Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Ash Wednesday 2013 It’s an interesting effect of this time of year that people often like to post what they are giving up for Lent of Facebook. Some of my friends have posted that they are giving up chocolate, sweet tea and soft drinks, and even Facebook itself for Lent. Which got me to thinking about, not so much this concept of giving something up for Lent, but the larger issue of what undergirds that. The question of Why do we fast? But to answer that question, first we must look at what fasting is, exactly. In the Episcopal church calendar, we have two designated fast days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. People fast for a variety of reasons in our day and age: to be closer to God, weight loss, detoxification. Fasting is a common practice that we see throughout scripture, and it was believed to be a humbling act of commitment or repentance that was intensified when combined with prayer (Feasting on the Word p3). Fasting can range anywhere from not eating at all from sunup to sundown to severely restricting food intake. But it is the willingful abstaining from food, drink, or both for a period of time. So why do people fast? The BCP says, in our service today, that we are preparing to “observe with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection” by observing a season of penitence and fasting. We fast to be restored and reconciled in our relationship with God. We fast to remember the good news of Jesus’s absolution and pardon as set forth in the gospels. We fast to renew our repentance and our faith. And we fast to prepare us for the glorious celebration of Easter. But there are some things that we need to remember in this season of fasting. First, there is nothing that we can do that can draw us nearer to God; there is no way, through any actions of our own, that we can earn our forgiveness or our salvation. Both are already freely given to us. God cannot love us any more than God already does. God cannot forgive us any more than God already does. Second, our readings for today make it very clear the importance of the connection between our inner works and our outer works. The reading from Isaiah today, which is from the 2nd part of Isaiah that was written to the children of Israel who are growing weary and tattered in their exile from their homeland, says that we fast because we “delight to draw near to God,” but God reminds God’s people, through the words of the prophet that God is not happy with fasting when it does not accompany transformed behavior. Isaiah reminds them and us that God’s preferred fast is to “loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke…to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from the breach…” Through Isaiah, God calls God’s people to the kind of fast that would lead them to be “repairers of the breach.”Isaiah is reminding them, and us, that fasting is never an end unto itself nor a substitute for righteous living. Fasting and righteous living should always be interconnected. Finally, I think that this quote from the New Testament professor Pheme Perkins, gets to the heart of why we fast during Lent. She writes, “The penitential season [of Lent] is not a lapse into ‘holiness boot camp’ as though human beings make themselves righteous before God. Lent asks us to open our hearts to the grace of God.” (Feasting on the Word p15) Lent asks us to open our hearts to the grace of God. The grace of God…..Our prayer books defines grace as being “God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” This year, perhaps instead of asking yourself what you are going to give up or take on for Lent, I would encourage you to think about it slightly differently. Ask yourself, “How is God calling me to open my heart to God’s favor toward me that is unearned and underserved? How is God calling me to open my heart to God’s forgiveness of my sins? How is God calling me to open my heart and my mind to God’s enlightenment? How is God calling me to open my heart to be stirred and my will to be strengthened? How is God calling me to open my heart to God’s grace in this Lenten season that I might be fully prepared for the joy of Easter?
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Last Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C February 10, 2013 Once upon a time, on a treacherous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a little hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew. Some of the new members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they redecorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club. Fewer and fewer of the members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work. The mission of lifesaving was still given lip-service, but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the lifesaving activities personally. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, some had skin of a different color, some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal pattern of the club. But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the life of all various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. So they did. As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club and yet another lifesaving station was founded. If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people drown! (The Parable of The Lifesaving Station taken from Personal Evangelism 101, by Brent Hunter) In case you haven’t figured it out, this is a parable about the church. Not just our church, mind you, but the capital C church going all the way back to the disciples. We see this inclination in the gospel story for today. Peter, and James and John are invited to go up the mountain with Jesus where he is transfigured before them, and they see him talking with Moses and Elijah. The glory of God is reveled to them. And they want to stay there, revel in it, dwell in the place where they have had such a profound encounter with and revelation of the glory and goodness of God shining forth from the incarnate person of Jesus. But they don’t get to stay there. Jesus leads them down the mountain, where they find a huge mess waiting for them. The disciples who were left behind have failed miserably in trying to heal a sick boy. It has been a very demoralizing and public humiliation for them. And then they, or the crowd, or maybe just all of us in general get fussed at by Jesus. So where is the good news in all this? These two stories together remind us that “the glory of God’s presence and the pain of a broken world cannot ever be separated.” It may seem to us to be easier and more cheerful work to build up this place where we have encountered God, this place where we feel safe and loved and fed. But the call of the church is mission; it is being sent out (that’s what mission means, to be sent out) to save those who are drowning when we can, and at the very least to stand with people in their suffering. There is a famous painting by the Renaissance artist Raphael that depicts this scene from our gospel reading today, and I think, speaks to this mission of the church and the followers of Jesus. In it, Jesus is being transfigured up on the mountain, high up in the air with Moses and Elijah on either side and with James, and John, and Peter, just below them. But the painting also depicts, at the bottom, the scene down the mountain: a chaotic crowd of people, the disciples who have been left behind and are trying and failing miserably to heal the boy. And do you know what several of those disciples are doing in the midst of all that fracas? They are pointing up the mountain to Jesus where God’s glory is revealed. My brothers and sisters, today let us remember, even as some of the hopelessness and the suffering of the world may be nibbling at the edges of our own frayed souls, let us remember that we are called to be those disciples at the bottom of the mountain, out in the world, trying to save a few lives by pointing to Jesus. One of the questions that was posed to us at Diocesan Council last weekend, that got me thinking on all of this and sparked a spirited conversation among our deputation is this: “in practical terms, what would it take for our parish to become more focused on mission than maintenance?” (repeat it) It’s a question we will continue to think about and talk about in the days to come, and I invite you to spend some time reflecting on it, and then share your thoughts with me or a member of the Vestry. But in the meantime, let us remember that the call of the followers of Jesus, the call of the church, our mission, even when we are helpless in the face of suffering, and especially when we are helpless in the face of suffering, the mission of the church is to be sent out into the world to point to Jesus.