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.

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