Homily – 5th Weekend of Lent

My friends, I’d like to tell you a real-life story today as I begin that I think speaks well to the overriding themes of this weekend in Lent.  This story is one that you know, but I tell it again, so that we won’t forget it.

This past Wednesday, March 14, 2018, marked one month since the tragic shooting of 17 students and teachers at Margory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Some were maybe prone to notice this event, but then move quickly on, thinking there was nothing to be done to end this violence.  How many such shootings have already occurred? Does anyone of us really know?

Yet, amid the suffering that this high school in Parkland, Florida was enduring; they found the strength from within to stand up to and for our country and say, “Enough is enough, no more!”  They asked students who wished to stand with them to join in a walk-out from school on the month anniversary of this devastating tragedy to show their resolve that these lives taken were not in vain and of how much they want Congress and all in our society to get motivated in order that change can happen.

In addition, these young leaders from Florida have mobilized the country to a March on Washington on the 24th of this month to implore, but more so, demand that those in Congress, our so-called leaders would finally do something to bring about change.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks the words of God, “The days are coming…I will put my law on your hearts.” God, through the prophet was telling the people in Jeremiah’s time, well before our brother, Jesus walked the earth, that for all the covenants and promises made and broken by the people, now was the time when they needed to change, for good, once and for all.

The words of the prophet seem appropriate for us now, at this time when our country so needs change so that our school children and young people can learn in settings free from fear.  This is what Winona’s high school students told us most eloquently on Wednesday morning.

There was no doubt that these students had placed this concern “on their hearts,” letting all of us standing in support with them, know that they would not quit until some change happens.

Beyond the very moving way that the Winona Senior High School students chose to remember those slain at Margory Stoneman Douglas High, there was a sense of sincere, yet gentle outrage for what happened in Florida, realizing that this tragedy could have happened just as easily in Winona. Their sense of sincerity, urgency and outrage that this not happen again was evident in their demeanor and in the words of those who spoke.

The reading to the Hebrews today lets us know that “Jesus was heard because of his reverence.”  In that light; I give a word or two about the demonstration of remembrance that the students used on Wednesday.  Each victim’s name was read aloud and short bios shared for each of the 14 students and the 3 faculty members.  As each name was read, a student presented him/her-self and lay on the concrete in front of school and had their form traced there. A very poignant piece was that after the tracing, the student was able to get up and walk away. That wasn’t the case for the students in Parkland, Florida.

It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and this was certainly true on Wednesday morning.  I believe all of the community members who came to support the students’ efforts on Wednesday thought of their own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends and could perhaps imagine if what happened in Parkland and so many other places—too many other places, happened to their loved ones. The horror of receiving such a call from your children’s school is unimaginable, unthinkable; but in this day and age, possible!

The student speaker who concluded the program challenged her fellow students to do more, challenged the adults, present, to do more, realizing and expressing the fact that everyone in our country doesn’t agree on the solutions to this violence epidemic, but stressed that there are many things people are in agreement about and that much must be done!

Again, that reminds me of Paul’s words to the Hebrews—for people to hear us; reverence is required—we have to listen to others, try to understand when we disagree and see where we can possibly come together.  The battle to make our country safer will not come through angry words and actions, but through listening, understanding and treating our adversaries with as much respect as possible.  A very positive action that adults can take is through our right to vote—something not to be taken lightly.

The students who organized and facilitated the event on Wednesday, last, are to be commended! It is always easier to stand back, let others do it. Putting ourselves on the line is always the harder part. Sometimes it may mean ridicule, but it is the right choice to make as followers of our brother, Jesus.

He says in today’s gospel that “unless a grain of wheat fall and die—it remains only a single grain.”  We may agree that change is needed, but unless we place our commitment “on our hearts,” making it part of our flesh and bones, it can’t help others to grow.  Sometimes our word and our action is the impetus to get others moving.  We cannot underestimate the power of one person to bring about change when our commitment to do what is right and good in our world is laid “upon our hearts” which basically solidifies the words of our mouths.  And when are actions are done “with reverence” with care for all, only good can come from that!  Amen? Amen!!


Homily – 4th Sunday of Lent

My friends, the readings for this Sunday are all about how the People of God, ourselves included, keep turning from God and our loving God keeps calling us to turn around—to come back.  This God of ours never leaves, unlike us at times.  The love that our God has for us is really unimaginable—and as I am fond of saying, “Over the top!” So, it is not unusual that the predominant theme in the readings today for this 4th Sunday in Lent, is mercy.

Franciscan, Murray Bodo in a small book, entitled, The Threefold Way of Saint Francis speaks about mercy and states that this is how St. Francis eventually looked at all in his world—with mercy, because he saw his brother Jesus, doing the same. Last week; we talked about the Ten Commandments being, “a point of reference” for us. Jesus should always be for us, as his followers, the one we turn to, to direct and redirect our actions when in doubt about the way to go.

Bodo continues, mercy is all about compassion, or “suffering with.” Isn’t it great to know that of our God is not waiting to pounce on us for wrong doings, but always, always, about wanting to suffer with us and likewise to celebrate with us in our joy—that’s what the Incarnation is all about. It is a comfort to me and I hope to you to know that our God is not distant, but present to us, in our sorrows and joys, and walks with us throughout our lives.

During the first three weeks of Lent, the Church has called us to reflect on the promises we have made to God and this week the focus is switched to the promises God has made to us.  We are astounded and humbled to realize that even though we are unfaithful, God is always faithful.

This was clearly evident in the first reading from Second Chronicles today.  The people kept turning to false gods to worship, even though they knew better—the prophets came again and again to warn them, but to no avail.  Finally, God allowed their enemies to overtake them, the reading states; their temple was burned to the ground and the people who weren’t killed were taken into exile as slaves.  After 70 years in Exile, the Persians came to power and set the people free.

We see from this reading that the Israelites needed first, to return to God, to repent their unfaithfulness, and then they could return to Jerusalem—their home.  It is interesting to realize that “repent” and “return” come from the same Hebrew word. Our first hymn today and our closing as well is about “turning”—it is in fact the words of Mary, our mother, sister and friend, as she reflected on how God had loved and cared for her and because of that, would spend her life giving her blessed Son to the world, someone who would speak for justice for all.

Because this is what Jesus was all about, “speaking justice for all of us,” it is so vital that we as his followers choose to do the same. We will have many opportunities to speak to, and stand up for, “justice for all” in the days and weeks ahead in several initiatives happening in our community:

  • We are all aware of the horrific mass shooting of high schoolers in Parkland, Florida three weeks ago and there will be three events in Winona where we are invited to stand with the brave and prophetic, young survivors of this tragedy who are leading the way, marching on Washington , saying for all of us, “This is enough, no more!” On March 14, this Wednesday, one month since the shooting; we are invited at 10 A.M. to gather with Winona Senior High School students, in the front of their building for a 17 minute service to remember those who lost their lives in Parkland.
  • On March 24, Saturday, from 5-6 P.M. at the Band Shell at Lake Winona, as the Parkland students have gathered in Washington and some of our own Winona students are returning from the Minnesota Capitol after “standing with,” symbolically, those in Washington, Winona people have the opportunity to “stand with” these prophetic witnesses too.
  • Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner Magazine has suggested that interfaith services be held around the country between the March 14 and 24 dates to give prayerful support to our young leaders and hopefully send the grace and blessings needed to our Congress to finally, finally move for the good of us all, where gun violence is concerned. The Winona Interfaith Council is holding such a service on Monday night, March 19 at Wesley United Methodist church at 7 P.M.

So we see that our walk in faith is constantly about checking and re-checking, returning and repenting and Lent each year is really all about that—not that we beat up on ourselves for having fallen short—only that we check to see that our focus remains on the message of our brother Jesus.

The Israelites came to realize that with God; there would always be a second chance.  This is important for us as well to remember.  Such is the depth, breadth and height of God’s love.  We get into trouble when we forget God—when we think we can do it on our own.  Our free will, our ability to choose, gets us into trouble as we don’t always choose wisely.

Paul tells us today too that God saves us out of mercy, not because we deserve it.  And we can all pray with Paul, “O God, I know what is the right thing to do, why do I so often choose the wrong thing?”  In the Hebrew tradition, the covenant characteristic for this steadfast love and care on God’s part is, “loving-kindness”—God not only treats us with kindness, but with loving-kindness—as I said, “Over-the-top!”

In the Gospel today—we see the extent of God’s love in the sending of Jesus into the world.  John insists that God loves the world and seeks to draw people out of darkness and into the light so that they can choose rightly.  And Jesus, God’s Only Begotten, will do whatever is necessary to save us from ourselves, giving us chance after chance.  And so we must consider—will we choose light over darkness?

Most of us would not choose to act against God knowingly—but we must realize that when we have we been self-righteous and unwilling to hear an opinion other than our own, been arrogant in our insistence that something be a certain way, been stubborn when understanding was what was called for, to seek common ground; we have acted against our loving God.  It is always good to try and find out what an adversary may be objecting to—is the problem truly within the other, or is it within us?  And here all the ugly sins, the “isms” raise their heads: sexism, racism, ageism and so on.

On Thursday of this past week, we celebrated, International Women’s Day—a day set aside to remember all the strong women in our lives, a day to speak with truth and justice as John instructs in today’s Gospel, as he reflects on the words of Jesus—“people who live by the truth come out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what they do is done in God.”

And what is the truth that needs to be spoken/needs to be heard? That women need to be seen and accepted for the wonderful people God created them to be, paid an equal wage to their brothers for comparable work, be listened to for the piece of the truth that they possess—be seen as one advocate, Mary McAleese, Canon lawyer and former President of Ireland, who was refused the right to speak at the Vatican for the Voice of the Faith Conference said, “We are not “the cherries on the top of the cake,” but, “the leaven in the dough!”  And by the way, that conference happened by taking it out of the Vatican!

I am always drawn to books on Mary, the Mother of God, that depict her not as a docile woman standing in the background, simply saying, “yes” with no personality, but as a woman unafraid to speak the truth she knows in her heart, given her by her God.  Her Magnificat is testament to that!    Such a book is by Lesley Hazelton, entitled, Mary: A Flesh and Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother.  The author stretches her readers’ minds and hearts to see this icon of Catholic faith as not someone to be placed on a pedestal, out of sight and consideration, but out front, challenging our Church to see the gifts of all.

Hazelton delves into the culture within which “our” Mary was born and lived. Women, and most were strong, or they didn’t survive, would most certainly have known much that was practical about caring for their health, their bodies, about bringing life into this world and caring for it, once here.  Mary, as one of these women would have taught her son all she knew about healing, about sustaining life.  Scripture tells us that Jesus grew, “in wisdom and grace.”  Certainly his mother added to his wisdom.  Yes, my friends, our God chose wisely in asking a woman to be part of the loving equation.

Throughout this homily; I have focused our attention on Jesus, how he was about justice for all.  He listened to people and their stories to find out what was really going on in their lives and then treated them with mercy and compassion. Mercy and compassion will be the overriding gifts needed as Winona considers becoming a  Sanctuary City through the generosity first, of one church community and then the generosity of other supporting church communities , like our own.  May each of us going forward, completing this Lenten time consider the ways of compassion and mercy.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent

My friends, through the readings today; we are called to look at the law, what it meant to the Israelites, to Jesus and to us.  Simply put; we need laws as a point of reference to indicate good from bad and right from wrong—I believe we would all agree to that.  The catch is, laws can be rather black and white—do this—don’t do that.  But we know that the life situations that befall us all can land in gray areas from time to time.

If we look at the Ten Commandments as laid out in the Exodus reading today; we see this idea of “black and white.”  I believe many of us use these commandments as a point of reference and then move on from there, in the “grayness” of our life situations, making the best decisions we can.

I heard a speaker at the Winona Sanctuary Meeting last Saturday, a week ago, speak to this very issue.  He talked about the commandment, “Thou shall not steal,” and said he thought he had done that one quite well most of his life until the last few years when he realized that he had routinely, “stolen” from Third World people who make, for poverty wages, many of the clothes he wore and because of his “theft,” he could buy these clothes much cheaper on the backs of their poverty.  Now this is a negative outcome to looking at a law set in place to keep us honest and respecting of our neighbor.  Technically, no stealing happened (black and white), but in a broader sense, it did.

An example with a positive outcome might be the case of my ordination.  The hierarchical Church says this is a violation of a law that many consider, outdated and unjust and I can affirm, in my conscience that it was a law that I couldn’t obey because I felt the call from God, a higher law, to serve the People of God in this way.  So, even though my action called down excommunication from the Church I love; I had no choice but to break this law.

What can help us in our actions toward doing what is right is always to look deeper—as Jesus said, “What are the fruits of this action?” Many times power and control are at the heart of administering certain laws, like the ban on women being ordained. Excommunication is a tool of men, not of God.

Jesus, our brother, a good Jew, was very aware of the weight of the law on the Jewish people with over 600 rules and regulations that burdened every aspect of their lives.  He was about making laws to guide our lives more simple and straightforward.  He looked broadly at the Ten Commandments given to Moses and said, “Love God—the first three of the Ten are about that—the remaining seven are about loving your neighbor, thus, “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.”

If we keep this in mind, as our point of reference; we can’t go wrong.  If we say we “love God,” we will spend time trying to grow closer, we won’t talk about God disparagingly and we will give back some time to God.  If we say, “we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will honor our parents in the ways that we can, we won’t take a life, or another’s spouse, or their goods, or their good name.  Now, granted, there can be gray areas, but at least these are our points of reference.

Jesus’ great commandments really cover it all and interestingly enough, without being specific in naming what, “love of God” and love of neighbor” is, the commandments  allow us as individuals to look into our hearts, listening to the Spirit about “how” in actuality this two-fold kind of loving is done.  And as has been said, it is seldom a black and white response.

Lent for the Catholic church, in its hierarchy, is still about clinging to rigid rules of fasting and abstinence rather than looking at what these practices call forth from us.   If fasting and abstinence’s fruits are kindness, gentleness and mercy, then I would say it might be a good practice for those who take it on. If not, then fasting and abstaining from gossiping, meanness, pettiness and hatred might be a better route to go.

There is a good piece out on-line that I shared this past week—part of a concerted effort to respond to the now, so-called, Valentines’ Day Massacre in Florida. A man and a woman shared a message of love—they spoke about how all great change in the world has come about through people moving out in love toward their fellow creatures: Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King were given as examples.  This couple was basically saying, “Let love be the response to dealing with people we disagree with. They continued, “We are fully conscious of the fact that people will discount us, thinking this is just a “namby-pamby” response, but they were really serious! They did agree although that it won’t always be easy to respond to ignorance, hate, disagreement and more, with love.

They went on to speak about how our country is so divided now, so unwilling to come together on anything and are suggesting we try to find something loveable in those we most disagree with and go from there.  The man in the video asks, “If you win the war, but lose the connection to another individual, what have you accomplished?  Try love, they were saying—it certainly can’t hurt!”

Two Saturdays ago, the Interfaith Council of Winona sponsored a listening and learning event in Winona which invited people from around our state involved in the ministry of giving sanctuary to undocumented aliens living and working in our country who are now subject to deportation to come and share with us how this can be done in Winona. Many of these undocumented people, as you may know, have lived and worked here for many years and have established lives.

Humanity, our faith and all that is decent and good in us as a country demands that we find a way. One of the presenters who came from Rochester, MN, a United Church of Christ pastor basically told us, that, “ it is a walk in faith” and trust and if you move in that light, you will, “find a way” for whatever you are being called to do. It is good for us to remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians today, and turn to our God, “whose weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The Winona Interfaith Council is presently discussing the possibility of establishing a sanctuary church in Winona. Entities that can serve as places of sanctuary are churches, hospitals and schools.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will not go into these places to retrieve people.

Now, while All Are One could not be a sanctuary church—obviously because we have no building of our own; we could serve as a support church.  At last Sunday’s service, the people present at Mass began the discussion of the possibility of us doing this and there was a positive feel among us for participating. I have asked our board to weigh in on this too.

There will be more discussion as we go along as there is much to keep in mind—this is an act of civil disobedience to help the undocumented from being apprehended, but we are told that it is less likely that people will bear the brunt of what can happen if the responsibility is spread around. If we were to designate ourselves as a support community, our way to help might be through donations of money, food or other supplies that are needed to house an individual as they await a trial. We just received word on Friday that there may be a church in Winona that is discerning becoming our sanctuary church!  Please pray friends for this yet, unnamed church that they will have the strength and faith to take this on.

In today’s Gospel from John, we read about and witness Jesus’ zeal for what is right—for the House of God.  The House of God, in actuality is God’s People—we must not let anything get in the way of caring for all the People of God.  This homily began with looking at the law, realizing that laws are “points of reference” and moving on to Jesus’ interpretation giving us two great commandments—to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.

It is probably, in the freedom that we all enjoy, hard to imagine being an alien in a foreign country, a country we have made home because to return to our own country might mean sure death, but this is exactly what Jesus’ great commandments call us to!

Amen? Amen!

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Lent

My friends, it is good to be back with you again! Going away, having a vacation is always good, but as all of us would most certainly agree, after being gone for a while, it is always good to return home!—which actually is a very good thought as we contemplate the season of Lent—returning home to our loving God who has always been there for us.

Our trip through the Panama Canal was a great experience—the cruise gave us the opportunity through lectures and screen presentations to know in depth all the human suffering, skill and collaboration that went into making this engineering masterpiece!

Once through the canal; we had the opportunity to stop at several Central American and two Mexican ports along the way to our destination in San Diego—we even had the opportunity to get into the ocean twice, both the Atlantic and the Pacific!

I am always impressed with the simple fact that, “people are people” wherever one goes—most want a better life for themselves and their families and are willing to work to get it.  I was especially touched by the young women, many still girls, selling their crafts and wares on the streets, many with a young child on their skirt tails and most with a baby wrapped in a pouch and tied around them.

I engaged one young woman who tried very hard to sell me some jewelry that I didn’t want, but as I talked with her and met her 9 month-old Daniel, asleep against her heart; I realized that he was who she was working for, so while I didn’t take her jewelry; I gave her the money for Daniel and the look on her face was one I will always remember—from one mother to another.

Our time away brought us into the holy season of Lent, a time, really, that calls each of us home, as I said above, home to a God who loves us more than we can imagine.  Just as our hearts yearn to travel and see new places, have new adventures, those same hearts ultimately call us to return home.  As Christians, as followers of our brother Jesus, “returning home” means choosing again to come to what is most important in our lives and living toward those goals.  For many and perhaps, all of us, I know this includes living truthfully, generously, with mercy and compassion for those who have less, basically trying to become our best selves.

In this last week of our absence, this country suffered yet another great tragedy—the slaughter of 17 youth and teachers at a Parkland, Florida, high school.  The real tragedy beyond the loss of young people intended to be part of our future is that it was totally preventable, but for the lack of will and intestinal fortitude of our leaders to do whatever it takes to make our country safer, because the majority of Americans want laws to make us safer .

One always runs the risk of “getting political,” stepping on toes,” “being judgmental,” making such statements, but gun violence in our country has come to be a national crisis—it is way beyond political—it has become, human and IT SHOULD BE! Countries around the world wonder at this great country of ours, allowing Americans to kill Americans—again and again, and do nothing about it!

As I said above, Lent calls us to strive to become our best selves—to speak truth to power, to stand up for what we believe in, what we get up for each day—hope, justice, and the opportunity to live in peace, for ourselves and others.  Speaking truth to power is what I saw many young people doing this last week—not just asking for change, but demanding it from the so-called leaders.  Jim Wallis of Sojourner Magazine said this week, “When the leaders refuse to lead, the children will do it!”  So, what guidance do the Scriptures have for us today?

The first thing I can say is that as always; we are challenged.  From Genesis, we have the story of God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his only beloved son, Isaac, one that most of us find hard to shallow as it is so inconsistent with the all-loving God of Jesus.  Paul tells the Romans in no uncertain terms that if, “God is for us, who can be against!” And in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to transformation as he is transfigured before Peter, James and John.

I think when we come upon a Scripture text that is hard to explain or contradictory; we must always remember to first keep it in context, understanding that it was written for a certain group of people in a certain time and not necessarily intended to make sense to us in our time.  That is the point behind remembering that “the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth.”  As new knowledge comes to the fore, we must make use of it and judge wisely.

In this light and in my study of Scripture; I come upon writers and theologians of the likes of Sandra Schneiders, Richard Rohr, Ilia Delio, and John Shelby Spong who challenge the God of the First Testament to make sense in the light of Jesus’ Abba God.  Many of these writers also speak about biblical translations and that sometimes in order to put forward a certain message, will change a word or two and that this changes the whole meaning.  Again; we see the importance of going back to the original texts.

With this thought in mind, how would the story of Abraham and Isaac be different if in fact it was more of a conversation between God and Abraham on the question of faith, which, we are told, is the purpose of this story—how strong is Abraham’s faith, instead of how cruel of God to ask Abraham to give Isaac’s life as proof of his belief in God?

Let’s say God asks Abraham this question, “Abraham, you say you love me and believe that I would do anything for you, that I want only good and not bad for you—what would you do to prove your love for me? What is it in your life that means most to you?  Your son?  Would you give your son?  I think we can see that this would change the scenario from a tyrannical being asking the unthinkable from a parent to a God who simply wants to know how much faith a person has.  The Scriptures have been used through time to convey certain messages by the institutional Church, a fact that is good for us to remember.

We see in the end, don’t we, that in fact God is the loveable God that Jesus talks about by presenting Abraham, just in time, with the sacrificial lamb. But why, our sanity cries out, would a loving God even ask the question—even cause the loving parent to have to choose between the precious life of their child and their faith in God?

I could give you the rote answers—this was a culture that ritually killed their young and so they looked at it differently, perhaps, which, when you think of it makes a secure connection to the idea that Jesus was sent to “save us from our sins,” a notion that has totally been disregarded by all of the writers I mentioned above.  If the case can be made for God being willing to sacrifice the Son, then if follows that we, God’s creatures should be willing to do the same.  And again, remember the fact that this notion has been rejected by most theologians.

So, I will leave the Abraham/Isaac story for you to make what you will of it, but perhaps, this connection could be made to our present day national crisis of gun violence.  As much as we can’t understand a God who would ask a parent to give up their only son to prove their belief in that God; I have to wonder why we as a nation are willing to sacrifice our most precious gifts, our children, our people, on the altar of the Second Amendment that has ceased to be meaningful in our day and time.  I am wondering why all of us aren’t in the streets and in our state houses demanding change.

The school youth at Parkland High in Florida have begun a national movement that we can’t let die this time.  Let each of us do all that we can to bring about change.  There is an initiative started to get major credit card companies to block the purchase of dangerous, high-powered rifles when their cards are used—every bit helps! There will be a national match on Washington March 24th and other marches around the country in March—watch for these and participate in any way that you can to support the children who have become our leaders!

As Peter said when he witnessed the transfigured Christ, “It is wonderful to be here!” We have so much power, my friends, if we but use it! Amen? Amen!

Homily – 1st Weekend in Lent

Friends, one final homily from Pastor Dahl–enjoy! –Pastor Kathy


February 17, 2018

“Jesus was driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness.” I usually think of Jesus leading, guiding others. Here he is being moved by a force, as it were,  greater than himself.

It can be difficult for a believer to think of Jesus as a human being, as a man. The Gospel account of his presentation in the temple when he was twelve says “the boy returned home with his parents where he grew in wisdom, age and grace.” He grew and therefore changed  through stages of development, just as anyone does—physically, of course, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

So here Jesus, after thirty years of life, is driven by the Spirit, is forced to endure the challenges that each of us face in our lives. It’s been said that humans who are blessed with full lives—that are not cut short in early years by illness, accidents, or warfare—go through two major stages of development. We spend the first half of our lives coming to figure out who we are, entering relationships, developing skills, seeking to create our lives. In the second half of life we can gain insight from the mistakes, the heartaches, the decisions good and bad of the first.

Is it possible that Jesus, driven into the desert, went through the transformation that it takes most of us a lifetime to undergo? The three temptations he faced confront us in varied but similar ways. We seek out pleasures of many kinds in order to discover what really matters in life. We seek power in one form or another, but often through jobs, income and status. We seek to create a reputation, a good name, perhaps even fame.

These challenges can leave us weary, and sometimes disappointed and hurt. At the end of his ordeal in the wilderness, today’s reading says angels ministered to Jesus. Have there been angels in your life who have ministered to you when you were at your lowest? I know there have been in mine.

When Jesus emerged from the wilderness, John the Baptist had been arrested. Jesus now replaced John. Enlightened and strengthened by the Spirit and having grown from dealing with the temptations that assailed him in the wilderness, Jesus now began his public service or ministry. He began by telling people about  something wonderful, something truly worthy of their attention.

Along with the beauty of our created world, from the beginning humans have known deception and hurt, alienation and death, shame and fear.

The word “sin” is not commonly spoken of these days. We more commonly hear the words, “Mistakes were made.” Yet we live with our own repeated failings, with hurt done to us and hurt we have done and do to others. We live in a world with enormous injustice and suffering.

This is the world Jesus was living in, just as we do today. His message was not about sin. It was about life, forgiveness, hope and the Love of God that transforms our failings. The Law taught us that we cannot achieve holiness, oneness with God, by what we do, but by what He does for us—by accepting and surrendering to “the folly of the Cross.”

This may not make sense logically. But the fact is that the Law can’t get us where we want to go, or to become what we want to be. Only Grace can. Fr. Richard Rohr writes that low-level religion always reverts to the law, but St. Paul’s answer to every dilemma is not to try harder, but to surrender more. He wrote, “When I am weak, I am strong.” It’s not through my performance, (not through the Law,) but only through the Gift, only through Grace, that we are transformed. As members of Christ’s “Body” we are in a process of transformation by him–and always have been, whether we realized it or not. And it is not just an individual process.

We submit to death and resurrection because Jesus did. We are saved by grace and mercy. No need to count our good deeds. Life is worth living because it is going somewhere. It has a purpose. There’s a radical sense of safety and purpose amid the chaos and suffering.

This is what Jesus was announcing after he emerged from the wilderness: we are living in a time of fulfillment. Believe in this Good News; let it enter into your hearts and minds and change them.”

We experience gratefulness when something we value is given to us, a real gift, something we haven’t bought or earned. It might be forgiveness. It might be the love of another person. We can be grateful for the opportunity we are given in every moment. We miss this opportunity if we rush through the moment.

Open your eyes, your ears, each of your senses. Open your mind. There are so many things to be grateful for. Water, the miracle of reading, food that others have grown and produced and transported to us, and on and on.  We can open our heart to the opportunity of the moment.

Change your hearts and minds” says Jesus to us-– change your hearts and minds to believe the amazingly Good News, that you are loved as you are.

Lent is our opportunity to stop, be quiet,  and listen. God does not love us if we change; God’s love enables us to change. Only love brings about inner transformation–not duress, guilt, shunning or social pressure.”

Pastor Kathy once said in a homily that if we were to take to heart this one thought during the 40 days of lent–the fact that we are loved–that would be enough. Or, as I once read on a friend’s Facebook wall: “I can’t brag about my love for God because I fail him daily, but I can brag about his love for me because it never fails.” Let us take time, repeatedly, to be aware of the gifts and the Gift in our lives. Joy to you this Lent!