Spiritual Crankiness

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
December 22, 2019 ● Advent IV (Year A)
Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25

Mother Hymes’ sermon this morning (Advent IV)—“Spiritual Crankiness.”

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, December 22, 2019

According to medical professionals, the benefits of sleep are myriad, including the impact of rest on one’s mood. When young children are cranky, their mood is attributed to two things—they are either hungry or sleepy (that doesn’t change much for adults, by the way).  And when someone is cranky, extending mercy to another who has minimally slighted them or severely caused them harm, is not only difficult, but out of the question.

There are people all around us who affirm the glaring truth of our reality, in this 21st century society—people are cranky. Compassion is elusive and mercy is all but absent. And, of all the times of the year when this is most evident, it is ironic that this crankiness (and sometimes, downright hatefulness) is the most prevalent in this—the most holy season of Advent and shortly, Christmas.

Two things, for sure, feed this crankiness—regardless of one’s age: hunger and deprivation of rest.  Until those necessary needs for human survival are met, extending mercy to someone who has minimally slighted us, or severely caused us harm, is not only difficult, but out of the question.

In our gospel passage today, the righteous man Joseph, Mary’s husband, is portrayed by the gospel writer as one who chooses the mercy of God over his obligation to follow Torah law.  According to Torah Law, Joseph was well within his rights, to publicly shame Mary and have her, and as a result, the child within her womb, killed for the high crime of fornication. Who could blame Joseph for reacting in a retaliatory way, toward a wife believed to have betrayed him, and who would surely cause him embarrassment and humiliation? Who could blame Joseph if he found it difficult, if not out of the question, to extend mercy to an unfaithful wife?

But the writer of the gospel does not describe Joseph’s emotions, nor does the writer have him speak. We hear only the voices of the narrator and the angel, followed by the actions of Joseph.

Recall that before the angel’s visitation in Joseph’s dream, he believed that he had been betrayed and had already decided to spare Mary from public disgrace—an act of mercy.  We are to view Joseph as the righteous man who followed Torah law, but acted, first, in obedience to God’s will.

Joseph’s existing desire to be merciful to Mary shows us that God selected a willing vessel for God’s divine mercy to move forward God’s plan for human salvation. By today’s standards, neither Joseph’s taking of Mary as his wife, nor his naming of the child, might seem extraordinary.  Yet, in obedience to God’s will, Joseph’s taking Mary as his wife was an extraordinary act of mercy which saved her life and the life of the child in her womb.

Also, culturally, women would normally name their children. Yet, in obedience to God’s will, Joseph named the child Jesus, which means “he saves,” and in doing so, embedded Jesus’ life’s purpose in his name, simultaneously adopting him into the Davidic line. For the gospel writer, these are critical actions which position Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah for the Jewish people.

Joseph had a role to play in God’s plan of salvation history. And, because he was obedient to God, Mary and Jesus’ lives were saved. Further, because Jesus’ life was spared by Joseph’s extraordinary act of mercy toward Mary, our souls have also been saved. For, without Jesus there can be no salvation.

Perhaps many can relate to the Joseph we did not encounter in our passage—the Joseph who might be a bit more relatable; the Joseph who would retaliate and seek retribution for the harm done to him; the Joseph for whom extending mercy to the one who has done him wrong, was out of the question. We see that Joseph all around us, and if we are honest with ourselves, we are all capable of being that Joseph.

It is important that we use scripture to witness to and aspire to a higher level of humanity which willingly responds to God’s divine instruction and extends God’s mercy, even when it is difficult.  In witnessing Joseph’s non-verbal responses throughout this passage, God’s faithful people are reminded that we, like Joseph, must not only do merciful acts, but choose to be merciful in accordance with the nature of God.

Now, it would be unrealistic to think that followers of Jesus don’t experience spiritual dryness or become cranky towards others to the point that it’s hard for them to reflect Christ’s light, and with intention, choose mercy over anger and retaliation.  We have all witnessed, or experienced, cranky moods attributed to hunger or deprivation of sleep or both. This is widely assumed with children too young to speak and adults who don’t use their words to effectively communicate.

Children of God are called to be self-aware; and to notice when a mood of spiritual crankiness takes hold, as none of us are immune.

Sisters and brothers, the truth is that people aren’t just spiritually hungry; they are starving. They aren’t just sleepy; they seek rest from the weariness of life’s spiritual assaults. There’s no wonder why this experience of spiritual crankiness is so prevalent.  But, it does not have to be; there is an antidote to such spiritual starvation and despair which keep those who do not yet know Christ in a death-dealing mood of spiritual crankiness. The antidote is for the soul to eat of the bread of life—Jesus Christ—and to rest in his love.

Those who are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will neither hunger, nor be denied the eternal benefits of true rest that only God can give in His great mercy. Come to the holy table to be fed by the holy food and drink of Christ’s body and blood. And, rest in the assurance of God’s restoration, to perfect wholeness in Him, for all who believe in Jesus Christ.

To restore means to bring back. Through Christ, God takes our human brokenness and restores us to God’s divine wholeness. Might you be a willing, and obedient instrument of God’s mercy to lead those who walk in darkness to the light of the world who was born to “save his people from their sins?” Might you care enough about another’s spiritual starvation and spiritual exhaustion to risk asking, “Sister, is your soul starving?” “Brother, does your spirit seek rest?”

May we be empowered by the Holy Spirit to companion those in spiritual peril as God calls out to them to seek a relationship with the One in whom souls hunger no more; in whom there is perfect rest; and for whom mercy is never out of the question.  Amen.