Sunday, March 4, 2018

3 Lent B, 2018: The path of love

Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Note: Having trouble with my usual audio player. Meantime, you can hear the sermon by clicking HERE to listen to an mp3 audio file.

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Here we are at the mid-point of Lent. During this third week in Lent the sacrifices we have chosen to make start to ache a little and the prayer disciplines we have added in may begin to feel like a chore. This is the week we are tempted to relent and just wait it out until Easter.

So, how’s it going for you? Are you loving it? Are you tolerating it? Are you just ready for it to be over?

On this third Sunday in Lent our readings point us to the law and how we are to live in relationship to the law, which was given to us by God to guide us on our journey into spiritual maturity.

The 10 commandments given to Moses are the gateway to a new path, It’s like stepping across the threshold into a labyrinth walk. These “laws” delineate the path set before us. When we stray off the path, we lose our place in the journey. We are not kicked off the path, we just have to step back on, anywhere, and start walking again within the defined path that leads to the place of union with God.

When Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers he was demonstrating how far off the path they, the institutional church, had strayed. The average person had to go into the temple precincts and exchange their Roman money for Jewish money – the only form of money accepted by the vendors.

The vendors were selling animals to be sacrificed in the worship service. Most of the pure, that is, unblemished sacrificial animals were too expensive for regular folk, but the religious institution had established that unless worshippers offered a blemish free animal for sacrifice they couldn’t participate in worship and their prayers would go unheard by God.

This institutional exploitation of the poor and their cruel exclusion from communal worship was so far off the path that Jesus fairly exploded at them. His lesson, in all its dramatic fervor, showed us that Christ consciousness takes us beyond obedience to the letter of the law – or the 671 laws that came out of the Ten Commandments - to fulfillment of the law of love which forgives, restores, and reconciles all the world to God.

My guess is, shortly after this moment in Jesus’ story, and no doubt after his crucifixion, the money changes and animal sellers were back to business as usual and the regular folk had to choose between financial hardship (or ruin) and displeasing or being ignored by God.

Things aren’t so different for us today, and even our beloved institution has money changer practices encoded as “canon.” That’s because we haven’t arrived yet. We’re still on the path toward union with God. This is also why our Lenten practices are so important. God isn’t finished with us yet.

If anyone illustrates this point by his life, it’s St. David, our beloved patron saint. In addition to having a reputation for being a gentle man, who was utterly devoted to God, God’s people, and God’s beautiful creation, David was also described as a strict disciplinarian who insisted that his monks work very hard for their own needs but also to supply the needs of others.

It’s said that some of St. David’s monks once tried to poison him to end their relentless, tiring schedule of work and prayer, but their efforts failed. Whether this legend is true or not, I don’t know; but what it tells us (that’s’ what legends do) what it tells us is that spiritual discipline, and living out our baptismal vows is serious business and can feel arduous at times, especially in a world where leisure seems like the treasured reward – and people who don’t work for it seem to have the most of it!

But we have a different goal. Our goal isn’t to live an easy life, or to live a leisurely life. Our goal is to live faithful life. That may look life foolishness to someone who is not on this path of love with us, but we’re in good company.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta and the sisters of the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, spent their lives and all of their resources serving the most despised, wretchedly poor and outcast in India. The sisters successfully dispelled the darkness of those they served, enabling them to die knowing they were treasured by God and by the sisters.

So faithful was their approach that they became an icon to the world of loving service. This tiny woman, and her tiny band of sisters in Christ, worked some powerful love into the world.

Their story illustrates for us that when we let the strength of divinity perfect, that is complete, our humanity, we are transformed and we become instruments of transformation for the world.

Duncan Gray, III, retired bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi, once called his flock to move from change to transformation, saying: "Change is doing something differently. Transformation is becoming something more." Transformation begins to take place when we offer ourselves, our souls, our bodies – our dreams, our visions, our plans – to Almighty God. And as we make our offering we say, not, ‘here are our plans, bless them;’ but, rather, ‘here are our lives, use them.’ And…it is in that offering … that [the] weak become strong, the proud become humble,
and lives are transformed.

Our Lenten practices are meant to lead us to do things differently so that we can become something new. By them we make room in our hearts and lives for transformation.

As we enter our third week in Lent, I pray we continue to wait through the discomfort of these forty days, offering ourselves - our souls and bodies, our dreams, and our plans – to our loving God. May we persevere in our spiritual disciplines, making room for God to “do Lent” in us.

Note: the congregation is invited to read the Collect of the Day: Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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