“Let me know you in the now.”
A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church
April 7, 2019
Almighty and ever living God, in your tender love for the
human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take
upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross,
giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant
that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share
in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
“Lord, deliver me
Break my heart so I can see
All the ways You dwell in us
That You’re alive in me
Lord I long to see
Your presence in reality
But I don’t know how
Let me know You in the now”
From “Know you in the Now.” By Michael Card
Several weeks ago, Father Andrew preached a very moving sermon. I have reflected on it almost daily in the weeks which have followed. And that, by the way, is a helpful practice which I suggest to you. Each Sunday, try to find one line—or one verse from Scripture to carry with you through the week. He said, “The most radical word that Jesus ever said was “Today.” He went on to share with us how challenging it can be to let go of both the past and of the future so as to fully live in the present.
Many of us, when we honestly look at our lives, come to realize that one of the reasons that we do not accomplish the things which are important to us is that find it difficult to really live in the here and now. We sometimes are so afraid of the past that we can be incapacitated by guilt about past mistakes, failures, and sins. We worry so much about what “might happen,” that we find that today has slipped away without our lives being any different than they were before.
On this last Sunday in Lent, perhaps it is time for us to take an inventory of this Season of Lent. Did we get out of this Lent what we hoped we would? As a result of the things which we either gave up or else took on, are we different people? Have we grown closer to God? Have we grown closer to others? Have we appreciated and valued the gift of God’s creation? I very much hope that the answer to each of these questions will be a resounding yes. But, if not, it is never too late!
In my first year of Seminary, I had a class called “The Mystery of Salvation.” We had it right before lunch and so the seminarians—who are often witty and cynical at the same time–called it “The Misery of Salivation.” Later, I came to realize that they might have been more profound than they realized. Are we invited to be so hungry for God that we literally salivate? I reflected on this the first time that I ever attended the Orthodox Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and saw that they actually use a kind of “liturgical bib” when receiving Holy Communion. Of course, in their case it makes sense because the leavened bread is dipped in wine and then communicated using a kind of “liturgical spoon.”
In “The Mystery of Salvation,” our professor told us, “There are really only three essential questions: Where do we come from? Where are we going? What are we responsible for along the way?” It seems to me that the last question can give us some insight into how it is that we come to find God in the here and now.”
A word, which I find either used or suggested throughout our readings today is “new.” New things, when we first encounter them, can take us by surprise. They challenge our preconceptions and often cause us to see things in a new way. We do not always like that. It can be easy to think or to say, “But I have always done it that way. The truth is that the way we have always done things has not always worked out so well for us.
The Prophet Isaiah tells us that “God is doing something new.” God certainly took the people of Israel by surprise when, through Moses, he told them that they would be delivered from slavery. I can imagine that message was received with great skepticism. After all, slavery was all that they knew. When we listen to their complaints in the wilderness, afterwards, it seems clear that it was almost impossible for them to really trust that God could provide for their needs in the here and now. Instead of recalling that slavery had been cruel, oppressive and dehumanizing, they occasionally longed to return to what was “safe and dependable” even if it meant eating onions and bitter herbs. Because of that fear, they said “no” to God’s invitation to enter the land of Promise. They had to wander there for forty long years–until every living person who had a “slave mentality” had died. Only then, would it be possible for God to do something new for them, with them, and through them.
The writing from Isiah, though, is written at a later time, a time in which the prophets begin to speak of God doing something truly new—and for those who heard the message this “new thing” was unwelcome—God’s message of hope, love and covenant would be a message for the whole world, and not only for the People of Israel. That was a hard message for them to hear. Even today it is a hard message for us to hear. When the Episcopal Church boldly proclaims that “everyone is welcome,” each of us are challenged to let go of our own prejudices and discomforts. If God calls someone to be part of our community, who are we to say no? And then, we are called to not only tolerate their presence, but to actually learn to love them!
The tone which I hear in the Psalm is a response to that invitation to the new, “What wonderful things God has done.” But I think it could also be “what wonderful things God is doing here and now.” They are wonderful to behold. Let us truly be glad and rejoice in them.
Saint Paul shares with his favorite community, the Church in Phillipi, his own surprising experience of finding God in the new. The contrast which he makes between his “old way of life” and the “new way of living” could not be more pronounced. In this beautiful passage he reflects on the unbelievable way in which his life was transformed. He shares how it came about that his focus shifted. To put it quite simply, in his old life the focus was on him. And in the new life, the focus is on God.
There was a very clever meme on Facebook that said, “Humility is not about thinking less of myself; it is about thinking of myself less often.” When Paul learned to place his focus on God, he discovered God’s presence in the here and now. And that changed everything! It was that realization that God was truly with him in every circumstance of his life that gave him the courage to persevere and to press forward. He learned too, that he did not have to worry about what was coming. His life was one in process. With God’s help he was making daily progress towards his goal. He did not have to worry that he had not yet arrived. If he allowed God to be in control of the journey, it would all work out as God wished—and, in fact, would be better than anything he could have come up with on his own.
In this final Sunday in Lent, we come to a pivotal moment of transition. In just a week we will enter into Holy Week. And at that time, we will begin an amazingly fast-paced journey through the most important moments in the life of Christ and into the mysteries which lie at the very core of our personal and collective faith. In the reality of the passion, death, and resurrection, we will encounter the fullest expression of God’s all-encompassing love. Remember the saying, “Holy Week is not so much about how much Jesus suffered, it is rather about how much Jesus loved.” It will be a week that, if we allow it to do so, could change our lives completely.
How is that possible? One way, I think, it to seize hold of the notion that each day must be fully experienced on its own merit. Let us fully enter into each day—but in doing so, let go of all the others. Let us forget what is coming and allow each day to take us by surprise—as they did to both our Lord and to his friends. On Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday forget that Good Friday is coming. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday morning, forget that there will be a Resurrection. And at the Great Vigil of Easter (which I invite each of you to please attend), be surprised that the Light of Christ has conquered the darkness of sin, death, and hatred. Be astonished at the Easter Proclamation” “Christ is Truly Risen.” What wonderful new news indeed!
The Gospel passage we heard today is one of my all-time favorites. Jesus returns to his home-away-from-home in Bethany. This is a place where he can just “be himself,” It is a place where he can relax and let go of all the problems that he faces. It is a place, as we could say, where he is “family member” and not just a friend. He once again shares a lovely evening with his dear friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.
With them he shares the unexpected gift of life which has been returned to Lazarus. He feasts on another incredible meal prepared by that five-star-cook, Martha. And, he receives perhaps the most personal and loving gift that he ever received in his entire life. His friend Mary shares with him what might well be her life’s savings. She breaks open a bottle of outrageously expensive perfumed oil and anoints his feet with her hair. The room is filled with the fragrance of that oil. It is such a loving, intimate and personal act of generosity and love there is really no other experience in his life with which it may be compared.
This anointing restores and refreshes the Lord’s tired, worn, and calloused feet. It offers, as oil always does, healing and strength—but this time, for his last journey. Perhaps it is this act of love and generosity which empowers Jesus to enter into that Holy Week, with the knowledge that he is deeply, totally, and unconditionally loved.
In this selfless gift, Mary models what Jesus will do, in turn, when at that Last Supper, which is soon coming, he will share the gift of his abiding presence in the elements of bread and wine. He will show that true leadership is about loving service when he washes the feet of his own disciples.
The aroma of that loving home in Bethany will go with him, through that entire Holy Week which is coming—through his passion and death and into his Resurrection.
Today, and in the coming days of Holy Week, may God break open our hearts with his love so that we truly see—and know that God is with us “in the now.”