A Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Lent

Psalm 118:1-2,19-29
Luke 19:28-40

A major challenge of Lent is this: how should we wait? Our culture demands that everything happen instantly. Lent requires a different kind of clock, one synchronized to Kairos, or God’s time; open to the working of the Spirit.

In the dramatic emotional swings of Holy Week we find ourselves in a kind of twilight zone, both knowing what awaits our Lord and not wanting to know what will happen, of wanting to fast forward from Palm Sunday to Easter morning. If only we could avoid the pain of betrayal and the horror of the crucifixion, the agonizing sense of loss felt by the followers and friends of Jesus.

Time weighs heavily. After Palm Sunday comes … three days of waiting? Our culture says: cut to the chase. Our Church says: prepare your spirit for a long, slow walk from the darkness to the light. Holy Week is a time to slow down and to listen.

Listen to the sounds of this week. You hear the sounds in Scripture and in worship, in our prayers joined with those of other people throughout the world. Listen to the voice of the Church.

Many of us know anxious waiting when we have no idea what to expect. As we meditate on the fourteen Stations of the Cross, we are forced to see once more the suffering of our Lord and to hear his anguished cries from the cross.

In George Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” (1633), Jesus asks, “was ever grief like mine?” Hear the anguish now of all who suffer, of all who are persecuted.

But to dwell only on anxious waiting is to miss the other sounds of Holy Week. When we walk the fourteen Stations of the Cross, we meditate on the suffering of the Messiah. The jubilant cries of the crowd as Jesus rides into Jerusalem turn into a furious roar a few days later when they demand freedom for Barabbas and death for Jesus. And yet we know that the fifteenth station awaits us.

pocketwatchThe noisy movement from gaudy civic spectacle to the deep silence of the tomb is part of the story, but we also hear the muffled cries of private joy and wonder on Easter morning.

This is the time for eyewitnesses. This is the time for those who see and hear him again to share their experience of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

This is the time.

A Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

 The nard oil that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ body came from the spikenard plant in India. The oil was placed in an alabaster box then transported by caravan across the long flat desert to the markets of Jerusalem.

One pound of nard oil cost 300 denari, the equivalent of nearly one year’s wages for a common laborer.

Spikenard is still costly – a pound now runs about $480. There are many corners of this globe today where that would be one year’s wages. So it is not an unreasonable question Judas asks:

“Why was this perfume not sold…and the money given to the poor?”

The gospel writer whispers to us that Judas is a thief and has no intention of spending the money on the poor. But that doesn’t answer the question that has lingered in the air through the ages: couldn’t that money be better spent on the poor?

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replies. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

This fact also lingers in the air: the poor are still with us. Today, though, Jesus reminds us of another fact: He is with us. He bids us to linger awhile precisely because the poor are with us and we have work to do tomorrow.

When I hear this passage, I think of all of the loving hands of those who have prepared holy places for worship Sunday after Sunday, year after year, century after century.

I think of those who have pressed the linens, and baked the bread, filled the cruets with wine, and arranged the flowers that will soon adorn sacred spaces at Easter. I think of grand cathedrals and simple chapels, and a beach in Central America long ago with friends from CDSP celebrating together our Holy Eucharist with a spark that felt as if it were the first time.

Today, linger awhile. Jesus is filling us with passion and courage – and the strength to feed the poor in body, mind and spirit.

Linger awhile. Be extravagant in your love for the living Christ, and extravagant in your love for each other. Worship fully, pray earnestly, sing loudly, give generously, and share in the bread and wine of our sacred meal as if it were the first time.

Tomorrow there is work to be done.

A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 15:1-2, 11b-32

lent4 picture.2

Modern Christians can see the ending coming from a mile away. Of course, the Prodigal Son will be met on the road once more by his forgiving father. They’ll have a big “welcome home” party. And the older, more responsible son will refuse to join in, preferring to remain outside, stewing with resentment. We already know the message: it’s never too late to repent. God’s forgiveness is extravagant. We might even play the game of “Which Son Am I?” to try to find new paths into this parable. But ultimately, though we may feel a twinge of pity for the older son, we are more or less “set” with what this story has to teach us.

Then why are we still so ashamed? If we know the lesson this parable imparts, why don’t quote 1we believe it? So many people I know carry guilt and sadness with them, year after year, for an offense, trait, or desire they deem unforgivable. I still can get pangs of remorse for being gay, twenty-five years after coming out—despite a loving husband and a changing culture. We behave as if Divine Love is conditional, and that God opts out under certain circumstances.

Perhaps we can’t forgive ourselves. Even as God parts the curtains and looks out the window down the road every day, hoping to spy us on that path towards home, we starve, mired in pigsty muck, thinking it’s what we deserve. Or we fear rejection so much we’d sooner wallow in our private shame than ask for a second chance. Whatever the reasons, deep down many of us find it impossible to trust God and surrender control of our soul.

So this and every Lent we rehearse the journey back home in our head, hoping one day we’re met on the road by a God who will fall on our neck and ask no questions. And perhaps every Easter we slaughter the fatted calf in our heart, practicing what celebration feels like, until we can muster the courage to unstick from the sludge and take that first step of return. Trust that, before the second step, a far-away door has already flung open and God races towards you with open arms.

A Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 3:1-15

The Lord said, “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt….So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:7-12)

compass

Lent is another time in our lives as Christians in which we focus on preparation for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our own shortcomings and, perhaps even our strength. God helps us prepare for the next step in our lives, the next set of challenges. God provided tools of the spirit and companions and prayer partners to assist in the journey. We recognize our limitations, but are called to trust in God again and move forward.

“Who am I Lord?” to have seen what I have seen and yet to be given such awesome
responsibility.

During African American History Month, we remember those who lived into the awesome responsibilities that God has given them. Harriet Tubman and all of those African Americans and whites that helped thousands travel north from the system of slavery in the South to freedom in the North. Women and men of the Under-ground Railroad believed that God had not placed them on this earth to live lives of hatred, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse.

Please watch the following on your computer, “Let My People Go” by Paul Robeson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtLcELU1brA

They understood God’s requirement of Moses to “tell Pharaoh to let my people go.” And so, guided by God’s hand thousands were led to freedom to begin lives with their headsheld high. Blacks in greater numbers came to understand new challenges in this new land. And to remember God as the great I am.

lenten quote 3

In today’s world our command to free God’s people doesn’t seem quite as daunting, except when we consider freeing those who are hungry, or live on the streets, or were wrongly incarcerated, or who are the “other” among us. Then, of course,

it’s a bit more personally challenging.  And then this time of reflection is much more warranted.  How can I step out and do what God has asked of me?  How can I use this Lenten period to prepare for that next major challenge?

cross

PRAYER

Dear Lord. There is such need in this world of ours. You ask me to step out of my comfort zone and do more—to help somebody today. But it’s frightening. And by whose authority really am I working. Help me to remember that you have given me all the tools I need to do your work, Lord. And that like Moses I can because you are.

A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

mother hen

I love that image of Jesus the mother hen, longing to take the children of Jerusalem under his wings. It’s an appealing picture of God—a God who longs for us,

who reaches out to gather us in. It’s an image of God that comforts us.

But Jesus goes on to say that the children of Jerusalem have not been willing to take the shelter he offers.A motherly figure, making a welcoming gesture, offering love and security, and the children of Jerusalem say, “No.” Does that make sense?

Herod “the fox” resists Jesus for reasons that are easy to understand. Prophets point fingers at a ruler’s unjust and greedy reach for more power. But why would someone reject freely-offered love? Why would you or I?

Can we imagine the love of God as a threat to our fiercely-held value of self-reliance, our own quest for security? If I let God love me and enfold me with all my imperfections and all my doubts and fears, could it make me weak? Do I really trust in that unconditional love?

This is a slippery sort of resistance. It’s not about how we spend our time or our money; it’s not about just or unjust things that we do. It’s about how we set our heart.

This is the kind of resistance that gnaws at our faith not with big questions, but with little objections; it’s the kind of resistance that can lead us to choose to try to escape through chemicals or other kinds of addictive behavior rather than face the truth. The resistance can become bondage.

The bondage of fear, and the bondage of our insecurity—these aren’t things that we can will ourselves out of today, right now. In fact, our Christian tradition assures us that we aren’t called to release ourselves from resistance on our own. What we’re called to do, rather, is simply place ourselves where the grace of God can work on us.

A first step in that direction is to slow down, quiet the voices inside our head, and try on that image of Jesus as a mother hen. Try reading scripture that way this Lent, taking the image that jumps out at us, and letting it enfold us. Instead of worrying about unlocking scripture’s mysteries, let’s allow scripture to unlock us. That is one way we can take the step to place ourselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus stands before us, with arms outspread, waiting to welcome us, waiting to shelter us. Jesus offers us himself, whether our good works are many or few, whether our motives are pure or not, whether our faith in him is firm or not. His grace is free, and its meaning is beyond all imagining. He calls us only to be open to receive.

Lent 1 Reflection

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2.9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-3

I’VE CAUGHT MYSELF over the last year praying in a way that I didn’t learn in church or from the prayer book and that we don’t hear from Jesus. These are prayers such as, “please, please, please don’t let me run out of gas,” or “please help my son get into the right college,” and even the more serious, “please don’t let it be life-threatening.”

It’s not that we can’t pray any way we like, certainly we can, but in Lent we have an opportunity to go to the desert with Jesus, and look this kind of demand-based prayer squarely in the eye and say, as Jesus in effect said to Satan in Luke 4:1-13, that the healing and wholeness that God offers is far beyond the particular outcomes we may have in mind.

The recent deaths of two important people in my life have helped me reflect on prayer and healing wholeness further.

My friend Martina fought a battle against cancer for several years before finally succumbing to the disease three years ago. Martina was a highly admired medical doctor, loving spouse and the mother of four young children. She fought this disease with every bit of intellectual, physical and emotional strength she could muster. Martina did not, however, turn to prayer for support. In fact, she seemed to reject prayer wholesale.

More than once during her long and very painful battle with cancer Martina challenged me saying, “Mary, you are in seminary. You are praying for me, right? Shouldn’t that praying be doing something for me?”

At her death, Martina expressed great solace at being surrounded by loved ones, but she did not find prayer helpful or healing. Although she was at peace and surely surrounded by the divine love of family and friends, I wondered what influences might have kept her from knowing prayer’s healing gift. I wonder how this sort of thinking about prayer impacts the rest of us.

My father’s death to cancer last year opened me to new considerations about prayer and healing. My father was 82 when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Given only a few weeks to live, prayer for recovery did not come to mind. My family and my parents’ parish priest prayed for healing in a different way—healing for any remaining injuries, worries or losses that troubled my dad and his loved ones, healing for reconciliation with God and prayers for the wholeness that comes from knowing God’s Grace.

During our own desert times of illness, loss or longing, may we come to understand healing as a gift from prayers that do not confuse Grace with magic or conflate healing with cure but that offer wholeness of a different kind, the wholeness of God’s Grace.