Tuesday, March 10, 2009

RCL - Lent 2 B - 08 Mar 2009

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
RCL – Lent 2 B – Sunday 08 Mar 2009

We continue our Lenten pilgrimage, our journey toward the Cross and toward Easter and new life. One popular TV pastor has given Lent an acronym: LENT - “Let’s Eliminate Negative Thinking”. Maybe he’s right…
Lent is a time to look into our hearts and ask the hard questions - about ourselves, our relationships, our communities. Questions like:
Who is this Messiah we say we follow?
Who are we?
The purpose in the asking is not to arrive at definitive conclusions, but to keep us alive, to keep us open and searching and ready for more of the truth to reveal itself to us and then to live more of it. In keeping the questions alive, we keep ourselves alive. Our tendency is to settle and conclude and arrive - which is a kind of numb spiritual sleep, but the Gospel keeps unsettling us, keeps raising reality, keeps pushing us forward toward our true home. The greatest danger in our spiritual lives is the firm conviction that we’re doing it right, that we’ve got it together more than other poor souls who are not as enlightened and sophisticated as we are. Each story or encounter in the life of Jesus comes along and knocks us off our horse. He’s unpredictable and hard to classify and dangerous. As soon as a person or group came at him with the idea of labeling and defining him, he slipped out of their grasp. Jesus keeps knocking down the walls of definition we build around him. One of the dynamics of American Christianity is the branding of Jesus to fit our agendas. Let’s get the ultimate advocate for our issue! Let’s get the Messiah to back our program! If we are conservative, then that's who Jesus becomes for us. If we are progressive, then that's the part of Jesus that we focus on. The joke is on us - he is both - and neither. He wouldn't and won't be owned by our agenda. The kingdom of God is his agenda. Do we form the Jesus we want or are we formed by the Jesus who is revealed to us?
Who is this Messiah we say we follow?
Who are we?
This Messiah of ours loves us too much to let us stay stuck in our safe boxes.
The Gospel this morning seeks to orient us toward this new way of being. Peter, whose mouth is usually ahead of his brain, has decided how the Messiah is to be and act - he is a self-appointed adviser to Jesus’ campaign for Messiah. He sees suffering on the horizon and says “Let’s run for it. Let’s protect ourselves at all cost.” Jesus responds to Peter’s attempt to manipulate him with love. And this love is not always or even usually a warm and fuzzy feel-good kind of pleasure that the culture defines as love. This is love that will not let me go, love that sees through my games and my masks, is compelled to resist what is evil in me so that God's goodness can be formed in me. Peter experiences this kind of love - but it doesn't feel good for the Satan in him, in us, to be exposed and named. There is no other way to form the good of cross-bearing in him, prepare him to surrender his agenda, his plan, his grand schemes for Messiah. Later he weeps at his own denial because he has known this love, he runs to the empty tomb because he has been loved like this, he preaches at Pentecost in the power of this love, he leads the early Church and then dies on an upside-down cross because he ultimately learned that nothing is greater, nothing more real and sure and worth dying for than this love.
It is no easy or light thing to welcome this kind of love into our hearts. Do we believe that God is this good, this gracious?

I’m not usually the type to click on every sensational live video that makes its way onto the Internet, but this one tempted me. A car chase in California, live on CNN via the news helicopter. I clicked. The fleeing vehicle was a U-Haul driven by a woman - there’s a story here, I thought, so I kept watching. Over the winding highways of greater Los Angeles she drove, very fast, and the police followed. I began watching before Vespers and checked afterward - still fleeing and following. After supper - still fleeing and following. At some point during Compline, (I found the video the next day) she ran out of gas, ran from the truck, was quickly tackled by the highway patrol, and arrested. Multiple felony charges, including stealing the truck, and probably several years in jail are her future.
The scene became a parable for me - the poor woman fleeing the inevitable, clinging to some irrational thought of escape, holding onto the illusion that movement is freedom for as long as possible. And the police patiently watching and following at her heels, God like.
How like this woman I am! I don’t want to stop, let go, surrender, face myself, let myself be loved this much. I’d much rather do it my way, follow my plan, in a way that makes me look good and get the credit! Our running gives the illusion of freedom but our fear and drive to run have already imprisoned us. In the upside down world of the Kingdom we win by surrender, by losing. We live by dying. We conquer by laying down the swords with which we slice each other and find in our empty hands what we truly need and deep down really want - for the power of love to be made real through us.
Who is this Messiah we say we follow?
Who are we?
This Messiah of ours loves us too much to let us stay on the run.
God pursues us relentlessly and waits for us to say “yes” to real life. God is, to use the title of Francis Thompson’s famous poem “The Hound of Heaven”. The poem opens with these haunting words:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat--and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet--
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

Who is this Messiah we say we follow?
Who are we?
Lent points us back to the Good News and the Good News is that the same Savior who unnerves us isn’t finished with us. God is chasing us down and will unload our trucks full of empty external ritual and tired pious tradition that only deepen our loneliness and isolation - will dump it all out and find the real us. The invitation of Lent from this Messiah we say we follow to you and me is to be honest, cross-bearingly honest: to look at everything through the Gospel, to stop running, to hear the invitation of Jesus to you anew, to live a full, rich life through Christ - to be loved and to love your neighbor. The proof of having our illusions stripped away from us is a mercy and an empathy with our own cross and the pain of those around us - self-giving, sacrifice, to die if necessary, for the life of our neighbor. As we journey toward the Passion and Easter, may it be our wholehearted commitment to accept the love and the cross Christ offers us.

No comments: