Sunday, February 28, 2021

2 Lent


February 21, 2021

Mark 8.31-38

 

+ Each week, without fail, I stand here and talk about “following Jesus.”

 

After all, it’s the basis of everything I believe as a Christian.

 

For me, as you hear me say again and again, being a Christian equals “following Jesus” or being a “disciple of Jesus”

 

And I believe that with all my heart.

 

But…but…what I don’t share with you is how difficult it is for me to say that.

 

Because, in fact, it is not easy for me to “follow.”

 

I’m not used to following.

 

I find it difficult to follow.

 

Following, for me anyway, means having to humble myself, having to slow down. To breath, and to let someone else lead the way.

 

And I don’t really enjoy that.

 

I’ll be honest: I kind of like doing my own thing.

 

It’s like being so used to driving all the time and then finally having to allow someone else to drive you.

 

You find yourself sitting in the passenger seat being critical of the speed of their driving, how they come up a little too quickly to a stop sign, how they don’t make the turn signal at the right time.

 

When I let someone else drive, I often find myself pumping that invisible break on the passenger side sometimes.

 

For me, that is often the way I feel about following Jesus.

 

I often, when following Jesus and trying to live out his teaching, find myself pumping the invisible break on the passenger side.

 

“I’m often asking, “Jesus, do you know where we’re going? Because it seems like we’re just circling the block.”

 

I often find myself thinking, well, I wouldn’t do it this way.

 

There are plenty of examples in the Gospels.

 

Turning the other cheek?

 

I wouldn’t normally be all right with that.

 

Loving my neighbor as myself?

 

If I had the choice not to, I’m not sure I would.

 

Not that one, any way.

 

But this is what it means to follow.

 

It means that, pump that invisible break as much as we want, it is not up to us.

 

We are the followers.

 

We are the ones who must bring up the rear.

 

And doing so is humbling and difficult and hard at times.

 

It means we’re not in control.

 

And here at St. Stephen’s, where many of us (not just me) have major control issues, that’s hard for a good many of us.

 

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus explaining to us in very blunt words what it means to be a disciple.

 

For him, being a disciple, means being a follower.

 

A follower of him.

 

And, as we know, because we’re not the ones in control when it comes to following Jesus, being a Christian—being a follower of Jesus—means that we are sometimes being led into some unhappy circumstances.

 

Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean closing ourselves up intellectually.

 

It doesn’t mean we get to stop thinking.

 

Trust me.

 

I know too many of these kind of Christians.

 

These are the people who think being a Christian means not having to think anymore.

 

Just believing that all will be well and there aren’t any problems.

 

I think we all, at times, find ourselves lulled into a false sense of what it means to be a followers.

 

We think that being a follower of Jesus means that everything is going to be happy-go-lucky and wonderful all the time.

 

We think that  following means not really having to think about bad or difficult things anymore.

 

It’s easy, after all, to be a lemming.

 

But that isn’t the kind of following Jesus wants us to do.

 

The kind of follower Jesus wants us to be is not easy.

 

For me, personally, I am not a comfortable follower.

 

It’s hard to have someone else’s standards essentially be my standards.

 

It can be depressing.

 

Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be joyful in our following of Jesus.

 

Yes, we should be filled with a deep and sincere joy.

 

But, as the old song goes, no one promised us a rose garden. Nowhere in scripture have we been promised that life is going to be rosy and sweet all the time.

 

Being a follower is not always so much fun.

 

Being a Christian means not always strolling around in comfort and joy all the time.

 

As we are reminded in this season of Lent and especially in that week preceding Easter, being a Christian means following Jesus wherever he goes.

 

And where he goes is not to the rose garden.

 

It is to the garden of Gethsemane—to that place where he too would be feeling anguish, where too would sweat blood, where he too would cry out in anguish to God.

 

Following Jesus means essentially being like him.

 

And being like him, means having the same relationships he had.

 

And when we look at the relationships he had, we realize they were not normal relationships.

 

His relationship with God was intense.

 

For Jesus, God was a parent.

 

God was “Father,”  “Abba!”

 

But the relationship was even more than that.

 

It was also almost like lovers.

 

Jesus loved God.

 

God loved Jesus.

 

And that, too, is what our relationship with God should be like, as followers of Jesus.

 

We should love God.

 

Our relationship with God should be intense as well.

 

It should intimate.

 

It should be so intense and intimate that other people will say, “That’s really weird!”

 

My goal in my relationship with God is that people will say, “”That’s weird, that relationship Fr. Jamie and God have with each other.”

 

I used to joke about getting t-shirts made for people saying, JESUS IS MY


BOYFRIEND.

 

But there is some truth to that.

 

We should have a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus, in which such a t-shirt is funny and weird, but kinda true too.

 

But it should be that intense, because God loves us.

 

Deeply and intensely.

 

But it doesn’t end there.

 

There is also the relationship Jesus had, because of his intense and deep love of God, with others.

 

Jesus loved others.

 

Intensely.

 

Deeply.

 

He cared for them.

 

Jesus loves us.

 

Intensely.

 

Deeply.

 

And because he did, so should we.

 

Because Jesus loves us, we should love others.

 

In everything we do as followers of Jesus, we should let love always be our driving force.

 

It is that love that makes us feel the anguish he feels.

 

It is that love that makes us suffer with him.

 

It is that love that makes us bleed with him.

 

Following Jesus means not just following him through the moments of teaching ministry, not just through the miracles he performed.

 

It means following him through the dark days of his last week, through the blood and excruciating moments of his dying.

 

It means that, like him, our love for him causes us take up our crosses and follow him wherever he might go.

 

It means paying the anguished price for love!

 

Jesus knew, as we find in our Gospel reading for today, that he there were certain things he had to do.

 

He had to “undergo great suffering,” He had to be killed.

 

He understood that fully.

 

He in turn tells us that we too must realize that we will have to bear our share of suffering in this life.

 

We too will have to take up our own crosses.

 

The cross is the reminder to us that following Jesus doesn’t just mean following him through the rose gardens of our lives.

 

It means, following him all the way to that cross.

 

It means taking up our own crosses and staggering with him along that path.

 

It means sweating blood with him in the garden of Gethsemane.

 

It means crying out with him in anguish.

 

It means feeling with him the humiliation and loneliness of being betrayed—yes, even by one’s own friends and followers.

 

But, it also means following him to the very end.

 

Just as the cross is a symbol of death and torture and pain—it is, for us Christians, also the symbol of the temporal nature of those things.

 

The cross is the doorway to the glory that awaits us beyond the cross.

 

The cross is the way we must travel, it is what we must carry, it is what we must be marked with, if we wish to share in the glory that awaits us beyond the cross.

 

I said earlier that no one promised us a rose garden in scripture.

 

I should revise that.

 

While we might not have been promised a rose garden, we have been offered glory.

 

Glory comes to us, when we follow Jesus.

 

It comes to us when we let our love for God lead us through the dark and frightening places this world can throw at us.

 

If we let that love guide us, if we let ourselves be led by Jesus, we will find true and unending glory awaiting us.

 

So, as we encounter the crosses of our lives—and we will—as we allow our love for God to lead us into places we might not want to go, let us do so with the realization that glory has been offered to us.

 

One day, what seems to us a symbol of pain and loss and failure, will be transformed.

 

It will be transformed into a crown upon our heads.

 

And, on that day, there all our pains, all of our sorrows will, once and for all, be replaced with joy.

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy God, help us to be faithful in our following of your Son, Jesus. Help us to know that, although the path is often uncertain and frightening, the path we follow leads to you and to the beauty of your Kingdom. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

1 Lent

 


February 21, 2021

 

Genesis 9.8-17; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.9-15

 

+  So, here we are.

 

Lent.

 

And I know you probably came to Mass this morning thinking, “it’s going to be doom and gloom and sadness” all morning at church.

 

But, guess what?

 

No.

 

If we were expecting doom and gloom and sadness in our scripture readings, well, we don’t get any of that.

 

Ah, no. Instead, we get… water?

 

We get Noah and the ark?

 

We get a rainbow.

 

And baptism?

 

(Oh, and also the Devil. And temptations. And the desert. But what did you expect?)

 

Now, this is my way to begin Lent!

 

We begin Lent as we begin any important step as Christians—with solid footing in our baptismal understanding.

 

We begin Lent with a remembrance of our baptismal covenant—that relationship that we formed with God at our baptisms—a covenant that is still binding on us, even now.

 

This covenant is a covenant very much like the covenant God made with Noah after the waters of the flood that we hear about in our reading from Genesis.

 

I wasn’t expecting to do it, but here we are on this first Sunday of Lent, and I am preaching about, of all things, baptism.

 

We don’t even do baptisms in Lent!

 

As if that wasn’t enough, we also get another special treat.

 

In our Gospel reading, we get, in a very brief scripture, an upheaval.

 

What?

 

You missed the upheaval in our Gospel reading?

 

You missed the reversal?

 

You missed, in that deceptively simple piece of scripture, a mirror image of something?

 

It’s easy to miss, after all.

 

Our Gospel reading is so simple, so sparse.

 

But then again, so is haiku.

 

 But let’s look a little closer at what we’ve just heard and read.

 

In today’s Gospel, we find three elements that remind us of something else.

 

We find the devil.

 

We find animals.

 

And we find angels.

 

Where else in scripture do we find these same elements?

 

Well, we find them all in the Creation story in Genesis, of course.

 

The story of Adam is a story of what? --the devil, of animals and of angels.

 

But that story ends with the devil’s triumph and Adam’s defeat.

 

In today’s Gospel, it has all been made strangely right.

 

Jesus—the new Adam—has turned the tables using those exact same elements.

 

We find Jesus not in a lush beautiful Oz-like place like Eden.

 

Rather we find Jesus with wild animals in that desert—animals who were created by God and named by Adam, according to the story.

 

We find him there waited on by the angels—and let’s not forget that these same angels turned Adam and Eve away from Eden.

 

And there, in that place, he defeats the devil—the same devil who defeated Adam.

 

I have found this juxtaposition between Adam and Jesus to be a rich source of personal meditation, because it really is very meaningful to us who follow Jesus.

 

In this story of Jesus we find, yet again, that it is never the devil who wins.

 

It always, always God who wins.

 

God always wins.

 

That is what the story of Jesus is always about—God always winning in the end.

 

Jesus tells us again and again that God will always win.

 

If we lived with the story of Adam, if we lived in the shadow of his defeat, the story is a somewhat bleak one.

 

There doesn’t seem to be much hope.

 

The relationship ruined with Adam hasn’t been made right.

 

But today we find that the relationship has been righted.

 

The story isn’t a story of defeat after all.

 

It isn’t a time to despair, but to rejoice.

 

The “devil” has been defeated.

 

And this is very important.

 

We, in our baptisms, also defeat the devil.

 

Now, by the Devil, I am not necessarily talking about a supernatural being who rules the underworld.

 

I’m not talking about horns, forked tail and a pitchfork.

 

I’m not talking about Hot Stuff the Devil. Remember him? (I was once, back in my twenties, going to get a tattoo of Hot Stuff after someone jokingly said that Casper the Friendly Ghost would not look so good on my very white skin).  

 

By Devil I mean the personification of all that we hold evil.

 

In our baptisms, we renounce all the evil of this world and the next, and by renouncing evil, we are assured that it can be defeated.

 

By renouncing the devil and all the evils of this world, we turn away from the evil inherent within us.

 

Our baptism marks us and in that mark we find the strength to stand up against evil.

 

This time of Lent—this time for us in the desert, this time of fasting and mortification—is a time for us to confront the demons in our lives.

 

We all have them.

 

In our wonderful collect for today, we prayed to God to “come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations.”

 

The poet that I am, I love the traditional language of Rite I better here.

 

“Make speed to help thy servants who are assaulted by manifold temptations.”

 

We all understand that term “manifold temptations.”

 

We all have those triggers in our lives that disrupt and cause upheaval.

 

Sometimes this upheaval is mental and emotional, sometimes it is actual.

 

We have our own demons, no matter what name we might call them.

 

I certainly have my own demons in my life and sometimes I am shocked by the way they come upon me.

 

I am amazed by how they lay me low and turn my life upside down.

 

They represent for me everything dark and evil and wrong in my life and in the world around me.

 

They are sometimes memories of wrongs done to me, or wrongs I’ve done to others.

 

 Sometimes they are the shortcomings of my own life—of being painfully reminded of the fact that I have failed and failed miserably at times in my life.

 

They are reminders to me that this world is still a world of darkness at times—a world in which people and nature can hurt and harm and destroy.

 

And that power and influence of evil over my life is, I admit, somewhat strong.

 

Trying to break the power of our demons sometimes involves going off into the deserts of our lives, breaking ourselves bodily and spiritually and, armed with those spiritual tools we need, confronting and defeating those powers that make us less than who we are.

 

For me, I do find consolation when I am confronted by the demons of my life in that covenant I have with God in my baptism.

 

I am reminded by that covenant that there is no reason to despair when these demons come into our lives, because the demons, essentially, are illusions.

 

They are ghosts.

 

They are wispy fragments of my memory.

 

They have no real power over me despite what they make think sometimes.

 

Because the demons have been defeated by God.

 

Again, returning to our collect for today, we prayed, “as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save.”

 

God has been “mighty to save” us.

 

The demons of our lives have been defeated by our Baptismal Covenant and those baptismal waters.

 

The real power they have over my life has been washed away in those waters, much as all evilness was washed away in the flood in Noah’s time.

 

So, as we wander about in the spiritual desert of Lent, let us truly be driven, as Jesus was.

 

Let the Spirit drive us into that place—to that place wherein we confront the demons of our lives.

 

But let us do so unafraid.

 

The Spirit is the driving force and, knowing that, we are strengthened.

 

Let us be driven into that place.

 

Let us confront our demons.

 

Let us confront the very devil itself.

 

Let us face the manifold temptations of our lives unafraid, knowing full well that God is “mighty to save.”

 

After all, Easter is coming.

 

Lent is not eternal.

 

Easter is eternal.

 

This time is only a temporary time of preparation.

 

So, let us wander through this season confident that it is simply something we must endure so that we can, very soon, delight in the eternal glories of a morning light that is about to dawn into our lives.

 

“The time is fulfilled,” we can say with all confidence.

 

“The kingdom of God has come near.”

 

It is time to repent.

 

It is time to believe this incredibly good news!

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy God, bless us. Bless us as we walk this way of self-denial during these days of Lent. Help us to look ahead—toward the Cross, yes, but beyond the cross, to the Light, to your Light, the Light that was revealed in the days following Jesus’ encounter with the Cross. Help us to keep our eyes on your light and, in our following of Jesus, to remember that we are following him not to the death of the Cross but to the eternal life of the Resurrection. It is in his name, that we pray. Amen.