Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lent 4 - B


The spiritual journey is not always an easy journey.

I think if I could put it in a nutshell, that is what Lent is trying to teach us. This is a 40 day period to walk through our own wilderness; becoming aware of just how far we might have strayed from what we hoped for our lives; pondering how the forces of the world often seem to work again us; and wondering about our sense of how we fit in to the bigger picture.

Has anyone ever tried to meditate? I once did this exercise where we were to take one minute and try to count the number of different thoughts we had. I was with a group of 50 people, and I hda the highest score – 14 different thoughts in once minute.

Now, perhaps this is ADHD, more than likely it is just a cultivated habit of thinking about things. The average for the room was 8 thoughts.

I am not suggesting that any of this is a problem – unless you are trying to meditate. Let’s try it for thirty seconds. I will time you, try closing your eyes and counting the number of different thoughts you have... at the same time, try not to have any thoughts....

See what I mean? It is hard. And it is hard because the world intrudes on us. The thoughts we have are usually worries about something, or fears we have, or memories of things creeping in. It is very hard for us to feel at peace, because the world is really not that peaceful a place. It is noisy, confusing, and often painful.

Let me tell you a story. You just heard it told to you in one way – very literally about some people in a desert and some snakes... But let me tell you the exact same story using different imagery:

All day long it seems that life is just one thing after another... get up, do some work; eat some food, go to sleep... over and over and over... There are many days that I think that life is just not worth it. And then... then... this happens; tragedy; the sky is falling; just when you think it cannot get any worse... And that is it. This is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, and I have had enough....

Just when I am thinking of giving up – something changes... in that final moment when all seems lost, the person I trust the most, the one who has always been there for me, holds up the truth in front of me... and I realize that God has given me the strength to get through this – that it is possible that I will be, somehow, okay.
This is the Good News – God loves us enough to do something about it.

Okay – keep the whole Snake on a Pole story in mind for a second and listen to Ephesians again...

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world... All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved...”

Language is such a barrier. I don’t know if you ever think about that in terms of the church, or the Bible, or prayers – but really – the words we sometime here others use throw us off so much that we fail to see what is behind the words.

See – Ephesians is making the same point as was made a thousand years before in the desert... we don’t tend to make good choices. We tend to follow the whims of the world and get caught up in the wrong things, we are like everyone else and we forget about following God. But God, who loves us in a way we can barely understand, forgives us anyway...

It is that forgiveness and love that makes it possible to go on.
One of the things I most like about that story where Moses and the Folks encounter the poisonous snakes is that God never takes away the snakes... God just gives them something else to focus on so that they can get through it....

To me, this explains a lot about life, and about where we go wrong when we start thinking about God as a magician who somehow will solve everything – God does not make the world a better place, God simply gives us a way to get through it.

Not only that; but I strongly suspect that it is getting through the troubles of our lives that makes us who we are. Maturity and strength come from encountering troubles along the way. Some of us have those troubles when we are 4 and become wise really, really quickly. Some of you may yet to have had to face something that changes you forever; but wherever you are on the spectrum of life, God is there, and god’s strength is yours if you only focus on what is ahead of you.

I want to share with you a poem that I think sums up what I am trying to say and in a perspective that will help us as we continue to allow the journey of lent to deepen our faith:

If hope has made you walk
farther than fear,
you will raise your eyes.
Then you will be able to hold firm
until you reach the sun of God.
If anger caused you to clamor for justice for all,
your heart will be wounded.
Then you will be able to struggle
along with the oppressed.
If weakness made you fall along the way,
you will know how to open your arms.
Then you will be able to dance
to the rhythm of forgiveness.
If destitution made you search in the hungry night,
you will have an open heart.
Then you will be able to give
the bread of poverty.
If suffering made you shed tears of blood,
you will have cleansed eyes.
Then you will be able to pray
with your brother on the cross.
If sadness has made you doubt
on a night when you felt abandoned,
you will know how to carry your cross.
Then you will be able to die
in step with the God-Man.

J. Akepsimas and M. Scouarnec, Des mots et des notes pour célébrer, 99.

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