All posts for the month March, 2003

The 4th Sunday in Lent at St Mark Church in Norman, OK

March 30, 2003

2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23 + Ephesians 2:4-10 + John 3:14-21

We know very little about Nicodemus. He shows up suddenly out of nowhere. He is leader, John tells us. He is a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, so we know before he even begins his questions that he’s smart, savvy, and a thinking man. He comes at night. We suspect that it isn’t because he’s busy all day, or that Jesus only holds class at night. He has a lot to loose, because his questions reveal that he has gone one step further than the rest of the Pharisees. His questions are not legal. They are sincere inquiries. He comes seeking understanding, and he will be back.

The church places him at the center of Lent. As much as the Samaritan Woman, a man born blind, and Lazarus have found a place in Lent’s traditions, so has Nicodemus. Thirsting for truth, he comes to Jesus. Longing to see, he comes to Jesus. Seeking life, he comes to Jesus, and what he receives is revelation of the Divine Mercy.

For Lent’s first three Sundays we have pondered the Covenant and its commands from our side. For Lent’s final Sunday we shall see it from God’s side. It is still about Faithfulness and Commitment. It is still about courage in suffering with a vision of victory for us. For God it is simply about Mercy, a mercy that astounds and sometimes confounds the powerful who think only of revenge, punishment, control, and power. The “depth and the breadth and the height” of God’s love pushes at the limits we sometimes set with our “three strikes you’re out” kind of justice.

Mercy is there and must be there with a God who does not force anything upon us. Free to chose, and made that way; we can accept God’s loving gestures, or we can refuse them. We can move into the mystery of that Divine Mercy and imitate the one in whose image we are made, or we can chose otherwise. In the readings from Chronicles and Psalm 137 we are reminded that before the Israelites could return to their land, they had to return to God. In the Gospel, Nicodemus is told that people can choose to believe or not believe in Christ, There has always been a choice, and today that choice is in our face.

It isn’t as though many people explicitly choose against God. These choices we make are far more subtle than that. It is the little infidelities added one upon another that eventually lead to a choice. It is the indifference we show to the message and the messengers who challenge and call us to mercy, not necessarily any violence. We silence them and still the message simply by ignoring them, and keeping ourselves busy with other things. It isn’t that we refuse God, it’s just that we’re busy with other stuff. It isn’t that we are big sinners, it is simply that we are not big saints. We’re not big at anything. God gives us choices to make, and sometimes we choose not to choose.

On Lent’s fourth Sunday, we are invited to begin – begin Lent if we did not choose to do so three weeks ago, begin rebuilding our lives like Israel who repented after seeing the consequences of their choices. Our broken lives are not broken forever. Our broken world is not beyond the reach of God’s healing love. Our broken peace is not without hope of victory; but it will not be God’s victory without mercy. We can live in a world that celebrates cooperation rather than competition, and finds that respect is more true to our nature than discrimination. Around this altar we can rejoice in the Love we have been offered and discover how to share this powerful, healing, forgiving gift. The choice is ours.

The 3rd Sunday in Lent at St Mark Church in Norman, OK

March 23, 2003

Exodus 20:1-17 + 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 + John 2:13-25

Mark has led us this far into Lent; but now he passes us on to John who will be our guide until Palm Sunday. Quickly we notice the change. After the precise, orderly details of Mark, we suddenly must deal with the emotions and the stirring images of John’s Gospel. From Cana and its wild wedding feast we move to Jerusalem with its somber and serious Temple business. From a family celebration in a home, to the somber courts of Jerusalem’s Temple, signs of change filled with promise sweep off these pages into our hearts and minds. Water to Wine. Temple of Stone to Temple of Flesh. All woven together with signs and wonders leading people to believe.

But John tells us that Jesus is wise to them. He knows human nature. He knows this crowd that gathers for a show, for excitement, for free food, or the chance to be seen where ever the action is. He was a sensation, and he knew that as long as he engaged the Pharisees and Scribes, in controversy and debate, people would hang around for the fun of it. He knew too that if he turned the talk to self-denial and service, the crowd would thin. When he talked about a cross they stared in blank disbelief, and many left him on the spot, not even waiting to find out what it might mean.

He knows human nature. He knows that people can be swept away in emotion and then back out when they start to realize what it means to follow Jesus. He knows human nature hungers for sensation, and so he is not very interested in cheering crowds who have no clue of what he is really about. He prefers a small company who know what they are doing and are prepared to follow him to the end.

Not much has changed when it comes to human nature. It is possible that we might find among us those who come when it’s easy and convenient, when they feel good, or feel like it; who are at church for what they can get out of it, who stay when the message brings comfort, but storm out when it brings challenge or questions their way of life, their politics, or their comfortable identity. Talk of service, talk of giving, talk of sacrifice still makes some look at their watches or look for the door. Human nature would still turn religion into sentimental, feel-good, “it’s all about me” celebrations; but with this Jesus who messes up things in the Temple, it shall be so. He will call from that place and that crowd people who will be there for the long –haul, people who know the way to Calvary, and find that service of others is better than service of self. These will be the ones whose lives become signs and wonders. Rather than asking for miracles they become one. Their lives will be miraculous and their faith will bring awe. They will make love the power that mends a broken body and heals a broken heart.

In John’s Gospel, miracles reveal something about the nature and character of God. In John’s Gospel, the power of Jesus is used to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to comfort the sorrowing; and the very fact that Jesus did use His power in that way was the proof that God cared for the sorrows and the needs and the pains of every man and woman. That power is ours now – at least it belongs to those who are here to stay, who understand where Jesus will lead, and who are not put off by the cross and the tomb. For them, church will not be a country club or entertainment complex; but an assembly of the powerful and the faithful who chose to Steward God’s gifts for everyone but themselves as God would have it. For them, faith is not shaken by tragedy or disappointment, but simply challenged to grow stronger. It is Lent’s best message, and Easter’s best promise.

The 2nd Sunday in Lent at St March Church in Norman, OK

March 16, 2003

Genesis 22: 1-18 + Roman 8: 31-34 + Mark 9:2-10

We tell stories of faith today, stories that lead us deeper into Lent and toward its finish at Eater. We hear the warning of Mark to tell the vision to no one until after the resurrection, because mystical visions of glory are not enough; because faith that survives suffering and trial is real faith, “Resurrection Faith”; and faith that springs from visions of glory is hardly faith at all.

We think we understand that, but there is still in us all the temptation to take the short-cut. That’s what Peter wanted to do in this Gospel passage. “Let’s build a booth (tent).”  In other words, let’s stop here and capture this moment. Forget about that trip to Jerusalem and that “handing over/suffering stuff”. Those disciples are into this power and glory business. They want nothing to do with what Jesus has been hinting at in terms of suffering and death. But it shall not be so says Mark.

Abraham has had an easy time of it. Oh, there were times of discouragement after a long childless marriage, when others would surely have teased and ridiculed is manhood and Sara would have suffered the indignity of “barrenness” as the Bible calls it, but by and large, things have gone well for them, no great test of faith until that day of sacrifice. The greatness of Abraham’s faith lies in his ability to suffer, his willingness to suffer, and his constancy with God when he doesn’t understand why. Until he passed through that horrible day on the mountain, his “faith” wasn’t Faith at all.

Abraham and disciples of Jesus after the Resurrection have this in common: they have faced suffering, lived through it, and been raised up with hope intact and faith assured. For them there was no short-cut. It is easier to hail Jesus as a wonder-worker, filled with power and gifts by his Father. It is easier to follow him as the one who can solve all our problems by an easier method than the cross, but he will not do it. He will not come down from that cross. We are misled if we expect it. It is easier to say “I believe in God,” after looking at the glories of creation, the stars, an autumn morning, a new born baby, the face of a lover than to say: “I believe in God,” after looking at one’s sick or dying child, a horrible accident, or live with one’s own pain filled life. It is harder when we stay on earth and look around taking in suffering humanity, but we have to learn that this too is the place to see Jesus: this too is his body, broken and dead.

For faithful disciples of Christ Jesus, there is no stopping in glory and no faith in it either. Not until we have stood in the face of suffering and death and claimed our victory over it shall we truly be believers. Many experience terrible suffering and because they have stopped short with the vision of glory lose their way, their hope, and their life. It cannot be so for us. We tell this story today as a challenge to ourselves and a warning not to look for the short-cut nor be willing to stop here. For those willing to identify with Jesus, the future has not come; and in order to enter into future glory, one must go through the destiny of discipleship.

Declaring that Jesus has risen is only believable from those who have been on the mountain, and I don’t mean Tabor, I mean Calvary. If the Resurrection means anything at all, it means that those who follow Jesus in faith can go hopefully into suffering and death not just with words, but with the deeds of their lives.

The 1st Sunday in Lent at St Mark Church in Norman, OK

March 9, 2003

Genesis 9:8-15 + 1 Peter 3:18-22 + Mark 1:12-15

On Lent’s first Sunday, the Gospel tells us something about God something about Jesus, and something about ourselves. What first seems harsh on God’s part with the “driving” of Jesus into the desert and his “testing” there, really reveals God’s intention to preserve and care for those who find themselves tested and tempted by the ministry of the “angels” who protect and comfort those experience this time of trial.

If ever there was an effort to suggest that Jesus “had it made” as God’s Son and was somehow on the fast-track to perfection, Mark makes haste to clear that notion from our heads. Yet there is more to Mark’s dimension of Jesus than simply showing us the human condition Jesus experienced. This combat with Satan does not end here, but this story validates Jesus as the one who will complete the battle as the combat goes on. Victorious here, he has the credentials or the experience to be victorious to the end.

“Forty days” is a long time. Figurative, poetic, symbolic, it does not mean thirty-nine and counting. It means, “a long time.” I’ve begun to suspect that our desert time is our life-time. It’s not that the desert is an ugly place or always frightening, but it isn’t our place it is not the place for which we have been created. Paradise is (to use Biblical language) – and this isn’t it. We have been “driven” here if you will think of the Genesis image of what happened as a result of that sin. But faith tells us that this desert is not where we shall forever be found. But this is the desert time – the time of testing, trial, and temptation, and it lasts a long time, perhaps even a life-time.

These forty spring-time days are an opportunity to look around at where we find ourselves; to take a deep breath and revise our plan for how we are going to get out of here; and take a good look at the guide, Jesus Christ who finally baptized and anointed with the Spirit survives the desert and its temptations to lead those who repent and believe into what he calls: The Kingdom of God.

The image Mark gives as a portrait of Jesus in the desert is a mirror of ourselves. It is the authentic Christian life: wild animals at our feet and angels of mercy just overhead. In this year’s Lent, instead of concentrating only on ourselves our sins, our need for repentance, we might concentrate on this image of Jesus suspended between heaven and hell. It is a time of suspense and conflict filled with awesome possibilities. This gospel drama on Lent’s first Sunday proposes that we move closer to Christ Jesus and trust the mercy message of these angels rather than fear the beasts or doubt our victory.

As we turn the page in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus emerges from the desert to begin his journey seeking people who are willing to repent and believe. That journey will take a turn through Jerusalem with a stop at Calvary and pause in tomb. But for those who keep their eyes on the angels and those who walk with Son of God that will not be the end of the journey. It will simply be the end of desert.

Ash Wednesday at St Mark Church in Norman, OK

March 5, 2003

Joel 2:12-18 + 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 + Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

The first words of this great and holy season come from God himself. It is Joel who gives voice to the longing of God, who calls us together and asks us to look up from the cares of this day, the troubles of this year, and the long season of violence and disaster that seems to have settled upon us.

It’s as though a thousand voices were moaning and crying, weeping and lamenting, groaning and sobbing out of disappointment and fear, loneliness and sorrow. One voice is heard above all the others, one voice that says: Come back to me.

The media loudly tempts us with glamour and pleasure, The culture calls us to wealth, power, and independence. Pride seduces us to look out for number one. Fear whispers in our ear that there might not be enough, “keep it” “save it” “hold it.” Pleasure lures us to eat, to drink, to pleasure in another because it makes us feel good and there is so much pain. Envy beckons to see what others have without thought of our own gifts. And anger roars inside us ready to lash out at the simplest offence.

Above all that din one voice calls to us: “Come back to me.” One prophet reminds us that our only recourse is to God. Only God brings peace, quiets the noise, and stirs our Joy. The prophet speaks of a trumpet call and he rallies us to action. Notice that the call is to all of us, the whole church, not just one or two here or there. This season is no lonely struggle for individuals; but a collective, common effort of all God’s people. The struggle against sin is not one we win alone, for our victory is found only in our oneness in the Body of Christ. Just as each one’s sins affect the rest, so do each one’s good works bring hope and comfort to all.

It begins now, our forty days of renewal, our time to make simpler these complicated lives that pull us in every direction at once day in and day out. Lives that seem to have no focus, no direction, and no centers are lives that cause others to say: “Where is their God.”

Now it begins with one voice: “Come back to me.” It says. “Come back to me with all your heart.”

The 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St March Church in Norman, OK

March 2, 2003

Hosea 2:17-22 + 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 + Mark 2: 18-22

Pharisees get a bad rap in the Gospels. Consequently, we are not inclined to listen to what they have to say much less why they say it. Gospel writers use them as a tool to reinforce the sayings of Jesus, and that works well, but sometimes what Jesus has to say does not overturn or reverse what the Pharisees say, but simply reinforces it from another direction. I think today’s encounter with the Pharisees could be heard in that way with a little more attention to the motives of these Pharisees.

Far from being self-righteous moralists saving their souls by scrupulous personal behavior,

Pharisees are trying to create a common culture that would support fellow Jews in living their religion in the hostile environment of pagan Roman culture. They understood that the identity and the survival of any minority is the firm cohesion of members and preserving their clear distinction from others. Their whole focus was to confirm, establish, and maintain the identity of Israel. They believed that doing so rested upon the faithful and strict observance of Jewish law especially the laws that distinguished them from the Romans. They believed that the Jewish people were God’s people that they lived in Covenant with God and were therefore different from if not better than the Romans, and to keep their privileged status, they had to keep all the rules of the covenant. Pharisees believed that ones identity as a member of God’s chosen people was best found in obedience to God’s law. Nothing wrong with that thinking !

We are about to enter into the season of Lent. Forty days of identity search. It begins with an outward sign that you can wash off, and probably will within hours of its being imposed: a cross of ashes on your forehead. Everyone who sees that cross will know your identity and know where you’ve already been that day. But once it is cleaned away, who will know and what will they know? That is the question posed by this Gospel, an appropriate question to raise three days before Lent begins.

In years past, people knew our identity by what we ate on Friday by how we began a meal in public with the sign of the cross, as much as by where we went to church. These days, it is probably worth asking the question: How would anyone know we were disciples of Jesus rather than disciples of Alan Greenspan? How would they know that we live by Gospel values rather than peer pressure? How would they know that we believe that we have been made by God from the dust of the earth and will return to that dust one day?

The Forty Days that begin this Wednesday give us time to consider those questions and others like them that concern our identity as children of God and Disciples of Christ Jesus. Sacrifice, fasting, and prayer are the time-honored ways of sorting out and confirming our identity. Until we know who we are, no one else will either. Those ancient and well-proven ways provide for us our identity and give us the courage to make more public witness to the truth of that identity by the choices we make, the causes we claim, and the style of our life in relationship to this world and its inhabitants.

The Challenge of the Pharisees speaks to us today, about how we are to preserve our identity in a world that is hostile or indifferent to the values of our faith and the Gospel of Christ Jesus. What we shall do, and how we shall observe these forty days are matters that shape that identity and remind us who we are. These sacraments, customs, prayers, fasting, and almsgiving are for us what the Law was for the Pharisees. The observance of these customs are what keep us together and faithful to the one who has lived among us and remains among us in the sacramental life of the church. A little patch here, a little fix now and then is not going to keep us faithful to the Gospel we have been given and the life we are promised. What is required says Jesus, is that we abandon whole ways of thinking, adopt new ways of living, and embrace a life that will never leave in doubt who we are and where we are going.