Sermon – March 17, 2019
The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
We are beginning the second week of the 40 day journey called Lent. This culminates the third week of April with a three-day Feast comprised of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. This is a feast which allows us the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of our lives as children of God in this world. I acknowledge we’ve already passed through a few days of this season; but I think it’s still a good idea to have this discussion because a good number of days are left to travel this path. What we frequently hear concerning Lent is what Christian’s give up or forgone during these 40 days (by the way we get a bye on the Sundays of Lent). We hear people talk about giving up food items they love. Anybody hear another person say they are giving up eating chocolate for Lent? At times, I have been told by people they have chosen to eliminate something like drinking alcoholic beverages for these 40 days. I’ve seen a couple people post on their Facebook page they are going offline during this season so they might dedicate more time to devotional practices. Other times people decide to forego other favorite activities – I could recite a list a mile long but giving up food or activities is not what I want to talk about now.
Joan Chittister, who is a Benedictine nun, theologian and author, shares this perspective:
Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live life anew.
It seems like adding fuel to our spiritual storage tank might be a better idea than giving up a food item or some other minor sacrifice. Not eating sweets doesn’t remind me of the struggle our savior endured as he began his ministry but daily reading and reflection on some portion of scripture might enable me to make that connection. I was reminded this week of a wonderful story in the Hebrew Scriptures from the 4th chapter of the Book of Esther. I acknowledge these verses were not part of our reading today but I think that they illustrate a solid theme for the Lenten season. At this period in history, Queen Esther is caught up in a messy, violent world of power politics. Sound familiar? She wishes to prevent the genocide of her own people, the Jews, at the hands of a foreign power. I quote:
‘My Lord, our King, the only one, come to my help, for I am alone and have no helper but you and am about to take my life in my hands.
‘I have been taught from my earliest years, in the bosom of my family, that you, Lord, chose Israel out of all the nations and our ancestors out of all the people of old times to be your heritage forever; and that you have treated them as you promised.
‘Remember, Lord; reveal yourself in the time of our distress.
‘As for me, give me courage, King of gods and master of all power. Put persuasive words into my mouth when I face the lion; change his feeling into hatred for our enemy – that the latter and all like him may be brought to their end.
‘As for ourselves, save us by your hand, and come to my help, for I am alone and have no one but you, Lord.’
In the end, Esther convinces the reigning King to save her people and the man, Mordecai, who had been plotting again them, is put to death. Aware of her own limitations and fearful, Esther does three important things:
1.) She lets God know what is happening inside her and around her.
2.) She then reminds herself who God really is.
3.) Then she asks for God’s help.
Wow! When I heard a reflection on this passage I felt like I’d been hit with a hammer over my hard little head. Powerful, powerful words and images which remind me; these are the very behaviors I forgot time and again – day after day. Why do I struggle continually with issues in my own life, problems in the world around me and concerns big and small; thinking I can fix them on my own? Any of these thoughts sound familiar to anyone else present? Maybe both you and me? I forgot to let God know what is happening around me – but frequently – I forget to let God know what is happening inside of me – my fears, my worries and my anxieties. I forgot who God really is. But mostly, I forget to ask for God’s help. So I ask you – my friends sitting here in front of me. What is your situation in life at the moment, within and without? Are you holding tight to worries or anxieties? Who is your God? How do you want this God to help you?
Remember what Esther did: She lets God know what is happening inside her and around her. She reminds herself who God really is and then she asks for God’s help.
Our Lenten journey continue for several more weeks and it can be a venture into our souls, offering us a good period to look deeply within ourselves as we attempt to understand the dark realities that many times overwhelmed and surround us. Lent can be a time to establish new spiritual habits or reestablish a spiritual practice which has served us well in the past. Those spiritual habits might be praying daily, or it could be reading and meditating on scripture, it may even be sharing in conversation our walk of faith with another person. We can begin again to let God know what is happening in our minds, hearts and souls and what is happening in the world around us. We can remind ourselves of who God is and who our savior Jesus, the risen Christ is – we can ask for God’s help, over and over and over again.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Amen.