Year A, The 2nd Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2014
When Fr. Brent asked me if I’d be willing to do a sermon sometime during Lent, my mind initially shot into denial overdrive. I’m not a Biblical scholar, I don’t understand exegesis and I am definitely not qualified to “preach” on scripture – or anything else. My first thought was, “I can’t do this.” But then I realized there is something I can do – I can share with you what Lent means to me.
Episcopalian theology usually characterizes Lent as the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. There are people who do something in particular to mark that period, like abstaining from something – giving up sugar or snacks; or adding a spiritual practice, such as attending a Lenten book study or weekly prayer service, or daily Lenten devotional meditation; some choose, instead, to focus on the renewal and transformative aspects of the Resurrection. And some do nothing at all… but whether we’re aware of it or not, these forty days point us toward Holy Week and how each of us lives the Easter experience.
For me, Lent is the desert across which I must travel to find my way back to my own Jerusalem – the place I call “Home” – where my heart celebrates what John O’Donohue calls “the embrace of the Great Belonging.” He said, “This hunger to belong is the echo and reverberation of your invisible and eternal heritage… it is not merely a desire to be attached to something. It is, rather, sensing that great transformation and discovery become possible when belonging is sheltered and true… it is the longing to find a bridge across the distance from isolation to intimacy.’’ In other words, it’s about Going Home.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Pilgrim’s Regress: “Be sure, it is not for nothing that the Landlord has knit our hearts so closely to time and place – to one friend rather than another and one shire more than all the land.”
And isn’t that what makes a place or person home? Being knit together with family or friends, to this house or street, that city or climate or type of cooking? Home town. Home cooking. Homesick. Home.
I never understood how much my sense of home was tied to place. In retrospect, I see how my experience impacts its meaning. I always felt a kind of lack when I had to fill in the blank where you’re asked to list your “permanent address” – you know, the one where all your mail goes when you move from one place to another. The one you gave in kindergarten when you were pulled out of class one-by-one to check how high you could count, did you know your colors, what was your phone number and address. I’d guess that many of you could drift far and wide in the world because that permanent address has anchored you. The one I never had. I’ve moved so much in my life – ten grade schools, four high schools, three colleges and 33 residences – that I sort of grew to think that whatever house I lived in was home.
So I set out on yet another quest to find where I belong, to find my “permanent address,” and I am suddenly and keenly aware that I have dual citizenship. I am called to live in two cultures, so to speak – a spiritual being having a human experience – not to make me feel fractured (though it can occasionally have that affect) – but to broaden my spiritual horizons, deepen my longing, and refine me as image-bearer when it comes to the concept of “Home.”
It is both metaphorical and spiritual, this journey that, not so long ago would have been less likely than my hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back out again. And that is SO not gonna happen! This isn’t like a road trip with a brand new air-conditioned motor home equipped with GPS, big-screen Blue-Ray DVD player, I-phone and all the bells and whistles money can buy. The desert I’m familiar with in Arizona, for example, is unbelievably beautiful. It is also hostile and dangerous. You can die of sunstroke or thirst from the heat of the day, freeze to death at night, become completely disoriented in a blinding duststorm that reduces visibility to zero, be washed away by driving rain that can fill arroyos with furiously rushing floodwaters in seconds, tear your skin off trying to free yourself from the hooked barbs of an innocent-looking cholla – the jumping cactus – or die from a rattlesnake or scorpion bite.
This is more like the archetypal hero’s journey, struggling to surmount one trial after another that appear all along the way. There are countless examples of the protagonist of the Hero’s Journey – Star War’s Luke Skywalker, Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey, Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus, Atreyu and Bastian from Never-Ending Story, The Hobbit’s Bilbo, Indiana Jones, The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen… The legends, stories, myths, sagas, and ballads span every civilization over hundreds of years. They leave the comfort of the familiar, they are transformed, they overcome great obstacles, they perform epic deeds, they return Home.
I don’t in any way view myself as a heroine; however, much like the Horcruxes that Harry Potter had to find and destroy, or the Cyclops, Sirens, the six-headed Scylla and Charybdis that Odysseus encountered and outwitted, I find myself continually being tested by my own every-day variations of the seven deadly sins – you remember the seven deadly dudes: lust, wrath, pride, gluttony, the twins, covetousness and envy, the slacker – sloth, and their close relative, despair; and my own fit the family perfectly: being opportunistic and scheming to gain power-over; losing my temper and saying unkind, mean-spirited things or being hurtful and passive-aggressive; wishing to have what others have, be it status, abilities, appearance, or possessions; showing off to meet my need for constant validation from others; acquiring and holding on to beyond what I need; being discontented with the resources I have and wanting more; being lazy and letting others do the work instead of stepping up to help. These are all things that threaten my spiritual survival and put me at risk of being overpowered by obsessive resentment, drowned by fierce bitterness, or poisoned by greed and self-indulgence as I pick my way through the washes, over the dunes and past the box canyons on my allegorical journey.
As I stand at the edge of the desert, knowing I’ll face my own personal nemeses again and again, I grok that the only way I’ll get across this vast landscape is to leave behind all the emotional and psychological baggage I’ve been dragging around from my past and dump the strategies that aren’t working for me anymore. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty scary thing to stand there naked, without any of the masks or defenses I’ve hidden behind for so many years!
But, as Bishop Stephen Charleston says, there is “good news coming, flying on the wind, wings outstretched, racing the rivers of air to find me.” And as I read through the Lectionary for this Second Sunday in Lent, I realize I’m not going out there empty-handed. These comforting words from the New Living Translation of Psalm 121 are like MapQuest for my soul:
When I am blinded by jealousy and envy and can’t see the blessings I have,
1”I look up to the mountains —
does my help come from there?”
When I am engulfed by raging anger that threatens to overwhelm me and I fear I will be powerless to control it;
2“My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!”
When I trip over my own hubris and risk falling flat on my face,
3“He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.”
When I take in more than is good for me – whether excess of unhealthy food, or drink or activities – and drop into apathetic torpidity,
4“Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps;”
When I am consumed by greed and dissatisfied with what I have, then by guilt for being selfish,
5“The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protection.”
When I become indolent and insensitive to the needs of others and do nothing to be of help, even then
6 The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.”
When old patterns and beliefs emerge as manipulative and controlling actions toward others or self-injurious behaviors,
7“The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.”
And when I fall into a place of hopelessness and depression and am overwhelmed by despair,
8“The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.”
So I find, as I move from one landmark to the next through this Lenten experience, no matter how often I go astray or feel like I’m heading in the wrong direction, I am slowly, slowly making my way Home to Easter – to my Jerusalem – my permanent address.
I leave you with these tender words from Bishop Charleston – treasures to carry in your pocket along the way. May they find a place in your hearts as well.
“You are not lost.
Not to me.
And never will be.
No matter where you may be,
no matter how far or deep or dark
or empty or alone or confusing or new
or complex or tangled
or bad or difficult,
I will find you.
I will find you and I will be with you.
I will come to you and hold you and care for you
and uplift you and protect you
and heal you and save you
and bring you home.
So you never need be afraid.
Never. For you will not be lost, not to me.
I have you. Now and forever.
Be at peace and rest in that peace.
You will never be in a place my love cannot find.
So says our God.” Amen.