Lent V Year A
Our scripture readings this morning point to the fact that life comes from God. Without God, there is no life. Of course, without God there is nothing at all, so there would also not be life. But in our daily lives, we so often live as if there were no God. We don’t always do that intentionally – usually, we just get so busy and frenzied that we forget about God, or we get so lazy and negligent that we don’t care about God. Sometimes, yes we do intentionally live as if there is no God – those times when we intentionally tell little lies or commit petty frauds to get what we want before someone else gets it.
In all those cases, when we finally come to our senses and realize that we have either intentionally or unintentionally forgotten God, we realize how dead we feel and how much we need God to be fully and truly alive. So, we as individuals and groups make helpful rules for ourselves to keep reminding us of God. Churches have membership rules, worship services, educational facilities, and special times (like Lent) to help us live more in the reality of God and therefore more fully. Individuals have scripture reading and prayer time to help them do the same thing, and the two (group and individual) should theoretically help each other and work together.
But we know that sometimes, even surrounded by reminders of God, we don’t always remember God and sometimes we even willfully forget God. Sometimes we just get tired of always remembering, and in so doing, we manufacture our own deaths. If that happens to us a lot, maybe that is a sign that we or our institutions are going about it the wrong way. Maybe we are using fear as a tool to help us remember God. If so, we should probably stop what we are doing and reconfigure our group and individual programs to take out the fear and replace it with love. Love won’t tire us out and make us want to forget God. And, if we are living in love and forget God anyway, no big deal – we will be doing life-giving things and so we will be living in God even if we do not realize it.
God takes our old bones and brings them to life. God brings us out of the grave. God give life and holiness to this beautiful flesh of ours. And if we are Christians, we go so far as to say that God has this beautiful flesh of ours, making it even more alive and holy in the person of Jesus. So, let us not forget to live in God. One of the best ways to remember is to come up here and eat with God at God’s table. We will all probably forget God sometime today, but that is ok – we will be doing this same thing tomorrow. AMEN
When you are in love with someone, you don’t want what that person can give you, you want that person. In a strange way, that is what we heard the Letter to the Hebrews say: God doesn’t want our sacrifices, God wants us. Instead of showing God our “sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings”, God want us to say: “See, I have come…”
When you are in love with someone you want to be with that person as close and as often as possible. We heard about Ahaz and Isaiah in our first reading. The story is about Judah being afraid of an attack by the Arameans. God is going to protect Judah, and wants to show King Ahaz to not be afraid. God says he will give Ahaz a sign of love and protection – a sign “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” That sounds like the way one feels when one is in love; everything is “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Ahaz won’t ask for a sign, but Isaiah says God will give it anyway. The sign that is deep as Sheol and high as heaven is the Immanuel – God with us. God is in love with us, and is with us as close and as often as possible.
God shows his love for us by being with us, even if we so often do not think we are worthy of God’s love. Maybe that is what Mary thought when the angel greeted her in our gospel story this morning. The angel said: “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” When she heard it, she was perplexed and “pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Maybe we do the same thing – we are told God loves us and finds favor with us, but we doubt it. In response to our doubt, God shows us with a sign “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” The sign, written all over us, is: God is with us – God wants to be with us, to come to us, to be inside of us, and to reproduce himself inside of us. The angel told Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That sounds a lot like the closeness that lovers enjoy – covering each other, being inside each other, using that closeness to produce a new life that will grow and add even more joy to the relationship. We are called in a similar way that Mary was. God loves us, and if we so allow it, God will come to us, cover us, and reproduce Godself within us.
We can have our excuses to doubt God’s ability or desire to be in us and grow in us. Mary said: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” We might be tempted to say: “how can this be, since I am selfish, or hateful, or dull, or impetuous.” We also might have trouble believing that anything we give birth to (even if the other parent is God) will be of any good to anyone. But with God working with us, we will give birth to exactly what is needed.
Mary shows us how we are all living temples of God. As Mary carried God in the flesh inside of her, so we also carry God in us. As in any pregnancy, the outward appearance of the mother changes, so we will change outwardly as God’s presence grows inside of us. We do need to remember, though, that we are all different to start off with, so sometimes it is difficult to discern how we ourselves and those around us are changing. It is best no to judge them or ourselves anyway – just let God control the growth of everyone. Another aspect of pregnancy is the importance of the mother taking steps to insure that the person inside her is growing properly. So we also must change our habits and actions to promote the growth of God’s presence in us, so that eventually we can give birth to God in our own world – to bring God into other people’s lives by our own life.
Mary was told to rejoice because God found favor with her, the Lord was with her, and she was to carry God inside of her. So we also should rejoice, because God finds favor in us, the Lord is with us, and wants to be carried inside of us. God is in love with us and wants to be with us as close and as often as possible. How can we resist – when God comes to us and covers us; when God’s breath (the Holy Spirit) is upon us; when God says he wants to be with us always. All we have to do is rejoice that we are so highly favored, and say: “Be it unto me according to your word.” AMEN
The story that we heard this morning about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit has spawned a lot of theories and questions about human nature, such as original innocence, original sin, and the fall of man. It has also raised the question of what is meant by the “knowledge of good and evil”, and why God did not want them to have it. We assume that Paul is talking about this story in his letter to the Romans that we heard in our second reading, and although he does not cite the story specifically, that is probably a good assumption. Paul’s take on the story seen in the light of his relationship with Jesus has also spawned a lot of questions and theories, such as substitutionary atonement and justification by faith through the grace of God.
Tempers have flared, friendships have dissolved, churches have split, and violence has erupted because of differences of opinion concerning these theories. Yet we still don’t know all the answers to the questions posed by the story and Paul’s interpretation of it. Maybe we would do better if we just acted on what we do know. We know that we do bad things. We know that doing those bad things ruins our lives and the lives of others and sours our relationship with God and other people, as well as our relationship with ourselves. We also know that no matter how hard we try, we can not completely stop doing those bad things. We know that from our own experience. We can also learn a few things from other people’s experience transmitted to us through scripture, such as the fact that God loves us and made us good, that Jesus did not do those bad things that we are prone to do, and that ruined lives and soured relationships are healed by Jesus.
The difference between knowing that we hurt ourselves and other people and trusting that Jesus heals those hurts involves a leap of faith. Without taking that leap, we remain the same hurtful people. By taking the leap, we at least have a chance of changing – if what the gospels and subsequent Christian experience teaches is true.
I don’t know of many or any people who have really made that leap, but another leap we can make is that of trusting Jesus to count the desire to make the leap as good as making the leap itself. We can come up with all kinds of theories about exactly why we do what we do and exactly how Jesus fixes the mess, but it might be more productive to just admit our sin and let Jesus fix it. He invites us to do that. He stands at the door and knocks. All we have to do is let him in and eat with him. We have a table set here to allow us to do just that. How convenient. AMEN
I Corinthians 1:18-31
The sermon from the prophet Micah we just heard in our first reading is about the danger of living selfishly and sinfully (the two are really the same thing) and then trying to smooth things over with God by doing “religious” stuff. It is good for us to hear that and to heed it. But there is another meaning to Micah’s sermon that would also be good for us to hear and to heed. That is: there is no need for us to do anything to make God like us, love us, and give us good things. There is no need of that because God already likes us, loves us, and gives us good things, and there is nothing we can do to make God stop doing those things. All we can really do is what Micah says: “…do justice…love kindness…and walk humbly with our God.” Even then, we don’t do those things to win favor from God – we do them because we have already found favor with God.
So, we take this wonderful universe God has made and live in such a way as to share it with others. One of the most important things that can help us share it is to remember, realize, and live the fact that God did not make this wonderful universe for us – we are simply one small part of it. We are lucky here – we have more than we could ever need. So, we need to do what we can to help those people in our world who do not have everything they need. Sometimes they are lacking things because of natural causes, so we can respond to calls for help in crises. Most of the time, though, people lack what they need because others are acting as if God made the universe for them and are cheating the unfortunate people out of their share of things. There are many ways we can help solve those horrible problems, but unfortunately, they are usually the most difficult to correct. That is no reason to stop doing what we can to help.
But as important as it is to help people in need, it is equally important to remember that we are not the source of the things they need, we are merely a delivery service. We have been overly blessed, so we bring some of that blessing to others. In order to do that, we must always be receptive to God’s gifts and never forget that we have done nothing to deserve them. How much has God blessed us! We live in a place that gives us the opportunity to wake up early every morning to pray and then to come back throughout the day for more prayer. What a gift! It is God’s gift to us, not our gift to God. May we take that gift and allow it to form us into better deliverers of God’s good things to the people around us and the people far away who need them. AMEN
Everything comes from God; nothing comes from us – that is the theme of today, and we are grateful for all that God has given. But from our narrowly human point of view, God is good at providing only raw materials; it is up to us to put in the work required to turn these raw materials into things which are (once again, only from our narrowly human point of view) useful. So we are thankful not only for the things God has given us, but also for the ability to work – for blessing us with memory, reason, skill, and most importantly: opposable thumbs. We must also remember to work not instead of God, but with and because of God.
There are a few things to help us work in gratitude and thankfulness. The first is to remember that we get the most satisfaction from our work when we do our best. We usually do that in terms of doing no less than our best, but we also need to be careful to not get caught up in the frenzied attempt to do more than our best. We have limits, and trying to go beyond them is as harmful as never trying to reach them. Work is our area of responsibility; results are God’s area of responsibility (and it is not our job to tell God what the results should be). We do our best and let God take care of the rest – that takes a huge burden off of our backs that we mistakenly took up in the first place.
We also need to work not with patience, but rather with constancy. The difference in the two words is subtle, but can have a big impact on our lives. Patience means we are merely waiting until things get better, so we work with a stiff upper lip and hope for the better. Constancy means we choose to do what we consider to be the right things no matter if things ever or never get better. Patience can lead to bitterness. Constancy is already infused with joy.
And we need to work out of love, not out of expectations for outcomes. One of my biggest prayers is that I hope to never see the fruit of my labors, and that we never see the fruit of the monastery’s labors (not that there will not be fruit, but that we will not see it), because when we see the fruit of our labors, we are tempted to work for results rather than out of love.
And so, the human race takes this wonderful planet that God has given us and makes wonderful things like donuts, spacecraft, and Olympic curling teams. I am thankful for all of those things. We at the monastery take this wonderful corner of the wonderful planet God has given us and we make guesthouses, meals, letters to prisoners, and calendars. Most importantly, we make prayers. AMEN
II Kings 5:1-3,7-15c
II Timothy 2:8-15
The prophet Elijah is a lot more famous than his successor Elisha, but the stories about Elisha are a lot more interesting than Elijah’s, like the one we heard at our first reading today. The story has a large cast of characters: two kings, a general, a prophet, the general’s wife and her slave, and the prophet’s servants. On the surface, the story seems to be about God’s healing power, and it is. However, on further reading and pondering, two other lessons are seen in the story: 1 – that of the harmfulness and uselessness of overreacting, or blowing things out of proportion, or unnecessary drama at hearing or seeing unwanted news; 2 – of the usefulness of calmly hearing or witnessing the entire story and getting other people’s opinions before making a decision about what to do in reaction.
The characters in our story who prematurely overreacted are the king of Israel and Naaman (the Aramean army general). Their fits of drama could easily have started wars, as is alluded to in the text. The calmer people around them saved the day by assessing the entire situation and looking at all options for response. By following the advice of the calmer people around them, the general was healed, both kings scored diplomatic points, and God’s love for all people was made known.
We live in a world much like that in our story this morning with too much drama, and it hinders us from taking care of things that really need our attention, because we are too worn out by all the yelling and pouting (our own and others’). How much easier it would be just let other people talk sometimes and listen to their entire point without interrupting. We can then think about what was said and calmly respond with something that might bring about good for everyone. We can get our information from a variety of sources rather than solely from sources that merely soothe our consciences by simply restating opinions we already have. We do not have to agree with everyone, but we do need to know what they are saying without it being filtered through other people whose goal is to skew things to fit their agenda. Then we can calmly ponder and pray for guidance about what we should do to bring about good, rather than making things worse with our emotionally overwrought first reactions. We just might learn the truth that not everyone who thinks differently than us is stupid and evil, and they might actually have a good idea every once in a while, and we just might be wrong sometimes. We can make room for others when we reel in our own smug haloes.
Doing all this is not easy, but it is good for us and everyone else. We don’t always react to things well, and neither do the people around us – it is understandable, but still inexcusable. May we give each other the time and space to work on becoming better at accepting unwelcome news, and may we never give up working on it – God never gives up on us. And – slowly we will be healed and wars will be averted, like in our story this morning. It is not just another weird Bible story – it could actually happen. AMEN