Year C 2019
As we enter into Lent, I want you to look around. Things have changed. This liturgy is different. There is a great attempt to make this time different. The color is purple. The Paschal candle is gone. Behind the altar, we will not use flowers but instead a Lenten array of drift wood and thorns. The silver is put up. We have moved to Rite I. The hymns and anthems will reflect the season. I am amazed at how well Cindy thinks about the scripture as she chooses hymns to reflect those words. Listen to the words of the hymns you sing. It is all an attempt to help you; help us to know this Holy season and the reason we have it as part of our liturgical year.
I asked my brother-in-law once what his definition of vocation was? His answer, after much thought was, “It’s a school you go to instead of college”. I think that vocation is what we are called to be about during this wonderful and terrible season of Lent. Lent is the season in which we are called to refocus on vocation. Every Christian is called to vocation and that means that we are all, through our Baptismal covenant, able to hear God’s call to us and respond; knowing our sinfulness and our mortality. God is calling you to return to him. How are you going to respond?
There are a few people in my life that have done much to let me know the truth about what it means to be Christian; what it means to live out a life of faith. They are the saints that have touched me and led and reminded me of God’s call and the need to answer that call. They include my parents, Aunt Willie; my priest in college who is now the retired Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia and many others. They all have one thing in common; they took the time to let me know the truth about God’s saving grace and told me that God loved me, just as I am. They also challenged me. They pressed me beyond the places which were comfortable. They called me to step out and risk and it was in risking that I found my vocation. Lent, at its heart, is about vocation. It is about how you respond to God’s call and how that call is lived out or not lived out. Lent is about realizing how short you have come in fulfilling God’s hope in you. Lent is the season where we are called to know the truth; we have not listened to God’s call. We have fallen short of God’s hope for us. We have not living out the vocation which God calls each of us to.
I think sometimes Lent becomes more about the motions and less about motives. It is easy to ask the question, how little do we have to do, to make Lent, Lent? How little do I have to give up; how little do I have to let this season and more specifically God intrude on and in my life? Lent is not about the stuff that you give up. Lent is not about how good you do your prayers, or how much time you spend saying your prayers or how much you study the Bible. Lent is not about giving up chocolate, or beer or whatever you think will do you some good. Lent is about a relationship with God and about how we share that relationship with the world around us. Whatever you take on or give up, it is about knowing that God is and must be first. It is about getting rid of the clutter of things and beginning to know Vocare. It is about taking the clutter of the world and finding again your relationship with God. It is about knowing your humanity and the reality of your own death and beginning to again put your trust in the only thing that will last.
Those words on Ash Wednesday are startling. They are intrusive. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Those words are intended to intrude upon you and challenge you to wake up; they are a call to stop walking through life and instead engage life; engage God; engage this community of faith. They are the words which call us to go deeper and wonder, question. They are the words which remind each of us of our mortality.
Loving the Unlovable
The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Year C AS
Loving the Unlovable
We come to the end of our season after the Epiphany. Next week will be the last The Sunday after the Epiphany and then we enter Lent. Some years ago, bracelets were popular which had WWJD on them. I think they were to help people wonder about Jesus as they made decisions. What would Jesus do? How are we to live out our faith in the world? Well! We are given clearly our role, our task in response to the world in the lessons given on this day.
Last Sunday’s lessons and this Sunday’s lessons are challenging; they are counter cultural. They are a challenge to everything we know. They invite us to a different place and a different way to not just think, but to act. They challenge us to know the truth of God’s love in us; a love that is not only meant to change and shape us, but meant to change and shape everything we do, everything we touch. They also sound crazy.
I don’t know much about the stand your ground law. I do know it was a law intended to allow us to confront those who would want to injure or kill us. It comes from a visceral place, a place I understand. Do not mess with the people I love; don’t mess with the innocents around me. I understand the passion that comes when we protect that which we love but in this Gospel, we hear that if someone strikes us, then we are not only to not strike them back, but we are to let them hit us again.
This Gospels tells us that we are to give someone, not just when they sue us, but to give them more than they demand. We are challenged in this Gospel to go farther than we are demanded, and we are called to give more. We are being called to love in a very different way.
Surely Jesus does not really mean this. Surely we are not called to be as crazy as this sounds.
I love children’s books. Some of the stories bring great truth. During Lent each year I read “The Velveteen Rabbit”. The transforming nature of the story seems to tug at me as I examine my own sin and God’s redemption. There is something powerful in being reminded that being real is not about the stuff I own and have that makes me who I am. No, who I am is found in relationship. Each year during Advent I read “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”. The simple story reminds me of the truth of God’s startling entry into the world; the truth of incarnation. This Gospel reminds of the children’s stories about loving that which is unlovable. The beauty and the beast or the princess and the frog. We are called to love. We are called to see God’s creation in the least and the most unlovable.
Beauty is often defined for us. Our world tells us what is beautiful and worthwhile. Our world also tells us what we should reject and dislike. But Jesus in this Gospel changes everything. He reminds us that as people who intend to love as God loves means that we do not and cannot set up our own boundaries for that love.
Yes, we are to love. Yes, we are to love as God loves. We are to see in our world that which the world rejects and love where the rest of the world cannot and will not. We cannot make up our own mind about what is worthy of love but instead must love as God loves. The love that we are called to is a verb. It is found in how act.
This God love, this father love doesn’t seem right nor fair. When someone strikes out at us, we love. When we are attacked, we love. So where is God’s light for us; where is God’s Epiphany for us in these words? The epiphany for me takes place when I stop thinking that I am worthy of the love God has bestowed on me. The Epiphany for me begins when I realize that God’s love for me takes place when I do good and holy things and it happens in the midst of my sin. In the big scheme I am the unlovable one who God loves so much that he sent his son for me. I am the beast that beauty has changed. I am the frog that has been kissed. This Gospel is not just about what you are called to be and know and do; it is also about the truth of God’s love for you a truth he asks you to live out.
Henri Nowen wrote, “For Jesus, there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved”.
Oscar Wilde used these words, “Nobody’s worthy to be loved. The fact that God loves people shows that in the divine order of thing … eternal love is to be given to what is eternally unworthy.”
God has loved us with an unimaginable love, an extravagant love even though we didn’t earn it and we can’t claim to deserve it. The same God who loves us with such fantastic love asks us also to love those who we and the world don’t find worthy. He asks of us that we also love extravagantly.