Tag Archives: Lent 2012

Knowing Christ

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by Marjorie George

“Don’t I know you?” she asked. I had to admit the face was familiar. We ran down the list of possible connections. Did we go to the same church? No, she didn’t go to church much anymore. Did we shop at the same grocery store? No, she lived in a different part of town from me. Wait a minute; was she Eric’s mom? Were our kids on the same swim team back in 1981? Yes, that was it. Mystery solved.

“You think you know me,” Jesus said as he taught the Jews in the temple courts.  “But you can’t know me if you do not know God” (John 7:28). And the converse is true: we cannot know God if we do not know Christ.

Do you remember the disciples back in Chapter 6 of John? When the crowd deserted Jesus because his theology was getting a little intense (“I am the bread of life; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life . . .”), the disciples stuck it out. “Do you want to leave also?” Christ had asked them. No, they did not.

Why? Why did the disciples stay with Christ; why did they trust him? Why were they willing to go further with him when the crowd was not? Same message; same messenger – some left, some stayed.

I think it is because by spending time with Jesus, the disciples had come to know him.  Knowing him, they trusted him. Trusting him, they stayed the course with him. It’s really a very simple equation: If you want to know Christ, you have to spend time with him.

We are in the fifth week of Lent. Holy Week looms. The plot thickens; the going gets tougher. And then the resurrection. If ever we are going to commit, now is the time.

But no weaseling here; getting to know the Christ requires some effort on our part. Back on Ash Wednesday, we said we would spend more time each morning reading Scripture and meditating. But we didn’t set the alarm clock to get up a half-hour earlier. Did we think Jesus would drag us out of bed and douse us with coffee? He won’t.

We are not bad; we are broken. That is our nature. Our good intentions frequently do not make it to the point of application. We feel appropriately guilty for a while, then we move on. We want to do better; if only someone would tell us how. If only someone would give us a list.

Well get out your iPhone calendars or your leather-bound day planners and make a note: get involved in Holy Week. Read the daily lectionary, walk the labyrinth, participate in Stations of the Cross, go sit in your garden or someone else’s garden. Sign up for a daily meditation; attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. To get started, here’s a list; but you can add your own ideas.

Get to know Christ. He already knows you. Your face is familiar, and he has not forgotten it.

Marjorie George

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or leave a comment below.

Going Up, Going Down

Lent 2012 – Path of Restoration              

by Barbara Duffield 

We all do it.  We step onto an elevator with someone we don’t know, and suddenly the display of the passing floor numbers becomes fascinating. Or the shoes on our feet draw our attention, or . . . well, whatever we can look at besides the other person in the elevator.  The ride might only take a few moments, but they are long moments when you are with someone you don’t know and don’t necessarily care to get to know.

Such was the case a few months ago as I was leaving the hospital after visiting a friend. That day the other person on the elevator was a woman who looked extremely tired – that “I’ve been here in the hospital for too many hours and too many days,” kind of tired.  I was investigating my shoes when she burst out, “My father’s in here and I don’t know if he is getting out.  I can’t spend every minute here with him like he wants; I have a family and kids of my own.  I can’t get him to understand that.”  I looked at her, knowing she was in pain, but not knowing quite what to do with it.  So I asked her father’s name.  She said in a rush, “It’s Ed, and he’s in here after a heart attack.  They had to replace a valve and open blocked arteries, and he looks so old and tired and he wants me to be here all the time.”  Then, as quickly as she had opened up, she leaned against the wall and closed her eyes, not saying another word as the elevator continued to descend,

As we neared the bottom floor and she opened her eyes again, I said that I remembered the days of visiting my own father in the hospital.  I know how hard it had been for me to see someone that I had always depended on as an old and frail man.  Her eyes filled with tears and she nodded.  As we reached the bottom floor and stepped out of the elevator, she turned and said, “Thank you for talking to me.”  I was about to say I would keep them in my prayers when I heard myself ask, “May I pray for you?” I was shocked that the words had come out of my mouth, and I knew it had to be God speaking. She gasped and quickly took my hands in hers. “Oh, would you please?” she asked.

We stepped off the elevator and moved to a nearby corner sheltered from the hospital’s front doors. I took her hands in mine and we prayed.  In that blessed moment, however long it was, not one person came to get on the elevator, nor did anyone step off.  Although in a public area, we were completely alone for the time we needed to be.  As the prayer ended she looked at me for a long while and said simply, “Thank you.” 

We walked out the front doors together and, as she turned left and I turned right to go to our respective cars, I realized a moment of restoration had just occurred. For that brief time, we were a Body of Christ that had been brought together in an elevator and held in the arms of God.  

Barbara Duffield is a member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Universal City TX. Reach her at barbara.duffield@dwtx.org or leave a comment below.

 

 

Offering the Serpent

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by the Rev. Andy Lobban            

The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent this year include two of my favorites.  From Numbers: “So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live” (21:8-9).  From the Gospel of John: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (3:14).

Our restoration as the people God intends us to be is a complex business, and for good reason.  God exceeds all that our minds can fathom, so there is no limit to what we can say and imagine about God.  Yet sometimes we must forget all this complexity and simply contemplate the earthy simplicity of our circumstances.  We are in a wilderness, and there are poisonous serpents all around.  Danger bites us from the outside, and sin bites from within.  If something, or someone, does not appear quickly to save us, we are mortally wounded.  This is the human condition, and no one is exempt.

This is a serious problem, in fact a lethal one, both physically and spiritually.  Scripture tells us, however, that the cure is actually remarkably simple.  All we need to do is look at the bronze serpent and live!  The only challenge is for us to recognize the serpent when it is held up in front of our faces and then to hold it up for others.

Jesus is the ultimate serpent of bronze.  It’s no accident that it was a serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness.  That serpent, the ancient serpent, is sin incarnate.  And he who knew no sin became sin for us.  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man, the sinless one made sin for our sake, was lifted high upon the cross so that we might look at Him and live.  Yes, it really is that simple.  In this wilderness we call the world, where poisonous serpents attack day and night, all we must do is look at Jesus and live.  All anyone must do is look at Jesus and live.

Our Episcopal tradition is a rich one with a colorful history.  We claim Apostolic succession for our bishops; liturgy is central to our Christian life and practice; and our understandings of Word and Sacrament are both Catholic and reformed.  For many of us, this rich heritage helps us look at Jesus and live, and that is precisely why we are Episcopalians. 

The world around us, however, may struggle with this.  It is a hurting, groaning world full of poverty, addiction, and violence.  And when this world looks at us, if it ever even gets around to doing so, I’m not entirely certain that it sees Jesus.  This isn’t because we are unfaithful or because Christ isn’t in us; it is simply because, as Episcopalians, the way we see Jesus lifted up may not match what much of the world around us needs to see.

Good Samaritan Community Services, the social service ministry operated by our diocese, is a place where our Church has been willing to stretch itself in the name of showing Jesus lifted up to people who see Him differently.  It is a place where restoration is available to all, where the basic question asked is: “How do the people in this community receive the Good News?” Even if the answer to that question is difficult and frightening, the people of Good Samaritan respond to it.

The answers come in a variety of forms.  Some who visit Good Samaritan centers receive the Good News of Christ through worship, prayer, and study.  Others receive it through table fellowship, still others through education and character development, and yet others through recreation and much-needed fun and relaxation.  There are inevitably some who come and go, seeming to have experienced no Good News whatsoever.  The beauty of a ministry like Good Samaritan’s, however, is that since our only agenda is to show Jesus lifted up in the communities we serve, we can move forward undaunted even when that happens, knowing that God may give growth to planted seeds long after the initial encounter occurrs.

As we live out our Christianity as the Episcopal Church, looking to Jesus and living, we must also ask ourselves: What would help our neighbors see the Son of Man lifted up, so that they can believe in him and have eternal life, so that they too can be restored to being the persons God intends for them to be?  What does this hurting world need to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch so that it can live?  We all, in our simple daily lives, can lift high the cross in such a way that our neighbors, all of our neighbors, can look at Jesus and live.

The Rev. Andy Lobban is chaplain at Good Samaritan Community Services in San Antonio TX. Reach him at lobban_a@goodsamcenter.com or leave a comment below.

To participate in or learn more about the work of Good Samaritan Community Services, visit their website at www.goodsamaritancommunityservices.org

Giving Up Giving Up


Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by the Rev. Mike Marsh 

One of the traditional Lenten practices is self-denial. Often this leaves us asking the question: “What should I give up for Lent?” The answers vary – candy, bread, wine, shopping, blogging . . . We endure, for God’s sake, 40 days of self-denial. We give up some ordinary thing or activity, and with the celebration of Easter, we reward ourselves with whatever thing or activity we had given up. How then has our life changed? It is almost as if our self-denial was just a period of time out. Children are sometimes put in time out when they have misbehaved. They are separated from their friends, toys, and usual activities – sitting on their bed or in the corner. After a short period of time they resume their normal activities. Surely Lent is more than the Church’s version of time out. 

The risk of self-denial is that it becomes self-centered. Lent then becomes very small and focuses on my fasting, my giving up, my self-denial. Pretty soon we forget that our individual journeys always take place in the context of community. My growth and transformation, in order to be real and transformative, must necessarily affect and be connected to others. 

Self-denial is not the goal or object of our Lenten journey. God is. Self-denial does not gain for us God’s approval. God does not necessarily need or want our Lenten disciplines. God wants us. Self-denial asks us to look at and let go of the things, fears, attitudes, thinking, behaviors, accomplishments, successes, and failures that we think tell us who we are. This is not just for a season but for a lifetime.

Lent is an interior journey, the way by which we again discover and live into our true identity. The practice of self-denial-denial helps us discover and re-learn that who we are is who we are in God; and who we are in God is a beloved son or daughter. This is the way in which we and our relationships are restored to their original beauty and holiness.  

I remember speaking with my spiritual director many years ago about what I should give up or do for Lent. I offered him my list of ideas. He said no to all of them – no fasting, no reading, no theological thinking, no journal writing. Don’t even say your prayers, he told me. He asked me to just show up – to simply be present and listen. He did not call it self-denial, but it was. I was to deny myself the need to be productive and busy. I was to let go of my need for answers and the safety of rational thought. I was to trust the silence. I would have to let go of being in control. Lent would not be done according to my list or agenda. Rather than getting through Lent I was to let Lent get through to me. That year every place of self-denial became an entry point for the risen Christ. 

Ultimately, self-denial frees us to be who we truly are. Hear the insightful words of Father Alexander Elchaninov from The Diary of a Russian Priest: 

“Self-denial, which is so often mentioned in connection with the practice of Christianity, is conceived by some as an end in itself; they look upon it as the essential point of every Christian’s life.

“But it is only a way and a means for achieving our end – the putting on of Christ.

“Neither must we think, as others do – going to the opposite extreme – that self-denial means renouncing one’s personality, one’s own path, a sort of spiritual suicide. Quite the contrary: self-denial is liberation from the slavery of sin (without self-denial we are prisoners) and the free manifestation of our true essence as originally designed for us by God.”

The Rev. Mike Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Reach him at marshmk@gmail.com  or leave a comment below.

 

 

No Admirers

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by Marjorie George 

Judas was an admirer of Christ. At the beginning of his ministry, Christ had many admirers, Judas among them; but at the end he had only followers. Judas apparently was taken with the idea of a Messiah, but Judas had his own plan for how the revealing of the Kingdom should come about. Judas was not willing to follow where Christ was leading.  

In his essay “Followers, Not Admirers,” (in Bread and Wine, Readings for Lent) Soren Kierkegaard points out that Christ “never asked for admirers, worshippers, or adherents.” Christ was interested in disciples. “It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for,” says Kierkegaard.

Contemporary writer Brian McLaren tells of interviewing Dr. Peter Senge at a conference for Christian pastors (in Finding our Way Again). Senge was pondering with his audience about the rising interest in “spirituality” – not necessarily Christianity — in recent years. One of the most popular categories of book sales these days is books on spirituality, “particularly books on Buddhism,” Senge noted.  “Why do you think that is?” McLaren asked. To which Senge replied, “I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief.”

But Christ was not pushing systems theory. He was not born clutching a Charter for the Church in his little baby hands. “I have come that you might have life,” he says to us (John 10:10).

We spend a lot of time during Lent looking at our sins. And that is good. I need to recognize and confess my sins every single day of my life and twice a day during Lent. I need to vigorously examine where I have let myself grow apart from God over and over again, because I fall to all those scintillating temptations over and over again. But if I stop there, I am only admiring the process; after the sin, after the recognition, after the repentance, after accepting the forgiveness, fresh-scrubbed and beaming brightly, I need to participate in the new life that Christ offers his followers. Not just think about it, not merely study and discuss it – I need to begin to actually step into and live the life of a follower of Christ.

How do I even begin that journey? I have found that my relationship with God in Christ is strengthened in direct proportion to the amount of time, purpose, and energy I am willing to invest in it. God is standing at the front door; I really do have to turn on the lights, open the door, invite him in, and spend some time with him before I can begin to know why he has come to my house and where I am supposed to go from here. He will be no less God left standing on the porch, and a meteor will probably not fall on my roof to punish me if I fail to act. But unless I am willing to put some effort into the relationship, I only am aware that an oh-so-lovely abstraction hovers near the door.

Christ came into the world to save it, not instruct it, says Kierkegaard. At the same time, Christ came to be the pattern, to leave footsteps for those who would follow him. We cannot step into the footprints from a distance. This is a time for putting on our walking shoes and joining the journey; otherwise we are left in the bleachers just admiring the parade.

Marjorie George

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or leave a comment below. 

Art: “I Need You Now” by Arnoldo Romero.  Romero is one of several artists from around the Diocese of West Texas whose work is part of a special exhibit, “Lent through the Eyes of the Artist,” that will hang at Cathedral House Gallery at the Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio until April 7.  The public is invited to visit Mon. through Fri., 9 am to 5 pm.  Address is 111 Torcido, San Antonio TX 78209

 

In the Image and Likeness

Lent 2012

Path to Restoration

by the Rev. Philip Cunningham

Like many people, I make lists of things to do.  The motivation for this is generally practical — without a list I might forget all of the tasks to be completed.  There is, however, another reason I like to do it and that is for the satisfaction of being able to cross something off my list.  Crossing something off demonstrates finality, knowing that whatever it was I was supposed to do is done; it is no more. 

Sometimes, on my more unproductive days, I might even add things to my list that have already been completed, just to get the pleasure of crossing them off – washed my hands, check; ate lunch, check. Unfortunately, not all our tasks in life lend themselves to the neat arrangement of a check list, and this can often lead to frustration.  For example, it would be nice if, in becoming a Christian, we could check off a little box that said I am now wise, placid, and joyful; but alas it does not work that way. Christians still get angry; they can be petty, pessimistic, and quite often a general nuisance.  Which of course begs the question: why, if we have given our life to Christ, have we not been made perfect? 

The second century Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon approached this problem by dividing our Christian lives into two distinct realities.  His belief was that while we are born in the image of God we are, throughout our lives, to grow into the likeness of God.  And if you will excuse a rather trite example, it is something like the character Pinocchio. 

When he first comes to “life,” Pinocchio is very much the image of a human.  He can move around, walk on two legs and even sing “I got no Strings.”  And if we look at him as an animate puppet, we are likely to think he was made in the image of a man.  However, there would still be something rather incomplete about him, what the movie called “not being real.”  It is not until the end that Pinocchio moves from being the image of a human to being in the likeness a human.

Like Pinocchio, we humans must make the journey from knowing that we are made in the image of God to acting in ways that God would act.  That is the struggle and, of course, some days are better than others; our progress may be glacial at times.  C.S. Lewis once talked of a rather nasty man who was a Christian.  When another person commented about this particular man’s nastiness, the reply was, “Yes, but you should have seen him before he became a Christian.” 

Our life is a journey towards God, one that sometimes may be filled with disappointments and setbacks, but at the same time we must never give up.  Through God’s grace and love we can start to reflect God’s likeness back to the world.  Lent is a perfect time to recommit ourselves to this journey; affirming that we are traveling and trusting in God’s perfect will so that we may move from the image to the likeness of the almighty God. 

The Rev. Philip Cunningham is rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texas. Reach him at pcunningham@stmargarets.us or leave a comment below.