my miscellany

The Second Sunday in Lent, 2019 — 17 Mar 19

The Second Sunday in Lent, 2019

RCL Year C Lent 2
Genesis 15:1-12 and 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17–4:1,
Saint Luke 13:31-35

What is an acceptable sacrifice to God?  Do we really have to take a heifer three years old, as Abram does in today’s first lesson, a female goat three years old, and a ram three years old and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other, remembering not to cut the turtledove and the young pigeon?  Is giving up chocolate for Lent an acceptable sacrifice?  Is taking on the commitment of a new ministry during Lent an acceptable sacrifice?  Do we even need to offer an acceptable sacrifice in order to gain God’s favor?  In other words, can God be bought?  Do we have any idea what an acceptable sacrifice might be?

The fifty-first Psalm may offer some help: “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; * a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”[1]  The broken and contrite heart that is not despised by God is the heart set to do God’s will in the world.  And what that heart does to reconcile the world to God is a sacrifice, a holy action which makes holy the deed and the doer.  For us Christians, the supreme example of a holy action done to reconcile the world to God is Christ’s self-offering of himself on the cross.  But like it, everything that you and I undertake this Lent and any day of our lives for the purpose of reconciling the world to God, of bringing people to God, is the sacrifice of a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart.  For our hearts must break and our spirits must be troubled at the distance between the world as it is and the world as God wants it to be.  You have only to consider Jesus’ bitter remarks about Jerusalem killing and stoning the prophets, and all the people God sent to help Jerusalem, in order to understand what Jesus thinks about that very distance.[2]

When I have presented at Spiritual Gifts workshops, I have told people that their calling, their vocation, as Christians may be found at the intersection of what the world most needs and what they most want to do.  And I tell that to you.  Lent is available to you to look inside to see what you need to do, what you can offer, to take your rightful place in the reconciliation of the world to God.  You may be surprised to discover that what you can do, and what you can offer, is something you really like to do and really like to give.  After all, in my experience, God doesn’t play hard to get.  He lets us know how to approach him.

It may only be a superstition of mine or it may be an insight, but when each one of us is devoted to bringing God’s kingdom to our world, that kingdom will have arrived.

[1] Psalm 51:18.

[2] St. Luke 13:34.

The First Sunday in Lent, 2019 — 10 Mar 19

The First Sunday in Lent, 2019

RCL Year C Lent 1
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2 and 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13;
Saint Luke 4:1-13

Let’s start with the obvious. The devil’s temptation of Jesus is the temptation of the Son of God or, in other words, Jesus’ divine nature. And, consequently, we are not surprised that two of the temptations take this form: “If you are the Son of God, then do what the Son of God alone can do.” I hope that none of us thinks he can turn stones into bread or leap from the Empire State Building without harm. Our temptations are of a different order. How do we face them? We face them by using the traditional spiritual disciplines.

On Ash Wednesday we heard those solemn words: “I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent,” and here is the list of disciplines, “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” This is not an invitation to do something unusual or extreme or to leave daily life behind. It is an invitation to train ourselves by the classic spiritual disciplines, so that our eyes can learn to see what is already there.

The Lenten disciplines which our Ash Wednesday invitation recommended to us are some of the church’s most tried and true ways of noticing God right where we are. They aren’t the only ways, but they are among the most reliable. That’s why the church asks us to use them every Lent.

Now, if you don’t want them to work, you can do them mechanically. You can do them with your eyes and ears on automatic pilot. Just read a collect at top speed, and check off prayer as having been done. Skip seconds at supper for forty days, and check off fasting as having been done. Let your mind flit over the past week for half a minute before we say the confession in church, and check off self-examination and repentance as having been done.

Keep your eyes and ears on automatic pilot instead of open to seeing and hearing God’s presence, and these reliable old disciplines won’t disturb you a bit. You can keep right on moving, and never hear the Holy Spirit singing to you like a bird fresh from wintering in the South.

Or you can take time and use these disciplines to become a God-watcher. Pray, maybe, by talking to God as if he had spent the whole day right at your side, as if you knew no special church rules, and as if you expect him to keep up his half of the conversation.

Or fast, maybe, on some day when you’ll have a chance to sit down and feel the hollow buzz in your stomach, and then ask what it reminds you of. What else, who else, feels that way?

And for self-examination, maybe, try on the simple questions of a child, things like “How come you lied?” or “Why can’t I be friends with him any more?”

Oh, you don’t have to do those things exactly. Do some other ones if you like. But if you want to become a God-watcher this Lent, get yourself off automatic pilot.

For the next forty days, try taking it on faith: The word is near you, in your heart, in your house, in your neighborhood. And then watch.

Sit quietly, and gently look at the place from which you thought you might have heard a nightingale’s song, until the Presence of God begins to take shape before your eyes. Then you’ll be able to say it for yourself: the Word is near me, on my lips, and in my heart. And it was there all along. Thanks be to God.

Ash Wednesday, 2019 — 6 Mar 19

Ash Wednesday, 2019

RCL Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2 and 12-17, Psalm 103:8-14, II Corinthians 5:20b–6:10,
Saint Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21

I see no way around it. If we want to be reconciled to God and to creation, we must learn to practice self-regulation. Not one of us is capable of making right choices one-hundred percent of the time. And when we make a wrong choice, when we fail to regulate ourselves, in other words, we are left with God, who is our help, and we are left with the wreckage of our wrong choice in people we love and in people who have trusted us. The way forward in these circumstances is the regulation of repentance and accepting forgiveness.

This very Liturgy is the way forward. Two things about our service tonight are helpful going forward, and one of those two is absolutely necessary. The thing that is only helpful are the outward signs: the ashes, the kneeling, and the confessing. The actions of our bodies affect our inward dispositions, which brings me to the thing that is necessary.

We cannot move forward toward reconciliation with God and our neighbors; we cannot be forgiven for our wrong choices without true penitence. True penitence is our inward disposition of sorrow and regret for having made wrong choices and for having harmed our relationship with God and with those who love us. True penitence cannot be faked. The Gospel is repetitively clear that God is in secret and sees in secret, and he will reward us in secret. And so, we can and we do use the ashes, the kneeling, and the confessing, though not strictly necessary, to deepen our penitence.

As we shall hear in the absolution, [God] “pardons and absolves all those who truly repent, and with sincere hearts believe his holy Gospel.”[1]

Tonight and every day, we rely on God’s goodness, for “he himself knows whereof we are made; * he remembers that we are but dust.”[2]

[1] BCP, page 269.

[2] Psalm 103:14.


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