All posts for the month March, 2012

March 11, 2012

Exodus 20: 1-17 + Psalm 19 + Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8 + John 4: 5-42

Lent’s Third Sunday leads us once more into a reflection on Covenant. Today a third and last old covenant is revealed and offered through Moses. This time there are conditions beyond the covenant of Noah and Abraham. God’s gradual self revelation now becomes exclusive, direct, and personal. God has a part in the covenant, and people who wish to be God’s own have a part. God promises liberty, land, prosperity, God’s special care and love. What is expected of the people who wish to be God’s own is what we find in today’s readings.

What we hear in the Book of Exodus reading is not a set of recommendations or suggestions. We hear the absolute conditions, non-negotiable expectations of what God will look for in a chosen people. The arrangement is obvious: God at the top. These are God’s rules, not ours. When we make our own rules, we make ourselves god, and that’s where Adam and Eve got into trouble. Over the centuries, Israel learned the importance of ordering their society in relation to God and others. This was the key to building and maintaining a great nation, as well as a holy nation before God. When Jesus comes along, he synthesizes these expectations of God into a simple and concise format: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now the age in which we live admires those who with clever intent find a way around the law, every law. Their example is tempting to the point that we feel justified and proud of ourselves when we find loop holes and ways to get around the law excusing ourselves with a wink and a nod from doing what is right. What is “right” then becomes what is easy, clever, and least demanding. Ancient Israel considered the law a form of wisdom gained from reflection on life. This wisdom from insights is what led to happiness and what did not. They cherished this law as much as the Greeks cherished their philosophy. 

In bringing the law to its fulfillment, Jesus he showed us that external observance is not enough. He called for a commitment that is deeper, that goes to the heart of our covenant with God. In cleansing the Temple, Jesus did not destroy it, he cleansed it. In the stories of John’s Gospel, what Jesus does is never the point. It is what Jesus is that John wants to reveal. In today’s Gospel story the point is not a conflict with money-changers or Pharisees. The point is that Jesus is the new Temple. Jesus is where the human and the divine meet, not in Jerusalem’s Temple.

This truth is what makes this place so holy: not marble or gold, candles or incense. What makes this place holy is that here the divine in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ meet the human in you and me. It is for this reason that we come here with reverence and awe, in need, and in thanksgiving, in joy and in sorrow, in faith and hope. It is why being anywhere else when the divine presence comes to us is such an unimaginable disregard for this sacrament. It is here in this covenant that we become what God has made us to be. The place is irrelevant. It can happen here, in a tent, on the back of truck, in the simplest of places or the grandest of Cathedrals but what happens is the Eucharist, the covenant in which God and God’s people dwell together, and we become what God wills and desires.

I am coming to understand in these years of my life what an ancient Christian writer once said: God does not see what we have done, or what we have thought. God only see what we will become. The only way to go to hell is to fail to become what God has willed and desired us to be. What Jesus gave his life for was the will of the Father, not that he should die, but that we should all be one as he was one with the Father and the Father with the Son. Here we become one, when we leave behind our private little lives to come together as God’s people. Here we enter into the new Temple: the Body of Christ, and in that Temple, we become what God has from the beginning wished us to be. That will not happen if we are somewhere else. To let this happen while we are absent is to place ourselves outside of the covenant, alienated and distant from the divine. In an age and time of individuality and a “do your own thing” style of life, this sounds a bit odd and perhaps silly. In that way thinking, the life, the words, and the Spirit of Jesus sound a bit odd, impractical, and silly.

We run the risk of becoming a people given to exceptions and excuses. Individuality, personal choice, and private fulfillment dominate our moral discourse. We are becoming utilitarians and libertarians. No wonder commandments that disregard pleasure seem cranky and unpleasant. We are mocked as being guilt ridden, but the truth of the matter is, there is no guilt anymore. Real guilt leads to healing reconciliation, growth, and reform. We have made exceptions to every commandment. There are more excuses for killing others than you could sit here and count, and that is only one example: revenge, security of our way of life, are our latest excuses. It’s still killing. We are uncomfortable with all the commandments, and we should be. Law, duties, and responsibilities make us uncomfortable. What is wrong with that? There are some who seem uncomfortable with any law they have not cooked up, but this is a matter of nobility and greatness.

Which is greater and more noble, a spouse who is faithful because they are content, fulfilled, and happy, or the spouse who is faithful in the midst of difficulties, sickness, or hurt? Which is greater? Someone who stays alive because they enjoy living, or someone who continues to live in pain and sorrow because it is their duty to honor the gift of life God has given? 

We must be true to what we are no matter what. Remembering what we are and who we are as God’s people, God’s chosen ones, is what will lead to the fulfillment of God’s will. All God wants is that we be his and his alone; and in fulfilling that wish and will, we shall become one, loving one another as much as we love ourselves. For some that may seem foolish, but God’s foolishness is wiser than our schemes. We will always struggle with this, but since Jesus has promised to remain with us, we can look to him to heal our guilt, and be our joy and our strength as we share in his victory.

March 5, 2012

Genesis 22: 1-18 + 116 + Romans 8: 31-34 + Mark 9: 2-10

The first reading last weekend that opened the word of God for our Lenten Sundays was the story of Noah. Today the story of Abraham speaks to us, then will come Moses, Cyrus, and finally Jeremiah. Central to our prayerful celebration of Lent is the truth and the reality of Covenant. This holy season begins with the first Covenant and ends with the final Covenant on Holy Thursday. As we work our way toward that Holy Night when the God makes his final covenant with us through the Body and Blood of his Son, we shall remember all the covenants that have taken human kind deeper and deeper into the mystery of God’s love for us. The story of Noah is a story of salvation and recreation. It is the story of life’s triumph over death for the obedient faithful. It is a story full of promise through which God is revealed as a promise maker and promise keeper. Nothing is asked of Noah in that covenant. There are no conditions. It is pure gift. It simply introduces God’s promise, and with rich powerful images that speak to every Christian sensitive to the symbols with which we speak, water covers the earth, sweeps away all that is evil, and creation begins a new with God’s promise that death will never come again.

Today it is the story of a father and a son that reveals to us a God who will provide. It is about way more than Isaac’s death. It is about the death of us all. Abraham is not the first nor the last to be put to test. He is not the first asked for a sacrifice, and neither is Isaac. Each of us is required to make Abraham’s sacrifice. We must all face letting go of our most beloved person, task, accomplishment, possession, or joy. Everything dear to us, everything we love, everything given to us by God is subject to death; it’s own and our own.

The essence of the story is this: “Is God good?” and “Will God Keep the Promises?” It is the question that will rise up in our face every time we are separated from what we love. The death of a spouse, a child, a parent, a brother or sister puts that question right in our faces: “Is God good?” We lose a job, we lose our home, we lose our dignity to old age or some terrible illness that robs us of our independence and freedom, and there is one question: “Is God good?” and “Is God going to keep God’s promises?” A physician says to us: “There is no hope, nothing more to do.” and the question in front of us is: “Is God good.”

Abraham is our “father in faith” because he embodies the final act of faith that all of us must make. We all make sacrifices, and we all stand before the terrible separation from all we hold most dear.

The point of remembering this profound yet simple truth is that our God does the same. “This is my beloved Son.” God says from afar. “The only begotten” one of a kind, is not held back by God. God does not ask what God has not done. God asks for mercy, God give mercy. God asks us to forgive. God forgives. God asks us to sacrifice and serve. God sacrifices and serves. God makes a promise, we make a promise. If God keeps that promise, then we shall keep that promise

Just about ten days ago we marked our faces with ashes that remind us that we are going to die, every single one of us. We are going to be separated from one another and from life itself. The simple message in those ashes is: “Get ready.” We also marked our faces with a cross because by that cross we know we shall live. The simple message of that cross is: “Get worthy of it.” which is exactly what this season of Lent is all about: getting ready to die, and getting ready to live forever.