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.

No comments: