Sunday, March 19, 2017
Lent 3A_ 2017 March 19, 2017 “Is the Lord among us or not?” You can’t really blame the Children of Israel for asking it. After all, it was God and Moses who brought them out of the security of their enslavement in Egypt. It was God who led them in the wilderness and told them to camp there where there was no water to be found. What do people do when they can’t get the water they need? People get angry. People panic. Even Moses begins to panic as it looks like the people are getting ready to stone him. So Moses cries out to God, and God promises Moses and the people that God is truly with them. God goes ahead of them and stands on the rock at Horeb so that when Moses strikes it the water comes forth. In a place where there is no water, God’s presence causes the water to bubble up from the rock. And yet the place is named after the people’s unbelief, their questioning, and their testing: “Is the Lord among us or not?” And it is used as a cautionary tale in Psalm 95: “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” I had a conversation with someone years ago about this story and he asked “If the parting of the Red Sea was such a powerful event, definitive proof of God’s presence and care for the Israelites, how is it that they can doubt God’s presence among them? How was it that their hearts become hardened? It’s an interesting questions, I think. How is it that our hearts become hardened? If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know the answer to this. We may not understand it, but we certainly have experienced it. We, who have encountered God’s presence in our lives and in our community over and over again, still find our hearts failing and doubting God’s goodness and God’s presence. "Is the Lord among us or not?" We find our hearts hardened, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. We grow thirsty and we panic that we will not have what we need to assuage our thirst. We fear that maybe this one time, God won’t show up, won’t give us what we need. But that is not the nature of God as revealed in Jesus. Jesus reveals for us a God who always shows up, offering living water, “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Knowing everything that we have ever thought or done and still loving us unconditionally, unerringly. In this season of Lent, perhaps we are being called to tap into this spring of living water that is already bubbling up in our souls. Perhaps we are being called to pay attention to our hardened hearts and to invite God’s love to soften us. One way to do this is through the practice of a daily self-examen. A self-examen is the practice of asking yourself a set of questions every day to both acknowledge our failures and to also tap into God’s presence in our lives through gratitude. In this practice,“by the interweaving of admission and thanksgiving we come to appreciate the love that upholds and guides our decisions, and at the same time we become conscious of our withdrawal from that love”—when and how our hearts grow hardened over the course of a single day. And in this particular self-examen that I am going to share with you today, we can see the connection between acknowledging our failures and our hardness of heart at the same time that it guides us to accepting God’s grace and acknowledging God’s presence in our lives through our gratitude. “To ask these questions of ourselves each day helps us to see patterns in our lives that are easily overlooked, avoided or forgotten. ‘In a sense, it is like a daily shower…It does not necessarily prevent our going back in the grime…but it does help us to know where the grime is found.” In addition to the daily examen, Lent is a good time to engage in one of the most-underused of our seven sacraments: Reconciliation of a Penitent. There are two forms in the BCP that you can look at (on page 447), and Katie and I will be scheduling times for folks who want to come in and partake of this sacrament to do so in the second half of Lent. Reconciliation is a gift from God available to all who desire it, and it is an important part of welcoming God’s healing our hardened hearts when the time is right. 6 Questions for a Daily self-examen: 1. When was I least conscious of God’s love today? 2. When was I most conscious of God’s love today? 3. When did I not act out of love today? 4. When did I act out of love today? 5. What opportunities for thanksgiving did I miss today? 6. For what am I thankful today? I have copies of these questions available in your pews that I invite you to take with you when you leave. One way to begin and end this practice is with the Collect for Purity that we pray here every week. I will close with that today, and invite you to sit and reflect on these questions for a few moments of silence. Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
Lent 1A March 5, 2017 A few years ago, I was struck when one of my friends told me that she was “giving up fear for Lent.” When I asked her how she was going to do it, she talked about how: during the times when she identified that she felt afraid, she would gently remind herself of her trust in God and her belief that God would give her everything she needs. In reflecting on the practice afterward, she told me, “It was so much harder than it sounds or than I thought it would be. I didn’t realize how much we, even as Christians, allow fear to run our lives and our relationships. But it ended up strengthening my trust in God and my faith so much more than I expected.” On this first Sunday in Lent, we are reminded that Lent is a time when we, like Jesus, are driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for a season of fasting and self-reflection. But this wilderness is not a vacation to the mountains or the beach, a chance to “get away from it all” for a while and unplug and recharge. This wilderness is barren and wild. It is a place that can be lonely and dangerous, stark in its struggle and its solitude. And we’ve seen what happens to people in the wilderness. Just look at all the stories in the Bible about the Children of Israel who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after the Exodus! Most people, when wandering in the wilderness, become afraid. Afraid of the loneliness. Afraid that they will be hungry. Afraid that we will not have enough—not have what we need. Fear is a powerful motivator, especially in the wilderness. But the wilderness and the solitude it provides can also be a place where we distill and clarify our identity. In it, we can strip away what is not important, what is not really true to who we are and our relationship with God. If we will let it, wilderness can be a time of growth and clarity for us, even in the midst of its demands and hardships. My husband likes to tell a story about this gospel reading and the time that he saw one of the passages from it on an inspirational bible quote of the day calendar. The quote for that day was “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” He tells that story to show that context is important. And it’s true for us today as we think about Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness. It is, in fact, the context of the story that provides the key to how Jesus thrives in the wilderness, and the key to how we thrive when we, too, find ourselves driven into the wilderness. Because what has happened immediately before our story for today? Jesus has emerged, dripping, from his baptism, when he (along with all who are gathered there) hears the voice of God say of him: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” And each of those temptations are designed to chip away at Jesus’s identity—notice how two of the three start with “If you are the Son of God…” Jesus resists the temptations, not because he is some super-human. He resists the temptations, they have no hold over him, because he remains secure in his identity as God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased. He trusts that God will give him what he needs, so he does not feel the need to take anything the devil is offering him. This past Ash Wednesday, I was struck by a connection that I had never noticed before. When the priest makes the sign of the cross in ash on each of our foreheads and says the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” it is the same gesture that is made in chrism oil at our baptisms with the words: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Like Jesus we are sent forth from our baptisms into the wilderness that is life, to face hardship, spiritual hunger and thirst, loneliness, loss of control. The real temptation for us, like Jesus, is whether or not we will let fear overpower us, chip away at our identity and make us less than the one God has created each of us to be. All temptations boil down to a choice: whether we will try to assert our own will, which is always the way of death; or whether we trust in the God of the resurrection who always breathes new life. This season of Lent for us can certainly be a season in the wilderness, if we focus on worship and practices that allow us to be stripped of all that does not support our true identity as God’s beloved--marked as Christ’s own forever--that is given to us from the beginning of time, and if we allow ourselves to be stripped of all that prevents us from living more fully into that belovedness. I think this year, I’m going to take up my friend’s practice of giving up fear for Lent. In those moments I am afraid, I will acknowledge my fear and then say gently to myself, “Remember that you are God’s beloved. Do not be afraid.” I invite you to consider joining me in that practice this year. May God grant us all the clarity of our identity as God’s beloved as an antidote to our fear, now and always. Amen.