Sunday, February 28, 2016

Third in Lent

Psalm 63: 1-8

Again good morning—and with a word of continuing encouragement, that this season of Lent is and will be for you, for all of us, a time of refreshment and renewal of faith.  On Ash Wednesday we were invited to prepare ourselves in the keeping of a holy Lent “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.”   We’re not quite half way through, so still time to get on board!

On these Sunday mornings I’ve been asking this year how the psalm appointed for each week in our lectionary might frame and inform our lives in this season.  

As we've noticed, the psalms functioned, many of them, as Israel’s hymnal, the songs and background music given by the Holy Spirit to shape both the minds and the hearts of God’s people, and they continue to be that for us today.  It’s often said that while textbooks of theology may be of first importance to academics and perhaps to clergy and other church leaders, it’s the hymnal that most powerfully touches and shapes the vocabulary of faith for most Christians.  The music we hum as we go through our day.  And often in our last hours, how our final prayers come forward, the words and music we know by heart.

On the first Sunday in Lent, two weeks ago, we spent some time with Psalm 91—which has been used in the service of Compline to be something like a bedtime prayer.   Almost to think of it as a song for mom or dad to sing softly as the kids put their heads on the pillow and begin to drift off to sleep, full of words of assurance.  Not to be in denial of life’s storms and challenges, but in the midst of them, in the midst of the real world, to assure of God’s love and care.  “He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings.”  The first word then about how we were and are to enter into this Lent, into the trials of faith, into the journey to Jerusalem and the Cross?  In calm assurance.  Resting in his arms. 

And then last Sunday, Psalm 27, to build on that assurance.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”  Yes, resting in his arms. But not hiding away.  Instead, in this psalm, empowered, moving out—into the wide world, into our lives, our families, our communities.  The assurance of God’s sovereign power and love for us then fills us with a sense of bold confidence, a sense of courage.   No need for bashful Christians, no need to hide away.  Courage!  “Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid.” 

And now appointed for us this morning, the Third Sunday in Lent, continuing to enrich and inform the journey--the first eight verses of Psalm 63.  Again to build on the foundations of trust and courage.  Now, for today, bringing all of that forward with eagerness and joy.  Sometimes the austerities of Lenten discipline are approached as a season of deprivation, as though some heavy burden is weighing us down.  What sweet thing do you give up?  What hard thing do you take on?  As if the point is to suffer.  But that is to understand Lent I think from the outside rather than from the inside.  

What we would perhaps think of instead is a moment at the airport.  An image for the duration of the weeks of Lent.  The plane has landed, mom is coming home after a long work trip.  Dad and the kids are at baggage claim, their eyes fixed on the stairway.  The kids jumping up and down in excitement.   All day long they’ve been talking about this moment.  They took time after school to make “welcome home” signs with special artwork.  They’ve planned a festive dinner at home afterwards, with dad and kids having spent an hour in the supermarket to find all mom’s favorites.  And dad of course stopping at the state store to pick up a bottle of a wine they had especially enjoyed in a restaurant some months back.  Getting ready.  That’s half the fun!  All their minds, their hearts, all their attention leaning forward to catch the first glimpse as she appears above them.  

And that’s Lent for us, says Psalm 63.  Taking this deep breath: “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water . . . .  For your loving kindness is better than life itself; my lips shall give you praise.”  What is better than this moment, anticipation and fulfillment all in one.  “So will I bless you as long as I live . . . my soul is content . . . and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.”

Remember what St. Benedict said about Lent, that it can be a season when we with special focus turn our lives into the pattern that would reflect the best of who we could always be, in Christ.  An intentional and focused experiment in Christian living.  The six weeks of Lent, to begin to teach us how to live in fullness for the other 46 weeks of the year.

We’re on our way to the Cross, and of course we don’t for a minute downplay or diminish what it means of sin and death, what we cost, how much he had to pay on our behalf.  That is the “spiritual journey” of this life.  The pain and the sorrow.   Joys and triumphs passing like the brief wildflowers of spring.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  And yet it is all that and more.   To encounter the hard edge of sin and death.  The word spoken by our Enemy.  By God’s enemy.  But then the Cross of Christ is the key.  So we discover not a brick wall to crash against in defeat, in the last hour, but a door that will swing open.   So St. Paul in First Corinthians: “we preach Christ Crucified.  To the Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness--but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  All good, that is to say.    All joy.

And what a gift to add this bit of Psalm 63 to our bedtime devotions, along with the Psalms we’ve had last Sunday and the Sunday before.  As we pass on dessert, I guess, or when we tell our host, “just water,” instead of the offered glass of wine.  As we make space in our busy morning to read the Bible passages appointed for the day and to reflect for a moment on how to apply God’s word to our lives with one of the Mediation booklets.  These disciplines of Lent. 

 One of the churches of our neighborhood some years ago put on their signboard out in front, “Have a Happy Lent.”  That’s not the right word, of course, but there is something deeper.  To let all this Lent, this holy season, waiting for Easter, to let it all show itself in us as deep security and holy confidence, and as bright and bold courage, and as eager joy in the Lord. 

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.  For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.

Again with blessings in the season.  Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Second in Lent

Psalm 27

As I said last week, the Psalm appointed in our lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent, Psalm 91, has functioned in the life of many parts of the church for the last fifteen hundred years as a word for the night-time, the end of the day, a quiet moment to recollect with assurance the love and care of the Father.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,* abides under the shadow of the Almighty.  He shall say to the LORD, ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold,* my God in whom I put my trust.’”

Then we come to the gospel reading for this morning, Luke 13, and we can already sense the turbulence and the gathering storm and nightmare of Holy Week.  The Pharisees telling Jesus that he needs to get away from Jerusalem and head back to the safety of the Galilee, because the authorities are already taking notice and beginning to plan their deadly intervention.  And then Jesus:  I need to stay here and to be about my work, because this is the place where prophets speak and where prophets die.  A shivering in the cold wind, and the shadow of the Cross.  We can almost hear in the distance the hammer beginning to pound on the nails.

Once again in the Psalm appointed for this Second Sunday morning in Lent we are given a framework for this incredible and terrifying story unfolding before us.  We can look at the version printed at the bottom of page 3 of this morning’s leaflet.  To be reminded that the story of this brutal and unjust death is not the story of shame and loss and catastrophe, not the story of hopelessness and fear.  It is for us and in truth a story of hope, and peace, and strength, a true story that gives birth to a life built on the foundation of a relationship of trust that is stronger than any storm, that will prevail against even the darkest enemy.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?  --Psalm 27.  A hymn for Israel, even as fierce enemies surround the Holy City.  A song in the night.

The Pharisees advise Jesus  to flee, to head to the hills—back to the obscurity of Nazareth and Cana and Capernaum.  Away from the center stage, out of the spotlight.

I’m reminded of the compelling story that the Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis tells in his strange but also very beautiful novel, The Last Temptation of Christ.  (If you saw the movie many years ago, you got at least a part of the idea, though I didn’t think the movie really captured the strange and interesting tone and vision of the novel.)  If you’ve read Kazantzaki’s probably even greater novel, Zorba the Greek, you see very much a similar theme.   Also an interesting movie.  For an existentialist like Kazantzakis in the tumultuous era of  mid-20th century war, along with writers like Sartre and Camus, this question about the moment of decision.  To choose the costly act that will give your life a greater meaning, a definition, even if in the process the cost is your life itself, or to step back, recede into the shadows of the personal.   Kazantzakis looks at the temptations we read about last week, as Satan paraded them before Jesus out in the wilderness, fame, wealth, power.  But he speculates that the last and most powerful temptation for Jesus was simply the temptation to go home.  To be a village carpenter.  To get married, have kids.  Three bedrooms, two baths, and a 30 year mortgage.   Bowling on Tuesday evenings, family dinners with the in-laws, driving the kids to soccer.  The Last Temptation of Christ: Die and save the world, or have a life.  It’s up to you, Jesus.

Kazantzakis wasn’t a Christian, but he knew this story well, and he knew this is a story about a man who knew what needed to be done, and who did what needed to be done, despite the cost. “ Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid”—verses three and four of our psalm: “and though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in him.”

And then in verses five, six, and seven: to put into words in this simple way the yearning for God’s presence.  It’s a spiritual presence of course, but I know there have been times when the material and even architectural reality has felt very powerful for me.  In the hour of worship, as the opening of the organ at a processional hymn.  Or sometimes just in a quiet moment.  It’s not unusual for folks to peek into the office on a Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon—maybe someone of the St. Andrew’s congregation, or maybe a friend in the neighborhood, or simply a passer-by—who will  say, “would it be all right for me to sit in the church for a while?”

“One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of the LORD, and to seek him in his temple. 
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.”

That can be special for us in Lent, of course.  I would hope and pray that there would be moments like that for all of us.  Maybe in Church, or maybe as we sit in a chair at home, to begin whatever Lenten devotion we’ve set for ourselves.  Or simply as we find a quiet moment to pause in the midst of the day.  We know the promise of the Lord in the last day, but we can begin to experience it for ourselves even now.  Verse eight: “Even now he lifts up my head* above my enemies round about me.”

And the psalm rolls on to speak of the thanksgiving that wells up in our hearts when we know and experience God’s love and faithfulness.  A spirit of thanksgiving that wells up in us to become love and faithfulness and blessed assurance: “Though my father and my mother forsake me, the LORD will sustain me.”

That Cross as it looms on the horizon and as we move nearer and nearer would seem designed to fill us with fear, a sign of intimidation, the victory of sin and death and utter hopelessness.  But even at the darkest hour it is not that at all, because of the one who took it on for us, and for our salvation.

The psalmist asks, “what if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”

What if I had kept my eyes on the ground, and not looked up to see him?   What if I had not turned when he called?  What if I had remained turned in on myself, full of my own worries, seeking only the fulfillment of my own desires?  To think that this is all there is, all there ever can be or will be . . . .

And so the word, from the singer of this psalm and God’s word for us.  Continuing in this Lent, in the story of our lives, and the invitation to hear and read and mark and learn and inwardly digest his Holy Word, and to come into his presence as he has called us, to eat and drink with him and in him at this table.  “O tarry and await the LORD’s pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the LORD.”

Sunday, February 14, 2016

First in Lent

Psalm 91

Again, good morning—on this first Sunday in Lent, and of course with cherubs and cupids and floating hearts all around us in honor of St. Valentine.  Valentinus, Roman priest and martyr, executed in the 3rd century. Beyond that, nobody really knows much.  One tradition says that his crime was related to officiating at marriages of Roman soldiers, who weren’t legally allowed to get married.  Another says that while he was imprisoned he learned that his jailor’s daughter was ill, that he prayed for her, that she was healed, and that he later wrote to her an affectionate letter encouraging her in Christian faith and signed, “your Valentine.”  In any event, good to remember him in the great cloud of Christian saints and I’m sure in that heavenly choir it must be nice to be remembered on a day devoted to the expression of love.  Hearts and flowers and Happy St. Valentine’s Day--and we’re reminded that the fast of Lent is relaxed on Sundays as an anticipation of Easter, so it’s just fine to enjoy a chocolate or a glass of wine with your sweetheart today . . . .

I’m preaching  through the Sundays in Lent this year, with the exception of the Fourth Sunday, Laetare, at the beginning of March, when Dan Isadore will be in the pulpit, and as I was a while ago looking at the propers through the season in this Year C of our lectionary I was struck by the sequence of psalms appointed to be read or sung, and it occurred to me that one way to allow the Scripture to speak to us during this Lent would be to pause over these psalms and to ask what word is being given about the character of this season, as we turn our attention off in the distance to Holy Week and Good Friday, the great mystery of Christ’s sacrifice, and our redemption, and the new life that opens to us and for us in the miracle of Easter morning and his resurrection from the dead.

The psalms were a central part of the Scriptures for the Hebrew people in ancient times, as they are for us, and were experienced in several different ways.  They would of course be read devotionally and studied as God’s Word.  But they also functioned liturgically, many of them clearly offered as what we might call a part of the Temple hymnal, some even with comments about musical notation, and perhaps that even extended out to the liturgies of village synagogues, though probably without the kind of musical instrumentation they appeared to have had in the Temple.  The Psalms also were memorized, and would be sung in daily life, while working in the fields, or perhaps while cooking or doing laundry or casting nets off the side of fishing boats.  They sunk in deep in memory and consciousness, gave shape to what we might call the “spirituality” of faith.  What parents might sing to their children at bedtime, words that would pop up in moments of joy or celebration, times of victory or moments of defeat and loss.  Jesus himself often quotes from the psalms, even in the words that he speaks from the cross.  My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

And I think pretty much all of that continues to be true for us.   When I lead the afternoon Protestant service over at the Forbes Nursing Home on Fifth Avenue every couple of months I always conclude our time of intercessory prayer at the end of the service with the Lord’s Prayer, and then with the invitation for those present to join me in reciting the 23rd Psalm.  And it is so interesting to me that so many who have lost so much of cognitive ability and memory, who will have been sitting quietly during the service, or perhaps even who have been distracted, talking to themselves, rustling uncomfortably in their hospital chairs, and so on, and as soon as I begin, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” there is this warm and gentle spirit that settles over the whole room, a kind of focus, and in all these voices they gather in, “he maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”  Just amazing.  Words deep in our heart.  And it’s interesting that when publishers created what we used to call “pocket Bibles,” so often they would include simply the New Testament and the Psalms . . . .

In any event, the 91st Psalm for us today.  Selected by the compilers of the lectionary I suspect because Satan quotes from it in his effort to test Jesus in the wilderness.  A reminder that even the Word of God can be taken up to be used for evil rather than for good.

In any event, even given that particular rationale, I find it helpful to hear this Psalm with good intention here on the First Sunday in Lent.  For those who follow the pattern of the daily offices of the Book of Common Prayer or of what is called the monastic diurnal, following St. Benedict’s order of worship and prayer over the last 1500 years or so--we would note that Psalm 91 appointed every night at Compline, the last set of prayers of the day.  Bedtime prayers.   I can’t hear this psalm without being lifted in my association to the monastery where I go on retreat every fall—, “he who dwells in the shelter of the most high abides under the shadow of the Almighty. ” To hear the monks as they chant these words in the candle lit darkness of the abbey church, as we prepare  to enter the Great Silence of the night.  The spirit of the moment more or less like those last minutes of the day that mom or day spend with a child to say goodnight.  The lights out, soft words, a quiet prayer, and then the comfort of a gentle song.  That is Psalm 91, for us this morning, First Sunday in Lent.

Perhaps just to follow along here, page 7 in the leaflet this morning.  The first two stanzas, this wonderful affirmation.  God is pictured as a shelter, a home, a roof and four walls, a place of safety, protection. Hard not to think of the familiar Isaac Watt’s hymn, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, a shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.”   For a people of the desert, he is an oasis of shade from the assault of the midday sun. 

And now the one who makes his home here, in God, offers and gives voice to this hymn of praise.  The second verse of the psalm: “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.”  A word of prayer as your head lies down on the pillow for a sleep in safety.   And then these words of assurance, verses 3 – 13.  God as I guess a mother hen in verse 4, hiding her chicks under the protection of her wings.  Or God as a mighty warrior, lifting up shield and sword to fend off every enemy.  God as the source of health, pushing back the threat of disease, “the plague that stalks in the darkness . . . the sickness that lays waste at noon.”  All around there may be death and destruction, but for the one who dwells in this sheltering God, who is held in his embrace, there is no reason to be afraid.  “A thousand shall fall, ten thousand, but it shall not come near you.”

“The wicked,” always the psalmist’s word for the one who lives outside of a relationship with God, he will have his inevitable reward, but the angels will watch over you, over God’s faithful child, lifting him up over the rocky path, closing the mouth of the venomous snake and the hungry lion.”

And then at verse 14, we hear who has been speaking these words of assurance.  God himself.  “Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my Name.”  His promise.   The first Christians read this psalm and realized that in it here God was speaking, yes, about faithful Israel in her covenant, and also speaking to  each of us as we listen for words of comfort and assurance, but also and even more as a song of love sung within the Holy Trinity, the song of the Father for the Son.  He shall call upon me and I will answer him; I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him, show him my salvation.”

The officiant at Compline marks on his body the Sign of the Cross.  “The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night, and a perfect end.”  Here under the Cross of the Great Rood of St. Andrew’s Church on this first Sunday in Lent, we hear Jesus say to his friends in the 12th chapter of St. John, “and I when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.”  The love of the Father for the Son, and for all those brought into his presence by the Son.  And we would know how it is to enter this holy shelter, his embrace, to know his protection and love, his promise for this life and the greater life to come.  The words of invitation to Lent as we heard them last Sunday and of course on Ash Wednesday:  “I invite you in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”   Sometimes people talk about Lent as a hard journey of austerity and struggle, but the word here is of an invitation to sacred rest, to peace, to be folded into his arms, the hope and sure foundation and blessed assurance of all who put their trust and confidence in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

And so, Week One, may this be indeed for you, for all of us, a holy and rich and secure rest, as we place ourselves in his care and come to know more deeply his strength and his love.  As we are told in Psalm 2: Happy are they who put their trust in him.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Last after The Epiphany, and Quinquagesima

Luke 9: 28-43

Good morning.  The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Sunday Next before Lent, on the old calendar Quinquagesima.  50 days more or less until Easter Sunday.  The team planning the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper and Mardi Gras party –the day after tomorrow--are fully engaged in their preparations, and we are all of us in this transitional time encouraged to be thinking through the character of our Lent in 2016. 

It’s of course a very old tradition that Christians set aside this time from now through Holy Week with particular attention, though everybody doesn’t approach it in the same way.  It might have something to do with chocolate or alcohol or something.  But we all find different things helpful.  Back in the 1970’s when I was still smoking cigarettes I always had the bright idea to give that up for Lent, which usually turned out to be a lost cause—and probably in some ways actually a detriment rather than an enhancement of my spiritual life.  Not a time to set yourself up for failure.  This will be the word announced this coming Wednesday at our Ash Wednesday services, for all of us to hear with seriousness and intentionality:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (BCP 265).

As you probably know, I often turn in my own intentions about the building up of my  rule and pattern of Christian life to the Rule of St. Benedict.  An early 6th century guide to the life of an intentional Christian community that has continued to shape those kinds of communities and the wider church ever since.  And just to notice what St. Benedict’s Rule says about Lent.  In Chapter 49 he begins, “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”  When he says a monk here, we would read that more generally as any member of the Christian community.  “A continuous Lent.”  Which is to say that Lent is about being more intentional and consistent and consciously focused, not about adding exotic and extraneous practices and disciplines.  We might say that what we would do during Lent are the kinds of things we know that we really should be doing all the time, but may not always have the focus or will power to make the time or energy to do. 

So Benedict goes on, “we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.  This,” he says, “we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits”--which is always a good idea!—“and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to compunction of heart, and self denial.”  So Lent about not rushing through some arbitrary checklist of prayers and worship and study in a superficial way, but to take the time to slow down, to make some space, and to go deeper into our thoughts and emotions.  Not to rush a prayer or a reading, but to allow God’s presence to touch our hearts.  “In other words,” Benedict concludes, “let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”  A certain careful moderation here: a lightness of spirit even Lent, with our eyes always on the festival finish-line!

A couple of friends of mine have announced that in addition to stepping back from their usual dinner-time glass of wine and desserts this Lent,  they are also going to “fast” from Facebook and Twitter.  Perhaps that’s the 21st century version of Benedict’s suggestion about a fast from “idle jesting.”  Or perhaps in any of these areas if complete abstinence would be too much, to take a more moderate step.  Fasting from some food or drink on Wednesdays and Fridays, limiting recreational use of the computer to a half an hour a day, and so on.  In any event, to remember that what we are pointing toward is a way to make space in ourselves for reflection and growth, and for the joy and spiritual longing of Easter.

In the new lectionaries this Last Sunday after The Epiphany and Sunday before Lent has been associated with the gospel story of the Transfiguration, as we’ve heard this morning in the reading from Luke 9, and with the associated support both in the Old Testament and the Epistle with the account of Moses and his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.  Something so powerful that as Moses came down again to the people his face was literally shining with the brilliant glory of the divine light.   The light so vividly radiant that Moses needed to wear a veil before others could stand in his presence—but as Paul reminds us, with Jesus now the light shines in such a pure and direct way that no veil will be necessary. 

As the Collect for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany has it, “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” 

The passage of St. Luke this morning is rich and actually kind of complicated. Jesus leads them to the mountaintop, where the fullness of his glory is revealed to them.  The bright light, and the two great figures of Israel’s life in God, Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, God’s Word, now unified in Jesus.  As St. John would later write, The Word became flesh.  And in this moment the fulfillment is at the center, the glory of the Cross: “they were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”  Years later Peter would write in the first chapter of the letter we call Second Peter, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty, for when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”

The last section of the story in our reading  Jesus and the disciples come down the mountain.  They find a world in the grip of evil.  Which is of course what we find every morning when we step outside the front door.  The crowd is buzzing, and a father is begging Jesus to do something, anything, to release his son from the grip of the devil.  So much for the spiritual mountaintop retreat.  And Jesus says, bring him to me.  And before another word can be said, as the son is being escorted into the presence of Jesus, the demon explodes, implodes, in a crisis, unable to maintain his hold--and he is rebuked, cast out, and the boy is at once healed and made whole. 

We see with our own eyes what the disciples at the mountaintop have seen and known, the power and the glory of the Son of God.  All about his power, his victory.  Nothing can stand before him.  To echo St. Paul in Romans 8: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature.”  We might hear echoing around us Martin Luther in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress.  “And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us; we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us; the prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.”  He is Lord of all.  And so this wonderful line to conclude our reading, Luke 9:43: “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

That would be my word, my wish for all of us on this Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Lent, and as we consider the days ahead, as we join his last great procession,  the journey to Jerusalem and the Cross, all the way ahead to the angel-filled empty tomb and joyful Easter.  That we would open ourselves, and make space in ourselves, in our hearts and minds and spiritual imaginations, for him:  “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word,” and so like the crowds at the foot of the holy mountain, like the disciples, in the presence of Jesus, to be astonished, to be astonished, at the greatness of God.