Sunday, March 25, 2012

MY SOUL IS TROUBLED....Sermon for Year B Lent 5


This afternoon a thunderstorm crossed the
valley. One moment the ground was dry, and the next there were
torrents, running down the hillsides...

A quarter mile off
I could see the downpour bouncing off the sage and the fine clay
soil. I could see the rain approach, and then it hit, drenching me,
and moved on.

Ten minutes later I was dry. The rain comes from
heaven, and we are cleansed by it.
Suddenly the meaning of baptism
is clear to me: you can begin again, and we are saved every day.

Those words are from a poem by Gary Young.

The late afternoon.
That is where we stand in today’s scripture
and at this time during the season of Lent.

We are hurtling towards Holy Week,
fast-forwarding to what seems like the end of the story.

Only Jesus reminds us,
just as Gary Young’s poem does,
...the rain comes from heaven and we are cleansed by it...
you can begin again, and we are saved every day.

You can begin again.

That seems very true--even for God.
If we listen to the words of the prophet Jeremiah,
we hear that God is changing, making a new covenant with the people.
Even though the people made a mess of the old covenant,
God forgives and God creates a new relationship.
You can begin again.

That is very good news.
Forgiveness and a fresh start should make all of feel relieved.
Yet, as much as I like those words, that theological concept--
sometimes it just doesn’t seem true.

For young Trayvon Martin, seventeen years old, shot to death,
walking home with a bottle of Arizona Iced Tea
and a package of Skittles for his little brother--
how does he begin again?
How does his family begin again?

For Sargeant Robert Bales, recently charged with the murder
of 17 people in a shooting rampage in Afghanistan--
how does he begin again?
How does anyone who has seen the horrors of war
feel saved every day?

It is difficult to understand how God works
to give us a new beginning.
And yet,
and yet,
we hear it over and over and over
in scripture.
Jeremiah tells us that God wants to write it on our hearts.

What is the “it” God wants to write?
The “it” is not the laws--
even God discovered
that the law was never going to motivate people.

The “it” is not even justice--
the “it” is love and compassion.

That is the only way
we have a hope of making it through
the “swift and varied changes of the world”
as our collect says this morning.

Jesus is trying to tell his disciples.
Life stinks sometimes.
Things go terribly wrong.
People get hurt, people suffer, people die.

At this point in the gospel story, Jesus knows what is coming.
He is trying to prepare his disciples
because he wants them to react with love
and not with bitterness,
not even with disappointment.
He wants them to live lives of love
not lives of revenge.

Jesus wants them--and us--to understand
that we cannot JUST look at the hereafter--
the great beyond.
We are alive right now--we are alive--
we need to see that
as a blessing and a gift beyond value.
Never think for a moment
that life is guaranteed.

We can take comfort in our beliefs of what lies after death
but we cannot stop living.
In the gospel, Jesus says..
..those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
In other words if you hate today
tomorrow is not going to be any better.

Our challenge is to love today.
Our challenge is to love one another.
That is not only our challenge
that is our hope and our joy.

God wants us to see the good and the beauty and the marvel
and the love of and in this world.
Only then can we understand the value and the promise of life.
Only then can love be written on our hearts.

If life doesn’t look so good or so marvelous or so beautiful
Jesus says, “Get to work.”
Do something about it.
Love more.
Care more.
Pray more.
Reach out to one another more.
Be kinder. Be more generous. Be more thankful.
Any of us--all of us--
can love, can care, can pray.
Any of us can complain and criticize and judge less--
and love and be kind and say thank you more.

There is much to trouble our souls in this world, in this life.
But there is also much to celebrate.

Even trouble and sorrow can be a doorway
to learning how to love more deeply,
care more broadly, reach out more widely.

It’s the 5th Sunday of Lent.
My last chance for one more song.
What song to I pick for today?

I have to pick two.
These two need to be held in tandem, in tension,in balance
with one another.

The first is very familiar--we have sung it throughout Lent--
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

When we don’t know which way to turn,
it is never a wrong turn to ask for mercy.

And the second, it’s partner, is the song A WONDERFUL WORLD:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and for you
And I think to myself
what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world....

That wonderful world created by God surrounds us--
even in times when our souls are troubled.

The rain comes from heaven, and we are cleansed by it.
Suddenly the meaning of baptism
is clear to me: you can being again, and we are saved every day.

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