Sunday, March 8, 2020

Lent 2-A, 2020: Seeds of new life

Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for mp3 audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I share with you a story about a dog we once had named Ollie. Ollie was a Dachshund - Jack Russell mix. We loved our Ollie, but he must have gotten the DNA bearing the most difficult qualities of each of those breeds, and it made him… challenging.

Ollie was just doxie enough to make training him difficult, and he found himself in trouble a lot. Ollie knew when he’d done a bad thing, so he obeyed when we told him to go to time out, which meant he had to go into his crate for a time

Over time, Ollie would put himself in time out and we’d look around to see what he’d done. Eventually, he’d just walk in and right back out of his crate. He wasn’t really repentant and knew we’d forgive him anyway, so he didn’t bother spending any real time in time out. He just got the procedure over with.

I tell you this story because I’ve found that many people treat Lent the way Ollie treated time out. But Lent isn’t about punishment and it isn’t just going through the motions without really repenting, that is, being willing to be changed.

So what is Lent about? The word “Lent” means spring (are you surprised?) and it’s a time when new life is being formed in us, in the depths of our souls; and the one forming that new life is the same one who forms all life: God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, as our Collect says.

Medieval mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, talks about the “greening” of our souls which is, I think, a good image for Lent. I picture Hildegard’s concept like this: We go about our lives basically unaware that the demands and influences of the world have slowly but steadily dried up the soil of our souls leaving them hardened and with cracks like a dried-up river bed.

During Lent, we enter into a period of self-examination that brings to our awareness just how dry we’ve become – a revelation which brings with it the realization that we are unable to irrigate ourselves. There is almost a desperateness in this moment of revelation, a deep knowledge that without this irrigation, our souls will completely dry up and turn to dust.

But our faith assures us that it is from the dust we were created in the first place. So, we trust… and we wait… 40 days, and 40 nights.

At some point, the hands of our Creator reach into the soil of our souls, breaking through the dry surface. Then wetting our souls with living water from the well-spring of life, Jesus, the Christ, the Almighty ensures that the nutrient-rich, life-giving water reaches all the dry parts.

Into this divinely massaged soul-soil the Creator places the seeds of new life for us, sweeps the surface of the soil smooth, sprinkles on a bit more life-giving water, and asks us to wait while the seeds within us take root and grow.

So, you see, we don’t DO Lent. We let Lent happen in us – and we do that by faith.

This is exactly what our Gospel reading today is describing for us in the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. What does one have to do to get born from above? Nicodemus is understandably confused, so Jesus assures him that what is born of the Spirit is spirit. In other words, you can’t do it. The Spirit of God does it in you. Just trust and let it happen by faith.

Then Jesus tells Nicodemus, don’t be astonished by that. Be astonished instead by this: God’s love for the world is such that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. That’s pretty astonishing when you think about it.

But wait, there’s more (as Mona Lisa Vito would say)! And it speaks to the character of God whose glory is always to have mercy: God didn’t send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

In the present day, this is such an important reminder. As partners with Christ in the work of reconciliation, we are not here to condemn the world or anyone in it but to “embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Jesus Christ” and invite everyone we encounter into relationship with him through us.

As St. Paul reminds us, it isn’t our works but our faith in God’s works that enables us to be in right relationship with God, one another, and ourselves, and it depends on faith so that the promise rests on God’s grace and is guaranteed to all. We do not get to cast anyone outside the net of God’s love.

The time we set aside during Lent is our invitation to God to cultivate us and prepare us to live our divine purpose. Lent is not a time to wallow in the misery of our wretchedness as hopeless sinners as some would have us believe. We are not hopeless. We are redeemed!

And we don’t fast in order to suffer, or as punishment for sin. We fast to allow ourselves to experience emptiness. In the deep, dark center of ourselves, we willingly choose to make space for something new, something nourishing and life-giving that God will supply.

The hard work of Lent is emptying ourselves of all that already fills us. But emptiness scares us – the nothingness of it feels kind of like death, so we tend to avoid it. Knowing, however, that by our baptism we have entered into Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have no fear of death, not even the little ones - like the death of a habit, or the death of an idea we hold about God, ourselves, or our neighbors, or in the case of Calvary, the end of an era under the leadership of a beloved rector and the preparation for new life with a new rector.

Is the timing of this not perfect? God is good, all the time!

One final word about this: our Lenten practices aren’t about success or failure. We don’t score points for praying, fasting or giving alms, and we don’t get demerits for not doing those things. Remember, we don’t do Lent. We let it happen in us, choosing to make space for God to cultivate new life in us.

Let us pray.

Creator God, in your mercy and wisdom, you have brought us together in this time and place to love and serve according to your plan of love. Knead the soil of our souls with your life-giving spirit. We promise to welcome the seeds of new life you are planting in us now, even knowing this means change is upon us. Guide us that we may nourish those seeds and bear fruit that gives you glory and serves the welfare of all your people in our corner of your kingdom garden. In the name of our Savior, Jesus, the Christ, we pray this. Amen.

No comments: