Sunday, February 18, 2024

Lent 1-B, 2024: Living our middle

Lectionary: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15 

En el nombre de Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. In the name of God, who is Trinity in unity. Amén. 

As many of you already know, Lent is my favorite season in the liturgical year, partly because it’s a “breathing in” season, as I mentioned in my sermon last week. I always love a reason to breathe more God in. Another reason is that, during Lent, our goal is, as Meister Eckhart once said, to detach from all else and turn our attention to God… in order for the graciousness of God to be upon us… for the graciousness of God to be upon us…

Detachment is the root of our giving things up for Lent. We detach from anything that tempts us or distracts us off the path of right relationship with God and neighbor. That, by the way, is the true meaning of satán.

Satan (with a capital S) is a persona that has evolved over the centuries and the meaning today is radically different from the original biblical understanding. Theologian Elaine Pagels teaches us that the “word “satán” literally means “one who throws something across one’s path.”

If the path we’re on is bad, the obstruction is good, thus the satán may have been sent to us by God. (pp 39, 40) If the path we’re on is good, the “satán” needs to be resisted. Remember, Jesus, who loved Peter, but said to him, “Get behind me Satan,” don’t tempt me off this path set before me. It may look horrible now, but it is a path of love, which you will see eventually.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? As the path of God unfolds before us we can’t see where it will end. We can only see what’s in front of us. We can only take our next step, so we must continually pray and discern where, when, and how God wants us to go, trusting God completely despite our limited vision and understanding.

It’s important in Lent to remember that we are marvelously made, knit together in our mother’s wombs by our Creator. God declared us not just good, but very good in the creation story in Genesis. That’s our starting point and our ending point.

Life is what's in the middle and Lent is when we get honest about how we are living our middle. Owning the vulnerabilities we have because of our humanity isn’t the same thing as denigrating ourselves as unworthy worms. God made us and loves us just as we are.

Getting honest means trusting God enough to go deeply within and getting behind the protective barriers we put up about who we are, those things we tell ourselves about ourselves that are more about our comfort than the truth. We all have them, individually, as the church, and as a global people. We think these barriers will keep us safe but actually, they put us at risk of harm because they lead us to disconnect.

These are the barriers we must recognize and repent of because they cause ruptures in our relationships with God, neighbor, and creation, which lead to our sin. Sin isn’t what we do, but where we begin – in ruptured relationship. Our actions, then, are the outcome of our sin.

If you’ve ever looked deeply into the eyes of an infant or elderly person who is looking back at you, you can't help but notice the presence and purity of Love, which is the face of God. For some of us, the same is true looking into the eyes of our dog or cat or bird.

Then we hear about war bombs killing God’s children in their homes, schools, and hospitals. That’s who we are as a global people.

Last week the Humane Society of Missouri rescued 97 Labrador retrievers, adults and puppies, from an unlicensed breeder who kept them in cramped cages with no access to water. God’s creatures are being mistreated and overbred, treated as commodities for income. That’s who we are right here in MO. Source

At the KC Chiefs’ celebration parade this week, a young mother was killed, and 21 others were wounded, including 11 children. There were over 800 armed police on hand who acted quickly and wonderfully in response to the shooting. The idea that good people with guns can stop bad people with guns is one of those things we tell ourselves that just isn’t true.

Our country leads the world in mass shootings. That’s who we are now, and we need to repent.

If we are tempted to say, ‘But I’m not that way,’ we need to remember our connectedness to one another and to creation. You may remember the concept of Ubuntu, a Zulu concept, practiced by our bishops at a recent Lambeth gathering. Ubuntu means, “I am because we are.”

This is the truth of the universe too. In physics, there is a phenomenon called quantum entanglement where a pair of protons or electrons remain connected and responsive to one another even when separated by vast distances. The idea of separateness is another one of those things we tell ourselves that just isn’t true.

Thankfully, God knows our weaknesses, loves us anyway, and came among us in the person of Jesus to remind us that we are also connected now to heaven.

The gospel story today takes us back to Jesus’ baptism, where the barrier that separated heaven and earth was ripped open, and the voice of God, speaking only to Jesus in this gospel, proclaimed and affirmed him as Beloved.

Then the Spirit took him into the wilderness – this was Jesus’ Lent - to set him free from any barriers his humanity had built. When Jesus had finished his interior work, he returned to Galilee to begin living his middle.

Mark says Jesus returned proclaiming the good news of God, which was this: Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled,” The long-awaited, divinely appointed time for the salvation of the world is happening now“ and here’s how: Jesus said, “the kingdom of God has come near.”

The Greek word for ‘has come near’ makes clear that this isn’t something that is happening around Jesus, but rather, is something he is doing. He is bringing the kingdom of God to earth. This is the divine purpose of the Incarnate Word, isn’t it? To reconcile earth to heaven, humanity to divinity.

The rest of his ministry is how Jesus lived his middle, but it’s important to remember that before he did anything, he went deeply within and faced his own beasts. And angels ministered to him. Since he was fasting from food and water, the angels were his companions on the journey – just as they are for us. We are never alone in this. 

During Lent, we are called to do as Jesus did and get prepared to live our middle. Lent is not a time of shame but of release! Release from the hold the barriers we built have on us, release from all that separates us from God, neighbor, self, and all of God’s very good creation.

Our repentance leads to our freedom. That is the fruit of Lent and it’s why it’s my favorite liturgical season. I pray all of us have a Lenten experience that is holy and freeing. Amen.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Epiphany Last, 2024: Trust, listen, and receive the change

Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

En el nombre de Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. In the name of God, who is Trinity in unity. Amén. 

For years, I have taught a spirituality workshop in which I discuss our spiritual growth in relationship with God and neighbor in terms of breathing. Breathing is a perfect choice for this because it is a biblical term: God breathed (inspired) life into humanity in Genesis and continues to breathe life into us now. The term ‘Spirit’ itself in Hebrew is ruach, which means wind, and in Greek is pnuema, which means breath.

As we grow in our spirituality, we must establish balance in our breathing. If we only breathe in, that is, if we focus only on drawing into ourselves knowledge and experiences of God, and don’t breathe out the grace of God into the world, we will die. Likewise, if we only breathe out, that is, if we spend our time and energy breathing God out into the world without breathing God in, we will die.

Like our physical life, our life in the spirit is dynamic and requires a balance of breathing in and breathing out; breathing God into ourselves, and breathing God out into the world.

Life is constant change, from the daily cellular changes in our bodies to the global earth and cultural changes happening all around us. We can’t “put a pin in it” as the saying goes, and stop the constant changes in life, and anyone who suggests we can or should is lying to us.

When we live a life of faith, we move into every change trusting in God. We flow with God in the living waters of life. Attempting to dam the river or pushing against the current won’t make any real difference, but it will wear us out. That’s why we must heed the gospel and listen to the Beloved.

The story of the transfiguration is a wonderful way to wrap up the season of Epiphany – the season of light, of enlightenment. During this season we have experienced the revelation of Jesus as the light that casts out the darkness of the world through amazing things like healings, exorcisms, and the voice of God authenticating him as the Son, the Beloved - twice.

Today, the focus is on how the transfiguration of Jesus happens for us. To do this, let’s look at the movements in this gospel story. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain (which is Bible-speak for the place we encounter God).

On that high mountain, the disciples do encounter God – in Jesus himself – in a way that is both physically real and impossible at the same time. Their rabbi, Jesus, is suddenly emanating a light so bright it dazzles them. The writer ensures us that this whiteness is nothing we humans can produce. This is their breathing in moment.

Then they see Moses and Elijah, Israel’s two greatest and long-dead prophets, chumming it up with Jesus. Peter, thank God for Peter, responds in a very faithful and traditional way, suggesting they build three dwelling places there and mark the spot as holy.

It was also traditional to locate God in a place. When the people were moving around, God was in a tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, which they carried around with them. When they settled in Jerusalem, they built a temple. Within that temple was a room called, the Holy of Holies, which housed the ark. Only the chief priests could enter the Holy of Holies.

Then the disciples, like Mary before them at her annunciation, were overshadowed by a cloud. From this cloud, they heard a voice say, “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Overall, this experience was so overwhelming that Mark says the disciples were terrified. When it’s over, Jesus leads them down the mountain with a warning about not sharing this with anyone yet. Essentially, Jesus is telling them to hold their breath until after he rises from the dead.

There are three important teachings in this story we don’t want to miss. First, Jesus doesn’t build three dwellings to mark the spot as holy. Knowing the rest of this story, we know why: because God isn’t located in an ark, or a temple, or a church. Because of Jesus, God dwells in us. We are the tabernacles of God. Jesus was moving the disciples into a new way of knowing and experiencing relationship with God. He was also opening access to God to all people, not a select few.

The second is the command to listen. God is asking them and us to do more than hear what Jesus teaches. God is asking them and us to be changed by it. There is so much we hear and believe, but it doesn’t change anything for us. The disciples heard Jesus tell them they shouldn’t share this experience until after he had risen from the dead. He told them he was going to die and rise again on several occasions, yet it still came as a surprise when it actually happened.

The third is this: when the disciples were terrified and being broken open to a new understanding and experience of Jesus and God and everything they knew about spiritual life, God responded, overshadowing them in the form of a cloud, which symbolizes the immediate presence and power of God. God spoke to them and reminded them to be changed, to let go of what was and move into this new revelation.

The final movement in this story is that the disciples come down from the mountain. They left the presence of God and re-entered the world changed by their experience. What the change was and what it would mean would develop over time. The same is true for us.

The transfiguration of Jesus for us today is the revelation that happens within us, when the Jesus of Nazareth we read about in Scripture and learned about in Sunday school, becomes Jesus the Incarnate God whose own Spirit lives and dwells in us, changing us and sending us to share the love.

We may see a brilliant light with our eyes when this transfiguration of Jesus happens for us. Some have. Some still do.

More likely, we will have an interior enlightenment, an infusion of transforming energy we feel in our bodies and know deeply in our souls. We’ll experience an excitement combined with terror at what is happening and what it will mean for us.

God will speak to us too and show us how to go. We hear the voice of God when we are open to hearing it, when we are willing to let go of what we think we know and move in faith in response to God’s revelation to us.

In the end, like the disciples, we’ll walk away from our mountain-top experience carrying the seed of something that will begin to grow and develop in us. This takes time – and the season of Lent, which starts next Wednesday, is when we do this with intention.

As we live our lives of faith, individually and together as a community, we move into every change trusting in God. We flow with God in the living waters of life. We know that attempting to dam the river or push against the current will only wear us out, so instead, we relax, heed the gospel, listen to the Beloved, and receive the change within us that comes from God, change that leads us from glory to glory into the full stature of Christ.  Amen.