Growing in Holiness 2013 02 17 Lent 1 Rom 10:4-13
There is the old story about the head of a monastery. One day, a very old copy of the guidelines for their order was found, and he carefully reads it. He suddenly starts wailing. They dropped the r. The word was celebrate.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, a time to open ourselves to coming closer to God, and allowing God to come closer to us., a process helped by prayer, study and celebration.
Getting closer to God happens in our hearts and minds, but what we do shapes what happens in our hearts and minds. A mountaintop experience of God, without a plan of action for the valley of daily life, fades away For this reason, religions create rules to train the heart and mind to work in God-centered ways. Then people forget the reason for the rules, and make the rules into God. We resent the rules that get in the way of what we want to do, and use the ones we like as weapons against those people who don’t follow those rules. Instead of getting closer to God, we resent God for rules that get in our way, and believe we have a leash on God through the rules we like.
Paul saw this and knew that rules are not as important as what happens in our minds and hearts. And what helps our hearts and minds get closer to God is trusting God and giving our love to God.
For Paul, the process of becoming right with God, of becoming holy, begins in our heart and mind with calling out to God. He directed his readers to trust God. It is hard to trust someone we do not know, and Lent provides time for getting to know God better. Our New Creed has the following lines: We are called to be the church; to celebrate Gods presence.
Lent is a time where building trust in God, getting to know God better, and celebrating Gods presence go together.
When we celebrate Gods presence, we must begin with identifying how God is present. In a worship service, God is present in the people, in the creative forces that built the church, in the creative genius in the music; in the creation and beauty of stained-glass windows. God is present in the bread, the wine, and the water, and in the air we breathe.
On Wednesday evening, Bonnie and I attended an art exhibition at the CBE building. This exhibit is open to the public during the day, and I invite you to go down. The creativity of the students and teachers and the beauty of the art works spoke to me of God’s presence. I feel God’s presence in beautiful sunrises, and in the death of a sparrow as it becomes a hawk’s meal. God is present with the homeless people sleeping in parks and back alleys, and God is present in emergency wards in our hospitals.
Is there any place that you believe God is not present in some way? If God is present everywhere, what is required for celebrating God’s presence?
Worship is the first example, and this directive reminds us that worship is, first of all, about God. In the creation of beautiful places of worship, such as Chartres Cathedral, we celebrate the presence of God. Music, instrumental and voice, celebrate the presence of God. Banners, special church furnishings such as our baptismal font, stained glass windows and church schools celebrate the presence of God. When we socialize before the service, and share coffee and snacks after the service, we are still celebrating God’s presence, especially God’s presence in the people around us.
We celebrate God’s presence in communion, in baptisms, in weddings, and in funerals. Avid gardeners celebrate God’s presence at times from reading preparing the soil to planting, cultivating and harvesting.
In one way or another, each of the statements that follow “Celebrate God’s presence” are particular ways of doing so. When we act to show respect to the environment, we are honouring and celebrating God’s presence in the world around us.
When we show care for others, we are celebrating God’s presence in them. When we work for justice and resist evil, we are celebrating God’s presence in the dark and painful places in the world. When we proclaim Jesus, we celebrate God’s presence in him and in the communities of followers resulting from his life, teachings, death and resurrection.
Our celebration of the presence of God grounds other practices that help us grow in holiness. Being aware of God’s presence so we can celebrate leads to an experience of God which can help us trust God. Once we trust God, then it is easier to turn our life over to Jesus, as Paul wrote to his readers, and to ask for help when we need it. Also, we can then accept the discipline we need to continue in those practices that help us come close to and stay close to God. Our doing, knowing why we do what is right, helps our hearts and minds increase in openness to God. Without the doing, our decisions to come close to God are as fragile as frost on a sunny winter day.
This need to reinforce decisions with practice may be part of our story of Jesus being driven into the wilderness. I am one of many who believe Jesus knew he had the mission of building a bridge between people and God, and he faced many temptations for shortcuts.
He needed time away from others to consider his options and make a choice that will really work. He rejected the option of buying people’s affection or behaviour with food. Any teacher or parent who has made the mistake of using material rewards for behaviour discovered that the price of compliance increases. If people do something for an external reward, there is often little change internally.
He rejected the option of power, of making people behave. He wanted to come to God in a spirit of love, not resentment or fear.
He rejected the option of dramatic events such as jumping off of tall buildings. Events like this fade quickly from the attention of most people, and have little impact on long-term internal change. They also look for even more drama.
All the external ways of manipulating and coercing people to change their behaviour would fail at having God’s laws written on our hearts as promised in Jeremiah. What we need is someone to lead the way, and to show us that there is real value to us in following that way. Jesus did this by freely and gladly being with people, walking with them, and acting for their well-being. His teaching teased their and our minds into looking at the world, at ourselves, and at God in new ways, and to recognizing great truths hidden by our accumulated cultural lies.
As we take time to use his teaching to examine our lives and work for changes in how we believe, act and feel, we will grow in closeness to God, we will grow in holiness, and we will grow in wholeness.
As we become increasingly able to let love lead our way, guide our hearts, and inform our minds, we will experience more often the joy and peace found in life in God’s empire, an empire of heart and mind, not place.
May God help all of us make the choices we need to grow in holiness, to grow in wellness. Amen.