Lot Went With Him: St. Benedict 2006

Genesis 12:1-4a
Ephesians 3:14-19
John 15:9-171

Our scripture from Genesis is often used to inspire people to set out toward the unknown, leaving everything behind as we follow God’s lead into a totally new life. However, the very end of the story this morning does not fit that ideal situation. It says very specifically: ” Lot went with him.” If one reads further, one learns that Abram also took his wife Sarai and all of their combined possessions. Abram faithfully followed God in to the unknown, but he did not leave everything behind. We take our past with us always, wherever we go. We can choose to let it be a hindrance on our journey, or we can choose to let God transform it into a help for our journey. Just as we can give God our past, we can give God our future, as Abram did when he left his home and went where God directed. We can choose to worry about our future, or we can choose to rest in the fact that God will use it for our good no matter what it might bring us. Living in the knowledge that our past and future are in God’s hands and trusting God with our lives allows us to live joyfully in the present, as we are ” being rooted and grounded in love ” and as we are ” filled with the fullness of God”, as our second scripture reading from the Letter to the Ephesians puts it. It allows us to ” abide in God’s love ” and lets our ” joy be complete ” as Jesus tells his disciples in our gospel this morning. It frees us from a lot of worry and stress so that we have the time and energy to ” love one another “, and it gives us the stability we need to ” bear fruit that will last ” as Jesus says.

The call to give God our past, present, and future comes only from God, but it is not given only to famous saints or biblical figures. God want every one to freely give their lives to him so that those lives can be real. Life comes only from God – it is not under our power – and until we recognize that, our lives aren’t real; at best they are pale imitations of true life, at worst they are walking deaths. We can choose to pretend that our lives are under our own control and in so doing lose them, or we can choose to acknowledge and rest in God as the source of our lives and so live more truly than we could ever have imagined. Abiding in God won’t necessarily make life easy we can see that by looking the human life of God in Jesus but it will be fruitful, based on love, and eternal. There’s no denying that some events in our past can be crippling and we ought not to make light of them. In the same manner, sometimes events looming in the future can be overwhelming. We shouldn’t deny all that; it is right and good to grieve over those things, but we don’t have to let that paralyze us. God can transform it into good grief that helps us to learn from our past and prepare for the future, while not letting them consume our lives. Our past, present, and future are all parts of us that God can use to bring us to true life. We must not deny them, fret over them, or pretend that we are in charge of them. They are from God and God will give us what we need if we only take it from him and abide in him as the source, meaning, and completion of our lives.

That is true not only for us as individuals, but also for us as a monastery. There is good and bad in our past. We don’t know what the future will bring, but most likely there will be good and bad in it, too. The only thing we can be sure of is that no matter what has happened and what may happen, God can make good out of it for us, if we only allow it. It may not turn out the way we expect or want, and we should be thankful for that, because our hopes and desires are so tiny. God will make things better than we could ever expect or desire. May we look with love on our past as we take it with us into the future, knowing the one sure thing is that God is with us. AMEN

Epiphany Last Year B: Come, Let Us Go To The Mountain Of The Lord

I Kings 19:9-18
II Peter 1:16-21
Mark 9:2-9

Our scripture readings have at least two themes in common. One is that of being on a mountain. The other is that of the human tendency to wrongly assume and presume. In the First Book of the Kings, we have Elijah on the run because he has just destroyed the prophets of Baal, and so he is afraid of what King Ahab and Queen Jezebel will do to him if they find him. He finally makes it to Mount Horeb, where our story takes place. In the Gospel according to Mark, we have Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up a mountain where he is transfigured and meets with Elijah (making his second mountaintop appearance this morning), and Moses (who is known for his mountaintop conversations with God on Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb, where we just met Elijah). Then, in the Second Letter from Peter, we hear Peter recalling the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain that we heard about in the gospel reading. That takes care of the first common theme.

The second common theme, that of God combating the human tendency to wrongly assume and presume, is a little more subtle. When Elijah finally meets with God on the mountain, the prophet complains that he is the only one left who is loyal to God. God tells him that is not true; there are seven thousand worshippers of God left. When Peter, James, and John are coming down from the mountain after the transfiguration, Jesus warns them to not tell anyone about it until after his resurrection. That seems an odd thing to say, and Jesus says that same thing to people throughout the Gospel of Mark, but as the abbot mentioned in a sermon a month ago, maybe Jesus did not want people to wrongly assume that he was who they wanted and expected him to be, because they would get it wrong. Jesus was and is different from and more than anyone could have ever thought. Just as Elijah had jumped to a wrong conclusion until he was corrected by God on the mountain, so would have the disciples had they not been silenced by Jesus.

It is the same with us; our experiences with God can cause us to jump to wrong conclusions about God, ourselves, and the people around us. That doesn’t happen because we are stupid. It happens simply because compared to God, our perspective is so small that we can see only a small glimpse of the infinite. We need to compare our experiences and understanding of God with others’. They won’t be the same, because just as everyone is different, so will their relationship with God be different. But we do need to be sure that our assumptions and presumptions about God are not totally out of bounds. As Peter says in his letter this morning: “…no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation…”.

So we need to be always open to others’ interpretations of and understanding of God. We don’t have to blindly accept everything anyone says, and we can honestly and politely let people know when our beliefs differ from theirs and we think they are wrong, but we ought to be open to the fact that they may be on to something – whether or not they are of a different opinion, a different denomination, or even an entirely different religion. We can do that by listening to others and allowing them to listen to us. We can also do it by reading works by people from different cultures and times. More specifically we can do that by being open to the Holy Spirit as we meet together here; seeing Jesus shining through each other, in the scriptures read, in the psalms sung, in prayers offered, and in the food on the altar. So let us go to the mountain of the Lord – the table where we meet with God individually and as a group, and let us not forget that every time we are up here, we are with everyone else at every other Holy Table with Jesus around the world and throughout time. The Lord is here to feed us individually and as a group. We all have much to learn from each other and from God.   AMEN

Epiphany III Year B: Be All That You Can Be

Jeremiah 3:21-4:2
I Corinthians 7:17-23
Mark 1:14-20

Our first scripture reading describes how the people of Israel and Judah had been relying on everything but God: foreign idols, military alliances, and economic power, and all it got them was disaster – the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria and the Kingdom of Judah would be conquered by Babylon. Jeremiah says that the only way to get out of their mess is to confess their sins, stop relying on false hopes, and put their trust in God alone. Only then will they gain their true vocation as a blessing to the world around them, rather than their hollow and ultimately self-defeating pretensions as players in world politics.

While nowadays we would not be as nonchalant about slavery as Paul was, he does make a valid point in our second scripture reading about using our circumstances for good. It is true that we should not stay in bad or harmful situations, but we also ought not to waste all our time and energy constantly fantasizing about and pretending to be who we are not. We should instead rely on God to make us the best we that we can be, and then use our lives to help others.

In our gospel story, Mark tells about God using people just as they are: Andrew, Simon, James, and John went directly from fishing to following Jesus. Jesus gave them necessary training along the way and then sent the Holy Spirit to further guide them, but they never had to pretend to be who they weren’t. They had been faithful to their jobs as fishers, so Jesus upgraded them into fishers of people. Had they not been doing their jobs at the Sea of Galilee at the time, they would not have been able to respond to the call of Jesus.

It is the same with us. We don’t need to shy away from improving our economic situation or from educational opportunities, but we also don’t need to pretend to be anyone other than ourselves. God can not use fake images to bless people. God uses real people to make the world a better place. We must never rely on the false gods of wealth and social prestige to save us. God alone is the source of our being and fulfillment. Underneath all of our pretensions and dissemblings, we find that we are exactly who we ought to be, even though we are not the fully mature selves we will be someday if we only let God grow us. God does not make junk, and if we trust in God, God will take the good and worthy persons that we are and bring them to perfection. Like Jeremiah, Israel, Judah, Paul, Andrew, Simon, James, and John, we will be a blessing to the world around us. But we must start by being only who we are and trusting in God alone.   AMEN

Advent II Year B: Eternal Impermanence

Isaiah 40:1-11
II Peter 3:8-15a,18
Mark 1:1-8

Peter and Isaiah both remind us of an important truth in our first two readings this morning: the truth of material impermanence and divine eternity. They speak of people as grass that withers and of the dissolving of the elements while reminding us that the word of God will last forever and time is of no consequence to God for whom a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years. Another way to put it might be: all material things exist temporally because God creates by bringing them into existence, sustains by holding them in existence, and negates by ending their existence while God is eternal because God is existence. We all know that, but we sure don’t live like it, and that causes problems for everyone involved. We live like the things around us are so important that we push God to the background. Our hands are so full of temporary things that we can’t grab on to the eternity of God.

The things we fill our hands with aren’t bad; they are good, because God made them. They aren’t bad – they just aren’t God, and we are created to live with God. We don’t have to throw away our clothes and ovens and wear hair shirts and eat raw food like John the Baptist, but if that’s the only way we can get over the hurdle of material possessiveness, then that way of life is perfectly ok. To live as we should with eternity at the center of our lives, we must walk the middle way of rejoicing in the goodness of every person and every thing while never trying to possess them as substitutes for God. The best way to worship God is to enjoy and be grateful for the universe God has made. Part of that enjoyment of the world is realizing that it is not the ultimate reality and it won’t last. The noble path of the middle way or apatheia or detachment teaches us that the existence of every person and every thing in the world depends on God, not on us. It also teaches us that our own existence depends on God, not on us. The confession of those truths frees us from the heavy burden of over-inflated self-importance and replaces it with the yoke of responsible stewardship. We must truly and deeply love and respect every person and every thing without trying to possess them, and we must gratefully let them go when their time or our time is up.

Living that way is true holiness and true prophecy, as Peter and Isaiah call us to live in today’s scriptures. It is a life of holiness because it puts God at the center of everything, and it is a life of prophecy because it is the truth. The world around us will end someday. Many of us have already experienced our worlds coming to an end through unexpected tragedies or twists of fate. We need to start practicing lovingly letting go of things so that when the time comes to really do it, we can. We need to free our hands from desperately grasping the world around us so that we can hold on to God – not just for our own good, but so that we can be ready to help the people around us whose worlds are coming to an end and who need to hear of God’s unending life of joy and peace. We can be the prophet crying “Comfort” in the confusing wilderness of the world around us. We can prepare a way for the Lord, who comes to baptize us all with the Holy Spirit of true life, true existence, and eternity. The universe around us is beautiful and wonderful and good. God is infinitely more so. May we use the wonderful world around us to make a way for the Lord to come to us, instead of as a wall to keep the Lord away from us.   AMEN

Proper 26 Year A: Proactive Humility

Micah 3:5-12
I Thessalonians 2:9-13,17-20
Matthew 23:1-12

Micah was probably not a popular person. We heard him in the first reading today telling the truth, and the truth does not usually make one popular. He was letting people know that Israel and Judah had not lived up to their vocations as examples of God’s love to the world around them, so they were to be chastened and reformed by being conquered by surrounding empires so that they would learn to trust in God alone, rather than in their military, economic, or diplomatic prowess. The people around him did not want to hear that news. They liked the other prophets, who, for a small fee, would tell them that everything would be ok. There preference for lies over truth doomed them.

We tend to be like those people. We don’t want to hear the truth if it makes us uncomfortable. But if we do not admit the truth, no matter how frightening it is, we are doomed, just like Israel and Judah. We can’t ask God for help when we never admit anything is wrong. Humility can only work in an atmosphere of honesty.

Jesus talks about this subject in our gospel reading this morning. The scribes and Pharisees should have been leaders of the people, but they had stretched the proportions of that leadership to the point where they expected admiration from others whom they considered to be less worthy than them.

The scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’s story needed humility, not because they were worse than the people around them, but because they were just as good as everyone else. They were loved just as much by God as the people around them were. They did good things as well as bad things, just as much as the people around them did. Because they did not want to admit that they were just like everyone else, they were doomed, because that was the truth, and just like the people in Micah’s day, when we don’t face the truth, we are doomed.

The truth is: we are all wonderful, beautiful children of God, and so is every one else. We are no better or worse than anyone else. We are all equally worthy of the love of God and the people around us. Anytime we act otherwise, we doom ourselves to life in the hell of our own lies. Admitting the truth of our infinite worth as God’s children is just as important as admitting the truth of our failure to live up to that vocation. Only when we admit both can we ask God to forgive us for failing in our task to be God’s image. Only when we admit those same truths about the people around us can we live with them in peace.

Our job is to be the Body of Christ; the presence of God to the world around us. We don’t always do that job well. We don’t always forgive others when they don’t do it well. We must confess both of those failures and get on with the job. The truth sets us free. Lies bind us. Humility is the only cure; admitting that only God can help us be who we truly are.   AMEN

Show And Tell: Epiphany 2002

Isaiah 60:1-6,9
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

At first hearing them, Paul’s words in our second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians might sound a little pompous when he speaks of “the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you”. It sounds like he thinks he is some kind of special dispenser of God’s grace. However, after thinking about it for awhile, we realize that he is in fact a dispenser of God’s grace, and that his statement is not at all pompous, because we are all supposed to be very special and unique dispensers of God’s grace to the world around us. Just as God was revealed to the wisemen through Jesus, God still reveals himself; only now, God uses us (the Body of Christ here on earth now), and it is not only rich wisemen that seek him.

We hear a lot about our responsibility to see Jesus in those around us, and that is good and true. But we must also remember that we have the responsibility to make sure that others can see Jesus in us. We may never realize it, and we may never know who it is, but each one of us has someone looking to us for a revelation of God. They may not know that that is exactly what they are doing, and they may never put it in those words, but that is in fact what they are doing, and we do it to others, even though we might not realize it or put it in those words. We rarely feel adequate to the task of being divine revelations to the world around us, and certainly we will fail and disappoint some people, but that doesn’t take away our responsibility.

As Isaiah says in our first reading: “Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you;”. We must never forget that no matter how difficult and draining it is, many people look to our monastery, and to the different families and congregations represented amongst our guests, for a glimpse of Jesus. We might not like that fact, but it doesn’t make it any less true. It is very easy to be like Herod in our gospel story this morning when the wisemen came to him seeking Jesus. Matthew says: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;”. Another translation says that Herod was “perturbed”. It is indeed easy to be frightened or perturbed when so many people count on us for a glimpse of Jesus, because we don’t feel adequate to the task of being a divine revelation. But if we read the rest of the story, some of the pressure is taken off.

After all, when God was revealed to the wisemen, it was in very humble circumstances. They found him at home, sitting on his mother’s lap. Knowing that God can be revealed in such a mundane way makes our job easier. It means that the mundane things we do can serve as revelations of God. For those of us who live outside the monastery, it means that every time we are thoughtful enough to use our turn signals when we are driving, or every time we honestly fill out our tax returns, or every time we wait our turn in line at school, or every time we do our chores at home without complaining or being a smartmouth to our parents, we are revealing a little bit of God’s love to the world around us. For those of us in the monastery, it means that every dish we wash, every floor we mop, and every difficult letter or phone call we answer is an opportunity to show God’s love to the world around us. In fact, the thing that we put the most effort and expense into, and in which we receive Christ most intimately here in the monastery and in the home congregations of our guests, is the humble setting of a meal, as we gather around the table up here as guests of Jesus.

So, in the words of Paul to the Ephesians, “the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you” is not pompous. It is a simple as letting people in front of us on the highway, or rewinding a videotape before returning it, or refusing to repeat gossip. Like Paul, we have been given grace so that we may give grace. We are the only revelation of God that many people will ever see. Every kind word we say and every loving deed we do in our own unique way and in our own little part of the world lets God shine forth. So let us come up here and share a simple meal with Jesus, so that we can share Jesus with others in simple ways. AMEN

Proper 11 Year C: In Due Season

Genesis 18:1-14
Colossians 1:21-29
Luke 10:38-42

We just heard three portions of scripture that discuss the importance of waiting. The story of Abraham and Sarah’s visitors gives us the sense that the couple had been waiting a long time for a child, so much that they had given up hope. Then, these visitors tell them to wait some more, and “in due season” a child would be given them. That announcement must have been frustrating, and who could blame Sarah for laughing? She should be applauded for not throwing the visitors off the premises for being so cocky. Instead, she and Abraham waited. It is a good thing they did, because “in due season” they did have a child.

Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colossae also talks about waiting. He is encouraging his readers to continue growing in Christ. He reminds them of where they started out, and of their eventual goal, and of the fact that the goal does not come automatically, but will take a lot of work. They started out being estranged from God, their goal is fullness in Christ, and the work involves being steadfast in faith, without shifting from hope – in other words, waiting. The steadfast kind of waiting that Paul talks about is not a passive thing. It takes work to wait in faith. It takes work to mature in Christ. Sometimes, it takes work just to have any faith that we will ever become more Christlike.

The gospel story about Mary and Martha is about two kinds of waiting – both of them good. We are not sure what kind of tasks were distracting Martha, but it is a good guess that she was busy waiting on Jesus by cleaning house and cooking food, while Mary was waiting on Jesus by simply being with him. Both of those types of waiting are good, but there are times when one is more appropriate than the other. Mary just happened to choose the right thing at the right time. It takes effort to know what type of waiting is the right thing to do: should we get up and do something, or should we let things be and enjoy them as they are, spending time resting in God’s lap? We need both of those things to be complete, and the people around us certainly need us to stop our frenzy and settle down sometimes, as much as they need us to get up and put in some work at other times.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of discerning what type our waiting should be is the fact that the proper response does not always coincide with our mental or physical states. Sometimes, we need to get up and do our chores when we are tired. Sometimes, we need to sit still and pray when our minds are racing. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s just the way it is. We simply need to honestly assess the situation and choose the appropriate response, whether or not it matches our state at the time. Some people do this by having a rule where they purposely set apart certain times of the day when they will be about their daily chores, and other times of the day when they will be still with God, and they stick to that plan. That is the kind of thing we do at the monastery. It is not always easy, but when freely chosen and followed with integrity, it is a path that has helped many on their road to maturity in Christ.

Maybe the reason that learning to wait patiently (especially when we don’t want to) is such a factor in our growth is because it teaches us that not even our time is under our control. When we stop trying to control it, then we can rely on God to use our time much more wisely than we ever could. Of course, giving up control is not the same thing as neglecting our stewardship – we need to manage our time wisely. The whole concept of giving up trying to control things and learning instead to be good stewards of them is an ongoing, important part of growing into our vocations as the body of Christ. None of us knows when we will reach our goal of maturity in Christ. We just have to wait. Perhaps we can not get there, since God is infinite, and therefore we can never reach the point where growth is not needed. On the other hand, since God is infinite, perhaps the fact that we are slowly on the way to maturity means that we have already reached the goal. We have a long way to go, but every time we take a step, we have arrived at both the center and the circumference of God. We must never despair on the way, and we must never be distracted by our many tasks. We can be sure things will happen, but we can=t be sure what those things will be or when they will occur. They will happen in due season. We must simply work and wait.   AMEN

All Saints Day 1999

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10,13-14
Revelation 7:2-4,9-17
Matthew 5:1-12

We can’t choose the life that is given us. Some of us are be wealthy, others poor. Some are famous, others unknown or even infamous. We are black, white, brown, red, or yellow. We are gay or straight or something else in between. Male, female, undecided; uneducated, highly educated, overeducated, or undereducated. Our first reading makes a point of all these differences.

But even though we can’t choose the life that is given us, we can choose to use the resources that we have been given to make the world a better place, or a worse place. We just heard Jesus give a list of the people in this world who are blessed. Nowhere on that list do we find: “blessed are those who made sure that everyone around them behaved “, or: “blessed are those who made a lot of money or won elections or were good-looking “. Instead, we heard Jesus saying: “blessed are those who had their share of trouble in life and have loved and lost, but were still merciful, peaceful, and hungry for righteousness.” Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

In a very real way, they are already in heaven, and heaven is in them. In the same way, we can be in heaven right here and right now every moment off our lives. We can see the world as the heaven it is created to be a beautiful place full of the blessing of God yet which is also full of sorrow and sin – and we can rejoice in the beauty while trying to alleviate the suffering. Unfortunately, we can also see the world as the hell that we make it a place full of our own fears and perceived inadequacies which we desperately try to cover up. The choice between heaven and hell lies in our own decision of how we will relate to the world around us.

Even though we can not choose the life we are given, we can transform it. When we choose heaven when we choose righteousness, mercy, and peace, then our own lives can bring heaven to those around us. In a similar manner, when we choose hell when we choose greed, condemnation, and strife, then our own lives bring hell to those around us. We all know that we have made both choices at different periods of our lives, and we still make both choices at various times of the day. We may not be super saints or super sinners, but we do influence people around us with our daily lives. As Mother Teresa said: “We don’t need to do big things, we need to do the little things with love.” In a way, doing big things to help people is easier than doing little things, because once the big thing is done, it is over and we can relax from being good. The little things, though, never end. We so often slip into the mode of bringing hell to our world by doing the little things in life without love, but rather with anger, greed, or pride. It is so easy to slip into that mode, because we just get tired from the daily grind of little things. That is why we can rise to the mode of doing the little things with love only by the grace of God.

God knows how difficult it is to always live in love, because God is one of us, and lived a life just like the rest of us with its ups and downs and never-ending chores. We might ask that since God knows how difficult life can be, why does God not make it better, not just for us fairly healthy and wealthy people, but especially for all those people in the world who live in desperation, sickness, hunger, and fear. We don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know that we can choose to have compassion on those whose lives are so much more difficult than ours, and use our own lives to make the world a better place. We can use our own lives, no matter how unimportant we might seem, to transform the world around us by bringing heaven to our own little corner of the world through our own actions.

That’s how we can all be saints by living our daily lives with mercy, peace, and meekness, helping to bring righteousness to our world. It is true that we should mourn over mournful things and not try to cover up or try to hide the wrong and harmful things in our world, but we must never confront those aspects of hell with our own hell. Instead, we should meet those things with the transforming love we are created to give. It’s our own choice: to fulfill our vocations as saints by bringing heaven to our world, or to go our own way and bring hell to our world. It all revolves around the little things. May God help us in our daily lives as saints as we mourn, as we hunger and thirst for righteousness, as we grant mercy, and as we make peace. AMEN

Make Do & Make Good: Gregory the Great 1998

Wisdom 7:7,15,16
II Corinthians 4:1-2,5-7
Luke 22:24-30

Our scripture readings today, as well as sources which tell us about Gregory the Great, seem to point to the conclusion that the wise person – the true leader – is the one who takes what life gives and makes the best of it; not being content with a bad situation, but working to improve matters with joy and confidence in the future; not being complacent with a good situation, but working to maintain what is good and possibly even improve on it so that it can be passed on to others. As Paul writes to Corinth: “…since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”, as Jesus says: “…the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves…”, and as Gregory writes: ” good rulers…should share the troubles of the weak…” (Pastoral Care).

It is also apparent from our readings that the true leader gains wisdom by learning when to listen and when to speak. We all know how difficult it is to listen, especially to things we don’t want to hear. Maybe that’s why Benedict began his Rule with the instruction to “incline the ear of our heart”. Just as we are encouraged to listen with our hearts, Solomon advises us to speak with our hearts as he prays: “May God grant me to speak with judgment, and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received…for both we and our words are in his hand…”. Gregory sums up the need for listening and speaking wisely when he says that a leader should “be pure in thought, exemplary in conduct, discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech.” (Pastoral Care)

As mush as we know how hard it is to listen wisely, it is even more difficult to be “discreet in keeping silence” and “profitable in speech”; to use words that build up instead of tear down, words that praise instead of belittle, and in those difficult times when we must correct others or tell them something they don’t want to hear, to do so with care instead of spite – speaking the truth in love. This wise use of words was what Benedict was talking about when he said that “those who live there should bless God and not grumble. Above all else we admonish them to refrain from grumbling. Or As Maya Angelou says : “Don’t ever whine. Whining makes you ugly.”
Gregory was not immune to the possibility of despairing, grumbling, whining, and feeling like giving up instead of working with confidence in God’s goodness. We get a glimpse of his thoughts as he slips them into a sermon: “Since I assumed the burden of pastoral care, my mind can no longer be collected; it is concerned with so many matters. I am forced to consider the affairs of the church and the monasteries. I must weigh the lives and acts of individuals. I am responsible for the concerns of our citizens. I must worry about the invasions of roving bands of barbarians…” (Homily on Ezekiel). It is good to know that someone of his stature was so honest about his stressful burden, and it is good to know that he didn’t give up. Perhaps he drew strength from the belief that he was shouldering the burden in order to make things a little better for those around him. Perhaps he kept coming back to the realization that no matter the size of the task in front of him, God was there with him.

A book in (Kitchen Table Wisdom – Rachel Naomi Remen) our library talks about a woman looking at a statue of Shiva, and was perplexed at the figure of a little man doubled over under the weight of Shiva’s foot, looking at a leaf in the ground. She interpreted the figure to mean that God was dancing on the man’s back, and if he were not so absorbed at looking at the ground, he would realize that God was there with him. That interpretation is not orthodox, but we can learn form it. Like Gregory, we may be “no longer collected…and concerned with so many matters”. Like the little man in the statue, we nay feel doubled over by a great weight. Like Paul, we nay feel “afflicted in every way…”. But if we so choose, we can look around and see that God is there dancing – not to taunt us, but to encourage us.

We don’t have to drop everything in order to dance with God. The world around us is beautiful and worthy of attention. Whatever jobs lay ahead of us, we can use our minds, our muscles, our skills, and our thoughts and words to make the world a little easier for ourselves and others. May we strive to acquire wisdom to do so. May we take some of Paul’s advice and let God shine in our hearts, putting treasure into the clay jars that are ourselves, and may we come to know that the clay jars are just as beautiful and precious as the treasure inside. AMEN

Lent I Year C: Get Saved

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Romans 10:5-13
Luke 4:1-13

Life is difficult. Bad things happen to good people: children die, parents die, war, disease, and famine are rampant. To pretend that everything is ok is wrong. While it is true that God created a good and beautiful world, it is equally true that we have filled it with hatred, war, pollution, greed, and many other sins, and the effect of our sin is killing us.

However, our scripture readings today tell us that if we call to God, God will save us. What in the world does that mean? Sometimes we hear people say that we need to “get saved”. There are a lot of different opinions on the details of the matter, but what they usually mean is that we should all have a definite time and place where we have put our trust solely in God. That still doesn’t tell us what it means to “be saved”. The fact is, it is not easy to define, because it has meant many different things throughout history and throughout scripture – sometimes it means being rescued from enemies who wish us harm, sometimes it means being healed from sickness, sometimes it means protecting the crops from drought, sometimes it means preserving the peace of the nation. People who could do any of those things were called “savior”. In fact, it was one of the titles many people used for the Roman Emperor, since his rule often brought peace and prosperity to some people. Of course, we know that the only one who can bring us true peace and prosperity is God. As Christians, we can further that that claim by asserting that since Jesus is God, then Jesus is our savior. We trust Jesus to make us whole and healthy, to bring peace, and to bring us to God. We entrust our lives to Jesus.

Why then, do we still have sorrow in our world and in our lives? If we claim Jesus as our savior, why is there so little evidence that we are saved? Paul gives us a clue in his letter to Rome, a little further in the letter than the section we heard today, when he says that: “our salvation is now closer than when we first believed”. He seems to be telling us that, as with other cures, the effects are seen gradually over time. God has saved us, even though we don’t always see all of it all at once. Still, it is cold comfort to know that our salvation is working itself out when we need it now, unless we realize that we are not saved from our lives, but in our lives. Our first reading from Deuteronomy this morning reminds us of this. The Hebrews called upon God to save them from slavery, so God brought them out of Egypt and led them to their new home, but it was rough on the way. God did not keep them from every harm on the journey: instead, God went through the bad times with them.

We have the same assurance that although God does not take away all the trouble in our life, God goes through the trouble with us. If we truly believe that God lived a full human life as Jesus, we can go through life knowing that God loves us so much that God freely chose to experience every pain that we do, as well as every pleasure, from conception to birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and even death, so we can be assured that God is with us and understands everything we are going through. Even after his death, the resurrection proves to us that our humanity is so important to God that death is not the end of it.

But even if we believe that God knows our situation, it is up to us to admit that we need help; we need to admit to ourselves, to God, and to everyone else that we cannot save ourselves – only God can. That is a difficult thing to do, but it is our only hope. As we heard Paul say in our second reading this morning: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. It might be scary to bring ourselves to ask God for help when so many other things seem to offer more immediate relief, but the only way to experience this salvation is by faith – to trust God enough to give our entire lives into his care.

At first glance, the gospel story this morning might not seem to fit into this discussion at all, but it makes perfect sense if we see it as an example of how Jesus was steadfast in the midst of difficulty, for he knew that salvation would come. The story recounts how the devil encouraged Jesus to take matters out of God’s care, and into his own hands. The devil was tempting Jesus to seek salvation from his difficulties, instead of trusting God to be with him in his difficulties. Stories about the devil tend to amuse us now, because we don’t know what a devil is. A devil is someone who makes false or malicious statements. A devil is anyone who takes good things and turns them into something bad. In this story, the devil even quotes scripture and twists it around to try to hurt Jesus.

We need to be just as diligent as Jesus was against diabolical lies from anyone or anything, including lies that tell us that because we are in the midst of trouble, God must not be with us. In such instances, we are often our own devils, telling ourselves that since God has abandoned us, we must rely on anything other than God to help us. But like Jesus, we can confront these lies with the truth of God’s love for us, God’s acceptance of us, and the faith that God is with us and understands us, saving us not from our lives, but in our lives; not taking the troubles away, but rather transforming us and the world through those troubles, if we only allow God to do that. It is not easy to do all that, and God knows and understands that also, because it took Jesus forty days in the wilderness to overcome the devil’s lies, but like Jesus, we can do it too – we can let go of the desire to pretend that everything is ok, and call upon God as our only hope. We can let go of the false belief that we can save ourselves. We can live with the assurance that no matter what the situation, God loves us, God is with us, God knows us, and God understands, because God has been through it too. We can know that we are saved and redeemed: that no matter what happens to us or how we feel about ourselves, our lives are given infinite value and worth by God – the only and infinite source of value.   AMEN