Homily – 4th Sunday in Lent

With this Sunday of Lent my friends; we find ourselves part way through this time given us by the Church to perhaps be a bit more introspective of our lives and our journey to follow our brother, Jesus, ever more closely.

Six weeks gives us a good bit of time for doing this and it could be that you have made some good strides toward that goal, but if you are like me, you probably need to keep refocusing, asking that question that we as Jesus’ followers must continue to ask—do I grow more like Jesus every day?

Does my speech, for instance, reflect a deep caring and respect for myself and others in the ways that God has first loved me? Do I live with a sense of justice, with respect for each person I meet, coupled with an attempt to understand what each walks with in life, rather than the tendency to judge what I see on the surface?  Do I make an attempt to share my wealth with those less fortunate—through tithing, contributions to the local food shelf, community sponsored meals and shelters for the homeless, and a host of other ways?  None of us can do it all, but each of us must do our piece, whatever that might be.

Lent calls us to a deeper communion with our God through the prayer of our lives.  And I say, “Prayer of our lives” because this is different for each of us.  Prayer is basically,  “a checking in,” as it were, with God, listening for what God may be wanting us to know, speaking our words of praise and gratitude for all the gifts in our lives and confirming that we are on the right path.  As Joan Chittister says, “Prayer is meant to bring us to see the world as God sees the world.  It is meant to expand our vision, not trap us in a world that is only ourselves.”

I had a conversation with a friend recently about how we know that we are doing that which God wants us to do. Now, keeping in mind that God wants good for us and not bad, our decisions in life, if they are the correct ones—the ones that are best for us and others, should bring us peace.  Is this to say that we will have all the answers? No, but we should have a sense of peace, for the most part, in what we are deciding to do.  If not, than we can be quite sure, that what we have chosen to do is not of God and may not bring us or others in our life, happiness.

Our lives as Jesus’ followers should always be about keeping our eyes on him—listening to his words and trying to follow them in our lives.  When we do that, we will be responding in our world as Jesus did in his, as our Creator God did in sending us Jesus.

As you all know, Robert and I recently traveled to Chile and ultimately got to Easter Island, a five-hour flight off the mainland of Chile to the west, into the Pacific Ocean. Our destination was a small island named, “Easter” by an explorer, Jacob Roggeveen who visited there on Easter Sunday, in 1722. In the language of the local people, it is called, Rapa Nui.

We were there over three different days and had the opportunity to see the large, stone statues called, “Moai” constructed, it is thought, from 1400-1650 C.E. that played a significant role in the island peoples’ spirituality.

They saw the statues as representing their deceased leaders who had gone on before them and now watched over and protected them.  The statues were built for the leaders, priests, kings, those of some importance to the people. We might compare them to Christians constructing great cathedrals—as a way to “reach” God.

Our guide during our visit there said that when the people began building the Moai, they were much smaller in size than the huge examples that people travel there now to see.  Like in any good thing, we humans tend to lose sight of our purpose and compete with others to be greater, build grander statues and this happened with the Rapa Nui people, so that their statues grew ever bigger.  We saw an example of one statue that was left in the place it was created because it was thought to be 75 feet long and weighing over 100 ton—ultimately too big to move!

So when the Rapa Nui people lost sight of their true purpose, trying to reach out to those who had gone before them, concentrating only on building bigger than their neighbors, fighting broke out between these neighbors evidenced by the toppling of statues belonging to others.

We can make connections I think in our own Christian history in the building of ever bigger cathedrals instead of concentrating on Jesus’ message which was one of love, being his “body and blood” for our world—seeing him in those we meet each and every day and treating them accordingly.

The Scriptures today remind us once again of the love of the Creator for all of creation as evidenced by the God of Israel walking with the people, from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. As evidenced by our God sending our brother Jesus to be one-with-us, saving us through his example of how to live and love so that we can do the same by ever keeping him in our sight.

And for each of us who ever wonders if there is a loving God walking with us, Jesus’ sharing of the beautiful story of the Prodigal, should answer any and all our questions and concerns.  The father in this story not only shows radical love for his wayward son, but over-the-top love for this one who has gone astray.  Just as the son was “wasteful” with the gifts of his inheritance, the father was “wastefully extravagant” with his love when his son finally chose to return and begin again.

This kind of love is many times hard for us humans to understand—the elder son in the story certainly didn’t!  We humans tend to want to repay good with good and bad with punishment.  Thankfully, we have a God who is continually chasing after us, showing us mercy, wanting us to come home.

Our experience on Rapa Nui/Easter Island brought home to us once again that there are many ways to go to God, as we all search for truth, for something greater than ourselves that is the force behind all the life around us.  The way of the Jews, of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and all others is really no better than that of the Rapa Nui people but for the ability to “keep to message,” the great ideals of each culture, that allow each of us to be our best selves.

So as we continue our Lenten journey, let us strive toward being our best selves, knowing that we have a God to guide us, who loves us wastefully (prodigally) and is always up for a party, to welcome us home!  Amen? Amen!