Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ash Wednesday: Letting God fill our emptiness

Lectionary:Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

(Note: Below is a combo of preaching notes and text - a little of both.)

Pierre Teillhard deChardin was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who died in 1955, so he was a modern philosopher and theologian. I first came across deChardin through my spiritual director.

The first quote she shared with me is something that has been very important in my prayer life and is perfect for Lent, so I share it with you. Teillhard said: “Let us leave the surface and without leaving the world, plunge into God.” And so if you think about the waters of Baptism, and how we are plunged into the death of Christ and then live with Christ in his resurrected life, plunging into God fits very well with our identity as Christians.

It’s also a very good way to address what the world does with Lent. And here’s what the world does with Lent. As you know, I’m on Facebook – and in those online discussions I get to answer questions from people I knew when they were like 5, and now they’re adults trying to figure out, “How do I do Lent? Is it OK if I do this or not that?” And other people ask: “What does it mean when we say we sin or repent?” And so here’s what I see on Facebook: “I’m giving up giving up stuff for Lent. Or – I’m giving up going to New Mexico for Lent. Or – I’m giving up sushi for Lent (and this person just said they hated sushi).

So that would fit into our gospel reading of the things we do for other people to see. But we don’t have to do anything for Lent. If we choose not to do anything, it’s not like we go to hell or get banished from the family of God. It’s up to you. This is a total opportunity for us to plunge into God.

We set aside this time on our calendar to remember that, while we live in community, and it through the community – the body of Christ – is made known in the world, we’re also individuals who have bodies, and our bodies are created by a loving God who created them in the divine image, then redeemed them, and then sustains them every single day that we’re alive.

It’s a gift that we have breath, a gift from our Creator. So we’re asked to take a moment to remember that God is the Creator, and we are the created.

One of the most commonly known things about Lent is that it is a time that we fast. Today is a day we fast. Good Friday is another day that we fast. You don’t have to! If you can’t fast, it’s also a day of abstinence – see if you can do without meat.

And here’s why we do that: because most of us, don’t ever wonder if we’re going to have a next meal. Do we? Most of us are pretty certain that we can have the next meal that we want. And so we’re asked, for one day, to have our bodies feel what it’s like not to have that, to intentionally put our bodies into a state of emptiness.

The state of emptiness reminds us of our mortality. We need food to eat. We need water to drink. We need air to breathe. And all of that is given to us by our Creator as a gift.

Fasting also gives us a sense of a lack of satisfaction, and that puts us into that place where we plunge into God. If, when we get hungry, we get grumpy or we get a headache, or we get whatever else you get when you get hungry – I get grumpy and a headache, those are the two I know. If we get there, then we remember that everything we do, every thought we have, can be given over to God who can fill us in our emptiness.

The fact is, most of us don’t feel empty very often. In fact, our culture tells us never to feel empty. Always get more! And this can lead to problems. For example, if you have a headache and you take two aspirins, and the headache doesn’t go away, you take two more. There’s always more! Take more. Have more. Do more. Get more. Win more. Own more.

One of the greatest signs of this sin in our culture, and I hope I don’t offend anyone here who might be in this business, is the business of storage units. If you don’t have enough room in your house for everything you want to have, buy a storage unit!

My parents have three storage units, in addition to their huge condo in FL. And they don’t even know what’s in there anymore! Whenever I go there I empty out more of their stuff, and I say, “Why don’t you get rid of some of this stuff?” And they say:”Oh, I can’t get rid of that.”

But my parents were post-depression babies and they did know lack. And once they could, they grabbed a hold of everything they could, and that became their source of nourishment.

Lent is the season where we say: “I let it go. I will allow myself to experience the emptiness.” Emptiness feels like death, so we kind of avoid it. We’re afraid of it.

If I’m empty, if there’s no light, if there’s no water, if there’s no lushness, if there’s no stuff, I feel like I’m dying. And to that, Teillhard would say, ‘Great! That’s the idea!’ Remember in our Baptism we are baptized into the death of Christ and then live with him in his resurrection.

(Counter-cultural world… Chrisotological reversal.)

So I‘d like to get to one other thing that culture talks about and re-frame that: sin. We know we’re sinful. Anybody who has ever heard our Baptismal vows, which we repeat several times a year, knows that we say, “When we sin, we will repent and return to the Lord.” It doesn’t say ‘Now that I’m baptized I’ll never sin again,’ and it doesn’t say ‘If I sin again…’ it says “when we sin we will repent and return to the Lord.” Well – this is the time we do that.

When we get into that state of emptiness, into that state of insecurity, we come to know our sin. For instance, the hunger in our body can show us that we are relying on ourselves, and what we can provide for ourselves, rather than on God for what we truly need.

What does being in this state of insecurity bring up for you? Those are the sins God can touch with hands of love.

Sin doesn’t mean “bad things I do.” It leads to bad things we do, but it isn’t the bad things we do. Sin is a state of separation from God, so anything that we put up as a barrier between us and God is a sin. For instance, for some of us, it is self satisfaction (good job, reputation, retirement, etc.) and forgetting that we are dependent upon God.

For others it’s self loathing and self-punishment. But that is sin, because God created us out of Love and judged us as not just good, but very good (Genesis), so if we hate ourselves, we have sinned.

Conclusion about sin)

Lent means Spring…. During spring we sow seeds that we will nourish and cultivate… that’s what God is with us in Lent. When the prophet says, “rend your hearts, not your clothing,” he’s saying go to the interior, not something on the outside. It’s not about sushi or chocolate or television, it’s about your heart. (Hildegard of Bingen – moist soil of our soul, nourished for 40 days during Lent.)

Our goal in Lent is to let God in - which brings us back to Teillhard. Teillhard says that death is about communion with God: “…when the painful comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands of the great, unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you …who are painfully parting the fibers of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself… Teach me to treat my death as an act of communion… For you bring new life out of every form of death.”

It’s traditional during Lent to practice:

Prayer (centering, intercessory, icons as a window to the divine, Rosary, labyrinth)
Fasting (food, anger, judging others, complaining, whatever steals your peace or wastes your time)
Almsgiving (giving money, time, or prayer to those who don’t have it)

That’s how we roll during Lent. So I invite you to a holy Lent. (Go to BCP, 264)

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