot be undone? is it something that we cannot escape? I think that the readings today say somehting about as history, not as static, not as final, but as a possibilty of transformation for every human being. History depends on the eyes who see, and our regard on history may be transformed.
Jesus says about those who will knock on the doors of heaven that the Lord will say: I don’t know where you are from, and then they are thrown out into the darkness. Is this God’s rejection? Is this God’s punishment? I think this description is more pointing towards a choice that we have to make. Jesus is challenging us to be humble, so that we may open up to God in our lives while there is still time. When Jesus use this image, he is pointing at the wound that humanity is carying within their hearts. Mankind got astray from history the way it was meant to be. We lost our natural orientation, where we would have had our regard fixed on our Lord, with the confidence, with the trust, with humble openness to our Creator. We lost our original design of who we were supposed to be. And humanity suffers now, from lack of love, lack of peace, lack of fellowship, all that we were meant to have in aboundance. And this is the sad history from God’s perspective. This is the sad story that God is mourning over.
However, God is a God that transforms, because God is Love, and Love is carrying within it the power of transformation. Love is healing, love is transforming. I am sure you have experineced this in moments of your lives, healing love touching us, transforming our regard. And when we are transformed, our history is also transformed. When we see ourselves with new eyes, everything becomes new.
This is what Paul is talking about when he is talking about training in the letters of the Hebrews, when he point at the reprimand that we receive from God in our present lives. Paul is asking his readers of his own time, in the same way he asks us today, to look for the deeper meaning of small and important painful experiences in our lives. He is transforming what is happening in our lives, from being arbitrary and maybe feeling unjust, to be a possiblity of giving all that happens to us back to God. Instead of being victims of our lives, Paul opens for the possibility of an inner transformation, where we are challenged to reinterpretate our understanding of ourselves. He challenges us to believe in God, and to humbly trust in him in all trails of life.
As we are here on Iona, we may also remember that this is birth place where the particular form of spirituality, the Celtic spirituality, began. Within this spiritality, we may think of closeness to nature, the beautiful prayers, or the outstanding Celtic expression of art. But what is just as central, even though not always so often mentioned, is the aspect of penance which had an important place among this early Christian worshippers. For those of us being familiar with strict protestant culture, penance may sound like we should whip ourselves for the joy of it in itself. Penance means in reality to be open to suffering because of the distance between myself and God, and thereby be open to inner healing, which is the goal of penance. When we see penance as a means of inner healing, when we see penance as an act of humility, of letting God in, then it becomes meaningful, and it beomes a new possibility. For the munks of Iona, closeness to God meant giving oneself over to the will and the love of God. To repent was to admit the unwillingness to open up to God, to make penance was to invite Gods mercy into the heart. All with the one goal to be joined closer to the Lord, and always knowing that nothing of this could unfold in life without God’s mercy acting in the human heart.
In that movement of God drawing near to us, our past may be reinterpretated, it may be rewritten in a way. The presens may change as we see our selves from another perspective. And the future is also being transformed, because it gives hope. It gives us a new diretion. It gives us a posibilty of inner growth. All this is what we are invited today.
Now God transforms history and he shows us this in the most ultimate way by the suffering of Christ dying on the cross. Jesus on the cross is this transforming sacrifice that opens up new possibilites, as we may oberve in the many destinies of persons interacting with Jesus in the gospels. Think of Sakkeus, who comes down from the trea and grasps a new possibility, a new life, as he opens up for Jesus in his life. He gives back half of what he owns the poor, and if he has taken money from anyone (which he certainly has), he will give fourfold back. In the end, he has got basicly nothing left when he is done. But what he has got is a free, blessed and totally renewed life. Look at Nicodemus who comes to Jesus the first time during the night. In the end, he is the one ready to help taking the body of Christ down from the cross. His life has been transformed. Think of the sinner on the cross. Even in the last moment of his life, transformation is possible. And this gives us hope, also here and now, today. All our life, the history of who we are, what we have lived through, what we have suffered, what we struggle with now, all this is brought here to the altar of transformation. Togheter with our inner selves, we place everything as a sacrifice on the altar, and we receive it back as the healing power, the transforming powerful love of Christ.