Sunday, February 18, 2018

HITCHCOCK'S LENT


Mark’s story of the temptation in the desert
            is fast moving and concise.
After Jesus’ grace-filled experience at the River Jordan
            where he heard God call him beloved,
            and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove,
                        things take a quick turn in another direction.
Mark says, “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.”
One preacher says “The Spirit morphs (from a sweet dove)
            into a . . . pecking, beating bird nightmare that sends Jesus
                        fleeing into the desert.”
This isn’t the dove on your Christmas tree.
It’s something by Alfred Hitchcock
            with Jesus in the place of Tippy Hedren.

Wrestling demons in the desert for 40 days
            wasn’t Jesus’ idea.
In fact, he was against it.
And the experience probably did not change his mind.
He went on to author the prayer,
            “Lead us not into temptation”
            – in other words, let’s not do that again.

Since Jesus’ time in the desert corresponds
            to our observance of Lent,
            we may take comfort in noting
            that he wasn’t thrilled about the idea himself.

In a progressive young church back East –
on Ash Wednesday, the priest imposes the ashes with one hand
            then immediately washes them off with the other
            to remind the people they live in the Resurrection.
She reduces our reflection on sin and death to about 3 seconds,
                        and rushes back to the happy thoughts.

 I once heard a priest say that rather than
            giving up anything for Lent,
            people should just take some quite time enjoying God.

Some of us don’t want to observe Lent.
That’ s ok. Jesus didn’t want to go there either.
In Scripture, the desert means the place
                        we do not want to go.
But immediately after his life changing encounter with God’s love,
            that’s precisely where Jesus was compelled to go.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron titled one of her books,
            “Go to the places that scare you.”
That’s what the Spirit made Jesus do,
            and that is what the Spirit presses us to do as well
            – to go to the places we would rather avoid
            because something essential happens there.
That’ s where our religion gets real.
The danger in religion is that it so easily becomes escapist.
It so easily becomes a flight into pleasant fantasies.
That kind of religion is fragile, unstable, and undependable
            because reality keeps breaking in on us.

Shallow optimistic religion continues to continue to pretend
            and then we get the shadow on the x-ray,
            then “something amiss” on the MRI,
            or our self-image as one of the good guys
                        is marred by a moral lapse.

Reality insistently intrudes on a false faith.
The Holy Spirit turns on a dime from a happy feeling
            into reality forcing us to confront the demons.
And that’s a good thing.

 Psychologist William James called the false faith
            of optimistic denial “the religion of healhty mindedness.”
He said two world religions are particularly effective
            at getting people through life
            precisely because they are not “healthy minded”
            -- because they acknowledge what we try to deny.
Those two religions are Buddhism and Christianity.
We observe penitential seasons to make room for the minor key,
            to paint with the darker tone.

That keeps our faith true enough, deep enough,
            rich enough to help us through all kinds of times.
Our faith isn’t about living in an oasis.
It’s about living in the desert with wild beasts
            but that’s where we meet the ministering angels.
Psalm 84 says when we pass through the desert valley,
            that’s where we find springs.

Ours is a faith for the hard times – not a na├»ve promise
            that if we get our minds right
                        everything will be just fine.
 Observing a penitential season runs counter to our culture.
Secular society and some brands of Christianity assume
            that it’s all about feeling good all the time.

Feminist theologian Dorothee Soelle writes:
                        “. . . W(h)at will become of a society in which
                        . . . suffering (is) avoided . . .; . . . in which a marriage
                                    . . . smoothly ends in divorce; . . .
                        relationships between generations are dissolved as
                        quickly as possible, without a struggle, without a trace;
                        periods of mourning are “sensibly” short;
            with haste the handicapped . . . are removed from the house
                        and the dead from the mind . . .”

Soelle says that in such a society
                        “even joy and happiness can no longer be experienced . . .”
            Suffering and joy are two sides of one coin.

To anesthetize ourselves against one
                        is to anesthetize ourselves against the other.
“No cross, no crown,” Spurgeon used to say.
We might say, “No Lent, no Easter.”

Much so-called “spirituality” tries to insulate us from pain.
Meditation is reduced to relaxation exercises.
Contemplation is pretending we are in a pleasant place.
Prayer is an incantation to drive away our hardships;
                        and faith is positive thinking.  

Today’s lesson teaches us a very different spirituality.
Liberation theologian Jon Sobrino defines spirituality as
                        “a fundamental willingness to face what is real”
                                    – including the realities of pain and injustice.

 Archbishop Rowan Williams says,
                        “the Spirit connects us to reality in a way that bridge[s] . . .
                        the gulf between suffering and hope . . . confronting suffering
                                    without illusion but also without despair.”
Our brand of spirituality dares to see things straight on,
                        to face the joy and the sorrow alike,
                        to acknowledge our failings and celebrate God’s love.

Lent is the time of the desert,
                        go there because God is present in every situation.
When we are in the desert with the ravenous beasts,
                        the ministering angels will be there too.

So, I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent.
I invite you to a deeper awareness of life.
And I invite you to a quiet confidence
                        that God is with you –
                        always there to strengthen and sustain you –
                        always there to love, forgive, empower, or console –

                                    always at your side.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

SHOW THEM JESUS


Transfiguration Sunday is about two things:
seeing and changing.
Let’s start with seeing.  
It doesn’t happen automatically.
For most people, it doesn’t happen at all.

In Paul’s day, Christians were the tiniest sliver
of the Empire – about point 4 percent.
Episcopalians alone are a larger percentage of America  
            than Christians were of Ancient Rome.
99.6% of the people thought they were complete fools.
Are we  fools? The Christians wondered.
How could so many people be wrong?

We are larger than they were but we are a whole lot smaller
            than we used to be.
Faith in Christ is less and less common these days.
If you take out the fundamentalists who invoke Jesus’ name
            for things he wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole,
            the followers of Christ are few and far between.
Most people don’t darken Church doors.
Even in the Church, we are not so comfortable
            confessing Christ, and him crucified.
So, does trusting in him make us fools?
When Presiding Bishop Curry asks the Bishops
what the Jesus Movement might mean,
            we shy away from the question.

It was a running joke in my seminary
that we had an informal taboo on our preaching.
We were not to say, the J word.
We could talk about a vague Christ,
 what Theosophists call the Christ principle
defined as a spiritual abstraction and no living man.
But Jesus made us nervous.

Awhile back, we asked a dozen of our diocesan leaders
            what Nevada needs that the Church might offer.
Not one mentioned Jesus. Not one said the gospel.
We spoke of social services in secular language
            and Jesus is no part of that.
What’s going on? Why have we abandoned even the language of faith?
Maybe like Paul’s people, we wonder,
            if the gospel is true, why do so few believe?
Paul answered,
            the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers
            to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,
            who is the image of God.

When Paul says the god of this world,
            he means the powers that be,
            the values, norms, and assumptions about reality
            that we have been taught all our lives as the way things are.
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls it habitus.
He defines habitus as a corporeal knowledge,
            a system of dispositions.
Bourdieu says these basic assumptions about reality
are virtually hardwired into our bodies
            until we don’t’ even know we have them.
They are engrained in us over a lifetime of reinforcements,
silent as background noise- but no one dares to dispute.

We are almost hardwired to believe
            the secularist view of the worldview.
It was the same in Paul’s day.
They were hardwired to the Imperial pagan worldview.
Today it’s secularism.
Neither can see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,
            who is the image of God.

We cannot market our way out of this.
We cannot persuade the world to believe
            things that make no sense
            in their secular-materialistic framework.
Arguing with them is wasting our breath.

All we can do//  is show them Jesus.
We can show them Jesus over and over
            for centuries if that’s what it takes.
It took us 400 years to dig this secular pit
It may take another 400 years to climb out of it.
The only way to do that – the only way to change the world –
            Is to show them Jesus.
But what’s the point?
Why bother change the world?
The answer is simple:
            God loves the world and so do we.
It may be a bloody mess but it’s our bloody mess.
For now, this world is our home.

And things are not great at home.
From Myanmar to Charlottesville to October 1 in Las Vegas,
            things are not great.
There are a lot of problems we could count.
But let’s start with a 20% increase in hate crimes
            in US cities last year
            and doubling the numbers of murders
                        by white supremacists.

Sometimes Jesus said that people were on the road to ruin.
That wasn’t supernatural prophesy.
Anybody could see the world going to hell in a handbasket.
Jesus was offering them another way.

Today’s world doesn’t need Christians to say things are bad.
The world needs Christians to show them another way.
The world needs Christians to show them Jesus.

This is where seeing leads us to changing
because the only way we can show people Jesus
            is by being Jesus right here and now.
You may be the only (gospel)l someone will ever read;
your kindness, the only sacrament they will ever receive.
If we are going to change the world,
            we first have to be changed ourselves.
The aim of the Christian life is nothing less than
            our transformation into the likeness of Christ.

Paul says we who have removed the veil
to see the Lord’s glory
are being changed into his image.
John says,
            We are God’s children now.
            It does not yet appear what we shall be.
            But when he appears, we shall be like him.
We are here to become like Jesus – not so we can feel smug –
            but so we can show the world some hope.
You are the light of the world, Jesus said.
You are the salt of the earth.
The Bible says,
            You are the Body of Christ.

St. Theresa of Avila said,
            Christ has no body now but yours,
            No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
            Yours are the eyes through which he looks
            compassion on this world . . ..
            Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes.
            You are his body.
            Christ has no body on earth but yours.

If Christians are not going to be Jesus
            for this afflicted world, who is?
We show Jesus by our action in the world,
            but it starts here.

It is imperative that we rethink what it means
            to be in Church in a post-Christian world.
We are not here because it’s a small pond where we can be a big fish.
We are not here to get our way
            or nostalgically repeat the rituals of our childhood.
We are not here to get something out of it.

This isn’t our spiritual gas station where we refuel
for the coming week’s secular life project.
We are not here to be reassured everything is alright.
It isn’t alright.
We are not doing our time in God’s doghouse
            to stay out of Hell later on.
It doesn’t work that way.

We come here, as Paul says, to die to self,
            to be crucified with Christ, that Christ may live in us.
The Eucharist is not food for the journey.
We offer our very selves to God at the altar to be transformed.
What we change into Jesus isn’t just the bread and wine.
It’s what the bread and wine represent – our bodies and our souls.

We are here to lay down all those assumptions, values,
            and dispositions we call our selves
            but Paul Bourdieu calls the habitus
            that was programmed into us.
We are here to die to all that,
            so we can know Christ
            and become like him
            not because it’s a spiritual high – it isn’t –

            but because the world we love needs us to be Jesus now.