Our maternal Lord

Dear mothers and children of mothers, today we celebrate the women whose motherly love has surrounded us through the years so we would thrive and flourish, and on this Sunday we are given one of the very rare passages in the Apostolic writings that speak of infants and milk.

In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and in Hebrews, milk is mentioned as baby food for baby Christians who haven’t matured enough in their faith to digest the solid food of weightier teachings. Peter, though, is playing a different theme. He’s not talking about milk for newborn infants who’ll eventually become meat-and-potatoes Christians. Writing to believers who often struggle with how to live the new life of Easter, Peter points to babies as perfect examples because they are new to the miracle of life and they simply know what’s best for them when it comes to eating and thriving: You pick them up and cradle them in your arm and if they’re even just a little hungry, they’ll turn their little face toward you and with their mouths open they begin to feel their way to the source of all goodness and joy.

“Since you have tasted that the Lord is good,” Peter writes, since you have tasted the sweet forgiveness, rich mercy, and abundant grace that nourish the life of believers, long for that milk, that new-life and whole-life milk. It is the sustenance that is true to the new life in Christ that is yours. Be done with malice, guile, envy, slander, and whatever else they serve at the former-life bar; that stuff has zero nutritional value. It doesn’t nourish you, it consumes you and those around you. Look at a baby: that’s you in the arms of Christ. Desire the milk of mercy and drink it, drink the love that will not let you go, drink the life given for the life of the world.

Penelope Duckworth is an Episcopal priest, a writer and teacher, and she’s a mother. She wrote this poem, titled simply

Milk (For Clare)[1]

Pulled by your cry, it surged out.

Welling from the nipple’s pores, it was thin,

bluish, sprayed in tiny streams,

caused a slow, dull, homesick pain.

We laughed in astonishment as it kept coming

until your shining mouth let go

and you drowsed in sunlit bliss.

You, at seven months, nurse and pedal

rhythmically, your hands explore the air.

I fill to meet your whitest need,

The milk now, grown thick and creamy,

will hold you sleeping with its weight.

Dame Julian, in her mystic state,

perceived Lord Jesus as her mother

offering to nurse us all,

milk flowing from his giving breasts.

It is a glory, this feeding from the body:

Take and eat this simple meal.

This is my body given for you.

Take and be full, my daughter,

from the white vein of sharing.

Take nourishment in all its forms

as it comes generously down the years,

from this first food to banquet fare,

in memory of me.

I wonder if perhaps the Apostle got a little uncomfortable with the image of the newborn drowsed in sunlit bliss. He makes a rather abrupt turn. He steps away from the beautiful intimacy between mother and child and takes us to a construction site. Suddenly he writes about stones and buildings. Stones are hard, rigid, lifeless. Dead as a stone, we say. But that’s not what Peter has on his mind. Peter writes of a living stone, which sounds like a nonsensical oxymoron until we let it speak.

Come to him, the living stone. Christ is the stone that the builders rejected. Christ is the stone for which human beings had no use; they had their own vision of life, their own carefully planned projects, and he simply didn’t fit in. But in God’s sight, the one whom mortals rejected was, and is, and forever will be, chosen and precious. God is building a house in the world, and Christ, the Living One, is essential to the structure.

Peter wrote to diaspora churches, scattered all over the Roman Empire, without legal or social status, and often subject to harassment and persecution. His first readers were gentile Christians in Asia Minor whose faith made them strangers in their own towns and neighborhoods; they knew the pain of rejection; they lived like resident aliens who didn’t know where they belonged and who they were or would be. “Come to [Christ],” Peter wrote, “come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”[2]

The word “house” had rich meanings in the Scriptures. It signified not just shelter, but belonging, community, nation, and culture. Abraham was called by God out of his father’s house, that is, out of his nation and culture, to form a new house, a house founded on his faith in God. This new house, this new people of God found themselves swallowed up into “the house of bondage” in Egypt. Yet God brought them out in a mighty act of liberation and made a covenant with the Hebrew slaves at Sinai and they became “the house of Israel.” In Jerusalem, the temple was built and rebuilt as a dwelling place for God’s name, a house of prayer for God’s people marking the center of their world. We read in the gospels that one of the disciples said to Jesus as they were coming out of the temple, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Jesus told him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”[3] It seemed as though all things were being swallowed up into the house of Caesar in those days. Yet it was in those days that God began to build a new house in the world, and in that house, Jesus who was betrayed, denied, abandoned, accused, condemned, mocked, abused and crucified, Jesus, the stone who was rejected by all – Jesus is the cornerstone.

In old buildings, cornerstones were laid as part of the foundation upon which all else rested. They were selected for their size and strength, and the entire structure was only as strong and reliable as those stones. We don’t think of cornerstones as essential structural elements anymore. We consider them ceremonial add-ons to commemorate the year a building was begun. But Jesus is not merely a commemorative ornament in the corner of the building, not in the house God is building. It may be better for us to use an alternate translation like keystone or capstone instead of cornerstone. The keystone sits at the high point of an arch and it is essential for its structural integrity: remove it, and the arch will collapse. In the house God is building, Jesus, the stone that the builders rejected, has become the keystone that holds everything together. God is building a house in the world, a living temple of living stones, a cathedral of flesh and blood, held together not by the few and forever changing things we can agree on, but by Christ’s embrace.

Peter affirms that in the crucified and risen Christ, God is building a new house, and all who come to him are living stones forming an integral part of the house, sharing a common life and offering their whole life to God. With Christ, all who come to him are a chosen race: as living stones they overcome the separations of racism and become the one humanity made in the image of God. With Christ, all who come to him are a royal priesthood: they make their lives an offering of praise and gratitude in response to the unceasing flow of God’s grace and mercy. With Christ, all who come to him are a holy nation: nationalism with all its excluding attitudes gives place to a community that is consecrated to God and God’s purpose to unite all nations in their diversity into one house. With Christ, all who come to him are God’s own people: chosen and precious, a living sign that God desires one human family sharing life in justice and peace. With Christ, all who come to him proclaim with their very lives the mighty acts of him who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.[4]

The emphasis here is not on all the things we do as believers, but on who we are and who we are becoming in the house God is building. The emphasis is on our need to come to Jesus, the living stone, in order to let ourselves be built into the living house of God.

Tomorrow night we will meet for a design workshop in fellowship hall. Our building committee and a team from Hastings Architecture have planned a great evening. We will eat together and begin to make some important design decisions. Those of us on the building committee are pretty excited; we think it will be fun, and we hope many of you will come and participate. Whatever we build, physically or organizationally, we want it to serve what God is building. More than anything, we want to let ourselves be built as living stones into the living house of God.

Peter’s picture includes no glimpse of a completed house, but only of a house under construction. The Apostle wants to encourage us to trust the master builder. When it is finished, the house of humanity will reflect Christ in every detail. In a similar way, the image of individual Christians never arrives at any stage later than that of infants who have just left the womb, nuzzling the breasts of a maternal Lord.[5] We trust this one who is the source of all life and goodness and joy.

 

[1] Penelope Duckworth, “Milk (for Clare),” Congregations 30, no. 3 (2004): 19

[2] 1 Peter 2:4

[3] Mark 13:1-2 parr.

[4] See Philip A. Potter, “Christ is God’s delegated and precious living stone,” International Review Of Mission 72, no. 288 (October 1983), 540f.

[5] Paul Minear, “The house of living stones: a study of 1 Peter 2:4-12,” The Ecumenical Review 34, no. 3 (July 1982), 246.

 

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With continuous and persistent tenacity

The book of Acts is Luke’s account of the new life that erupted when God raised Jesus from the dead. It’s about the disciples learning to follow again, and you can barely recognize them anymore. At first they were scattered and confused, with their emotions swinging from fear to joy and back, and from sorrow to wonder and doubt. But not anymore. Take Peter, for example. It’s the day of Pentecost, and the crowds gathered in Jerusalem just heard the disciples tell the whole world the great things God has done. They’re bewildered: “Aren’t they all Galileans? How is it that each of us can hear them in his or her own native language?” They’re amazed, they’re astonished. Now Peter stands up to address the crowd, and you know this isn’t something he’s done a few times before. So you’d expect him to stammer a bit, grope for words, take a while to find his groove, but no. He delivers a polished sermon, flawlessly composed, complete with lengthy quotes from scripture, without notes, and all at nine o’clock in the morning. And to top it all off, Luke tells us that those who accepted what he said were baptized, and some three thousand persons were added that day. One sermon – and three thousand lined up to be baptized! Does Luke think this is how you inspire believers to talk in public about what God has done? Is that his idea of a pep talk for preachers? In the next verse, Luke turns the spotlight, and now we get to take a good look at the congregation:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.

Beautiful, isn’t it? A few years ago, in a class at a seminary down in Atlanta, one of the students said,

“This text reminds me of the little mimeographed booklet that one of the old saints in my home church wrote. It was on the history of our congregation, and reading what she wrote you’d think that our church was the most loyal and faithful congregation in the world. Every minister was wonderful, and there was never a troubled moment.”[1]

Loyal. Faithful. Wonderful. Never a troubled moment. The professor who taught the class continued to spin that thread:

Sometime in the life of almost every congregation some member with a long memory, a grateful heart, a little time, and a typewriter [has] put together a hand-stapled booklet with some title like “Providence Church: A Century of Faith and Service.” If one reads such a local history one will characteristically encounter paragraphs like this:

In 1938 Providence Church called Emerson Langley to be the new pastor. His first week in his new charge, he preached a weeklong series of revival services at the church, and the whole town was present. Never had the people of Centerville heard such powerful preaching. Everyone was impressed, all were spiritually renewed, many joined the church, and the whole community was buzzing with admiration for Providence’s new minister and his wife Irene, a constant helpmate.[2]

The whole community? Really? And everyone was impressed? And all were renewed? Sounds to me like the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

When Luke writes about the beginnings of the church in Jerusalem, he is not a mere chronicler reporting the cold, hard facts with journalistic precision. If he were, there would be little to share beyond the sad news that the church has gone downhill ever since its first, golden day. Luke sees more than meets the eye. And he’s not looking through rose-colored glasses, either, a nostalgic romantic who embroiders his narrative with colorful embellishments, giving real churches in the real world very little to sustain us in our mission. Luke sees the world bathed in Easter light, and he looks with faith, and he can’t help but notice in the church’s very beginnings the things that foreshadow what it will be, now that the Spirit of the risen Christ is on the loose in the world. Luke writes with hope that all of life, to the ends of the earth, will be redeemed and renewed by the love of God which has been revealed in Christ and poured out on men and women, young and old, rich and poor, slave and free, from every tribe and nation, and all of them devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, all of them together, and not a needy person among them—the gift of life shared by all, simply and miraculously.

Luke writes with hope because the church is not left to its own devices. We are not on our own; we are participating in a movement of the Holy Spirit, the powerful, unstoppable, life-giving Spirit of God who draws us and all creation into life made whole. The work is God’s and we have the privilege of participating in it, anticipating the complete transformation of ourselves and all things in the image of Christ.

Can you imagine what might happen if we devoted ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers? “Devoting ourselves” has quite a devotional ring to it, which isn’t bad, but the translation takes the edge off the word Luke uses here.[3] That word speaks of doing something with continuous and persistent tenacity: Actions and habits that occupy the center of our attention and much of our energy and time: There are the people you love. There’s the work you do. And there’s the dream you carry. That’s the neighborhood in our heart Luke is pointing to; that’s where the teachings of the apostles are seeking a home, and the fellowship of believers, and their meals and prayers. Right there, in the middle of town, where the few things you do with continuous and persistent tenacity live, not on the outskirts where you drop by occasionally.

Did you notice that Luke mentions eating together more than anything else? Most families today try hard to share at least one meal each day with each other, and it’s not easy with work and travel schedules and gymnastics practice and piano lessons and church meetings. Luke writes about eating together, because we are what we eat and who we eat with. In Luke’s day, in the first-century Roman world, people were very careful about dinner invitations, there were strict social boundaries; but in the churches, those boundaries began to crumble. Men and women, rich and poor, slave and free came together as friends in the company of Jesus to break bread, and it changed both them and the cities in which they lived. Christians began to look past things like social or legal status and recognize each person as a person. Children, for example, weren’t always welcome in those days in the cities of the Roman empire. Under Roman law, fathers could, and often did, kill newborn children. Female babies were particularly vulnerable. A study of gravestones at one ancient cemetery discovered that of 600 upper class families in that city, only six raised more than one daughter.[4] Fathers decided whether to keep a baby or banish it which meant simply setting it outside. Christians became known for picking up abandoned babies who were left in the gutters to die. A sociologist who reviewed the available data in the historical record noticed that Christians had significantly higher survival rates than the general population during the plagues that repeatedly hit the cities of the empire. It wasn’t unusual then for people to be thrown out into the street at the first symptom of disease, out of fear of contagion. Christians were more likely to stay with the sick and nurse them.[5] Christians became known for caring for those whom others considered expendable: the discarded, the poor, the aged and infirm. The church became a sanctuary for the unwanted; they ate their food with glad and generous hearts, and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. With ordinary men, women, and children, the Holy Spirit formed extraordinary communities, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

The world still needs to know that there are no expendable people. Every person is made in the image of God and loved by God, and Christ came so each person and all persons together may have life, and have it abundantly. In the past, the church picked up abandoned babies and cared for the sick and the dying. It is no coincidence that many hospitals are named St. Thomas, St. Jude, Baptist, or Presbyterian, to name just a few, even though very different narratives tend to drive conversations about caring for the sick these days. When business lobbyists and political leaders get together to rewrite the rules how access to health care in this country is regulated, it is again up to the church to remind them that there are no expendable people. Because we are the ones who look around the table where Jesus is the host, and sometimes it looks like the kingdom is already here.

 

 

[1] Thomas G. Long, “A night at the burlesque: wanderings through the Pentecost narrative.” Journal For Preachers 14, no. 4 (1991), 30.

[2] Ibid., 30.

[3] And again in v. 46 “spent much time together.” See also Acts 1:14.

[4] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 97.

[5] Ibid., 73ff.

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And so we walk

I come from a family of walkers. My grandparents never drove anywhere. My grandmother walked to the village to do her shopping or she walked to the bus stop to drive to the city. My grandfather walked to the leather factory every work day and to church on Sunday, he walked to the chicken coop, he walked to his apple orchards on the hill behind the house and on the other side of the valley, he walked in the forest. The only thing with wheels he ever operated was a rattly handcart to bring home sacks of apples to make cider or firewood for the kitchen stove.

My dad drove to work in the city every day. My mother got a driver’s license in her thirties, but one day she backed into another car in a parking lot, nothing big, just a broken tail light, but that was the end of it. She never drove anywhere again. She walked to church, she walked to do her shopping, and she walked to the tram stop when she needed to go to the city. She’s 83, and she still walks pretty much anywhere she needs to go. Occasionally she takes a taxi home when her bag of groceries got a little heavier than expected.

I come from a family of walkers. My siblings and I walked to school every day until fourth grade, and then we walked to the tram stop to get to school in the city. We walked to church, to youth group, to the pool in summer, or to visit friends. One of my friends lived in another village, on the other side of the hill, about five or six miles away, and I loved walking there. I had already discovered that there’s nothing better than walking to think about stuff; it’s something about the rhythm of simply putting one foot in front of the other and letting your thoughts wander.

I wasn’t surprised when I first heard about veterans hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail or the entire U.S. from coast to coast. These warriors seek healing for their wounded souls, hiking by themselves or in groups. Walking is more than a mode of transportation for them; it helps them sort things out, particularly the things they couldn’t just leave behind when they came home from the battle field. Rebecca Solnit wrote, “We are eternally perplexed by how to move toward forgiveness or healing or truth, but we know how to walk from here to there, however arduous the journey.”[1] Life itself is described as a journey, most often imagined as a journey on foot--unless, of course, you sail through life or you cruise up and down easy street.

Jesus and the disciples walked everywhere they went; first from village to village in Galilee, and then all the way to Jerusalem. Walking with Jesus was not just a matter of getting from here to there for them. Walking with Jesus the disciples learned to follow him on the way. They learned that following wasn’t just a matter of their minds absorbing his teachings; it was something they did with their feet, with their whole bodies, it was a particular way of being in the world, a particular walk.

They followed him to Jerusalem, full of hope and expectation, and then things just seemed to fall apart: the temple leadership, the Romans, the crowds, betrayal and arrest, fear and denial, and the terror of the cross. It was as though their whole world collapsed overnight. All they could do was stand and watch from a distance as Jesus was crucified and died. That was the end of it.

We don’t know where to look for Emmaus on the map, the scholars haven’t been able to locate it, but we know the road. It’s where we walk when loss has turned love into pain. Or when our hope has dried up and we can’t tell if we’re sad, furious, or tired. It’s where we walk when faith is little more than a memory. When you have no idea who you might become after you’ve lost pretty much all sense of who you are, you either find yourself a room to hide in or you walk the Emmaus road. Walking gives you something to do; it helps you sort things out; it gives rhythm to the waves of your thoughts and feelings and keeps them from crashing again and again into chaos.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams is the name of a Green Day song that became a signature hit for them back in 2004. “I walk a lonely road,” the lyrics go. “My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me / My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating / Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me / Till then I walk alone”

Sometimes you walk alone. Sometimes you wish you had somebody to walk with you, somebody to listen to your story.

The two disciples were on the road together. They were talking about the flood of events that had washed over them over the course of the past week: the joy of Jesus’ arrival in the city, the shock of his arrest, the guilt they bore for abandoning him, the trauma of his execution, and then, earlier that day, the astounding story the women told about a vision of angels who said that Jesus was alive.

It was all too much to take in, and so they walked. A stranger came near and was going with them. It was Jesus himself, Luke tells us, but they didn’t know that. All they knew were the brutal facts of Friday and the numbness of Saturday and the story the women had told them. Friday was painfully real. The crucifixion was designed to be seen and witnessed by the public. Friday had weight. Friday was verifiable. Betrayal, fear, torture, death, hope shattered and silenced – there was a record of Friday, engraved on their hearts. Easter was a rumor by comparison. Someone said that someone saw him, only it didn’t look like him, exactly, and before anyone could believe it was him, he was gone.[2] Glimmers. Rumors. Baffling tales.

Cleopas and his unnamed companion are not as famous as Mary Magdalene or Peter. We never hear of them again; they were like us, ordinary people struggling to get some perspective on life beyond the wreckage and devastation of Friday. And like us, they were slow-of-heart folk who needed some time to integrate the word that God had raised Jesus from the dead into their own stories. And so they told the stranger about Jesus and how they had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. And then the stranger walked them through the Scriptures, beginning with Moses and all the prophets. He taught them to recognize the things that had taken place in Jerusalem not only as part of God’s story with creation, but as the heart of that story. With the stranger as teacher, the rumors of resurrection can be heard as echoes of what God has promised. With the stranger as teacher, the suffering and death of God’s Messiah can be recognized as the depth of God’s redeeming love for humanity.

The first disciples began to read and reread the Scriptures in the light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The ancient texts gave them the language to speak about what God had done through Jesus Christ, and in turn the cross and resurrection became the lens through which they were able to perceive the full depth of Israel’s witness to the faithfulness of God. For these insights they did not give credit to their own cleverness, but pointed to the Risen One himself as their teacher, to a revelation that cannot be manipulated, but is altogether gift. The story only gives us a couple of hints: to be prepared to encounter the risen Christ in our fellow travelers on the road and to be attentive to strangers, to show them hospitality, because through them the Living One may choose to reveal himself to us.

The walk to Emmaus is the walk from hopelessness and rumors of Easter to the world made new by the faithfulness of God. At first, we struggle to squeeze what we are told happened on Easter into our understanding of how the world works. When our eyes have been opened, though, we begin to see how the world fits into the new reality of Easter. The resurrection is no longer the odd event we can’t quite square with our knowledge of the world; it becomes the new horizon that allows us to see all things surrounded and held by God’s mercy. How we understand life and loss and hope now is illuminated by this divine passion for communion that has broken down the gates of hell, by a love more powerful than sin and death. Trusting the contours of this new reality more than our accustomed sense of things is what we call resurrection faith.

Theologian Douglas John Hall wrote a series of dialogues with an imagined conversation partner, someone who is “on the edge of faith.” The final conversation in the book is about hope:

Resurrection is the ultimate declaration of God’s grace. It is not ... natural. It is not ... automatic. It is wholly dependent upon the faithfulness, forbearance, and love of God. And just for that reason - only that! - I am able, usually, to sleep at night, to continue playing the piano and writing (…) and taking my aging body more or less for granted “in the meantime.” Because the only thing of which I can be at all confident when I think of my own “not being” is that God will be. I am not so presumptuous as to think that the God who “brought again our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead” (Heb. 13:20) will also, quite naturally, be pleased to bring me from the dead, too. I don’t understand all that. (…) I do not, and I expect I never shall, understand all that. All that I can do is to stand under it.[3]

This is not just a clever word play. We stand under the promise of life’s redemption and fulfillment through Christ. And so we walk with him who revealed to us the heart of God.

 

[1] Wanderlust, 50.

[2] See Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Easter Sermon,” Journal for Preachers (Easter 1995), 10-14.

[3] Douglas John Hall. Why Christian? (Kindle Locations 2113-2119). Kindle Edition. Emphasis added.

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Uninterruptably alive

Now all is filled with light,

heaven and earth and the realm of the dead,

The whole creation rejoices in Christ’s resurrection,

which is the true foundation (…)

Let us embrace one another.

Let us speak to those who hate us:

For the resurrection’s sake

we will forgive one another everything.

And so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead.[1]

Jesus is back, and not just in one place at a time, but in all places, in all moments, and in any circumstance. He is back, with life and authority, not to scold or revenge, but to forgive and to bless, and to continue to go ahead of us. This is the day that the Lord has made, the first day of the new creation, the day of our salvation. This is the day when even middle-aged white Protestants could be tempted to dance in the aisle, singing and clapping and rejoicing in the Lord! The whole creation rejoices in Christ’s resurrection, which is the true foundationof hope, of joy, of life in fullness.

We have heard the story of the women at the tomb, the first moment when the new reality was only beginning to sink in. And we have heard a snippet from the letter of Paul to the church in Colossae, reminding them and believers of every generation that it is Jesus who is seated at the right hand of God, the Lord of the universe. The grace we have encountered in Jesushis compassion, his friendship for sinners, his power to heal and unleash life, his humility, his teachings, all of ithas been vindicated by God. The priests called it blasphemy; kings and governors suspected rebellion; the crowds first shouted their welcome, then their rejection; the disciples were confused, afraid, ashamed, and heart-broken—but God raised Jesus from the dead. In the resurrection of Jesus God has unveiled the infinitely greater capacity of divine goodness, subverting all human power plays, and wooing us towards a pattern of relationships not founded on fear and envy, greed and violence. At the heart of the universe, love reigns in faithfulness and unceasing generosity. The resurrection of Jesus reveals the crucified one as “fully and immediately and uninterruptably alive with the everlasting vivacity of God.”[2]

Now we’re not here just to hear the story. It’s not like we’ve been invited to be the well-dressed audience for the drama of Christ’s death and resurrection. We’re here because we want to let it sink in a little deeper yet that we are participants, and not just amateur theater participants, but real-life participants, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We’re here because Christ has embraced our life as his, and now we’re invited to embrace his life as ours, the life that is “fully and immediately and uninterruptably alive with the everlasting vivacity of God.”

“Therefore,” writes the Apostle, “since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

Christ’s solidarity with the sons and daughters of humanity, his friendship with sinners is so deep, his embrace of us all so wide, that we are all raised with him. “You have been raised with Christ,” the Apostle writes, like it’s already happened, and it has, because our resurrection is not something that happens after or in addition to the resurrection of Jesus, but is part of it. His life is our life. His life is human life like it’s meant to be. When we trust his word and his way, we begin to live in the new creation, and together we embody the new humanity, made in the image of the firstborn from the dead.

Did you notice that Paul wrote, “you have been raised” and only in the next sentence, “you have died”? It’s a curious reversal, isn’t it? It’s like he wants to tell us first and foremost what is our new identity as the people whom Christ has made his own, “you have been raised with Christ.” And then, because believers have always struggled to fully live our new identity, he reminds us that our former life under the reign of sin and fear isn’t who we really are, “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” And so the Apostle urges us “seek the things that are above” and to “set [our] minds on things that are above.” One commentator suspects that to some of us this may sound “like religiously justified absenteeism from real life, scorning the workaday vocations of family and state and economy to dwell daintily in a celestial starscape. It sounds like that most scorned version of Christianity, ‘pie in the sky by and by,’ heavenly hopes to the exclusion of earthly engagement.” [3] But that’s not the point at all. Paul doesn’t tell us to abandon the earth or the struggles for justice on earth. He points to the one seated on the throne, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, who reigns as Lord of the universe. ‘Seeking the things that are above’ and ‘setting our minds on things that are above’ is not about escaping the world for some imaginary ‘above’ but about re-orienting our allegiances to the Lordship of the crucified Christ and having our imaginations shaped by his rule, so that whatever we do, in word or deed, we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus; that way we give our attention and worship to the Lord of heaven and earth instead of pretenders to the throne. And that way we grow in our life in communion with God.

Believers in Colossae, like believers of every generation, struggled with letting this new life be their whole life. There were other teachings that sounded similar enough to what they had heard from the evangelists; there were other allegiances shaping public life, and there were other theories being debated in the markets and the academiesmuch like today. Life in first-century Asia Minor was very different from life today, but I imagine it was also very similar: folks wanted to know what a good life looks like; they wanted to understand what is means to be successful; they wanted to love and be loved; they had bills to pay; they hoped the kids would treat others with respect; they wished they had different hair; they worried about forces beyond their control; they wondered how all the pieces fit together.

We wonder how to fit all the pieces together. How do you do it? A little what momma said, a little Jesus, a little Hollywood, a little patriotism, a little Oprah, a little liberalism, a little yoga, a little momastery, a little network news, a little baseball, a little mountain music, a little historyand somehow it all comes together, doesn’t it? You work hard to pull it all together and keep it together.

Paul in Colossians and elsewhere urges us to let this day be the first day of our life; to see in the death and resurrection of Jesus not just the heart of reality in general,  but to let it shape our life day to day, year to year, and season to season; to let Christ be our beginning and our end, our going out and our coming home.

The Apostle includes in his letter a beautiful, hymn-like passage:

Christ is the image of the invisible God,

the firstborn of all creation;

for in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created,

things visible and invisible,

whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—

all things have been created through him and for him.

Christ himself is before all things,

and in him all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the church;

Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

so that he might come to have first place in everything.

For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,

whether on earth or in heaven,

by making peace through the blood of his cross.

The world is one because ultimately divine love subverts all human power plays. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God,” the short reading for this day ends. “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Glory is the last word. It has light bursting through it and song, it’s a word the angels whisper and thunder in eternity. It’s a word describing the unhindered and unending presence of God. Glory is the last word; the fulfillment of life.

 

[1] Easter hymn of the Orthodox Church; quoted in Moltmann, Passion for God, p. 84-85

[2] MacIntosh, Divine Teaching, 101-102.

[3] Sarah Hinlicky Wilson http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3218

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Repair or replace?

 

It was about two years ago, on a Sunday morning, after worship and after just about everybody else had left, when one of our deacons came to my study. She was visibly upset. “I am so clumsy,” she said, “I was washing the communion cups and I hit one against the edge of the sink. Can you believe it? I broke the chalice. Is there a way to get a replacement? I’ll be glad to pay for it.”

The way she talked about it, it sounded like the chalice was shattered to pieces, but it wasn’t bad at all, just a few small pieces missing from the base, and it looked like none of them had disappeared down the drain. “I think I can fix that,” I told her. “We probably need another set anyway, just in case, but I think we can fix this one and continue to use it. I don’t want you to think you have to pay for it, just because you broke it. We’re not Pottery Barn. Sometimes things break when we handle them, it’s part of life. I’m grateful that you give a portion of your Sunday to clean up when everybody else has gone to lunch. See, the pieces fit nicely, there’s just a tiny chip missing. I think I like that the chalice isn’t perfect, that it’s showing signs of wear. It’s an earthen vessel, just like we are, with cracks and flaws; what is perfect is the love we receive and share through it.”

So I used superglue to repair the chalice, and we’ve been using it ever since, beautiful in its imperfection.

Let’s say your clumsy husband broke a piece of your grandmother’s china that your mother gave you on your wedding day, would you want him to say, “I think I can fix that”? Probably not. You don’t want a piece of superglued china on your dinner table, even if it’s just a humble saucer. You’d go to replacements.com and see if you can find it, perhaps wondering if you should get a replacement for your husband while you’re there, one who appreciates fine china that’s been in the family for three generationsbut that thought only briefly crosses your mind, just for comic relief.

When it’s broken, do you repair it or replace it?

Depends on what it is.

Three weeks ago, on the Third Sunday in Lent, as part of our prayers of confession, we tore strips of fabric from a large piece of cloth. The tearing helped us visualize how our sinful actions fracture and fray the wholeness of life. “We confess our surrender to fear,” we prayed. “We confess our prejudice and contempt toward others. We confess our impatience with ourselves and with one another. We confess our lack of faith in your mercy,” we prayed, naming the brokenness within and between us, a brokenness we both suffer and cause.

Today we have spread palm branches up and down the center aisle of the sanctuary, turning it into the highway of the Lord, stretching from the gates of the city to the royal banquet hall where the nations of the world gather for the feast of peace. Today we welcome the Lord Jesus into the city, singing with joyful exuberance, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” We sing, because we do want him here, we do want him to rule and to make all things right and whole and beautiful. But look how poor he is: he doesn’t even own a donkey; he had to borrow one for the parade. What kind of king comes to town on a rental?

Matthew quotes from the prophet Zechariah to describe the scene, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”[1] But Matthew doesn’t quote the whole verse; he drops “triumphant and victorious” so all that remains is, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” In the sermon on the mount, the same word, here translated “humble,” is translated “meek”: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. The meek, in the company of their humble king, will inherit the earth. Our own visions of a world made right often have more in common with imperial dreams of world domination than with the peculiar way of Christ. We get power wrong. We see the donkey, but in our imagination we still envision the strong man in shining armor, riding high on a white stallion, who comes to save us. We see Jesus, but we still dream of a superhero. And so we watch the parade, hoping that this humble savior will transfigure and convert our dreams. We call this week ‘holy’ because we enter the mystery of God’s power revealed in the life and death of Jesus.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul urges believers in Philippi. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit … Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). Such words were rare and foreign in a city like Philippi. The citizens of Philippi cherished their connections to the imperial household, and their privileges as friends of Caesar. Roman culture valued force, competition, and honor-seeking. Humility was not considered a virtue. Roman society, much like ours, was built on the pursuit of status. You move up, and you socialize with the people who can help you move up even higher. You only look around to check out the competition with a quick glance over your shoulder. You press on, your eyes on the next rung of the ladder, leaving behind those who cannot keep up.

Jesus moves in the opposite direction. Jesus emptied himself, Paul tell us. He humbled himself. He “made himself of no reputation,” as the King James Bible renders the words so beautifully. He climbed down the ladder, his mind on nothing but the will of God, loving us sinners with a passion and a vulnerability for which we have no words. We call this week ‘holy’ because the final days of Jesus’ life on earth reveal to us the heart of reality, and it’s not relentless competition in the pursuit of status, but rather relentless love in the pursuit of communion. Jesus climbed down, all the way down, for love’s sake.

‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord,’ we sometimes sing, as though we could say, “They did it. It was the Romans, it was the Jews, it was the fickle crowdit wasn’t me.” But the cross is our doing. This is what we do to each other in the name of religion or in the name of  justice or truth or political convenience, in the name of whatever works for us. The cross is the culmination of our desire to be like God, the culmination of our rebellion against life as creatures made in the image of God. But this dark Friday truth has a glorious, hopeful side: God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him, the crucified slave, the name above all names. And because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can look to the cross and see more than the culmination of our rebellion against the life God has intended. We see love that goes all the way for the life of the world, for the sake of communion with us.

You have noticed the banner with the purple cross. It is woven from the strips of fabric we tore from a large piece of cloth three Sundays ago while confessing our participation in tearing up the fabric of life God has created. The cross shows us the hope for a new wholeness to be found beyond the fractures and slashes we have suffered and caused. It speaks of healing, of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In just a few moments we will share the Lord’s supper. We will again give thanks for the life God shares with us, for God’s relentless love, and for the hope that in Christ all of life is being restored and fulfilled, to the glory of God. After you eat the bread and drink the cup, we invite you to briefly stop at the banner. You will notice pieces of golden thread at each of the intersections where the strips of fabric cross over and under each other. You are invited to tie a knot at those crossings. You can do it as a prayer for wholeness for a particular situation or relationship, or to affirm your faith in God whose love will not let us go. Tying a knot is a small action, but it is part of the new wholeness God is creating from the fragments of our lives.

The chalice I mentioned at the beginning? I used superglue to repair it. I hoped that the fit would be tight, so tight that the cracks would be reduced to barely visible hairlinesgood as new, as we like to say. It was months later when I learned about a very different approach to repairing broken pottery. It is a Japanese technique called Kintsugi, which means ‘golden joinery.’ The repairer uses lacquer or epoxy, dusted or mixed with powdered gold, to fit the pieces back together. Rather than hiding the damage, Kintsugi accentuates the fracture lines with precious metal. The brokenness isn’t disguised, but made beautiful in a new wholeness. The broken vessel isn’t merely repaired, but recreated in new beauty.[2]

Isn’t that what God does? Isn’t that what we affirm God’s faithful love does with our broken lives? Refuse the urge to replace, but recreate in glorious beauty?

 

[1] Zechariah 9:9

[2] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi

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Hope without palliatives

Ezekiel never was your favorite prophet, was he? We much prefer Isaiah, whose words we can copy straight to our Christmas cards. Or Amos and Micah who call us to repentence, declaring God’s judgment against our injustice and lovelessness. Ezekiel doesn’t write copy for greeting cards. He also doesn’t show up much in our Sunday school curricula or lectionaries. He has made friends mostly among mystics and among those in every generation obsessed with the timetables of the endtime. Ezekiel is strange; some would say, weird. His visions are beyond imaginative, often incomprehensible and offensive, with violent and pornographic tendencies.

I was 14 years old, in confirmation class with my friend Chris, when we stumbled upon Ezekiel by accident. Our pastor had asked us to read a passage from Jeremiah 23, and flipping through the pages we didn’t realize we were in Ezekiel 23 when our eyes got bigger and bigger as we read about two sisters whose names no one had ever mentioned to us before. We read with a mix of fascination and terror, and we didn’t know what to make of the strange world we had accidentally entered, and so we giggled. “Thomas, verses 5 and 6; why don’t you read them out loud for us,” our pastor said, and I’m glad my friend Chris noticed that we had flipped a few pages too far in our quest for Jeremiah 23. He tapped the top of the page with his finger until I noticed it too—“Ezekiel” it said, and I quickly turned back the pages before I started reading.

Ezekiel, son of Buzi, was a priest from Judah, or perhaps a recent graduate preparing for the priesthood. He was part of a first wave of exiles from Jerusalem whom King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon deported in an attempt to subdue the troublesome leadership of Judah. We don’t know much about Ezekiel’s personal life, but I can imagine that he felt utterly out of place in that foreign land. You see, you can be a teacher, an accountant or a carpenter just about anywhere in the world. But Ezekiel was a priest of the Lord whose temple was in Jerusalem, and outside of that sacred place he simply was out of place. He had lost not only his home, but the defining center of his life. His entire community had been uprooted, and they struggled to make sense of their devastating losses.

It was in exile that Ezekiel became a prophet of the Lord. He had visions, he heard voices, in the grip of God’s spirit he traveled far, and he declared it all to his compatriots in exile. Ezekiel insisted that their losses did not reflect the defeat of the Lord by the gods of Babylonia, as some surmised; no, their exile was the judgment brought down on them by their God, and deservedly so. In Ezekiel’s mind, there was no room for historical coincidence, no room for geopolitical analysis that might explain their exile as collateral damage in the conflict between the global powers of the day, Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. In his mind, this was God’s doing, all of it.

Some thought Ezekiel was out of his mind, but they weren’t so sure when more news arrived from Jerusalem. Ezekiel had declared that the Babylonians would breach the city walls, burn the buildings to the ground, slaughter a great number of inhabitants, and deport the rest. And it turned out he was right. “In the twelfth year of our exile,” he wrote as though in a ship’s log, “in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, someone who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, ‘The city has fallen’ ” (33:21). Everything that once made them who they were as a people, had been taken away or destroyed: the land, the temple, the city and throne of David, their proud theology. They were broken. They were helpless, overwhelmed by hopelessness. Exhausted by grief, they sat in silence.

In that silence Ezekiel heard a new word, a word that spoke of new hearts and of homecoming – but who could really hear it? Not even Ezekiel himself; he wrote it all down, dutifully, but he couldn’t say it. The words of judgment had come to him much more easily. The losses they had experienced were much more tangible than these first whispers of hope waiting to be given voice.

That was the moment when the hand of the Lord once again came upon Ezekiel, and the Lord brought him out by the spirit of the Lord and set him down in the middle of a valley. It was a journey into the heart of the people in exile, a journey to the end of the road. Ezekiel didn’t just see a valley full of bones, he walked around in it. The Lord led him around as if to make sure he saw the full extent of their hopelessness.

Elie Wiesel noted that Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, unlike his other visions, does not bear a date. Why not? Wiesel suggests, because every generation needs to hear in its own time that these bones can live. We meet Ezekiel amid the ash heaps of Auschwitz, he stands amid the killing fields of Cambodia, the orchards of Bosnia, the roads and churches of Rwanda, the villages of South Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen – will the list ever end? Ezekiel stands amid the “vast acreage of death, once fields of birth,” as Daniel Berrigan called the landscape of our sin. In Berrigan’s meditation on Ezekiel’s vision, God cries out,

Have I populated the earth with monsters?

Of the symphonic

sweep and scope

of my creation

… they make this –

a petrified forest of death.

Bones, bones. Dry bones.

But not forever, I swear it!

… Ezekiel, stand in the killing fields.

Shall these bones live?[1]

Ezekiel said, “O Lord God, you know,” and we don’t know if he spoke with firm conviction or with some hesitation; we wonder if he meant to say more, you know, but the words just wouldn’t come; or was he perhaps waiting for God to speak the word? The Lord told Ezekiel to speak—to the bones.

“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.”

Can you see that scene? Ezekiel standing in the killing fields,  about as far away from the garden of creation as human imagination can travel, and there, in the dust where life once was, in the desert of hopelessness, bones as far as the eye can see, Ezekiel speaking the word of the Lord? Can you see it? Ezekiel’s breath interrupting the deathly silence, giving voice to the breath of God? Daniel Berrigan described the scene he saw:

And a rustling sound

as of leaves in autumn wind

started amid the dry bones.

A whisper, then a drumbeat!

They stood erect, those bones,

and knitted firm!

… and the spirit entered the bones.

First a whisper,

then a drumbeat,

then reverberant –

a heartbeat!

They took breath once more! and

walked about! and

conversed one with another!

joyful, harmonious,

an immense throng, the newborn, the living!

Speak to them.

Say:

Death no dominion!

from graves, mausoleums, hecatombs—

Lazarine multitudes, come forth!

Rejoice!

far from servitude!

enter the gates

of new Jerusalem![2]

The prophet spoke, and hope began to sing: Death no dominion! Corruption, injustice, oppression, and proud theology? Not the last word. Devastating judgment, exile, and weeping by the rivers of Babylon? Not the last word. The terrors of war and the hardness of human hearts? Not the last word.

“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live!”

The last word is so much like the first in the garden, when the Lord God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the earthling became a living being. Beyond the reality of death, there is the promise of new life.

“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live!”

Ezekiel traveled to the dead end of the road, and he came back telling us of the faithfulness of God. When we get to the point where we say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost,” when we get to the point where cynicism and despair look like the most reasonable response to the course of the world, when we get to that point, we need a friend like Ezekiel: a friend to remind us that God is not done.

Thomas Merton wrote in a letter to Czeslaw Milosz from September 12, 1959:

We should all feel near despair in some sense, because this semi-despair is the normal form taken by hope in a time like ours. Hope without any sensible or tangible evidence on which to rest. Hope in spite of the sickness that fills us. Hope married to a firm refusal to accept any palliatives or anything that cheats hope by pretending to relieve apparent despair. … We cannot enjoy the luxury of a hope based on our own integrity, our own honesty, our own purity of heart. … In the end, it comes to the old story that we are sinners, but that this is our hope because sinners are the ones who attract to themselves the infinite compassion of God.[3]

We need a friend like Ezekiel in a time like ours, and because we belong to God’s Easter people, because God’s spirit of hope is at work within and among us, we take our stand beside Ezekiel and join him in bearing witness to God’s faithfulness, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” You who see what a mess we have made of the world and how we seem to always manage to maneuver ourselves into dead ends, listen up! You who have settled for the status quo and the whispers of idols that tell you that exile is as close to home as it gets, listen up! The breath of God is blowing in the valley—let it breathe on you, let it breathe in you; allow it to give breath to your voice and inspire your actions. For thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live!

 

[1] Daniel Berrigan, Ezekiel: Vision in the Dust (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1997), p. 112, 114

[2] Berrigan, p. 114-115

[3] Thomas Merton, The Courage for Truth: Letters to writers, ed. by Christine M. Bochen (Louisville, KY: The Merton Legacy Trust, 1993), 62.

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First light

Many of you have seen the clip of the 10-year-old Iowa boy standing in the backyard with his dad standing right behind him, telling him to open his eyes.[1] The boy is wearing glasses that look like sun glasses. You watch him slowly turn his face and gaze across the yard and then he starts to cry; he quickly turns and hugs his dad, burying his face in his dad’s chest, clearly overwhelmed by the experience.

Cayson Irlbeck was born colorblind, and his parents hoped that the special glasses might help him see a fuller spectrum of color. Cayson didn’t see a difference between red and green, no matter how hard his friends tried to explain that a fire engine didn’t blend in with the trees and the grass at the park. Cayson and his friends looked at the same world, but they saw and lived in very different ones. Cayson told reporters, “I just didn’t really understand what people that aren’t colorblind actually saw, and that day was amazing.”

Annie Dillard once spent a full three minutes staring at a bullfrog that was so unexpectedly large she couldn’t see it even though a dozen people were shouting directions. Finally she asked, “What color am I looking for?” and a fellow said, “Green.” When at last she picked out the frog, she saw what painters are up against: the thing wasn’t green at all, but the color of wet hickory bark.[2] Even when we look at the same things, we don’t see the same things.

Rabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher Rabbi Elimelekh that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. “Yes,” said Rabbi Elimelekh, “in my youth I saw that too. Later on you don’t see these things anymore.”[3]

What did he mean? I wonder. Did he regret that he no longer saw angels like he used to when he was young? Or did he downplay that kind of vision to subtly chastise the younger rabbi for boasting about it?

The way we look at things, the way we perceive the world and name the things we see changes throughout the seasons of life. When we are little, we begin to know the world with immediacy and wonder, by simply participating with all our senses in the miracle of every moment. The older we get and the more we know about the world, the more difficult it becomes for us to maintain that earlier, and often happier, way of knowing things and people and ourselves.

The Scripture readings for this Sunday invite us to reflect on seeing and blindness, on having one’s eyes opened and suddenly seeing in new ways, on how what we know shapes what we see and what we see shapes what we know. We have written words on the windows, painting the light of Scripture onto the glass through which sunlight pours into this sanctuary; we have written words on the windows to visualize how Scripture invites us to perceive the world in the light of God’s love and God’s righteousness. We considered painting the whole surface of the windows and using wet sponges to write by washing away the paint on the glass one letter at a time, G – R – A – C – E, every letter showing how God opens our eyes to see the world in the new light of Christ, the first light of creation. Like I said, we considered painting over the entire window, but we had a wedding here last night, and painting the windows was not an option; so we decided to go with plan B, using paint and brushes to write on the glass. If at any moment this morning you feel moved to add a word or a phrase to what is already written on the windows, go ahead and do so. There are plenty of brushes and small cups of paint on every window sill. Doing graffiti is part of our prayers, part of our response to the word of God, part of our worship.

Annie Dillard chanced upon a book by Marius von Senden, called Space and Sight, in which he reviewed 66 early cases of patients who underwent cataract operations. When Western surgeons discovered how to safely perform these operations, they ranged across Europe and America operating dozens of men and women of all ages who had been blinded by cataracts since birth and documenting their cases. One doctor, before the operation, would give a blind patient a cube and a sphere; the patient would use his tongue or his hands to feel it, and name it correctly. After the operation the doctor would show the same objects to the patient without letting him touch them; now he had no clue whatsoever what he was seeing. “The mental effort involved [in learning to see] proves overwhelming for many patients. It oppresses them to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable.” The doctor writes about a twenty-one-year-old woman, “Her unfortunate father, who had hoped for so much from this operation, wrote that his daughter carefully shuts her eyes whenever she wishes to go about the house, especially when she comes to a staircase, and that she is never happier or more at ease than when, by closing her eyelids, she relapses into her former state of total blindness.”

Another young woman was dazzled by the world’s brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize any objects, but, “the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed: ‘O God! How beautiful!’”[4]

Jesus opened the eyes of a man blind from birth. He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” The man went and washed and came back able to see. We’re not told if he was happy or if he felt overwhelmed. His neighbors certainly didn’t know what to do with him anymore. Nobody shouted upon his return, “Will you look at this? It’s Frank; he can see! Praise the Lord!” Nobody asked him, “What’s it like to suddenly see? Does it hurt?” Instead they talked amongst themselves, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” They remembered a man who occupied a place on the margins of their world. They remembered a man who walked with tentative movements with his hands up in front of him. It was like they wanted to explain him away, because he no longer fit into their world. “Oh, that’s not him, he just looks like him,” some of them said. And he kept saying, “I am the man.” But the questions didn’t end. How were your eyes opened? Where is the man you say has done this? What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?

He was on his own under this barrage of questioning. Jesus healed him and then disappeared. Like any of us who live between Christ’s coming and his coming again the man had to make his own sense out of what had happened to him and decide what he would say about it.[5] His answers were timid one-liners at first. “I am the man,” he said. “I do not know,” he said. “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” But as the questions went on, the man grew both in eloquence and in courage, finally answering the Jewish leadership with a teaching of his own: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” At the beginning he spoke of his healer simply as “the man called Jesus,” then he called him a prophet, then a man from God. It was as though his vision kept on improving, so that he saw more and more clearly who Jesus was.

But nothing he said could make his opponents see what he saw. “We know that this man is a sinner,” the leaders affirmed with rock-solid conviction. They were sure that they knew all there was to know and saw all there was to see, and they didn’t risk having their familiar patterns of thought and perception opened up by the man’s testimony. They drove him out. They had no room for experiences and insights that didn’t mesh with their views of God and the worldand we know all too well what that’s like, don’t we?

At the end of the chapter Jesus enters the scene again and he finds the man. And now the man sees with even greater clarity who Jesus is and he worships him. Seeing, according to the gospel of John, is not just a matter of eyesight or habits of thought. Seeing is comprehending who Jesus is, recognizing the presence of God in Jesus, and beginning to perceive all thingsthe world, our neighbors and ourselvesthrough Jesus who is the light of the world.

We can’t force this kind of seeing, neither in ourselves nor in others. We grope like the blind along a wall, for all we know, groping like those who have no eyes.[6] But Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”[7] That’s a promise I trust.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu1SpIaEWbQ

[2] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper Perennial, 1985): 18.

[3] Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, p. 125; quoted by Phillip Roth, Sabbath’s Theater, p. 402 and by Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 32.

[4] Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 25-29.

[5] See Barbara Brown Taylor, “Willing to believe.” The Christian Century 113, no. 8 (March 6, 1996): 259.

[6] See Isaiah 59:10

[7] John 8:12

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Water for our deepest thirst

This was a sermon in two parts; part 1 before the Prayer of Confession at the beginning of the service, part 2 during the usual time after the scripture readings.

I.

After having already received blow after blow of bad news, Job saw yet one more messenger come in, who spoke to him these words: “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.” Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground.[1]

The earliest account in Scripture of someone tearing their clothes as an expression of great sorrow is in the story of Joseph. You remember, his brothers were jealous and wanted to kill him; while they were discussing his fate, he was picked up by a passing caravan who took him to Egypt and sold him. The brothers didn’t know what to tell their father, so they took Joseph’s robe, killed a goat, and dipped the robe in blood. They had the bloody coat taken to their father who recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments, and put on sackcloth, and mourned for his son many days.[2]

The tearing of fabric is a powerful symbol of forceful disruption, of all the ways in which death thrusts itself into our relationships, violently tearing apart what God in life and love has joined together. The symbol speaks not just in personal terms; we also talk about “the torn fabric of society” to speak of an underlying unity in our life together that has been fractured.

As part of our prayer of confession this morning, we will adapt the ancient practice of tearing one’s clothes in sorrow. We will tear off strips of fabric from a large piece of cloth while we name some of the things that tear the fabric of life, the life God intends. I say we, and what I mean is, some of us will do this on behalf of all of us. I ask eight of you to come to the microphone. Each of you will say one line from the prayer we offer today, and each of you will tear one strip of fabric from the purple cloth.

II.

“Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart,” we read in Deuteronomy.[3] Remembering the wilderness years has been essential for God’s people in order to remember who they are and who their God is.

The testimony of the witnesses about those years is consistent.

“We failed the wilderness test,” they tell us. “What was in our heart was doubt, despair, fear and grumbling. We were a people of little faith, little hope, little love.”

The testimony of the witnesses is consistent. “We failed the test,” they declare in the Scriptures, and they didn’t edit the desert scenes to make themselves look a little better. They didn’t cut the grumbling, the quarreling and complaining. “We forgot what God had done,” they wrote in Psalm 78, “we forgot the miracles the Lord had shown us, who divided the sea and let us pass through it and made the waters stand like a heap; who led us in the daytime with a cloud, and all night long with fiery light; who split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave us drink abundantly as from the deep, making streams come out of the rock and causing waters to flow down like rivers.”[4]

“We failed the test,” I hear the wilderness wanderers say, “but the promises of God were still new to us then and we had everything to learn. What did we learn, you ask? We learned to sing of the faithfulness of God.” The witnesses sing and tell of God’s faithfulness so that every new generation would “put their trust in God … and not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.”[5]

Every generation of Israel’s parents and teachers, beginning with the wilderness wanderers, passed on the stories to their children and grandchildren. They urged them to remember, but they didn’t tell them, “The way we did it back in the day is the way it’s done. Now it’s your turn to learn and do the same.” No, their testimony points in a very different direction:

We have failed again and again in our life as God’s people, but God has been faithful and true all the way. We failed to remember God’s promise and the commandments of life, but God remembered us. We failed the wilderness test, but through our failure we learned to sing of the faithfulness of God.

Complaining is a defining theme of the wilderness wandering stories. Trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s soldiers, the people said to Moses, not without a dose of dark humor, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?”[6] Yet soon they marveled as God made a way out of no way.

Then at Marah, they couldn’t drink the water, because it was bitter, and the people complained to Moses, “What shall we drink?”[7] And God showed Moses a piece of wood to sweeten the water.

Then they ran out of food, and again they complained, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”[8] And the Lord gave them quail and manna to eat.

Then the water gave out altogether and the people quarreled with Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst? Give us water to drink.”[9]

Israel’s testimony was born in a long struggle against oppression, against hunger and thirst, against fear and despair, a long struggle for a life of righteousness in covenant with God. Israel’s trust in God was not a given – it was found at the bottom of all they could imagine, at the end of their strength, and at the very edge of what they could bear: nothing left to lean on but the promise of God.

Go on ahead, God said to Moses, and take the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.

“God never failed us,” the wilderness wanderers told their children, and every generation of pilgrims in a barren land after them told the next generation,

We escaped from the house of slavery. We had food to eat and water to quench our thirst. None had too much and no one had too little. God was faithful, and we learned to be faithful to each other. Not that we never failed each other again, God knows we did, but in the wilderness we began to drink God’s word like our life depended on it, and God’s word has sustained us ever since. Moses called the place Massah and Meribah, test and argument. He could have called it Hashem-amin, the Lord is faithful, but perhaps he still had to discover that himself then.

The witnesses speak to us in hope that we too will discover what they discovered: God is faithful. The word of God is water for our deepest thirst.

In Psalm 95 they almost shout, “O that today you would listen to God’s voice!” And in the lines that follow, they recall what they heard God say,

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.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.[10]

The practices and disciplines of Lent, the things we choose to do or not to do during the Forty Days of W.I.L.D., help us recognize ourselves among the people whose hearts go astray, in whose hearts is little faith, little hope, little love, and who harden their hearts so that the water for our deepest thirst doesn’t soak in, but runs off like rain on a windshield.

At the beginning of the service we made our confession by tearing fabric. In sorrow, we named some of the things that rend the fabric of life God intends, and by naming them we also affirmed that we want our lives to be woven into God’s vision of life.

“Rend your hearts and not your clothing,” God says to us through the prophet Joel.[11] Let the act of ripping cloth in sorrow and grief over life’s brokenness be the prelude of your return to the Lord, your God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

Rend your hearts, so that through that crack we can really look at ourselves.

Rend your hearts, and lay bare under God’s merciful gaze the sinful, selfish, and destructive compulsions we cannot master.

Rend your hearts, because God will not despise a broken and contrite heart, but enter with healing mercy.

Rend your hearts in order to hear that echo of so many torn lives… so that indifference does not leave us inert.

Rend your hearts so that you can love with the love with which we are loved.

Rend your hearts to let your lives be remade in the image of Christ and woven into God’s vision of life.[12]

 

[1] Job 1:18-20

[2] Genesis 37; see also Joshua 7:6-7 (defeat in battle) and Judges 11:32-35 (horror of recognition), just two of many other examples. To this day, the tearing of clothes is part of Jewish mourning rituals http://www.jewish-funeral-guide.com/tradition/rending-customs.htm

[3] Deuteronomy 8:2

[4] See Psalm 78:11-16

[5] Psalm 78:7-8

[6] Exodus 14:11-12

[7] Exodus 15:23-24

[8] Exodus 16:2-3

[9] Exodus 17:3

[10] Psalm 95:7-10

[11] Joel 2:12-13

[12] Inspired by the 2013 Lenten message by Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires (now Pope Francis) https://zenit.org/articles/cardinal-bergoglio-s-lenten-message-for-buenos-aires/

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Leaving home

Leaving home is never easy. I’m not talking about leaving home in the morning to go to school or to work. And I’m not talking about leaving home an hour earlier to go to church. I’m talking about leaving the place you called home for good.

Do you remember a time when you had to do that, pack up and go? How did it feel to pull up the stakes that had held your tent taut for so long? It took effort, didn’t it, pulling them up and loosening the lines and watching your familiar dwelling collapse, metaphorically speaking. Then you found yourself on the road, not sure whether you were an explorer, a pilgrim, or a refugee, or what they call just a kid growing up. Others had talked about this moment as going to college, or getting married, or being between jobs – but to you it was a journey into the unknown. Everything was new, and at least for a while you found yourself floating in a river, on currents of excitement, fear, and hope.

Perhaps you recall that moment when you thought you had arrived; when you felt settled, when you had put down roots—and then someone you loved died; or your doctor’s office called with the test results; or your parents divorced, and what seemed like a reasonable thing to do for two adults who had grown apart turned out to be so painful and hard. And you pulled up the stakes and you rolled up your tent and you found yourself on the road, again. Where would you set up your tent next and for how long? Who would be there for you? Who would you be at the end of the journey? We always know what we’re leaving; the rest is unknown.

Leaving home is never easy. Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali-British poet and writer. I want to read a few lines from a poem she wrote, adapted from Conversations about home (at a deportation centre).

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying -
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Abraham and Sarah didn’t flee, they didn’t run away. The voice Abraham heard was God’s, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” It wasn’t that it wasn’t safe there anymore in Haran, or that his herds couldn’t find pasture there anymore, or that the wells had dried up and he had to pull up the stakes and move on.

It was about a new beginning for the whole world. It was as though the world had not only forgotten that it belonged to God, but had even forgotten how to say, “i don’t know what i’ve become.”

Most of the stories in Genesis 3-11 are tales of a rebellious, corrupt, and violent humanity in the grip of sin. It’s like the whole world has maneuvered itself into a dead end, far from the life God desires to share with creation. Layers of hopelessness and fruitlessness are summed up in eight sad words, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.”[1] Far from the life God desires for creation, there is no life. This family, and with it the whole human family as portrayed in the opening chapters of Genesis, has arrived at a dead end.

And now God speaks. God whose word brought forth light and life from chaos speaks words of promise that tell of land, descendants, and blessing. But the first word is, go. The first word is deeply unsettling. The first word is, leave – your land, your kindred, the house of your father. God calls Abraham to shift his identity from rootedness in his land, his kin and household to entrusting himself to the promise of God.

No longer your land, but a land I will show you.

No longer your kindred, but I will make of you a great nation.

No longer your father’s house, but I will make your name great.

No longer humanity stuck in sin’s corruption of life, but I will bless you and you will be a blessing and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

God’s call gives history a new direction, with the end being once again what it was at the dawn of creation: blessing. At seventy-five, even in ancient biblical times, the last thing on your mind is packing up all your belongings, moving to a new place, and starting a brand new life. And the thought must have crossed Abraham’s mind, but it’s not mentioned in these four-and-a-half short verses. The focus is solely on God’s call and promise and on Abraham and Sarah’s response. They became migrants for the sake of the promise, resident aliens sojourning among other peoples.[2] And as sojourners of the promise, they became the ancestors of Israel and of all who entrust their lives to God’s call and promise, as Paul insists. And those who belong to Abraham’s family by faith are heirs of God’s promises, members of God’s covenant community, citizens of the world to come.

It has always been important for God’s people to remember that we are a people on the way, not necessarily geographically, but in terms of our identity. The land impacts who we are, yes, and the way we’re treating it, I wish we’d pay a little more attention to what makes us who we are. And obviously our ancestors and our kin matter, as do our traditions, our language, our songs and cuisines along with all that helps us spell out the meaning of home. But none of that determines our identity as people of God. We are a people on the way. We are a people who live into the promise. We are a people who believe that the kingdom is already here, and we live into it until it is here for all and forever.

It has always been important for God’s people to remember that we are a people on the way, and it is particularly important in this day and age, when nativism, nationalism, and “us first” is written above the closed doors of many a house. The simple fact of being a human being is you migrate,” I heard a man say the other day on the radio. “Many of us move from one place to the other,” he said. “But even those who don’t move and who stay in the same city, if you were born in Manhattan 70 years ago, you’re born in Des Moines 70 years ago, you’ve lived in the same place for 70 years, the city you live in today is unrecognizable. Almost everything has changed. So even people who stay in the same place undergo a kind of migration through time.” [3] The pace of change and its depth are disruptive and overwhelming for many, just about anywhere you turn these days, and fear is rampant, not only among those who flee from home just to survive, but also among those who are afraid to let them in. It’s easy to forget that we are all migrants, which makes it all the more important for the descendants of Abraham and Sarah to remember. We are migrants, walking in the light of God, on the way to the city of God.

Last Sunday we sat for a few minutes with the words of Psalm 32, and we wrote on pieces of paper what weighs us down, what drains our spirits and keeps us from trusting God with our whole heart. We also wrote down the heavy burdens we saw on the shoulders of others, the things that dry up their strength and cause them to groan. Writing it all down was our prayer, a silent lament; for some of us, a silent confession. And then we burned those pieces of paper, affirming our hope that the God who raised Jesus from the dead would also transform us and all things, until all that God has made shines with the splendor of God’s glory.

The listening, the sitting, the writing, the fire — it’s an ongoing prayer of confession and lament, intercession and affirmation, building up during the days of Lent to the joyous praise of Easter morning. Today we use the ashes to write words of hope on a banner, and all of us are invited to participate. We have made paint with the ashes, and during communion, we will move a work table to the middle of the chancel. And we invite each of you to come up after you have shared the Lord’s Supper and add a letter or two to our banner of affirmation. You don’t need to worry about your handwriting or your painting skills; we use stencils and small sponges, so people of all ages can participate. For this part of our Lenten prayer we walk a little and we work a little. It helps us remember that we are a people on the way, walking and working in the light of God.

When the world had maneuvered itself into a dead end, far from the life God desires to share with creation, God spoke. When it was as though the world had not only forgotten that it belonged to God, but had even forgotten how to say, “i don’t know what i’ve become,” God made a promise. And with our ancestors in faith who first set out on the journey, we affirm that God is faithful.

 

[1] Gen 11:30

[2] See Gen 12:10; 17:8; 20:1; 21:23, 34; see also Hebrews 11:8–9.

[3] Mohsin Hamid in an interview with Steve Inskeep. Mohsin Hamid’s Novel ‘Exit West’ Raises Immigration Issues http://www.npr.org/2017/03/06/518743041/mohsin-hamids-novel-exit-west-raises-immigration-issues

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The other voice

Lent is an odd season. With its emphasis on repentance, fasting, and prayer, it goes very much against the grain of our culture. It’s meant to disrupt our routines; during Lent the church invites us to try on a different kind of life. American culture loves playing with Christmas, with Mardi Gras and Easter, with the presents, the parties and the lilies, but during the seven weeks of Lent, we’re on our own. The world of commerce and consumption, the world of work and entertainment doesn’t know what to make of this odd season.

Lent begins in the middle of the week with ashes smudged on our foreheads and somber words urging us, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Remember you are mortal, you are human. Remember and return are just two of the many words of this odd season that begin with the syllable “re.” Remember. Return. Repent.

The ashes are all that’s left of the palm branches we waived when Jesus came riding into town and we were so excited about God’s reign on earth. The branches went up in flames much like the exuberance of our joy and our commitment to living as God’s people. Ashes is all that’s left, and on Wednesday we used them to have the symbol of our hope traced on our foreheads – the cross of Christ, the triumph of God’s love over sin.

Lent gives us forty days to reflect on our priorities, reconsider our choices, remember our calling, renew our commitments, refocus our attention, resist lovelessness, reenter the place of truth, return to a baptized life, reclaim our identity as God’s own – in one word, repent. Forty days to let the Spirit lead us to a fuller understanding of what it means for us to be God’s Easter people in this peculiar and unsettling time.

The forty days are patterned on Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. It was the Spirit who led him there, immediately after his baptism. By the river, the voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,” now there’s another voice. This voice says, “Since you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The voice belongs to the devil. Nothing is said where he came from, nothing is said of his looks. What matters here – perhaps the only thing that matters – is the fact that the devil speaks.  And what he suggests is utterly reasonable: You’re hungry. You’re the Son of God. Go ahead, make yourself a little bread. This wilderness is not a place of quiet, undisturbed retreat, but rather a landscape where conflicting voices demand attention. The voice from heaven and the voice from who-knows-where-it-came-from.

Jesus responds by quoting Scripture, with a word from Israel’s wilderness tradition, from the teachings of Moses as written in the book of Deuteronomy,

Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.[1]

Bread is good. Bread is delicious, nutritious, and satisfying. Bread is essential, life-sustaining nourishment, but so is God’s word. Jesus won’t use his status and power as Son of God for a self-serving miracle, and he tells the devil that he is going to live by God’s word. But the devil isn’t done yet, and he is quick: Speaking of God’s word, he says, consider Psalm 91. Jesus finds himself on the top of the temple and the devil quotes Scripture, chapter and verse.

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

Since you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. Go ahead, live by God’s word and jump. Consider the publicity you could get with a stunt like that. The whole world would know you. Show them who you are. Jump.

But Jesus doesn’t. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” he says, again quoting from Deuteronomy.[2]

Now the devil puts all his cards on the table by reenacting an entire scene from Israel’s wilderness journey, with Jesus as Moses and himself as God. We read in Deuteronomy 34,

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo …, and the Lord showed him the whole land … [and] said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”[3]

The devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain with a view not just of the land, but of all the kingdoms of the world. And crossing over there is but one small step, he says, less than a step. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” What’s at stake in round three of the wilderness exam is what kind of power would rule the world. Would it be the devil’s empire of one throne to rule them all, or would it be the kingdom of God? Jesus tells the devil to be gone and begins his ministry in Galilee, a servant of God’s reign.

The high-stakes debate with the devil wasn’t about knowing Scripture and how to apply it in the thick of things, although that was part of it. And it certainly wasn’t about ignoring the human need for bread, for in the course of his ministry Jesus did miraculously transform a boy’s lunch of bread and fish into a feast for thousands. And it wasn’t about refusing to depend on the power of God, for Jesus did use it to teach, to heal and forgive, and he entrusted himself completely into God’s hands. And it wasn’t about rejecting a global perspective for his mission, for gathered with his disciples on a mountain, the Risen Christ declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus’ response to every test was to refuse the tempter’s suggestion that he could be so much more than human. Jesus did not use the power of the Spirit to avoid suffering and pain. He walked his path in obedience to God and serving God’s kingdom. “He did not use God to claim something for himself,” wrote Fred Craddock. “And it was this serving, suffering, dying Jesus whom God vindicated by raising him from the dead.”[4]

The temptations didn’t end in the wilderness. Like us, Jesus had wilderness moments throughout his life, when he was exhausted, hungry, frustrated, tired, and lonely, but he remained faithful in his relationship with God. “Avoid the cross,” said his close and well-meaning friend Simon, just moments after his bold affirmation, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And then, of course, there was Gethsemane, the long night after Jesus’ last meal with his friends. He didn’t jump. He didn’t walk away. He didn’t look for the shortcut. He entrusted himself completely into the arms of God whose kingdom he served. And he taught us to pray with the confidence of children,

Our Father in heaven, your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done. Give us bread for today. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from the evil one.

Lent is meant to disrupt our routines of hurry and worry, of self-centeredness and amnesia, of distraction and despair. We begin by remembering that we are mortal, human, that we fall short of the glory of God for which we have been created—and in the company of Jesus, we journey to the day of resurrection. Lent is the journey of our life condensed into seven weeks. The church invites us to live these forty days with a little less of what we know we don’t need and a little more of what we know we do. A little less running around and a little more rooting ourselves in prayer. A little less screen time and a little more eating with neighbors. A little less spending and a little more giving. You get the idea. You try on a different kind of life, and you may discover that you develop new routines you want to keep.

An image to keep in mind is a stick and a flute. A flute is a stick that has been emptied of itself for the sake of music. A stick is still full of itself. We have a tendency to clutter our lives with junk, to let chatter and noise drown out the voice of God, and to block the flow of the Spirit with our oversized egos. We have a tendency to live like sticks when we’re meant to be flutes.

The disciplines of Lent which the church adopted and cultivated for generations, disciplines like fasting, silence, and giving, create openings for the composer of the symphony of life to tune us.

[1] Deuteronomy 8:2-3

[2] Deuteronomy 6:16

[3] Deuteronomy 34:1-4

[4] Fred B. Craddock, “Testing that never ceases.” The Christian Century 107, no. 7 (February 28, 1990), 211.

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