Lent 2, Year C February 21, 2016 Carole Seeley
It’s the second Sunday of Lent. How can it possibly be the second week of Lent already? It feels as though we dropped from Christmas right through Epiphany into Ash Wednesday like we were on an express elevator. The days passed in a blur and it seemed there was hardly any time to break our New Year’s resolutions before we landed with a thud on Lent.
Barbara Taylor Brown, in her book Home By Another Way, says, “Don’t bother looking for Lent in your Bible dictionary, because there was no such thing back then. There is some evidence that early Christians fasted forty hours between Good Friday and Easter, but the custom of spending forty days in prayer and self-denial did not arise until later, when the initial rush of Christian adrenaline was over and believers had gotten very ho-hum about their faith.” She goes on to say, “When the world did not end as Jesus himself had said it would, his followers stopped expecting so much from God or from themselves. They hung a wooden cross on the wall and settled back into their more or less comfortable routines… little by little, Christians became devoted to their comforts instead: the soft couch, the flannel sheets, the leg of lamb roasted with rosemary. These things made them feel safe and cared for – if not by God, then by themselves. So the church announced a season of Lent, from the old English word Lenten, meaning “spring” – not only a reference to the season before Easter, but also an invitation to a springtime for the soul – and Lent came into being.”
A time when we are encouraged to step off the harried path in our frenetic culture of busyness and too much information, to try and set aside whatever mind-numbing devices or habits or substances we use to keep ourselves from feeling what it really feels like to live the kind of lives we’re living.
While most of us don’t anesthetize ourselves into unconscious oblivion, many of us have at least a favorite pacifier – Louise Penny mysteries, Candy Crush on the i-pad, Downton Abbey reruns, Facebook, binge-watching Netflix, a couple glasses of Moscato before bedtime. They aren’t bad things, but they are distractions – things we reach for when we’re too tired, too sad, or too afraid to enter the wilderness of the present moment.
The problem for most of us is that we can’t go straight from putting down the pacifier to hearing the still, small voice of God in the wilderness and letting it work its transforming power in us. If it were that easy, Lent would only be about twenty minutes long.
Taylor writes, “Forty days to cleanse the system and open the eyes to what remains when all comfort is gone. Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves.”
Abram knew about listening to the voice of God. From the time we first heard about him in Genesis 12, he “went forth as the Lord had spoken to him” each time God gave him his marching orders. God speaks. Abram believes. God commands. Abram obeys. Until we get to today’s Old Testament reading in Genesis 15. God has promised Abram that his heirs, born of his own body, shall number more than all the stars in the heavens. And Abram, who has never questioned God before, says, “Wait a minute. How? My wife is barren.” Does that mean Abram has lost faith in God? I don’t think so. I believe it takes courage, clarity, information and commitment to stumble along the path of hope. Abram had enough previous experience with the Lord to have the faith in God’s character that he could demand a sign.
“The believer can only perfect his faith on the ocean of… doubt; he has been assigned the ocean of uncertainty as the only possible site for his faith,” stated a well-known ex-Nazi-turned-theologian in 1968.
Have we never second-guessed God’s promises, questioned the grace, doubted our faith? “I am YHWH… I am the Lord who…” God’s grace to Abram, to us, is not dependent on righteousness. His covenant to Abram, to us, is unilateral. The struggle with faith and trust is rewarded by a right-standing relationship with God. I think one of the loveliest and most nakedly poignant verses in scripture is Mark 9:24: “I do believe. Help me in my unbelief.” Help me know how to believe. And this book, the Bible, is full of ways in which God responds to that singular plea. Each story, each victory, each time God answers the cry for help in the face of crisis is a sign of His faithfulness.
As are the 149 Psalms of David. David’s life shines a spotlight on our own fears and insecurities – the things we have no control over. It is human nature to face fear with doubt even when we have historical reassurance of God’s faithfulness, both in scripture and in our own lives. Suggestions for Lenten disciplines often include building a practice of gratitude into our daily meditations. Remembering all that God has done for us in the past reinforces belief and faith in the future. “I AM THAT I AM” is sometimes obscured, requiring greater faith in the face of increasing obstacles in times fraught with current woes. David shows us the tension between our faith – “The Lord is my light and my salvation” – even while recognizing our adversaries: homelessness, addiction, illness, depression, tragedy. David recalls the sweetness of his relationship with his Lord even when he messes up and despairs of his own goodness. But he never forgets that God is faithful and reminds himself over and over again, “For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.”
Each time David stumbles over his own ego and does something spectacularly ill-conceived (some might say “stupid”), he takes a deep breath, repents, remembers… “What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord?” – and goes on. One step forward, two steps back. As we so often do.
And, like David, we are given love notes from God. David wrote, “You speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face.’ ” Do we respond as readily David did? “Your face, Lord, will I seek.” Do we even know how to do that? Is part of our reluctance to go into the wilderness because we don’t know God well enough to recognize His face or hear His voice, and we’re afraid we’ll get lost out there?
Have we become so sophisticated in our humanness that we no longer believe we can see or hear God anymore? After all, how many times do we come across a burning bush that speaks to us? Or an angel that steps out on the road in front of us? With all the advanced technologies like Photoshop, special effects, or 3-D animation that can manipulate visual images so easily, it’s no wonder we’ve become disillusioned and desensitized to the miraculous. Even reading the dramatic stories from the Old Testament have lost the luster they once had and no longer hold our attention as they did in less global times. Daniel in the Lion’s Den Meets X-Men? Maybe…
Have we lost the capacity to know that in order to seek God’s face, we must seek it in the faces of everyone we encounter? We are created in the image of God, we’re told. Each one of us is imbued with the DNA of the divine; there is in each of us something of the character of God. The God in whom each of us lives and moves and has our being. If we’re looking for the glory of God, we must look for it within ourselves, within all that ever has been, now is, or ever will be created. We must look beyond the buildings that house the churches, cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, shrines, ashrams, and temples and move outside to the parking lots, the tent cities, the open fields, the mountain tops, the beaches, the forests, the caves – all the places where the sacred can be found.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her incomparable way that “there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”
Richard Rohr wrote, in Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, “God is manifest in the ordinary, in the actual, in the daily, in the concrete incarnations of life. It is our experiences that transform us if we are willing to experience them all the way through… It’s why we go through the Old Testament where we read about sin, wars, adulteries, affairs, kings and killings, intrigues and deceit – all the [everyday] wonderful and sad events of human life. Those stories, documenting the lives of real people and real communities tell us that God comes to us disguised as life.”
As we seek the face of God during this springtime of the soul, we are seeking a vision of the sacred “Thou art” in the relationship we crave with the One Who is I AM THAT I AM.
“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night; Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”
As David reminds us, “Await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong, and He shall comfort your heart.” Amen.