Friday, February 23, 2018

Lent 1B

Readings can be found here


In the Beginning it is Always Dark

During my Ash Wednesday sermon this past week, I connected the closing words of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, The Summer Day, with the words of the prophet Isaiah. “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” the poet inquires, while the prophet gives word to God’s depiction of us as the “repairers of the breach, restorer of streets to live on”.

For me, in juxtaposing these two texts, I wanted us to begin our Lenten observance by framing our lives as a gift that is to be used for a purpose—God’s purpose. God’s purpose of liberation. God’s purpose of reconciliation. God’s purpose of restoration. And, in God’s purpose we become the means to an end—an end that is a new beginning.

Lent stands as a reminder that as Christians we are called to share in God’s purpose and work towards the vision of wholeness established at creation.

And, that is what I said, before I knew.

Before I knew that our country had once again sacrificed children to the false god of personal freedom. Personal freedom taken at the expense of God’s creation, at the expense of God’s beloved children.  This is not the fast I choose declaims the prophet Isaiah on behalf of God--

The fast that God chooses is “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke”.

And, I wondered what I would have preached if I had known. What I would have said or offered as words of comfort or hope…

And, I am glad I didn’t know. Because there are times when I have nothing to offer. Nothing to say in response to the brokenness, the sinfulness, the hurt and the cruelty that is pursued by those who have forgotten, or never knew, the love of the God who first loved us.

Which brings me to the scripture we heard today. The aftermath of flood, a passing mention of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.

The scripture in which God declares, “never again” …and yet, here we are, once again.

And, so as I consider these scripture, I find myself mired in the flood waters and fully aware of the presence of evil all around.

When I was in early elementary school my grade school showed the movie “The Never Ending Story” on the last day of school before the winter break. The movie made a huge impact and I remember weeping as I watched the hero Atreyu lose his beloved horse Artax in the Swamp of Sadness.

I recognize the feeling of despair I feel now, as kin to the feeling I felt then.

Which is not to minimize the pain of the now—but to connect it to something outside of myself, to connect it to the mythic so that I can look upon the now with some hope.

Now, I imagine most of you have not seen this film—so a quick re-cap. The protagonist is on a quest to save the world of Fantasia from an evil force called “The Nothing”. A force that seeks to devour everything in its path.

The movie is filled with desperation and despair. And, then…

The protagonist fails.

And, The Nothing wins.

I wept then, and I weep now.

And, it makes me wonder…what kind of elementary school picks that movie for the last day of school?!

However, that said, that movie gave to me an understanding that there is hope even when all seems lost. That there is hope even when we think we have failed. That there is hope that, even at the end, there will be a new beginning.

Because, as the final stones of the empire of Fantasia fall, the boy Bastian finds himself surrounded by darkness. He asks, “Why is it so dark?”. She responds, “In the beginning it is always dark.”

It is dark. And it is the beginning.

Both are true—and ring true with our own Christian hope that it is not the end, unless it is the beginning and that it is not the beginning unless it is the end.

Which brings us to the last moments of the movie in which the child, Bastian, finds himself holding a grain of sand--the last bit of the world that remains. And, from that grain he discovers that he has the power to restore the land. He only needs a grain and the ability to imagine into being the world anew…and with that he becomes the repairer and restorer of the world entire. 

Perhaps I have found something to offer…because, this is where I want to pick up the story of the ark today.

A story in which the world has been destroyed and Noah and his efforts are akin to that grain of sand. The small hope that will recreate the world. As Paul describes it,

“God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.”

A few, a few were enough.

Those few had to be brave, those few had to endure tragedy and horror, those few had to be resilient. But, they were enough.

But, they were not enough alone.

God and each other. These texts point to the centrality of God and the interdependence out of which we begin anew. God’s new covenant of never again. God’ declaration of belovedness.

It is notable that Lent begins, not with images of destruction, but with images of restoration.

And, while evil is present, evil does not prevail.

And, so today’s readings center themselves not on destruction but on a new creation.

These passages center themselves upon our belovedness and not our brokenness.

Strength, resilience, love and courage.

And, as I consider these qualities in the face of evil. I consider today’s Gospel. Jesus knew he was beloved. He knew who he was and to whom he belonged as the beloved child of God. In his belovedness, Jesus could see evil for what it was and reject it. In his belovedness, Jesus had the strength to withstand temptation in the desert. In his belovedness, Jesus had the resilience to wake up each day and face down evil once again. In his belovedness, Jesus had the courage to step back into the world of men and humble himself unto the cross.

And, it is in Jesus’ belovedness that we know our own belovedness. And so, as we walk in our own deserts, I pray that we will live into our identity as the beloved children of God. And, that in knowing this as our truth, we too will have the strength, resilience and courage to show up in those places where evil dwells and stand fast to the love of God.

So, when the darkness surrounds, stand fast and know that the answer to the question, “Why is it so dark?” is “in the beginning it is always dark”.


Ash Wednesday, 2018

Preached before I knew that a teenager had just murdered 17 (teens and adults) in Parkland, Florida
For readings, here


 Ash Wednesday 2018

This year’s Lenten booklet weaves together the poetry of Mary Oliver with scriptural passages and practices. In light of this, I want to offer you one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

What will you do with your one wild and precious life? 

We may think that this is a service about death, about the reality of our mortality...

But, we can’t talk about death without talking about life.

And, as I juxtapose the question, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” with the words, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return”, I find myself considering what happens in the in-between.

Because, for all of us gathered here today, we are in the in-between time. We live in the here and the now of our lives. And, with Ash Wednesday’s frank and honest look at the reality of our brokenness and the truth of our all too short lives, we are reminded that there is work to be done.

The work of repair, of reconciliation, of healing. The work that takes broken hearts and mends them. The work that unites what has been divided. The work that gives life, the work that shines the light, the work that shares the love.

Which is why I feel myself drawn to the passage from Isaiah we have heard today.  Specifically, the closing words of the passage

“you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

A phrase drawn from the words of the prophet Isaiah today.

A phrase that defines the purpose of our Lenten fast.

The Lenten fast can take many forms, many of us “give something up” or “take something on” in this season. We do something out of the ordinary to help us reconnect to God, ourselves, and each other.

Reconnection is restoration. Restoration is reconciliation, Reconciliation restores and repairs that which has been broken by those things which we call sin, brokenness, trespass, or even debt.

So, this year, I ask us all to undertake a fast that repairs.

A fast that takes the broken places and people in our lives and offers restoration. A fast that brings wholeness of life. A fast that helps us to answer God’s call, as we ourselves are restored.

At this time, I am going to give us all a few minutes to consider or re-consider what our Lenten observances might include this year…so that we all might undertake the fast that repairs.


As we continue with the invitation to a Holy Lent, let us consider our one wild and precious life—so that in considering our death, we might re-consider our life.