a priest's musings on the journey

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sermonette: Laetare Sunday 18 March 2007

4 Lent 2007
St Thomas Parish, Reidsville. NC

Joshua 4:19 - 5:1219The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.
20Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, 21saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ 23For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, 24so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
5When all the kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them, because of the Israelites. 2At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.” 3So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the warriors, had died during the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt. 5Although all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people born on the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6For the Israelites traveled forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the warriors who came out of Egypt, perished, not having listened to the voice of the Lord. To them the Lord swore that he would not let them see the land that he had sworn to their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.
10While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Luke 15:1-32
15Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’

Somewhere we got the idea that the Christian pilgrimage is an easy, clear-cut, direct path from point A to point B. If we can just follow the directions in the Bible, then we will safely and surely arrive at our home in God. I suppose our reliance on this metaphor explains why we are so tripped up when suffering and hardships cross our path. After all, if we’re following the roadmap found in the Bible, our journey should be relatively smooth and uneventful. But, our spiritual journey is not like that at all. It is filled with moments of decision when we aren’t at all sure which way we should go. Sure we have the Bible, the wisdom of the saints, and the Holy Spirit to guide us; but, ultimately we have to make our own decisions as we to try to look for the footsteps that Jesus has left for us to follow.

This mornings readings provide us with a different metaphor for what our spiritual journey looks like. They depict a pilgrimage that is filled with twists and turns, uncertainties, surprises, and unfolding adventure . They describe a journey that looks more like a nomadic wandering in the desert, or an explorer’s expedition, or the quest of a prodigal child to find his identity or to discover her life’s meaning. It is a journey that embraces the unknown, searches for wisdom and understanding in the unanswered questions, finds comfort in risks and the ever new and unfolding path that can only be seen with each next step , and is energized not only by the destination, but also by the journey itself. It is a way of life deeply rooted in trust, faith, and a living hope that God speaks and acts and leads through all of the experiences we encounter, through all of the choices we make, and through all the people that travel with us. It is a way of life that is not as concerned with making the right choice as it is with making the loving choice, because those who follow this path believe that God will get those who walk in love to their destination, and if they turn down the wrong road, God will show them the way back to the main road. It is a way of life that deeply believes in the redemption of all and the reconciliation of the all.

This way of perceiving the Christian pilgrimage to God was one that characterized the spirituality of the ancient Celtic Christians- who arguably were the trailblazers of the path we Anglicans now follow. The Celtic Christians had this wanderlust that drove them to literally live their lives in wandering pilgrimage. They desired a white martyrdom in which they would live lives of self-denial, sacrifice, and voluntary exile, wandering aimlessly from place to place, going wherever the Spirit would take them, and doing whatever work was needed to be done wherever they found themselves. They did this in imitation of Jesus, who was homeless and wandered throughout the towns and cities of Palestine teaching and healing all who would receive him. These peregrini, as they came to be called, who took on this way of life developed a sixth sense and an ability to discover and experience God in all that surrounded them; in the Biblical Story, in the memory of the saints and martyrs, most particularly in devotion to Mary, in art, poetry, and song, in nature, and in the relationships they formed with people whom they encountered. This sixth sense enabled them to live a life of radical hospitality that welcomed the stranger as Christ. Women were treated with equality, prisoners were treated with respect, children were valued and cared for, orphans and the poor were cared for and nurtured, because they saw a connection between physical and spiritual welfare. They understood that one could not be fed with the Bread of Heaven and denied the bread of life. Monks and preachers were so driven by this hospitality that they could not help but proclaim the good news of the Gospel they believed everywhere. St Colomba and others would play their harps and summon people to crossroads and bridges to hear them preach. Even the strict penitentials that were produced to proscribe penance for sins were created out of love and of concern for the social order and the individuals spiritual well being.

This sixth sense also enabled these wanderers to know God, and to experience Heaven in the world around them. They experienced these “small, thin, places” where heaven met earth, where time met eternity, where darkness met light, and good met evil. Listen to this prayer which describes the Celtic vision of God:

I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave on the ocean,
I am the murmur of leaves rustling,
I am the rays of the sun,
I am the beam of the moon and stars,
I am the power of trees growing'
I am the bud breaking into blossom,
I am the movement of salmon swimming,
I am the courage of the wild board fighting,
I am the speed of the stag running,
I am the strength of the ox pulling the plow,
I am the size of the mighty oak tree'
And I am the thoughts of all people
Who praise my beauty and grace.

It was these thin places and the ability to perceive God in all and through all that enabled them to hold opposing points of view in tension: they were able to see the creation as good even in the midst of a very hostile environment; they could see the Light of Christ even in the middle of the darkest night; they knew hope in the pit of suffering and oppression, they knew security in their destination in God even with the insecurities of an unknown path. The Celtic pilgrim accepted diversity and celebrated opposites because it was understood that both were needed if either were to exist: there could be no light without darkness, no gratitude without hardship, no Resurrection without the Crucifixion.

This perception of the Christian life acknowledges that all is interconnected: all of our life is interwoven with the lives of other humans, with the world around us, and with the life of God. So, we may have times of stubbornness when we wander around the desert as the Hebrews did, unable to get to the longed -for Promise Land because of our unwillingness to follow a more direct path that God has provided; but even in our wanderings God is present, and in the end we will arrive in Canaan. We have moments when we lose our senses and wander off alone to waste our inheritance and find some supposed joy in life. But even when we are rebellious, prodigal children, God is present, and active and eventually, God will bring us back to reality and we will find the road back to our Father’s house.

Both of the stories form this mornings readings focus on the unconditional love and unfathomable mercy of God. It is the divine love and mercy that accompanies us as our constant companion on our pilgrimage to God. It is the divine love and mercy that ultimately keeps us from losing our way, even when we make the wrong decision and take the wrong road. It is the divine love and mercy that keeps us rooted in the life of God and connected to the life of the Spirit in all of the chances and changes of our life. It is the divine love and mercy that feeds us manna when we wander in the desert and stands at the end of the road looking for us to return home when we runaway.

On this Laetare Sunday we rejoice, because our home is in God, and deep down, no matter how many times we turn away from God, we long to find our home and to return to God. No matter how often we rebel and try to live life our own way, at the end of the day when we’ve squandered our inheritance, we want to go back home, and we hope that we will be welcomed again. No matter how many times we try to be self-sufficient, we know that we really need God and one another, and, as St Augustine said, “we find no rest, until we find our rest in (God).”

On our Lenten journey we are halfway to Easter, and the good news that God speaks to us today is that nothing can keep us away from the life that he offers: not our stubborn rebellion, not our mistakes and wrong choices, not even a cross and death can separate us from the love of God and the wellsprings of mercy. For those who have been made a new creation in Christ have been bound to Christ and immersed through him into the very life of God. Nothing can separate us from that- that love will never let us go. So, we do not have to worry about the questions and doubts and uncertainties; we don’t have to be obsessed with making the right decisions and getting the answers right. If we live in love and desire to seek our home in God, we will find it; we will arrive at home, because in the end, God will see that we find our way home.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 4:15 PM


Thanks for this Fr. Rob, your interplay of a Celtic approach to spirituality with the pilgrimage of Lent was particularly compelling.
Blogger Jared, at 4:44 PM  
Excellent sermon Rob.
Blogger John the organist, at 6:33 PM  

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