Proper 7 Year B: Out Of The Whirlwind

Job 38:1-11
II Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Job is one of the most famous persons from the Bible, mostly because of the phrase: “the patience of Job.” However, if one reads the Book of Job, one sees that he is not patient at all. Job wants God to answer him and explain why God has allowed Job to suffer so much after being so righteous. It is Job’s friends who might be considered as being patient – they sit around and talk about God and explain to Job why he should calmly accept what is happening to him. After many pages of complaints by Job and scoldings by his friends, God finally joins the conversation by telling Job that God is the boss and does not need to answer any of Job’s complaints. However, God goes on the say that it is Job’s friends who are wrong, not Job.

On the surface, that does not make sense – if God is the boss and does not need to answer to us, then aren’t Job’s friends right for telling Job to accept what has happened, and isn’t Job wrong for complaining? Maybe God is more concerned with how the characters are dealing with the situation than with their words. While Job’s friends are talking about God, Job is actually talking to God. And even more importantly to a person in a monastic setting, Job spends a lot of time listening to God – the first part of which we heard in our first reading this morning.

So maybe the answer to all our questions about God and the universe are answered not by solutions, but by relationship. God does not solve all our problems the way we want or tell God to. Instead, God goes through our problems with us  – by being in relationship with us and also even more concretely by being one of us, and experiencing human life first hand as Jesus of Nazareth. We can talk about God all we want (there is nothing wrong with that – theology can be very helpful), but talking with God is where we grow into our full personhood. And we must remember that it is usually good to let God do most of the talking, although it is true that sometimes God uses our own words and thoughts to show us the answers – as William of St. Thierry says: “Let your question be your prayer.”

Maybe Job’s words do not seem patient, but in the long run, his approach does take more patience than his friends’. Anyone can claim to have all the answers about God and in a comparatively short time write books containing all those answers. Anyone can read all those books in a comparatively short time and claim to have learned all the answers. But listening and talking to God with no expectation of any answers takes a lifetime. In fact, it takes more than a lifetime, because lifetimes are finite and God is infinite. So, the way of Job – the way of relationship with God is slow, and often seemingly useless, but it is really the only way to the real answers in life.

Although “patience” may or may not be a good way to describe Job, we should strive to be patient. Even more than “patient”, we should strive to be “constant”, because “patience” often implies that we are waiting for things to get better, while “constancy” implies that it does not matter whether or not things get better – we will abide in God and trust God with our lives no matter how good or bad things get. Paul talks about constancy in our second reading this morning, and like the disciples in our gospel story this morning, we need to remember that Jesus is in the same boat with us. He may or may not do what we want him to do, but he will always do what we really need him to do (even when we do not perceive it that way).
We don’t and can’t know the whole story of life and the future and the universe and why things are the way they are. But we can talk about it and try to figure it out, like Job’s friends, and we can also do even better and (like Job) talk and listen to God, even though the answer is beyond us. Out of the whirlwind God answered Job. May we, with patience and constancy, listen to God, even if confronted with a whirlwind.  AMEN

Easter VI Year B: Punch The Clock

John 15: 9-17

We just heard Jesus say we are his friends, not his servants. That is not as freeing as it might seem. Friendship is a lot more work than servanthood, and there are fewer tangible rewards. If you are a servant, you either get a job description or are told what to do, and then after you do a good job, you either get paid (if you are a hired servant), or you get to be not beaten or killed (if you are a slave servant).

Friendship comes with no job description, and sometimes it is hard to figure out what to do to be a good friend. It also has no schedule, so you are never really off-duty. And there are no tangible rewards involved, except that of the friendship itself. But the intangible rewards of friendship are really greater than any salary or wage, because when we befriend someone, we are given the amazing chance to affirm that person’s legitimacy and integrity, and we in turn have our existence confirmed and affirmed. Such a need for existential assurances might be selfish, but they do seem to be necessary for human growth and happiness.

So, when Jesus says we are his friends that truly affirms our right to exist. We respond by doing what friends do, but with Jesus it is a little complicated, because he makes it clear that we respond to him by responding to all others. So, we have to treat everyone as friends: trying to do the best for them, even though we are often confused as to how to go about that, knowing we are never finished with the job of friendship, and often being ignored, harassed, or taken for granted. But all of that is ok, because the rewards of friendship with Jesus are like the rewards of friendship with others, only better, because the work is so much greater and more difficult.   AMEN

Easter II Year B: Troublesome Gods

Acts 4:32-35
I John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

Our first two readings today talk about living in peace and harmony – true life centered on God  – instead of the false sense of life that we sometimes think we have when we think the world is centered on us. Just because real life is centered on God, that does not mean that God minutely manages every detail of everything that happens, even though God is in fact in control of everything. God is in control because God is love, and love allows and encourages the integrity and individuality of every part of the universe. We can sometimes think of God as sitting on a throne making decisions that we must follow if we are not to face his wrath, but that is an immature notion. As silly, but telling example of that attitude was shown in an episode of Star Trek – one of the staff members of the garrison on Deep Space Nine was having some personal problems and decided to stay at a Klingon monastery for a while to work through them. Another of the soldiers was surprised to hear that Klingons had any kind of religion, and the reply he got from a Klingon was: “We have a religion, we just don’t have any gods. We used to, but we killed them thousands of years ago because they were so troublesome.”

This may come as a shock to some people, but there really are no Klingons. It will probably come as a bigger shock to more people to know that the true God of the universe is not an arbitrary lawgiver who punishes people for not following his whims. God is love, and so fashions the universe in such a way that all parts of creation find their fulfillment in becoming their own unique self, rather than in bending to our desire to become what we want them to be. That frees us to become who we truly are instead of always worrying about controlling the world and people around us. The will of God is love – it is the way of the universe ( the underlying law of existence), and if we follow it, we thrive; if we fight against it, we are crushed by our own movement against the flow of the cosmos, and we create painful and destructive eddies that bring sorrow to the people around us. It is we, not God, who form the wrath of God. Going forward in peace is love; going backward into ourselves is wrath.

We fight against God and against grace because we are scared when things are out of our control, because we think we know what is best and we think we can make what is best come about. Both of those assumptions are wrong. We don’t know what is best – not because we are stupid, but because we simply don’t have all the information. Only God knows everything, so only God knows what’s best. We can’t make the best come about because we don’t have all the power. Only God is all-powerful, so only God can make the best come about. Our job is to cooperate with grace, not to second-guess it. We can understand this by using our hindsight – remembering times when we desperately wanted something and prayed for it to happen, but it never did. Now we look back at those times and are extremely grateful that what we wanted did not happen, because we realize how much better things turned out instead. God answers all prayers, and sometimes the best answer is “NO.” Actually, the answer is more likely “NO, I have much better in store for you.”

Realizing that God has much better in store for us than we could ever imagine is hard to see when we are in difficult circumstances. The gospel story this morning talks about that. The disciples were in a difficult situation: their master had been executed and they were hiding behind locked doors. But in that situation, Jesus appears to them and brings them peace. He had better things in store than they could ever had imagined. In fact, not only could they not have imagined it, they had trouble convincing others of Jesus’s resurrection. Even one of their own, Thomas, did not believe it.

Thomas’s doubt does not make him a bad person, just a sane one. How could the disciples ever have understood the resurrection without seeing and touching the proof? How can we ever believe God has better thing in store for us when we cooperate with grace and live in love than when we try to wrest control away from God in order to make things and people behave the way we think is best? It is not easy, it is simply necessary. We must allow God to rule, no matter how bothersome it seems sometimes. We must not try to get rid of God and ask for something else that we can more easily manipulate, like the crowd in Jerusalem asking requesting Barabbas, or the Klingons, or every other culture and society that has replaced love with fear and control. God’s ways are usually strange and scary to us, but in the end they bring about far better things than we ever could have imagined. May we rest in the fact that security come only in God. May we cooperate with grace, no matter what form it takes. May we realize that all our prayers are answered, and sometimes the most merciful answer is: “No, I have much better in store for you; you are worthy to receive much better than that; you are worthy to receive better than you could ever imagine.”   AMEN

Lent I Year B: Remember

Genesis 9:8-17
I Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

We have heard a lot this morning about remembering. We began with a story telling how God promised to remember a covenant made with Noah. It seems strange for God to promise to remember something, since God knows everything. It is precisely because God knows everything that he promises to remember, because one of the things God knows is the fact that we need reassurances of God’s love for us. The promise to Noah was that God would never again destroy the world with water. Actually, the story makes it clear that it is not only to Noah, but to every creature that came out of the ark that the promise was made.

In our second reading this morning, Peter mentions Noah, but does not mention the promise to Noah. Instead, he mentions another promise God makes to us involving water. God promises to bring us to himself through Christ, and the reminder of that promise is the water of baptism. Our translation calls it “an appeal to God”, but many translations call baptism “a pledge from God.”

Our gospel story this morning from Mark also talks about baptism – the baptism of Jesus. We might wonder why Jesus was baptized, but we might never know the reason. The important thing is that we can be grateful for what it shows us. Like Noah, Jesus came safely through the water. Like Noah, Jesus had a dove bring him good news. Like Noah, Jesus went through a difficult forty day period. Like Noah, Jesus was given a pledge from God that has been passed down to all who come after him: “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” After Jesus heard this good news, he went out into the wilderness, where the scripture says he was tempted by Satan. We sometimes think of Satan as an evil prince dressed in black, plotting against God and causing us to sin. That image may or may not be correct some or all of the time. Actually, the word “satan” is a legal term meaning “accuser” or “one who gives false information.”  Maybe the main way that Satan was tempting Jesus those forty days after his baptism was by trying to get him to doubt what he heard at his baptism: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”

We don’t put a lot of emphasis on Satan as a dark prince, and that is probably good, because that was over-emphasized in the past and used too often as an excuse to take the blame of our wrongdoings off of our own shoulders. The fact is, we are usually our own worst satans, casting doubts on our relationship with God – either by telling ourselves we don’t need God, or by telling ourselves that God would not want us. Sometimes it seems we are like Jesus in the wilderness for a long time facing these temptations, hoping and praying that God will give us a sign of his love for us. Yet the whole time, God does give us a sign, or as Peter says, a pledge. Like Jesus, we need only to look back at our baptism to know that God has called us to be his children in whom he is well pleased. As one of the psalms we recite every day at Lauds says: “the Lord takes pleasure in his people.”

God takes pleasure in us as his children, and also as his bride, his friend, and his own body here on earth. God takes so much pleasure in us that God freely chose to become one of us. Whenever we feel lost in the wilderness, falsely accused of uselessness and abandonment by God, we can always remember our baptism and Jesus’s baptism and say: “Yes, I am a child of God. God is please with me. I know it because I was told so at the water.” But we can’t stop there, because baptism also involves promises that we make to God. Sometimes, they are made out loud, sometimes they are implied, sometimes they are made on our behalf, depending on the tradition of the denomination. The promises usually involve forsaking Satan and choosing to follow Jesus as our only Lord, recognizing and working for the dignity of all whom we encounter, and continuing to grow in faith and knowledge by meeting with other baptized people to pray and break bread together. We have the choice of keeping them or breaking them. We also have the choice of merely paying them lipservice, which is the most dangerous choice of all, and is the one we do most often.

However, God is still there, keeping his promise. It may seem that we are the ones asking God to remember his faithfulness and love, but more often it is God pointing to the water saying: “Remember my covenant. You are my child. I take pleasure in you.” God remembers. We forget. We might wander in the wilderness, falsely accusing ourselves and the people around us, but God remembers. God remembers what it was like to be tempted by false accusations, and God remembers his love for us. We are God’s – always accepted and beloved, and pleasurable.   AMEN

Epiphany IV Year B: Puffy Or Firm?

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
I Corinthians 8:1b-13
Mark 1:21-28

What we do matters. It matters to God, it matters to us, and even though we might not know it or like it, it matters to other people, even if they don’t know it or like it. That is what Paul is talking about in our second reading. He knows that following Jesus is not about following rules, but he also knows that not everyone else knows that. He also knows that no matter how mature one becomes in Christ, we are all still human, and we all still have something in our psychology that makes us want rules. It is good that we want rules, because rules help us do good things. The problem comes when we confuse the rules with the good things we are supposed to do. In Christian life, rules are means to an end, not ends in themselves. The goal is growth in Christ. One way to grow is by lessening the frequency of some actions and attitudes, and increasing the frequency of other actions and attitudes. Maybe the most important way to grow is to always trust God more and more and rely on what we think are our own possessions and abilities less and less.

We are all different, and we all grow in different ways and at different rates. Some people need more discipline to foster growth, some people need less. Neither group is superior or inferior, only different. The trouble comes about when those who need less discipline flaunt their more relaxed lives, and when those who need more discipline try to impose their needs on others. We see this happening in church history, in political life, in families, and in monasteries. It is, of course, perfectly ok for those who need discipline to lovingly exhort others to a more regulated life. It is, of course, perfectly ok for those who need less discipline to not follow those exhortations. What is not good is when more relaxed people become smug and belittle the stricter people to the point that those who need it give up their discipline out of embarrassment or confusion and become stunted in their Christian growth. And even though the more relaxed people might not be doing it on purpose, their more relaxed ways can sometimes cause others to drift away from love of God. That happens because whether we like it or not, and whether we know it or not, we are all role models for others, and we model our lives on others.

As our first reading stated, God gives us prophets, and some of our most influential yet hidden prophets are the people we see everyday, either in person or in the newspaper. And we are influential and unknown prophets to others who see us everyday. We need to be careful about whom we emulate, and we need to make sure that we do it willingly and purposefully, not blindly as we usually do. We also need to make sure that we set good examples to those who emulate us (knowingly or unknowingly). We should not be fake about who we are, but we can be discreet about some of our actions and attitudes depending upon our audience. We do not have to act the same way around everyone – that is not hypocrisy, it is loving care for those around us.

Our gospel story mentions people who knew that Jesus had integrity in his actions. He did not flaunt his religious freedom, nor did he rebuke religious people who were truly loving God and their neighbors. He had some very religious habits (he was baptized and went to the synagogue regularly), and he did other things that made religious leaders mad enough to kill him. Yet, it seems that every time someone asked him how to have eternal life, he gave a different answer, tailored to the inquirer’s needs. He told people to follow him, not to do everything exactly as he did. He said to pick up our own cross, not anyone else’s.

So we must not succumb to a superior attitude and think that we need no discipline, nor should we be overly scrupulous and neurotic in our approach to growth in God. We should be careful in the examples we show others, and we should be careful about whose examples we follow. As Paul says in our second reading: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” May we not be bloated know-it-alls. May we instead be loving servants.   AMEN

Proper 24 Year B: Our Part

Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Jesus has saved us. Then why is there so much evidence contrary to that fact? Why is there hatred, greed, pride, sickness, oppression, and misery all over the world? Why is there so much sin in ourselves and consequently in our  world, nation, families, parishes, and monastery? If he bore all our sins and if we are healed by his bruises, as Isaiah says in our first reading this morning, why do we still sin and get sick? No matter who one thinks Isaiah is talking about, or one’s opinion of the idea of substitutionary atonement, it does not seem to have worked very well.
Or maybe it has, and we just don’t have the proper perspective to see it. Maybe we need to not say that Jesus has saved us – maybe it is more true to say that Jesus is saving us. Every sickness, every sin, every misery is taken up by Jesus every day and every moment, bringing them into God’s own being where they are healed and sent back out to the world as a blessing.

Jesus is saving us and the whole world, and he gives us an opportunity to be part of the process, as he tells James and John in our gospel story. The true glory of following Jesus is the opportunity to take on the pain of the world around us so that it can be healed. Of course, in order to do that, we must first realize that the world is worth being saved. The cross of Jesus is not an indication that the world is bad, it is an indication that the world is of infinite worth and so the infinite God suffers and dies infinitely for its sake. In the same way we should not take up our crosses out of disdain for the world, but rather out of deep, intense love for every part of creation and every person in it. We must believe that the world is worth dying for, and we must believe it is worth living for.

Jesus has saved us and the whole world, but because of our finite point of view, we just don’t see it yet. Jesus is saving us from our own pride, fear, and anger. We can nail those things to the cross of Jesus so that we have room on our own cross to absorb the consequences of those who have not yet been able to do that. We can also be grateful to those who willingly absorb the consequences of our own sin when we deny our own cross and try instead to sit on our self-appointed throne in the center of the universe. It is our choice: to pretend that it is all about me and cultivate pity for ourselves and indifference for others, or to allow our pain to help us grow in love and gratitude so that we can be a blessing to others. We can choose to wallow in our own mess, or we can realize that since there are six billion other people on the planet, it can’t all be all about me – it is only one-six-billionth about me. That perception can be a great help in lessening our crippling fixation on ourselves. Saying that does not minimize or dismiss the severity of many problems, but it does give them some positive value, if we so choose the way of the cross.

Jesus has saved us and  the whole world, Jesus is saving us and the whole world. That is his job. We don’t need to tell him how to do it, or always demand that he does it in ways that immediately benefit us. He knows how to do it. The amazing thing is the fact that he offers us a chance to be part of that process, and as usual with the things of God, we can’t understand how or why it works – and all the study done, all the books written, all the conferences and councils held can not figure it out. We just need to follow him, do our small part, and trust.   AMEN

Proper 19 Year B: American Idols

Isaiah 50:4-9
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Our scripture readings this morning talk about five truths in life:
1 – at some point, everyone and everything will let us down, anger us, and disappoint us
2 – at some point, we will let everyone and everything down, anger them, and disappoint them
3 – at some point, we will let ourselves down, anger ourselves, and disappoint ourselves
4 – at some point, our mistaken self-centered conceptions of God will let us down, anger us, and disappoint us
5 – the true living God will almost always anger, shock and surprise us, but will never let us down or disappoint us

The Letter of James (our second reading) talks about the first three truths – we all make mistakes, even and maybe especially people who are in positions of authority. That does not mean we are stupid and evil, it just means we are human. That doesn’t mean we should have low standards of behavior for ourselves or anyone else, it just means we need to realize that noone can always reach those standards, so we need to deal with the failures in a mature way – giving people time and space to heal from mistakes and being willing to work with them to grow out of them. Failures and disappointments of ourselves and others can lead to either bitterness and scornfulness, or they can lead to wisdom and compassion.

Usually, when we first realize the mistakes and failures of ourselves and others, we are in our early teens and react in the bitter, scornful way. That is normal. However, as we grow, one of the keys to maturity is to develop the wisdom and compassion that deals with failures and disappointments in a positive way. Like all forms of growth, cultivating wisdom and compassion are not easy, but they are necessary for a happy, full life. The bitter, scornful reactions are easier at the beginning, but if they linger, they reduce us to bitter, scornful people whom noone, including ourselves, can stand to be around. The wise, compassionate reactions are much more difficult at first, but if they are pursued, they lead us to become wise, compassionate people who are a joy to be around. The way away from bitterness toward compassionate takes a lot of prayer, insight, thought, and internal examination, but it is worth all the years of work . And of course, the wisdom and compassion do not come from ourselves – they are gifts from God that we just need to empty our own selfish wills in order to receive. We will never be there completely all the time, but we can always strive to get closer to that goal. It is true that we are not always wise and compassionate, but it is even more true to say that we are not yet always wise and compassionate. Not yet. We must wait for it – it will come slowly. And we must work and wait for it not with the resignation of patience, but with the joy of constancy.

The fourth truth is talked about in our gospel story this morning. People had ideas about who Jesus were, but they were not who Jesus was. Peter wanted Jesus to do what Peter wanted him to do, not what Jesus knew he had to do. Trying to make God fit into our comfortable ideas and desires is called idolatry, and idol worship always leads to disaster, because it means we have founded our lives on false assumptions. When the disaster strikes, we have the same choice that we do when our idolization of other people or ourselves is seen to be false – we can live bitterly, or we can be grateful for finally seeing the truth and so start on the long road to living wisely and compassionately.

We don’t always want to give up our idols – not yet, because just as in our disappointment with human idols, learning from our disappointment with divine idols takes a long time of prayer and insight. It takes the loss of our false, selfish life in order to gain the true life that Jesus gives, as he tells us in the gospel story we heard. It is the fifth truth and it involves the pain of the cross, but it leads to the glory of the cross – the glory that is the truth that everything is not all about us and our comfort. The life that Jesus gives us might be more scary than the false life we try to build, but in the end, it is much less worrisome and much more safe. The true, living God will never let us down, and will never disappoint us. Everyone else and everything else will. That is ok, true life goes on, bigger and better than anything we could have ever imagined. God is what matters, not us. We will be happy , healthy, whole, and safe, because God has smashed our idols and freed us from their grip. Let us not fall into their grasp again, but when we do, may we wisely and compassionately give each other time and space to heal and start over.   AMEN

Proper 9 Year B: Carpe Snot

Ezekiel 2:1-5
II Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Ezekiel has an important word for us today: “Thus says the Lord God. Whether they hear or refuse to hear…” God is constantly speaking to us. Everything in creation is a message from God. We can observe those messages, or we can close ourselves off from God’s efforts to communicate with us. We can realize the importance of everything, or we can pretend that only certain things concern us. Of course, in a practical sense, we can’t take in all the information coming to us. But we can be humble enough to admit that usually, we can do more to take in all the love coming to us from every part of the universe from God.

We also need to take that information and allow it to foster our growth in love and compassion, rather than in bitterness and hatred. There is a lot of sad news in the world, and it can be a catalyst for either action and prayer, or for numbness and indifference. There are a lot of people in the world, and we can take their often inept and imperfect attempts at loving us as a catalyst for either growing a friendship, or for growing contempt. The choice is ours. We can be a rebellious house, as God says to Ezekiel in our reading this morning, or we can allow God to replace our stony hearts with hearts of flesh, as he says to Ezekiel in another part of the book.

We are confronted with those choices everyday, every hour, and every minute: listen or isolate, love or bitterness. The listening and love take a lot more work, but in the long run, they don’t wear us out – they make us healthier and happier. The isolation and bitterness are easy in the short term, but eventually turn us into shriveled grumps that no one, including ourselves, can stand to be around.

Why choose shriveling? Life is too short to waste on bitterness. I know that, and we all know that, because we have all chosen the bitter route several times in life. But now is the day to hear the voice of God and allow it to sink into us and grow us.  We can seize every opportunity every day to take in the love that God gives us and give it out to others, and we can accept the love that others give us, no matter how flawed it is. We can be like Jeremy, the main character in the cartoon ZITS, who had a good day and came home shouting “I seized the snot out of today!” May we seize the snot out of every day, opening our hearts and minds to God’s word coming to us from all of creation. As God says to Ezekiel, we have been rebellious, stubborn, impudent transgressors, but God still calls to us. God knows us, and still loves us and wants us to be healthy and joyful. May we know the truth of what God says to Ezekiel: “…there has been a prophet among them.” Every thing and person around us can be prophetic, if we listen closely. May we listen, obey, and slowly but surely find peace with ourselves, our God, and our neighbor.   AMEN

Easter IV Year B: Fruit, Or Lack Thereof

Acts 4:5-12
I John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

In a few days, we will be celebrating the completion of our latest building project, and hopefully, the last building project we will have, at least for awhile. Our new bell tower is the fruit of a lot of labor expended by the community, by our donors, and by all the people around the world who pray for us daily. We should be proud of it, and of the work done to finally finish it. It is good to see fruit of that sort.

However, it is not the same for our prayer life, our monastic life, and our Christian life. Contrary to the joy of seeing our new building and hearing the bell, I hope none of us ever sees the fruit of his monastic life, his prayer life, or his Christian life. I do not say that I hope our lives have no fruit – I just hope that we never see it. Because if we see the fruit of our work, then we are in danger of working in order to get the results, rather than working out of love. Basing our lives on results is a sure plan for disappointment and grief, while basing our lives on love is a sure plan for joy. The results of our lives are not our business, they are completely up to the Holy Spirit. We just need to willingly put in the work, and knowing we are working because of love for ourselves, our God, and our neighbor is a joy that never depends on any results.

There is a book in our library (Being Nobody, Going Nowhere by Sister Ayya Khema) by a nun who state that it is always better to practice constancy than to practice patience, because often, patience implies that we are waiting for thing to get better, while constancy often implies that it doesn’t matter if things ever get better. If we are waiting for things to get better, we are in for never-ending disappointment. If we are living in the joy of God’s love even within our imperfect and difficult situation, we are already in heaven, and we bring heaven to the world around us.

I must admit that this past winter, I was not to apt to live in joy and constancy. I chose instead to grudgingly wait for the building to be finished, for the post office to stop changing things,for the snow to stop, for our new database to be finished, and for a dozen healthy people to join the monastery and do most of the work. It was not a happy winter, and that was my choice. I chose to allow everchanging things control my thoughts, words, and actions, rather than choosing to allow the always reliable God to form my life. I chose to demand happiness rather than to live in joy. I wanted everything but me to change, or more accurately, I wanted everything I didn’t like to change, rather than growing up and dealing with reality.

Maybe someday, I will learn better. Maybe, someday, I will learn the truth of what John says in our second reading this morning: “..God is greater than our hearts..” No matter our fears, worries, and uncertainties, God is greater. No matter our physical, financial, or organizational state, God is greater. We only need to heed John’s words and: “…have boldness before God…and obey his commandments…” Then we will “…abide in him, and he abides in us…”, and we will know it because of  “…the Spirit that he has given us.”

Abiding in God and having God abide in us is so much better than choosing to be dragged around by the ever-changing happenings around us, and by our ever-changing reactions and emotions. The only real thing is God, everything else is quickly gone and unreliable. As Peter says in our first reading this morning: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” God is real, and is constant. We can be real and constant, but only in and through God. Our fears, worries, and conflicts will not go away, but they will no longer be the bases of an ever-shifting queasy way of life. Real life is found only in God. May we choose that constancy and reality. May we choose the unspeakable joy that comes with constancy and perseverance. Our lives will have fruit, but none of it is our business. We monks are lucky and blessed in that area- we hardly ever get to see the fruit of our prayer common life and prayer. Rolling up our sleeves and working, gathering in the church to pray, being grateful for all the things everyone else does for us – all of that is our business.

Even with our new buildings, they will need to be cleaned and repaired, and someday fall down. Even without snow on the ground today, it will be back soon enough and need to be shoveled. Even with a new database in the office, it will need to be maintained. Even with new members in the monastery, we will always be wanting more to lessen the work load. Right now, we can simply be ok and abide in God. Right now, we have work to do, gathering at God’s table, and even though we are the guests, we have to set the table.   AMEN

Lent IV Year B: Encrusted By Our Fear

Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Contrary to what a lot of people say, or what a lot of people used to say, human nature is not bad, corrupt, or sinful. Human nature is good, as Paul says in our second reading this morning: “..we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” In fact, if human nature were not good, then murder, greed, hatred, and oppression would not be corrupt or sinful – they would be laudable because those things would be a fulfillment of our created purpose. However, it does not take a very hard look to see that we do not live up to the good nature God has created for us. Instead, we quickly and profoundly create a second nature for ourselves, and we are so used to it that we forget about our true good nature and think that our self-imposed second nature is the true one.

The amazing thing is, every single person who has ever lived has been successful at creating their own self-centered second nature that so easily crusts over their true God-centered nature. Some people have created their second nature with a lot of help from their families and societies, others have done it in spite of the warnings of their families and societies. There has been only one exception ,and that is why Jesus is called fully human – he lived his true nature (the true God-centered human nature).
One of the amazing things about the second natures that we impose on ourselves is the fact that even though we make them, we can not escape them. We can and should do a lot of things to lessen their poisonous effects on ourselves and our surroundings, but we can not get rid of them. Only God can and does crack them open so that we can crawl out of our little hells and live in the heaven he has created for us. Only God can and does call us to live fully human lives along with Jesus. We often think heaven is too much for us and crawl back into our second nature, but God is always calling us to come out again to taste and see how good real life is.

God lives a true human life in Jesus and calls us to do the same. All we have to do is ask God to save us from ourselves and keep looking toward Jesus who calls us to share his life. We deserve the heaven that God has made for us, because we are good. God created us that way, and nothing we can do will ever change that, no matter how hard we try. We just need to stop pretending that we are doomed to follow our sinful nature. We will keep on sinning, but that is certainly not natural.

It takes a lifetime to get used to not living in our second natures, so we must never be discouraged when we do sin. We must simply acknowledge the truth of it, accept the responsibility for it and consequences of it, and know that God forgives us. Then we must once again rely on God to help us grow into our true natures. God will help. He offers himself to us and feeds us with himself. May we take that help and that food and keep growing, grateful for ourselves and our vacations as God’s children.   AMEN