My friends, I’d like to begin today’s homily with a short reflection from Joan Chittister because I feel it says so well what we as Christians are called to not only this Lent, but every day of our lives. Lent, of course, is a good time to begin.
To be a Christian is to put on the mind of Christ and so put on the broken heart of the world.
To follow Jesus, to live a Christian life, costs. It means that we will see life differently than others do, we will live differently than most; we will be regarded with misgiving by many. But in the end, we will have lived life in harmony with the entire cosmos.
Life is a journey to goodness. It goes through a world of the poor who wait for the word that God loves them through the love they see in us.
Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.
And Lent is a time to become the heart that is so generous and merciful, whose largesse is so reckless that there is no damping the flow in the face of need.
We are meant to prepare the way for the works of God here and now. We are all required to do our best to bring the Reign of God in our time. We are not here simply to wait for heaven. We are here to bring it.
Today our Scriptures give us stories of extraordinary happenings—God is revealed and makes a covenant with a wandering migrant, Abram; the face of Jesus is shown to new pagan converts in Philippi through the deeds and preaching of Paul; and the glory of our God is made known to fishermen, Peter, James and John.
Given that, it’s important to remember—Scripture’s meaning is held in many layers—we must always strive to see beyond what we usually see—what is obvious. We must always ask, “What is in this for me?” as Joan Chittister is fond of asking.
We can assume that in each of these cases, an extraordinary thing—a teachable moment was happening, as that is what the Scriptures contain for the most part—teachable moments. I once read that the extraordinary is what is recorded in Scripture—the teachable moments. That which was understood and ordinary—what we would expect, is not there. As Jesus said, “I am doing something new!”
It doesn’t take much on our parts to realize that something extraordinary is going on in the account of Abram and God and the making of a covenant between them. We look at the dividing of the animals and we can only wonder—what is this about? But actually, there is great significance here for Abram, his culture and times. The making of a covenant or a sacred promise was indeed a solemn thing. The “cutting” of a covenant represented by the halving of the animals—held great meaning for Abram and the people of his time. This covenant between God and Abram meant that God would be there for this people; always!—and the people were expected to be faithful to God. It was a grave thing to break or “cut” a covenant. So, the meaning was not lost on Abram.
We know from a later read of Scriptures that this promise made by God to Abram is sealed by God giving him a new name—he would now be Abraham—his wife Sarai would be Sarah—God was doing something new. We also see how this reading follows the theme for Lent for all the 1st readings—God’s graciousness for the people is clearly shown—God will be their God—they will be God’s people—they will become as numerous as all the stars in the heavens, as all the sands on the seashores!
Beyond the extraordinary graciousness of God in choosing to make a covenant with the people through Abram, it is important for us to realize that the way God chose to do it was really very ordinary. The Israelite people understood animal rituals so that is how God chose to have them experience what this new relationship would be—through something they could understand. We too must realize that our loving God will work through our everyday lives to help us see the face of God and know that we are loved and cared about. And if we are looking for God’s face, we need look no further than the people we associate with every day, because if we do not, or cannot see God in such as these, then God may very well be absent to us.
I believe a great part of the reason for sending Jesus to be one of us was for humanity to see the face of God in the clearest possible way. Through all the time and teaching of the prophets, humanity, namely, the Israelites, weren’t getting the message that God intended—God would be their God—they would be God’s people. God was calling each of them to right and just living, calling them to be their true spiritual selves as they lived out their human existence.
In Jesus, the Israelites, and ultimately all of us, come to see the extent of God’s love for creation. In sending Jesus we could finally know with assurance that we are loved. We recall that our Gospel readings for Lent will be showing us Jesus’ glory amid his ultimate suffering. The Transfiguration certainly is an example of this. Those closest to Jesus—Peter, James and John are privileged to see their mentor and friend in the glory that is his, along with Moses and Elijah. The Scriptures tell us that they are discussing all that will happen to Jesus in Jerusalem. Moses represents the Law, Elijah, the Prophets, so it is fitting that both would be present—the Law and the Prophets have been the people’s source, as well as ours, in knowing who God is and what God wants.
Exegetes tell us that the glory and suffering of Jesus always stand together—we can’t talk about one without the other, therefore Moses and Elijah and Jesus must discuss all that is coming. This truth is a lesson for all of us as well. When we go in search of the face of God, we need look no further than suffering humanity all around us. Because again, if we can’t see Jesus in the defeat and the disgrace, the struggles of our sisters and brothers, then our eyes will not see him elsewhere either.
This past week our parish had the opportunity to co-mingle with our Lutheran sisters and brothers who offer a weekly community meal, The Feast, at no cost other than a free will offering. The commitment of these Lutherans was an opportunity to see the generous face of Jesus. Within that meal, your pastor and Pastor Corrine Denis led a prayer service asking participants to reflect on how each of us might make a difference in our country that has at least one gun for every man, woman and child, 270-310 million guns, depending on whose figures you look at, where roughly 32,000 people die every year in gun-related deaths and 60% of those deaths are suicides.
In Joan Chittister’s opening comments, she stated that in following the Christian way, “We will be regarded with misgiving by many.” Such was the case with one individual who emailed an anonymous comment to Central Lutheran church, who hosts The Feast, “It is too bad that The Feast, has become a political forum,” in regard to the pastors holding a prayer service on gun violence.
But regardless of opposition, it is important that we move forward. We receive affirmation in that the epistles chosen for Lent that highlight Jesus, the Christ’s role in our salvation, help us to become our best selves. In Paul’s letter today to the Philippians, he speaks about how people do truly become transformed when they listen to and follow Jesus’ ways. Paul gives himself as an example at the risk of coming off as arrogant, to show the people how much of a transformation happened in him by letting Jesus become central in his life.
My friends, our readings show us extraordinary things today—a God who loves us so much as to become one with us—to work with all of humanity in all its forms to bring about transformation—teaching us that the transformation will and must happen within our ordinary lives. All that makes up our lives is the “stuff” God will ultimately use to draw us close—to show us the face of God. We simply must have eyes to see beyond what we usually see—a good prayer to lift up this Lent.
In my opening comments taken from Joan Chittister, she mentions that, “Life is a journey to goodness. Sometimes, as in the issue of making our world safer from gun violence and in other big issues that plague our world; we may feel that there is little we can do to make a difference. That reminds me of the story about the thousands of snowflakes falling upon a tree branch and with one snowflake added to the thousands, even millions before it, the branch snapped under the combined weight. It is like that with our combined actions in the world. Each of us counts—each of our voices matter in making a difference in our world. Like Peter, we are tempted to want to stay on the mountain where all is peaceful, but our journeys, like that of Jesus, like that of the apostles are to go among the people and work for good for all.
God will always use our everyday lives to get our attention, just as with Abram and the Israelites, to let us know that love is the goal and that in the ordinary, we will be called to the extraordinary and therein see the face of God. All that happens, each and every day is an opportunity God will use to draw us close and make a difference in our lives and the lives of others, if we are willing to participate. As in the story of the insignificant snowflake, we should never underestimate the strength of our actions to make a difference. Blessings my friends on the ways you and I choose to make a difference this Lent.