As I have attempted to settle in to my attempts at a more disciplined or structured devotion time for self-reflection, and identify opportunities for positive change, it has occurred to me that 40 days is a significant length of time.
It is usually at this point in our 40 days of Lent that this occurs to me. Trying to incorporate spiritual discipline and time for reflection in a more concentrated and intentional way, than at other times of the year, while the world, our world, continues on as usual, with the accompanying distractions, demands on our time, and requirements. And the distractions seem particularly loud this year, the excitement of what is hopefully, a waning pandemic, mixed with the grave concerns of global events.
And as God would have it, our lectionary readings provide us encouragement, at this halfway point.
Beginning with Moses, as God captures Moses’ attention in dramatic fashion with a flaming bush, that is not consumed by the fire. Once God has Moses attention; God provides an assignment to Moses, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelite s, out of Egypt.”
From Moses’ perspective that does not seem a small, easy, or insignificant assignment, as evidenced in his response toGod, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
And God’s response, “I will be with you”, as God is with us, always.
And we receive a pep talk of sorts from Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth. The Church in Corinth is young and evolving, even exhibiting some growing pains. There have been some disagreements, debates and factions within. In today's portion, of this first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Paul makes comparisons and draws parallels between the Israelite s journey out of Egypt and the young church in Corinth.
It would appear that “people are people” pretty consistently overtime.
Remember, the Israelite s received guidance, the waters parted for them, they received manna from heaven, and water brought forth from a rock, in order to sustain them.
They experienced God’s presence through Moses, as the church members in Corinth experienced God’s presence through Christ.
And this is Paul’s cautionary tale:
Be aware of the example provided through our ancestors - idolatry, immorality, complaining, grumbling.
Paul acknowledges these elements of the human condition are shared by us all. … and the “pep talk” piece of this, is whenPaul offers the reassurance that God is faithful, with the test or with the temptation, God will provide the way of escape.
We are in between;
At this point, at this 3rd week in our observance of a holy Lent, we are reminded by Paul and Moses, that God is very present with us.
God accompanies us, sustains us, as we encounter the reality of life and how that can, at times, feel so contrary or challenging to our spiritual pursuits.
And then in today’s Gospel, we are encouraged, no, urged, to take stock, to take an inventory - and then, as a result of this inventory, change where we need to.
The stage is set for us here in the tales of the Galileans killed by Pilate and those individuals that lost their lives when the tower of Siloam fell on them.
Throughout our history as humans on Earth we have asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Were the Galileans worse sinners than other Galileans?” Were the 18killed by the falling tower worse offenders?”
Jesus clearly answers, “No” … and then He adds that sense of urgency, “but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”This is not to be interpreted as a threat of punishment, rather, an encouragement to be aware of grace and to develop a new way of seeing.
The Gospel today, at this halfway point, reiterates our words from Ash Wednesday, - we are “invited to the observance of aHoly Lent by self examination and repentance.”
This word repentance; - to repent has been defined as, “to feel so contrite over ones sins as to change or decide to change one’s ways or to change one’s mind to a new way of seeing things.”
And I am quite struck by the parable of the fig tree, as it drives the point home:
Lent is not passive - It is action oriented - the gardener will be busy preparing the fig tree for the following year - digging, fertilizing, tending, in order to maintain life.
This parable raises questions for us, at this halfway point:
Today’s readings, taken as a whole, bring home wonderful encouragement to us, at this point in our Lenten journey:
God is with us
God is faithful
God provides the way out of testing and temptation
God urges us to action
I would like to leave you with a Lenten prayer by the Most Reverend Arthur Lichtenberger, who was presiding Bishop from 1958 until 1964.
Lord may I
Fast from judging others
Feast on Christ dwelling in them
Fast from fear of illness
Feast on the healing power of God
Fast from words that pollute
Feast on speech that purifies
Fast from discontent
Feast on Gratitude
Fast from anger
Feast on patience
Fast from pessimism
Feast on optimism
Fast from negatives
Feast on alternatives
Fast from bitterness
Feast on forgiveness
Fast from self-concern
Feast on Compassion
Fast from suspicion
Feast on Truth
Fast from gossip
Feast on purposeful silence
Fast from problems that overwhelm
Feast on prayer that sustains
Fast from worry
Feast on faith
And God’s reply, “You have not asked for yourself long life or riches or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right. Indeed, I give you a wise and discerning mind.”
Reflecting on the nature of Solomon’s prayer, he begins with a statement of considerable humility, of being overwhelmed with the enormity of the responsibility he has inherited. He identifies as a servant, and then says, “ I am only a child - I do not know how to go out or come in - who can govern this your great people."
And Solomon’s plea, how do I navigate the waters between good and evil in this world?
How relevant is this for us today, in these times, as we live and participate in our secular world?
As we encounter the inherent tension between our own self interest and the greater good, between the secular and the spiritual
- of being understood and misunderstood
- of being faced with temptation
- of contending with demands and distractions in the face of feeling the need for rest, replenishment, time for reflection and communion.
Wisdom and discernment
Wisdom has been defined as the power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, insight, and understanding.
Discernment, to discern has been defined as to perceive or recognize, to make out clearly.
How do we discern? Unlike Solomon, seldom do we hear such a clear response from God, “Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind.”
How do we discern and apply wisdom in our spiritual lives?
Our course begins to be charted in Paul's letter to the Ephesians;
“Be careful how you live, make the most of time, understand what the will of the Lord is, give thanks to God and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are days, when to me, this is more easily said than done.
The distractions of the world and my self interest can compromise my conscious contact with God.
There have been times in my life when God has seemed so very large and so very distant and so very separated from my daily life, my daily struggles - my journey back, or my change in perception, or my change in being has so often been through prayer and meditation, however imperfect these attempts may be, by way of making the most of time, not taking passing moments for granted, by being open to try to understand what the will of the Lord is.
At one point in my life I spent a number of years sailing on ships. My main job was to provide navigation and be a lookout on watch. When standing watch at night it is very important to protect your night vision. In order to see in the dark, you benefit from the absence of light; too much light and the pupils of your eyes constrict. All of the lighting on the bridge of a ship at night has a red filter over it, so as not to compromise the watch standers night vision and ability to see in the dark. So, I remained able to read my navigation chart and maintain good night vision, due to the red filter over the light.
I met a man, a fellow mariner, who described to me, the role of Jesus, as that of the red filter over the light. I was able to see because of the red filter. I am able to access God through the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. The life of Jesus and his teaching provide the means by which I am able to attempt to understand the will of the Lord.
Through our application of discernment and wisdom we are able to achieve and embrace our conscious contact with God, enabling us to maintain an understanding mind, the ability to discern what is right, make the most of our time, give thanks, and partake of the living bread that came down from heaven.
There is a particular prayer (probably familiar to many of you) that has been of value in orienting people to live, not as unwise people but as wise.
God be in my head
And in my understanding
God be in mine eyes
And in my looking
God be in my mouth
And in my speaking
God be in my heart
And in my thinking
God be in mine end
And at my departing
Meet our Preachers
Rev. Heather Blais,
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm, Associate Rector