Sunday, March 25, 2012

Serving One Another

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 25, 2012.  The lectionary readings are Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-13, Hebrews 5:5-10, and John 12:20-33.

Every once in a while I’ll meet someone who is curious about our church.  Sometimes they’re just being polite and other times, I think they’re serious when they ask, “What time is your service?”  They mean what time do we worship.  But whenever I’m asked that question, I’m tempted to answer it in a way that might sound sarcastic or flippant, but would nonetheless be true.  “What time is our service?”  “Right now,” I would want to say.  This could be said because no matter when someone asks me that question, some member of our congregation, some part of the Body of Christ that gathers under the name “All Souls” is actively engaged in service.  They’re praying.  Or they’re feeding.  Or they’re giving.  Or they’re planning.  And through our service, the church becomes the Body of Christ in the world, whether people fill this room or not.

Though we do it all the time, I don’t know that we often really think about service or its blessings.  It’s just a part of what we do.  It’s a part of our public discourse, so that there are service days and service hours that have to be fulfilled.  The scriptures today invite us to encounter God in our service.

In our Gospel, we enter the story as there’s a lot of excitement in Jerusalem.  People are pouring into the city for Passover. (Watching the crowds coming into Washington for the Cherry Blossom Festival, we can get a sense of how suddenly, there are just more people everywhere.) As people pour into Jerusalem, some of the foreigners ask to see Jesus.
Word has spread, and they want to know how they, too, can come to know God, how they, too, can be a part of this Jesus movement that seems to be healing and helping and giving people hope.
When they meet him, Jesus lays it all out.  He says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor,” Jesus promises.  There is blessing, but it’s going to get rough along the way.  He goes on to say, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And he explains a simple rule of nature, that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but it if dies, it bears much fruit.”
Jesus is talking about his own sacrifice, the sacrifice for us that makes for our salvation. But he’s also talking about the little sacrifices, the perhaps even-minute sacrifices we can make, we are called to make, on behalf of one another.

There are a lot of different ways for us to serve. Many of you volunteer. You sing in the choir, and work with the garden guild, or teach Sunday school, or cook breakfast, or serve on Vestry or some other committee. And that’s just within the church. Others of you serve the community, your buildings, schools, and neighborhoods. Some of you serve our country. But there are times when we forget the power that is let loose through service.

You may be familiar with the modern spiritual classic called The Celebration of Discipline (first published in 1978). In it, the Quaker author Richard Foster talks about the spiritual disciplines we have either practices or heard of: such things as give the season of Lent its substance sometimes, disciplines like fasting, prayer, meditation, confession, … and service.  I don’t often think of service as a discipline—that is, something to be developed, to be practiced, something that we can get better at, and grow into. But Foster does, and he also names particular kinds of service.

One kind, he calls “hidden service.” It’s the kind of service toward another person in which the other person is the only other one to know—except for God, that is. Over time, there will grow within you a quality that others will begin to sense, a quality of a deeper love, a new compassion, almost a slight aura. People will notice that you are different.

Richard Foster tells a story through which he says he learned a whole new aspect of service. He explains that he was in the final, most hectic week of finishing his doctoral dissertation. The phone rang, and it was a friend who needed a ride in order to run some errand. Foster didn’t want to do it. He couldn’t see how he might possible spare the time. But reluctantly, he agreed (inwardly worrying about the precious time he was losing by helping this friend.) The friend needed a ride to several places, it turned out, and so, while the friend was in the grocery store, Foster waited in the car, pulling out a book that he had brought along.
It was Dietrich Bonheoffer’s little book, “Life Together.” Foster opened the book to where he had stopped reading before, and he read these words, “The . . . service one should perform for another in a Christian community is active helpfulness. This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters. There is a multitude of these things wherever people live together. Nobody is too good for the meanest service. [And] One who worries about the loss of time . . . is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly.” Ouch. 
In other words, the service in small ways matters.

Foster suggests our trying other forms of service, trying them on as disciplines.  Some might sound surprising. He mentions the service of “guarding the reputation of others.” This is what some have called simply “charity.” It’s what Saint Paul is talking about when he says, “speak evil of no one.” It’s what the 9th Commandment means by “not bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.” What a service that would be, if we could hold our tongues more often, if we could truly guard the reputation of others.

Another is the service of being served, of being gracious, of living out thanks. When Jesus began to wash the feet of his disciples, Peter objected. He couldn’t understand it, but Jesus was invited them to be served, so that they could pass that gift on to others.
There’s the service of common courtesy. The service of hospitality. The service of listening. And finally, there’s the service illustrated by Philip and Andrew in today’s Gospel: the service of sharing the Word of Life, the love of Christ with others.

Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but it if dies, it bears much fruit.” If we offer ourselves to one another in ordinary, mundane, and everyday ways—as well as in the more public ways, much fruit comes of it.

We talk about service in the context of religion. That word, “religion,” comes from the Latin word, religare, which means “to tie, or to bind” If we are religious at all, we are tied to God, bound to God; but also tied to one another, bound together, connected. “Anyone who serves me, God will honor,” Jesus says. We become connected to God through service. Being a servant of someone means that there is a bond, we are tied to that person in some way. Being a servant of Christ means being tied to him.

As we continue to grow into a religious community, a community in which we share ties that bind in love, I pray that we (all of us) might deepen our own sense of service. Service to All Souls, service to this community and the world, service to one another, and through it all—service to God.

In the words of the prayer sometimes used after Communion, may God grant us “strength and courage to love and serve . . . with gladness and singleness of heart.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Planning for God

I grew up with a vague understanding of Palm Sunday as being the Sunday before the Big Event.  Easter Sunday meant chocolate bunnies, great music at church, and a good meal with family afterwards.  It was many years later that I met people who actually took time off from work during Holy Week.  They don’t take off for a vacation.  Instead, they make arrangements to spend more time in church.  For them, Palm Sunday begins a story that includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, a story that culminates with the first Mass of Easter.  They plan for God. 

Planning for God may sound strange if we are conditioned to understand God as an interruption more than a standing engagement.  I sometimes hear people speak of a particularly dramatic life event—the loss of a job, a medical diagnosis, a sudden death, a car accident—as a time when “God gets our attention.”  And while I certainly don’t correct the person or give my perspective immediately, it seems to me that those events are not so much God getting our attention as “life” getting our attention.  God is with us beginning, during, and after such events, but we don’t notice God’s presence if we aren’t expecting it.  We don’t recognize God if we don’t at some level get to know God.  And that takes planning.       

By “planning” for God, I mean setting time aside to slow down, to quiet our mind, to lay aside our agenda, and to be available to God.  This can be prayer.  It can be meditation.  It can be worship.  It can be the preparation of a meal or participating in some work of justice or mercy.  It can be almost anything that includes an intention that “This is time I set aside to be present for God.”  If we are able to plan for God, whether twenty minutes a day or twenty minutes a week, we will find God and be found by God in new ways.  We will begin to see that no life challenge is faced alone or unprepared.  Planning pays off in this life and in the next.      

I hope you’ll practice planning for God this Holy Week and that you’ll join us for worship and prayer when you’re able.  May God’s deep peace be with you in these final days of Lent as we prepare to celebrate the joy of Easter.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Cross of Healing

The San Damiano Cross of St. Francis

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 18, 2012.  The lectionary readings are
Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, and John 3:14-21.

If you were anywhere in Washington yesterday or last night, then you know that yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day.  People wore shamrocks, fountains and rivers flowed green, and legends were told again about Patrick, the 5th century bishop and missionary.  One of the most popular stories has to do with St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland.  And though it was long before St. Patrick, the people of Israel in our first reading could have really used someone like Patrick because they had a serious snake problem. 

This reading from the Book of Numbers is a strange old story.  It’s one of a number of Old Testament passages in which the people of Israel are “murmuring.”  They are impatient, restless, and whiney.  They’re complaining against God and against God’s leader in their midst, Moses. They miss what was familiar back in Egypt—even though they had been enslaved, there had been a certain predictability about it all.  And now, there isn’t much food or water at all, and when there is, the food is dreadful.  But then it gets worse. 

There are poisonous snakes.  The snakes bite the people, and many of them die.  And so the people pray to God, and ask God to forgive their murmuring, their whining and their lack of faith.  God hears them, and then God gives them a symbol of healing.  God uses the very thing that has hurt them, and God turns that hurtful thing into a symbol of healing.  This new, strange but powerful symbol is of a serpent raised up high on a pole.  When the people look up at this image, they are healed. 

In some ways this story has in it a kind of symbolic vaccination, like in modern vaccinations, when a little part of a disease is put into us.  When things go correctly, our body’s immune system fights the intruder and we become protected from the illness. 

In the Old Testament lesson, the image of the serpent reminds the people of the danger and death involved, but also of God’s protection, of God’s promise to deliver them, and save them.  It is this image of death that is converted to life, that foreshadows the salvation we have through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

In the image of the cross, there is suffering, pain, danger and death.  But on the other side of Easter morning, healing.  There is resurrection.  There is new life for ever.  The very thing that has hurt provides the means for helping. 

The fancy, theological word for what happens on the cross is Atonement.  The word implies that Jesus’s action on the cross is some way atones, or makes up for, or is the cure for, our sin.  Some have defined Atonement as “at-one-ment” with Christ—it all comes from the idea of being at-one, of being reconciled, of being brought into harmony and friendship with God through Jesus Christ. 

The cross can’t be explained scientifically (at least, not yet).  It can’t even be explained very clearly through theology.  But the cross is understood (if one can use that word) by experience.  What happens on the cross is a mystery that must be explored, experienced and approached through faith. 

While I don’t pretend to understand the full power of the cross, one thing I do understand is that part of the mystery of the cross involves God turning pain into power.  God uses wounds to bring about healing. 

We experience this whenever people gather with others who have suffered as they have.  When we meet others who share the same wounds—whether that be an addiction, some experience of violence, or any other common hurt—we can begin to find healing the experience of being with each other, of hearing others’ stories, of sharing others’ strength.  If you’ve ever been a part of such a group you’ll know that while the individuals differ and may not agree on anything else, the common suffering can create a kind of energy, a kind of power, and a kind of strength.  Whether one calls it a higher power or something else, I believe that it’s God who is behind that power.  It is God who is behind the conversion of pain into power. 

We experience healing through the combined experience of pain, but we also come to understand it in ourselves sometimes.  When we are able to be honest, to be vulnerable, again--- we begin to move toward healing and toward being what Henri Nouwen called a “wounded healer.”  Nouwen writes beautifully about listening to another who is undergoing a painful experience.  He cautions against rushing in to compare pain, or to say, “Yes, I know just what you mean.”  He writes

To enter into solidarity with a suffering person does not mean that we have to talk with that person about our own suffering. Speaking about our own pain is seldom helpful for someone who is in pain. A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds. When we have lived through a painful depression, we can listen with great attentiveness and love to a depressed friend without mentioning our experience. Mostly it is better not to direct a suffering person’s attention to ourselves. We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings. That is healing.” The Wounded Healer, 1979

Jesus experienced the pain of death, before he experienced the joy of resurrection.  Good Friday comes before Easter.  But Jesus knew that as he lived and preached, as he touched other people’s pain and suffering, he knew they would feel God’s presence with them.  And he knew that in his willingness to get into other people’s pain, this was simply practice-- practice for healing of all suffering and illness, the healing that comes with eternal life. 

When the people of Israel were making their way through the desert, they were healed when they looked up at the serpent on the pole.  As Christians, we can find healing when we look up at the cross of our crucified Lord. 

There are many images of the cross for our gazing, but one of my favorites is the San Damiano Cross, often called the cross of St. Francis.  Tradition says that when Francis heard God’s initial call, he was looking at a particular crucifix in the church of San Damiano. I love this particular cross because it neither ignores the suffering of Jesus, nor glorifies that suffering.  On the St. Francis cross, Jesus is not alone. He is surrounded by all kinds of people. The crucifix is a kind of icon, including the friends of Jesus and even outsiders. It includes Mary and John the Baptist, but it also includes Peter and John running from the empty tomb on Easter Day. There are angels and patriarchs. There are saints.

The great thing about the St. Francis cross is that there is also room for you and me. The cross of Saint Francis reminds us that even in our darkest times, we are never alone, just as, even on the cross, Jesus was never totally alone.  The cross reminds us of many things, but among them it reminds us of God’s power, God’s intention, and God’s promise of healing and resurrection.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Unseasonableness of God

It is mid-March and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the zoo animals are confused, and if you’re anything like me, your closet is still more stocked with sweaters than short sleeves. The weather people call these days “unseasonable” and along with the recent shift to Daylight Savings Time, they can make us feel disoriented, off our routine, and generally discombobulated.  But if we notice this feeling of unpredictability, it can remind us of Lent and help us prepare for Easter. 

Lent is a season of instability.  We recall how the people of Israel prayed for freedom from slavery and waited for God’s salvation.  God cleared the way with the Passover, the drying up of the Red Sea, and God’s constant presence in the wilderness.  As Christians, we have inherited this capricious God.  We acknowledge God’s incarnation in Jesus and we remember how Jesus preached, taught, healed, and moved among people in such a way as to overturn temple tables and challenge religious presuppositions.  Almost nothing Jesus did could be understood as expected, natural, or predictable.           

As we look toward Easter, it is worth remembering that we make a huge theological mistake if we think about resurrection as a part of the natural cycle of things.  Easter eggs and cute bunnies notwithstanding, resurrection is not like bulbs blooming in spring or the change in seasons.  The orthodox Christian belief about the resurrection of the dead (that of Jesus and that of our own) is that we die completely. Cold. Dead. Lifeless.  Then, in a most unnatural, unreasonable, and unseasonable way, God gives new life.  God raises from the dead.  God fills darkness with light.  God turns our mourning into laughter that lasts into eternity.

The strange weather we are having reminds me that I’m not in control of very much.  It reminds me that God is in control and that God has promised to take care of me, no matter what.  So let the trees and flowers bloom early.  Let the sun burn and let the winds blow.  Let death itself do its best with me because God takes care.  God loves and God resurrects, all in due season.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Miscommunication & Ministry

There’s an exchange in the Acts of the Apostles that always makes me laugh when I hear it.  Paul enters Ephesus and meets some other disciples.  He asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They look around at each other and say, “Well, no.  We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:1).  I wonder if this isn’t perhaps the early church’s first communications gaffe.   

I thought of the passage from Acts last week when I heard about one parishioner inviting another to a meeting of the communications committee.  The other person looked at the first with surprise and said, “What are you talking about?  I’m ON the communications committee!”  It turned out the first person was a part of our newly gathered communications sub-group (charged with fine-tuning and crafting the message for our capital campaign) and was talking with a member of our parish communications committee (charged with helping us look at the use of our printed materials, our internet presence, and the use of social media).  Communications had not fully communicated with communications.  While this sort of thing can be frustrating and disheartening, the Acts of the Apostles shows us that this is nothing new and is simply a part of ministry.

It seems that the word, “miscommunication” did not come into use until the 1960s, but whether it is the serpent “spinning” God’s word to Adam and Eve, the garbled confusion of the early disciples, or the mumbling of King Henry II resulting in the murder of Thomas Becket; the challenge of speaking clearly and forthrightly is a part of the human condition.  As Christians, we are about incarnation—making the Word flesh and making all words flesh, and so we struggle with one another to be clear, correct, and avoid hearsay and miscommunication.  “Language malfunctions” will continue in spite of web pages, tweets, emails, letters, and personal conversations.  The Good News is that the Holy Spirit offers us patience for understanding and forgiveness when we have misspoken.  Especially in these early days of planning a capital campaign and fine-tuning our building plans for accessibility, may we be attentive to one another and to the Spirit’s movement among us.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Taking up our cross

A sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 4, 2012.  The lectionary readings are Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30 , Romans 4:13-25, and Mark 8:31-38.

I have a friend who likes to string together beads to makes rosaries for people.  He only makes them for people he knows, and he enjoys thinking about the person and then selecting stones and medallions that seem to suit the piety, or prayer style, of the person.  (I got to him before he had selected my colors and was able to request something subtle, but using the San Damiano Cross, the St. Francis Cross.  He ended up use black stones, called jet, along with silver connectors and medallions.  It’s still my favorite rosary.)

Today’s scriptures invite us to think about the cross, and to think about our own cross—but not in the sense of a personalized rosary or a necklace or even the kinds of everyday burdens we might lightly refer to as “our cross to carry.”  Instead the cross in today’s scriptures has to do with service, with discipleship, and with sacrifice. 

We make the sign of the cross. We walk the Stations of the Cross. We wear crosses, but the scriptures today invite us to think about what part the Cross really plays in our lives.
The cross casts a shadow over today’s Gospel. Jesus gathers the multitudes with the disciples and explains that the “Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” When Jesus speaks of the “Son of Man,” his audience would have known what he meant. But they would not have thought the Son of Man would ever be someone who could suffer. In fact, the Son of Man was imagined to be just the opposite: someone who never suffered. Someone who was never rejected. And so, after Jesus explains that this Messiah-figure will have to suffer, Peter speaks up and says what is probably already on everyone else’s mind.

We don’t have Peter’s exact words, we’re just told that Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to clean up Jesus’ presentation a little bit. Peter must have wondered if there surely wasn’t a more compelling way for Jesus to motivate the crowds. Jesus couldn’t be allowed to suffer—that didn’t make any sense. After all Peter and the other disciples have invested a lot in Jesus—he can’t let them down.
The disciples have left everything—families, jobs, positions, futures, and now Jesus is asking them even to give up their ideas and hopes for Jesus and his kingship. But here, Jesus speaks of failure. He speaks of death and the cross.

If Peter was surprised at the way Jesus talked, he must have been even more surprised by the way Jesus snaps at him. Jesus says harshly, “Get behind me,” and then he calls Peter “Satan.” “Satan,” the tempter, the accuser. Last week we read how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, tempted to take the easy way out, tempted to avoid difficulty, tempted to dodge suffering.

But Jesus goes further in sharing his vision of the future. He tells those gathered around him that not only will HE have to suffer, but that the suffering will be a part of their lives as well, if they follow him.

If one is faithful, there will be suffering. Suffering does not need to be looked for or sought after, it will come all on its own.

The suffering Jesus points to here is a specific kind of suffering. He points to the kind of suffering that happens whenever we live our lives dangerously, in faith. Suffering comes when we are passionate for Christ because of the way in which Jesus Christ clashes with so many of the ways of this world.

For us to take up our cross, or as Luke’s gospel has it, “to take up our cross daily,” implies movement. To take up our cross, implies action. It carries with it intention, energy, creativity, and resourcefulness. It is a way of describing how we are called to move through life.

In order to “take up” our cross, we will probably have to put something down. For me to pick up a load of books, I have to put down whatever else I am carrying. It works that way in other areas of our lives. If I want to read more, I will have to watch less television.
If I’m going to spend 15 minutes every morning in silence or prayer, then I have to give up 15 minutes of sleep. If one pledges to spend more time with family, with a spouse or partner, one will have to come home from work on time, or perhaps even settle for a lower-paying job.

Taking up our cross means that we try to act in ways that reflect the love of Christ to others. It means that we care for the kinds of people Jesus cared for. It means that we try to speak truth in ways that Jesus spoke it. It means that we try to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We never know when or how we might be called to take up our cross, and so it makes sense for us to hold on to everything else with a loose grip. To hold on to things loosely. If we hold on to things too tightly to money or clothes or food-- we won’t have hands available to help carry a cross, or to help feed and help others.
If we hold on too tightly to other people—holding on only to those we care about, those who are close to us—we may miss the opportunity for easing the burden of others. If we hold on to certain beliefs or ideas or perspectives too tightly, we may miss the opportunity and the timing to take up a cross; to take up our cross.

Jesus shows us what a life of living lightly looks like. St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in words that are read on Palm Sunday, encourages us to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.

We should hold on to the things of this life, and indeed, to life itself, with a light touch, a light grip, easily, gently and gracefully. But even when we take up our cross, we even hold on to it lightly, because we it really won’t be we who are holding it, at all, since Jesus has promised, that to those who come to him weighed down, tired and heavily burdened, he will give refreshment and rest. His yoke is easy and his burden light.

One of my favorite images of the cross is one that can be found especially throughout Central and South America, in gift shops and on coffee tables. It is a clay piece of a cross which is not upright, but rather, laid down. All the way around it, as though standing around a table, are people—old and young, rich and poor, of every sort and condition—and they, together, are holding up the cross. Together they support its weight. Together they take up the cross of Christ.

Especially in this season of Lent, may we allow God to loosen our grip a little. And may we be strengthened to do our part in helping to transform the cross of suffering into a cross of glory and new life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Rainbows and Reminders

The Temptations of Christ, San Marco, Venice

A sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, February 26, 2012.  The lectionary readings are Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-9 , 1 Peter 3:18-22, and Mark 1:9-15.

Early last fall, I remember a morning at coffee hour when a parishioner came toward me, holding a post card.  She did not look happy.  I noticed that it was the postcard we had used to hand to people on the street at one of the DC Pride events a while back.  By using the postcard, with a listing of our worship services and the website address, we hoped we could invite people into our parish life, with all of its welcome and inclusion and mission and learning and faithfulness and fun.  I saw the parishioner’s face and assumed the worst.  I assumed she thought we shouldn’t have been at the Pride event, or shouldn’t have been so obviously evangelical.  But, as is often the case, I was wrong.  “Where is this window?” she asked, pointing to the cover photograph of the postcard.  It’s a great photograph by Ron Ross of our rainbow stained glass window.  The person told me she had looked everywhere and hadn’t been able to find it, so she imagined maybe the window had been covered up over the years. 

It turns out, it’s not covered up. It’s just hard to see.  It’s right up there. When you leave the altar rail after communion or after church today, look up toward the ceiling on the pulpit (or gospel) side of the church. Up high, in there is a small clerestory window, and on sunny days, when you look at it, you’ll see the brightest rainbow you can imagine.  I’m glad we have a rainbow, for several reasons.

The rainbow serves as a reminder, as we hear in today’s reading from Genesis. God promises Noah and his family never again to destroy the earth with water. The bow in the sky, of light arcing through the mist of the water, only recently dried up, that trick of water and light becomes a sign and symbol of God’s word, God’s promise, and God’s covenant.

The rainbow serves as a reminder, pointing to something in the past, but it also serves as encouragement, pointing a way forward. Even if we can’t see the end, even if the end of the rainbow shifts as we move along, it still urges us to look, to dream, and to imagine what lies ahead. It encourages us to trust where God leads. The rainbow is a good image for our beginning of a new season of Lent.

A contemporary hymn writer captures the tone of this season as he sings,

This is the day for new beginnings.
Time to remember and move on.
Time to believe what love is bringing;
laying to rest the pain that’s gone.
[This is a Day of New Beginnings, by Brian Wren]

A “time to remember and move on.” It’s the rainbow, again. Remembering and moving on. Both are central to the spiritual life and the season of Lent itself can help us to remember and to move on.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is baptized. A voice is heard from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And before the water even dries or the voice of God fades away, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Into the desert, he goes for 40 days and there he comes face to face with all kinds of temptations. Does that not sound a whole lot like the life we live? At some point we all probably know that phenomenon of one minute, knowing we are God’s beloved (we can feel it, we don’t doubt it, everything is going right), but then in what seems like all too after, we find ourselves surrounded by temptation. There are all kinds of temptations, but most of them are symptomatic, nagging, sorts of things. Perhaps the greatest temptation is more subtle—it has to do with forgetting. In the midst of temptation, we can forget who we are, and momentarily, we can forget who God is.

“Remembering” is so much a part of our faith tradition. Over and over, again, scripture says, “Remember!”

Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt.
Remember the covenant I made with your ancestors.
Remember not the former things.
Remember the devotion of your youth.
Remember the law.
Remember those in prison.
Remember, I am with you always.
Remember me when you come into your kingdom.

In Mark’s version of the temptation story, we’re not told how exactly how Jesus was tempted, or really how he faced down the temptation. But we know that he survived it alongside the wild beasts, and he even felt the presence of God’s holy angels.

Matthew and Luke both give us more details about Jesus’ temptations. They say that when the devil suggests that Jesus ignore hunger, listen to his stomach, and turn stone into bread; Jesus remembers. “It is written,” he says to the devil, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” The devil shows Jesus the kingdoms of the worlds and suggests to Jesus they could be his for the taking, but again, Jesus remembers the first commandment, that God alone is Lord of Heaven and Earth. God’s will be done. And then when the devil tries to get Jesus to jump off the tower of the temple and summon up angels to carry him to the ground, Jesus again remembers scripture.
But he also remembers more than scripture. Jesus remembers who he is, he remembers his baptism and that he is a child of God. He remembers whose he is, that God is watching, is waiting and is even now, aware and present and offering his love.

Martin Luther writes that he sometimes fought off the devil by shouting at him, “I am baptized.” That’s what we do when we make the sign of the cross, and when we dip our finger in holy water and place a little on our foreheads: we are reminding ourselves that we are baptized, that we are loved, and that God is in charge. In the same way, when we see a rainbow, we can recall the covenant God has made—that God will always take care of us and that God is with us. We have not only the old covenant (God’s promises to the people of Israel), but we also have the New Covenant, God’s promise in Jesus Christ sealed and shared with us in the sacrament of bread and wine. Memory keeps these signs and sacraments close by us. Even though we can’t always see it, even though we may forget about it, our little stained glass window with the rainbow is there. If you look closely, you’ll see in that window the words, “Round our restlessness, His Rest.” [It’s from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “Rhyme of the Duchess.”  Just across from it is another Barrett Browning quotation from the same poem, “God’s greatness flows round our incompleteness.”]

Baptism, Holy Communion, symbols of faith help us to remember. But God also gives us other “memory helps.” Spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditative reading, fasting, keeping a journal, studying, hospitality, almost any activity that is given over to God, and that allows us to give ourselves over to God can be a spiritual discipline. Practiced-- that is done over and over again-- spiritual disciplines remind us of God. They remind us of our reliance on God, of our need for God, of our connection with God.

In the days ahead, as we practice spiritual disciplines, as we notice the symbols of the season, perhaps giving some things up and taking on other things, may God sharpen our memory and make us alert and awake to temptation, that we might remember the covenant God has made with us. May God strengthen us in the face of every temptation.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


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