This is my sermon from February 26, 2023, the 1st Sunday of Lent in Year A. We are using A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by Wilda C. Gafney. The lectionary was Genesis 2:7-9, 15-17, 21-25, 3:1-7, Psalm 51; Revelation 22:1-5, 16-17; and Matthew 3:1-6).
So, I’m pretty sure I’ve told you this story before, but I ask you indulgence as I tell it again:
When our daughter, Kathleen, was about 10, she and Ron went to the mall near our house to buy me a gift for my birthday, or maybe it was Mother’s Day. They ended up at a jewelry store looking at necklaces. Katie wanted to buy me a cross but apparently was getting quite frustrated. As they both told me later – as did the sales person, who was someone I was acquainted with from the usual parents’ circles –she couldn’t find what she liked. All of the crosses in the jewelry stores in our heavily Roman Catholic area were crucifixes. Jesus was hanging on the cross. And Katie couldn’t understand why, even as she knew that wasn’t what she wanted. Finally, she vented her frustration, in what was at that time a pretty uncharacteristic public display of annoyance.
What she said was, “We’re Episcopalian. We don’t believe Jesus got stuck on the cross.”
I love Lent.
And I do my best to accept the invitation to a holy Lent that is extended on Ash Wednesday service. I work really hard to change the rhythm of my spiritual life, my spiritual practices so I can go deeper and broader in some, and I can explore some new or have fun, such as with Lent Madness, with the once-a-year, seasonal practices. All of that is about how to explore deeper, more life-giving relationship with God.
I love Lent, which is why I was thrown for a loop when I had this thought the other day.
There is a problem with Lent.
I’d go so far as to say it’s likely a problem with Christianity as we understand it and try to live it. We get stuck. We seem to forget that that this is a season about the promise fulfilled. We act as if there is nothing we could possibly do to make things right – as if this broken world, our messed up lives, our broken and battered hearts are what it’s about, is all that there is.
But what if we stepped aside, what if we stepped outside ourselves and our lives for just a minute? What if we turned around, if we turned back to the garden, to see the promise fulfilled, to see that manifestation of the promise from God that was so frightening, that so threatened the snake that it had to lure Adam and Eve away?
What if we turned to God and believed in God the way that God believes in us?
Can you imagine what would happen?
No more hunger.
No more fear.
No more pain.
A world in which it was safe for all people to live as God created them.
A world in which we didn’t have to rail against racial violence or systemic injustice and oppression, in which all manner of gender identity and expression was normative, in which guns did not outnumber people, in which we didn’t feel the need to use labels like “female priest” or “Black doctor” or “Asian professor,” because we would really, truly love our neighbors – and we would act like it – no matter if they looked like us or loved like us or believed like us.
A world in which political and economic boundaries would be meaningless because we’d all truly be in it together, so there’d be no attempt to justify war or the forced deportation of infants and children from their families to another country.
A world in which there’d be fresh food and clean water and a healthy planet because we’d value people and creation over profit and power,
the well-being of God’s beloved over our very human and broken understandings of success.
A world in which letting go and letting God would be easier and more compelling than grasping at the empty straws of our brokenness and our rebelliousness, easier and more compelling that holding on so tightly to everything we mistakenly think will bring us peace, will make us happy
This is Lent, the season of preparation for Easter – and not Easter as a one-and-done.
This is Lent, the season in which we seek to better understand what it means to be and live as Easter people.
This is Lent, the season in which we prepare to walk by the empty cross and through the empty tomb to see Jesus and to know differently and more fully what that means for us and for the world.
The problem Katie named in all of her 10-year-old frustrated glory relates to us directly to today. We get so hung up on a moment in time that moving forward becomes harder than it needs to be. We get so hung up on what seems to us an impossible truth of God’s promise to the world, of the frightening reality that we are created in God’s image to live an Eden-like existence. We get so hung up on our fears that we can’t achieve that, that we cannot let go of our failures, our brokenness, our sinfulness. We can’t see what lies beyond, and we fail to see the truth, we fail to live the truth, that we were created as part of the promise.
John the Baptist isn’t running around the Galilean countryside in uncomfortable clothes, eating something other than delicious food to hold us in place, with no way out. He is proclaiming the sometimes harder truth, that we get to choose more, we get to choose better, we get to choose love, and we get to choose love now, not in some distant heavenly place.
“Repent, for the realm of heaven has come near.”
Heaven is near enough that we just have to turn around, to turn back to face God and the perfect existence from which we came. Amen