A lovely Lenten meditation:
A lovely Lenten meditation:
A lovely Lenten meditation:
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Historically, Lent was the period of preparation for those new disciples of Jesus Christ who were seeking to become part of his Body in baptism. The season of Lent is set aside for self-examination for all of his disciples, certainly; but even more importantly Lent is a time set aside for us to re-open our hearts and lives to receiving the wondrous message of love, redemption, and renewal in Jesus Christ.
As we prayerfully and intentionally contemplate his great love for us as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and the the Holy Eucharist for the 40 days of Lent, we will discover those places in our lives where we have shut ourselves off from the source of our aliveness, hope, and faith. This is where we are invited to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to remove all those things in our lives that choke off the fullness of the life of Jesus in us, and to renew our first love with Jesus.
My prayer for all of us who are the Body of Christ gathered is that we will be renewed in our commitments as disciples of Jesus, filled anew with hope and joy, and discover just how much aliveness and grace he has to offer to us as we embrace his great love for us.
Our worship liturgies will begin with the Great Litany, a series of prayers and petitions sung back and forth between the congregation, choir, and the priest, prayers that come down to us from the early first centuries of the Church.
We all know that language changes over time, and that the meanings of words shift. I invite us all to bear in mind as we pray “Lord have mercy” that the word “mercy” also means “lovingkindness”. When we pray “Lord have mercy”, we are not just asking for God to turn aside his wrath; we are turning to the Lord, our loving Father, asking him to sweep us up into his arms as a mother gathers up her child who runs to her for comfort and assurance of love.
“Gather us up into the arms of your lovingkindness, O Lord”.
We have hope for a renewed and common witness to the love of Jesus. All the body of Christ must continue to work for unity in love.
A common theme of mine, here eloquently put by a bishop, though the use of the phrase “centrist” has as many political entanglements as progressive/liberal/conservative.
“All effective homilies have this sense of urgency and freshness, revealing the startling beauty and promise of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus who embodies it and brings it to reality through his Death and Resurrection. The message of the Gospel is truly a matter of “life and death” for us; there is nothing routine or trivial about it. If a homilist conveys merely some example of proverbial wisdom or good manners, or only some insight gained from their personal experience, they may have spoken accurately and even helpfully, but they have not yet spoken the Gospel, which ultimately must focus on the person of Jesus and the dynamic power of his mission to the world.”
For those interested in “big story” attempts to conceptualize Jesus and the “point” of Christianity, this article does a fair job at introducing one of the most influential Christian theologians of the last 50 years, and an Anglican at that.
In response to a question about the state of American Christianity, I have some thoughts. Much of American “Christianity” has become almost indistinguishable from our prevailing culture and our culture wars. Such debased and compromised religion has accepted an idealized and mythical version of an American golden age, based largely in Enlightenment ideals, and has falsely identified becoming a social justice warrior (for whichever side or for whichever cause) in the attempt to engineer utopia (the attempt which inevitably becomes fascist – both left and right), as a manageable and less personally costly substitute for the gospel of Jesus.
I was raised in that maelstrom, as so many of us were, and recognizing the continuing bankruptcy of it often makes it difficult to call myself a Christian. Rather than walking away from the gospel of Jesus, though, we must continue to do our best to love as he asked his disciples to love, live as he asked his disciples to live, and choose to refuse to allow a false substitute to claim the name of Jesus. We must refuse to let demagogues and those who would turn the faith of Jesus into a tool of empire or partisan politics, a path to obscene wealth, or a means of control to be the only voices.
Originally, the word “christian” was used to describe the early disciples of Jesus by those who did not follow him. It means “little christ “, because the early disciples lived so closely to his gospel, and paid a high social cost for it as he paid, that their neighbors wondered at their loving-kindness, self-sacrificing generosity, and mutual love. To be honest, someone else has to call you a christian for it to be true. We can only legitimately say for ourselves that we are doing all that we can do to be a disciple of Jesus. Whether or not it is visibly true, or that we are, in fact, christians is up for others to say.
Jesus did not come preaching how to choose a side in the perennial human obsession with the game of thrones, a game that leads us in a constant spiral of genocide, poverty, and slavery.
Jesus came preaching a promise, the kingdom of God, the promise that his Father will someday restore creation, and humankind, to a state of original blessedness and innocence, and give birth to a peaceable kingdom where war, misery, slavery, and even death, have faded away. He taught his disciples that sacrificially loving each other would allow us to experience that promise here and now, and that our love for each other would be the proof that the Father did indeed send him into the world.
This Way, this becoming a disciple of Jesus, re-orients the human heart, teaching us to refuse to participate in the game of thrones, to refuse to be compromised by earthly political realities, the allure of wealth and power, or the ongoing lie that we are anything but one human family.
Following Jesus orients our hearts on the kingdom of God, which will not be found by choosing one empire over another, or become so partisan for a particular nation, tribe, or creed that we lose sight that we are all one human family – all of us brothers and sisters. It is in losing sight of this that we seek to justify war, slavery, and and poverty.
The kingdom of God is not about simply inverting who currently holds power, but about faithfully living in the love of Jesus, enduring the ruin that we continue to make of each other and the world, until God finally subverts all human power in the redemptive power of Love, revealed in Jesus as self-emptying, self-sacrificing care for each other.
So, sisters and brothers, let us love one another as Jesus loves us, keep our hearts fixed on the promise of the kingdom of God, and faithfully await the day of his coming.