It being spring break, I would guess that some of our parishioners may be waiting in line at Walt Disney World right now. And if you’ve ever been there in high season, you know that if you didn’t plan well and use your Fastpass+, you can you find yourself in some interminable line, standing next to a sign that says, "Waiting time from this point: 30 minutes." Well, it's the 2nd Sunday in Lent ...waiting time from this point: 30 days.
We are, after all, on our way somewhere. In the early years of the church, Lent served two purposes: first, it was the culmination of three years of formation for people who wanted to become Christians. Second, it was a time when people who had fallen away from Christ could go through a process to be restored to the community. Both those groups would have known they were on a journey, looking forward to the Great Vigil when they would at last be baptized, or when they could at last receive Communion again.
Now that Lent has also become, as we heard on Ash Wednesday, a time for all of us to renew our repentance and faith, we can sometimes lose track of the group pilgrimage aspect. All over social media you see people saying things they’ve privately decided to do for Lent, things that often don’t really connect with what Lent is and from a Christian point of view are pretty much guaranteed not to work or even, frankly, to backfire. As Fr. Caleb warned us last Sunday, Lent isn’t a time to go on a diet or try to behave better. It’s about joining the whole Church’s journey to resurrection. A key way we do that is by deliberately encountering parts of us that are resisting resurrection, and submitting them to Christ.
He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, on this First Sunday of Lent, I want to consider the significance of Christ’s hunger in the wilderness as he resists the temptations of the devil. St. Luke informs us plainly that after eating nothing for forty days, Jesus was famished. You might wonder why being famished at the end of forty days without food would be worthy of note -- seems like pretty self-evident consequence -- but still, the text draws our attention to Jesus’ hunger nevertheless. It makes us consider the fact that he persisted alone in the desert for forty days with nothing but the Spirit who had filled him. This was all he had to arm himself with against the devil’s assaults. It is a point that we are not to miss. And seeing that we are now in the Season of Lent, a time of fasting and penitence, the hunger of Christ takes on immediate relevance to us. What does Christ’s hunger and temptations reveal about his preparation for his Passion ? And in turn, how might this reading frame the entirety of our Lenten practice for the coming weeks?
A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson was invited to deliver the Sunday sermon at the Washington National Cathedral. Not everyone knew before that morning that he was an Episcopalian, but in the pulpit he revealed something else that almost nobody had known. Only 2 weeks before his preaching date, he had been hospitalized for depression. Gerson told the congregation, and since his sermon has gone viral, has now told millions of others, that like an estimated 10 million Americans, he lives with chronic clinical depression.
He described eloquently – he’s a writer, after all – how with depression your brain takes a chemical imbalance and winds a narrative around it, convincing you of things that simply aren’t true: that nobody cares about you, that you are accomplishing nothing, that it’s never going to get better. Gerson believed he was coping normally, but people who loved him knew different and helped him get into the hospital for treatment.
“Not only with our lips but in our lives”.
Today we finish our series of sermons on Anglican Basics. My topic is “Being a practicing Episcopal Christian at Emmanuel”, taking what Mother Beth talked about over the last 3 weeks and putting it into practice, living it here in this place and within this group of people.
Having worshiped in this particular Episcopal community for nearly 48 years it is hard to know where to begin, or perhaps more importantly where to end!
It is just that I have so many stories from so many years. I look out on you from this pulpit and I see so many wonderful people, each of you trying your best to live out your faith, coming here week by week for renewal, for solace, for strength and then going back into your own part of the world to practice your faith. The thing is it’s not just you that I see from this pulpit; it is 48 years of people who have sat in these same pews and worshiped at this same altar. There are so many people who have called Emmanuel home. And it is the people who make each Eucharistic community unique.
“Not only with our lips, but in our lives.”
Today is the third in our series of sermons on Anglican essentials. You'll remember that we began by talking about being a Christian, then about choosing the Episcopal community as the one which will support you in your commitment to follow Christ. This sermon will talk about putting those choices into practice.
The poet and essayist Kathleen Norris has written, "I firmly believe that the way we bathe a child or discuss family matters at the dinner table reveals who our God is." Not only does that reveal who someone’s God is, it reveals it more honestly than what we might say when asked to name our religious affiliation. In fact, in 2018 the pollsters over at the Pew Research Center created a whole new typology for classifying Americans spiritually, because the name of the religion we verbally claim to belong to is now almost worthless as an indication of what we actually believe and do.
“The way we bathe a child or discuss family matters at the dinner table reveals who our God is." Those are the kind of things that show and shape where our pragmatic daily worship is directed. The word worship means ascribing ultimate worth to – prioritizing above everything else. So the easiest way to figure out who or what you have actually been worshiping, actually treating as most important, is to look at your schedule, your habits, your spending, and your preoccupations, day by day. There’s no shame in realizing that what you verbally claim as your religious faith hasn’t been coming first in your habits and behavior – this is exactly why we pray in the BCP that we “show forth God’s praise not only with our lips, but in our lives.” To be able to put God first, we need to ask help from God.
We talked last week about what it means to be a Christian, to let Jesus adopt you, acquit you, and apprentice you. And I mentioned that this is one of the bedrock choices of your life, which sets the course for how you will end up approaching any number of things. So whether or not you allow Jesus to adopt and acquit and apprentice you is an important decision. However, as we continue with the second week of this four week sermon series, and talk about being an Episcopal Christian, we'll see that it's also a generic choice, a choice that always ends up taking on some further shape, depending on the community you enter to flesh out your commitment to Christ.
The Anglican writer C.S. Lewis has a great image of this. He says that becoming a Christian is like stepping into a hallway, out of which doors open onto several rooms. The choice to be a Christian is like coming inside and standing in that long hallway, but it's only a place from which to open the various doors and see which one seems the best fit for you. You can't just stay there; nobody lives in a hallway. If you want food and company and chairs to sit down on, you need to move into one of the rooms.
So as important as it is to know whether or not you have gotten into the hallway, what we’ll talk about today in sermon #2 is simply what’s behind the Episcopal or Anglican door. All the rooms have their own style, so one of the ways I'll approach this is to contrast a few things you'll find in this room with things you'd find in a different one. By doing that I am not in any way criticizing people who feel called to a different room. I know I am called to this one, and in the way anyone who really loves something would say this, well, I just think it's the best. But we need to have an attitude of appreciation for our brothers and sisters whom God has called to do things differently, while also being, as Paul says, "thoroughly convinced in our own minds."
For the next month we’re going to focus in our sermons on spiritual basics, the kind of bedrock stuff where the actual energy for Christian living comes from. We did this three years ago as well, and like then, we’ll be having both this four part sermon series,and an instructed Eucharist. Today’s topic is being a Christian, and the next two are going to cover being an Episcopal Christian, being a practicing Episcopal Christian, and then finally being a practicing Episcopal Christian here at Emmanuel.
Now these are not, of course, four options to pick and choose among. They’re a chain of developments. Being a Christian comes first, taking on the central identity God gives us... being an Episcopal Christian is choosing a community in which to live out that central identity...... practicing it is inviting God to shape your way of life to reflect your commitment… and doing it at Emmanuel is choosing which local group of Christians will support you and challenge you.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes back to the synagogue where he grew up, and they invite him to be the one who reads and expounds the Bible. There’s some dispute about whether Jesus chose what he read, or whether it was simply the lectionary for that week. (Not to be too technical, but while we know there were Jewish lectionaries, dating them is very tricky.) So maybe he chose this passage or maybe it was assigned. But at any rate, Jesus opens the scroll to Isaiah 61, and he reads as follows:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
There must have been something about the way he read it, because Luke tells us that the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. It was one of those moments where you just know that something extraordinary is happening. And the very first line of Jesus’ sermon, as a colleague of mine commented this week, is the ultimate mic-drop: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
An epiphany is a revelation, a light bulb going off. And revelations are transformative. By their very design, revelations refuse to leave you in the same place, doing the same stuff, thinking the same things. Otherwise, they would just be reminders. And revelations are not reminders. A revelation, an epiphany, has no precedent in what you had once accepted as normal. Indeed, they come to challenge and disrupt precisely what you accept as normal. Epiphanies make you rush back to your schedule, your agenda, your relationships, your life story itself because you must have missed something. Surely there has been some mistake. A revelation reconfigures the coordinates, redraws the map, scrambles the data. And you can only proceed according to the terms that it establishes for you. It transforms you into a witness, maybe not the most reliable one at times, but a witness nonetheless.
This need not be all spiritual and religious, so let’s bring it down to earth. There are any number of epiphanies like this that we can think of. September 11th. The assassination of JFK. Tragedies unfortunately can come to mind the quickest. But any event that no matter how many years have passed you can still remember exactly where you were and what you were doing counts as an epiphany. Because to remember exactly where you were and what you were doing is to be a witness. Those events transformed you.
King Herod spent part of the decades before Jesus was born supervising a construction project. Unlike us, he wasn’t putting a slate roof on or getting structural repairs made to an existing property – no, he was building a magnificent fortress retreat south of Jerusalem. Herod’s administration was known for huge building campaigns, actually, but this one beat them all. For starters, he installed a man-made mountain; he then followed it with a 7-story palace, a complete Roman bath, a massive penthouse guest suite, an outdoor theatre, and a swimming pool large enough for small-craft sailing.
Herod named the complex after himself – Herodium – and gave instructions that he was to be buried there. Which he eventually was, after a thirty-day funeral procession with a solid gold bier. Archeologists have been excavating the site, and they found King Herod’s sarcophagus in 2007. It’s pink.