Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Stone Path

Today’s section of Luke’s Gospel focuses on Jesus’ Lament over Jerusalem.  This is a cry of sorrow not necessarily for what is about to happen but for what Jerusalem has done, her history.  Jesus’ lament is a cry as one who loves a child and has to sit back and watch the child make its own mistakes.
I have said that Jesus’ cry from the cross comes down to us through time and history and looks at each and every individual and asks “why have you forsaken me?”  And here again it is the same thing.
Fr. Richard Rohr in Falling upward spirituality for the two halves of life (which I highly recommend) reminds us that;
      Catholics used to say at the end of their Latin prayers, Per omnia saecula saeculorum, loosely translated as “through all the ages of ages.” Somehow deep time orients the Psyche, gives ultimate perspective, realigns us, grounds us, and thus heals us.  We belong to a mystery far grander than our little selves and our little time.[1]

I believe this is again occurring here. Jesus’ Lament for Jerusalem can be translated into any time, place or person.  So how does this sound if we were to replace some words.  Listen; America, America the nation that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it.  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  OR what if I were to make it more personal Joseph, Joseph you have killed prophets and have stoned those I sent to you.

You may be saying to yourselves that makes no sense.  I have never known a prophet...And I have never actually stoned anyone.  Yet each and every time I have dismissed a stranger or passed up an opportunity to pause and truly listen...I have killed a prophet.  Each and every time I have mocked writing, dismissed an opportunity for ministry, devalued myself… I have thrown a stone.

Reverend Michael K. Marsh an Episcopal priest actually names the stones that we throw quite well. “Stones of inadequacy – stones that say, ‘go away. I’m not worth your time or love.’ Stones of arrogance – stones that say, ‘My way is better.’ Stones of isolation – stones that say, ‘I can do this all by myself. I don’t need you.’ Stones of fear – stones that build walls instead of a home in which all are welcome. Stones of immaturity – stones that say, ‘I don’t want to grow. I don’t want to take responsibility. Just let me play by myself.’ Stones of prejudice – stones that say, ‘You’re different from me. You’re not wanted or needed around here.’ Stones of defensiveness – stones that say, ‘Don’t change or challenge me. Let me stay in my narrow little world.’”[2] These are the stones of violence that deny another’s dignity and humanity.

Each and every stone we throw is not just a rejection of the other but in reality it is a rejection of ourselves.  Those we may have dismissed or tossed a stone at will walk away and probably forget it in ten minutes but we hold onto it and …well improve upon it.  We improve upon it in many different ways...I can make my hate a little stronger…my words a little harsher or even the quilt I feel for what I have done I can beat myself up a little better.  These actions, behaviors, allow us to discount ourselves to claim to be unworthy, that we are not children of God.  Yet, just as Jerusalem is a holy city, we are called to be that sacred place, that holy city, the place where God dwells and can be found.

You know, part of our rejection of us as dwelling place, that rejection of God dwelling within us, often comes from a fearful place.  We live in fear of love, we live in fear of stepping beyond ourselves and we live in fear of ourselves. So often we see ourselves in the worse possible light as opposed to the light of love in which God sees us.  This keeps us from growing in God and deepening our relationship with God.  Allow me to refer to Richard Rohr again as he reminds us that “the most common one liner in the bible is ‘Do not be afraid’; It is located in the Bible 365 times.”[3]  That is one do not be afraid for every day in the year.

This an invitation to find a moment of non fear based living. In that moment of no fear, in that time of loving ourselves when we seek to love the other so that we might more fully know God in our lives, therein lays the very truth of God.  Henri Nouwen has said; “The fact that I am always searching for God, always struggling to discover the fullness of Love, always yearning for the complete truth, tells me that I have always been given a taste of God.”  In other words the spark of God is within us and we need to take time to pay attention to it.

Norvene vest in tending the holy reflects upon benedicts rule and his practice of becoming aware of God and paying attention to God in our lives.  She speaks of the way of humility. She states; “the way of humility in the rule of Benedict begins with the constant acceptance of our human, fallible reality, fully known by God who embraces us totally in our goodness and in our particular weakness”[4] God knows our faults and loves us through them and doesn’t hold them against us.  This is a non fear moment…we have to be fearless in loving ourselves beyond our own fallibility.

Norvene goes on to explain benedicts view on this…
Benedict describes the honesty, self love, love of others and God-which is the fruit of freedom from fear and the integration of love resulting from a life of humility-as ‘Good Zeal.’  It is manifest in the ability to be consistent in ‘showing respect to others,’ in ‘supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weakness of body or behavior,’ in the desire to do what one ‘judges better for someone else’; in ‘mutual love’ for one’s companions along the way, whether family, community members, or coworkers; in ‘Loving awe of God’; in ‘unaffected, honest and sincere love of those who have some authority in one’s life’[5]
In other words those stones that I spoke of earlier, that we throw at ourselves as long as we embrace them with grace filled humility and not use them to punish or belittle ourselves God is already there with you embracing you through them.  That humility, that grace filled humility, is a practice in and of itself that we, as Christians, must nurture.  As we do practice humility we can be free, free from fear to love our selves and others.  Supporting each other in our flawed reality of just being human the way God made us.

This is what Lenten period is about…taking that time to get to know God within us, around us, in our friends, family and community a bit better.  So that one may get to know God better there is required spiritual discipline.  YOU HAVE TO LOOK FOR WHAY YOU ARE YEARNING FOR.

During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ's carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches devoid their altars of flowers, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious paraphernalia are often veiled in violet fabrics in solemn observance of this event. In certain pious Catholic countries, the consumption of meat is traditionally yet varyingly[1] self-abstained by the faithful, while grand religious processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary.

Some still surrender something for lent that is of value to them.  Such as if you love star bucks… (I am not picking on star bucks) then you may want to give up a Grande a day or as my grandmother always did she gave up sweets for lent.  In the ancient day one would clean out the cupboards of all meat and dairy products.  This is what led to many of the carnival type celebrations.  Use up all the riches of the cupboards and eat and drink as much as you can for come that first day of lent it is gone for 40 days actually about 44 for Sundays are not counted as days of lent.

Give up.  Let go of something you hold too tightly:  a dream, a person, a possession.  Give up trying to impress people, Give up wearing uncomfortable shoes, worrying about tomorrow.  Give things away, like love, a word, your life.  Serve, not expecting anything in return.  Love without expecting a reward.  Give up trying to save yourself.  Be righteous but know that God doesn't love you because you are righteous.

I often suggest that one try to take on something for lent. I try to take on some new spiritual practice, some task of prayer or meditation which I struggle with or seek out opportunity to minister.  Perhaps one could find time to volunteer with a local community based feeding program or perhaps seek out a program for youth that could use assistance and or mentoring.

This taking on something for lent is not just going out there and doing volunteer work.  Now don’t get me wrong volunteering is all well and good but what makes the Lenten project different is that as you do it you perform it with prayer full attention.  This is work dedicated to God as a way of getting closer to God and though the practice of a volunteerism is enough with prayerful intent it can be even better.

We enter in to these practices in order to get to know God and Christ a little better, a little closer. We want to think, confess, and understand, but also to encounter, worship, and be transformed by God. The primary way we do this is through liturgy in both word (reading and preaching about the Bible) and sacrament (baptism and the Eucharist). But we also do this through practicing the liturgical seasons like Lent. In order to know the Good News about Jesus holistically, beyond something that we work out in our brains like a word problem, we try to enter into this story with our bodies.

Tish Warren a student at Vanderbilt University in a blog for women in ministry writes of her friends; “I have a friend who gave up alcohol for Lent one year. He’s not an alcoholic, but he found that he was relying on alcohol to get through social events in a way he felt was unhealthy. Now, he still drinks alcohol, but after his Lenten fast he returned to it freer, knowing that it was not what made him okay, and he is able to abstain from it more readily. Some of us would do well to limit our working hours or practice Sabbath-keeping over Lent to repent for how we rely on work or busyness to make us feel okay. I have a friend who gave up her smartphone for Lent because she felt like technology had become, in some sense, a god in her life. She didn’t know how to live without being plugged in 24/7, so Lent was an experiment in letting go of a false god to rely on the true God.”[6]

One year for lent I took up the practice of photography.  We all take pictures and this is a normal thing often used to commemorate special events.  I was still working for the hospice at that time and I was driving all over Ventura, Orange and Los Angeles counties.  I had decided for lent I would seek something out that spoke of god to me.  One picture each day….that didn’t work out so well….over the forty days I took 194 pictures.  When one starts to look for God, to seek out that deeper relationship finding god in the everyday is really not difficult..

I would like to refer to Reverend Michael K. Marsh from his blog interrupting the silence again which states; “A battle is brewing on the road to Jerusalem. At first it looks like just another confrontation with the Pharisees and a puppet tyrant. But it is more than that. It will be a battle between a hen’s wings of love and a fox’s claws and fangs, a battle between stone and flesh. That does not sound like a fair fight and it is not. Only Jesus, however, seems to know that.”[7]

Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem.  So here are the Pharisees.  We do not know if they are headed the same direction or where they are coming from and yet here they meet.  There is no greeting.  No words of comfort only a warning. Herod wants you dead now go away; words of rejection, painful and frightening words, words that are hurled stones.

See Jesus knows the fight is not with Herod, not with the Sadducees nor the Pharisees.  Jesus’ fight is neither with Simon the Zealot nor with Judas Iscariot.  Jesus’ fight is with Jerusalem.  Michael Marsh reiterates; “’Jerusalem, Jerusalem.’ In those words I hear my name. For you see, Jerusalem is the universal name. It is the name of every family, language, people, and nation. Jesus is calling your name and my name. And I cannot help but begin to recall the stones that I have thrown.”[8]

Christ looks past all our stones.  Christ continues on the path towards Jerusalem, the path towards us upon the path paved with stones. You see it is the practice, the intention of seeking God out during these forty days. That helps us with taking those stones that are thrown at us or that we throw at ourselves and laying them down and pave the path to Jerusalem.

With each step on the path to Jerusalem Jesus is calling to us and offering compassion, understanding and healing. Christ is calling us to be a whole and holy people.  He comes to us in opportunity everyday through the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the homeless, those who suffer from mental illness, physical disabilities.  Anyone who may challenges us and strike up that old fear in us.

“Every day he comes to us. We hear him in the cries of the poor, the immigrant, the homeless, the needy, and the hungry. We see him in the faces of those who are different from us, who threaten us, who scare us, those who live on the fringe of what we consider acceptable, those who would stretch us, confront us, and maybe even change us. We feel him in the touch of friends, parents, spouses, and mentors, whose hands support, encourage, sustain, and challenge us.”[9]

Again I encourage you throughout this Lenten period to take time to be alone with God in prayer.  Take time to seek God out in the world.  Take a moment to go beyond your fear.  Get past your old stones and lay them down.  Allow this to be a time of transformation, reformation, and renewal.

Over the next few weeks we will be hearing of different aspects of Jesus’ ministry that always leads to one place and one place only.  I bet you think I am speaking of Golgotha or the cross but no I encourage you all to look to Easter Morning.  For all the work and practice you may enter into during this Lenten period will lead to a new morning, a new way of seeing yourself, a glorious Easter morning where you will be able to see a road behind you paved with old stones that now glisten in that morning light.

[1] Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), xxx.
[2] Michael K. Marsh, Interrupting of Silence, (accessed February 14, 2013).
[3] Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, 6.
[4] Norvene Vest, ed., Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions (Harrisburg, PA.: Morehouse Pub., 2003), 126.
[5] Ibid., 127.
[6] Tish Harrison Warren, Giving Up and Taking Up: What we do (and don’t do) when we keep Lent, (accessed February 19, 2013).
[7] Marsh, Interrupting of Silence.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.

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