Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sermon: March 15

For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

St. Paul’s words remind me that I do not have all the answers. My kids also remind me of this with the questions they ask and when I help them with their homework. A humbling experience but a reminder that it is God who has all the answers. We don’t have all the answers. In a week where we watch tragedy in Germany & in Alabama unfold in violence. As people continue to lose jobs, and their seems to be so much fear and anxiety around, its hard not to have the answers, to know what’s going to happen next. In the midst of this is the cross. A symbol for some of death and despair, a symbol to some of fools worshipping an empty sky, others a symbol of loss.

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Again St. Paul tells us that the message of the cross seems to be foolishness, nonsense. But to us, it is the power of God. It is salvation. We are making a journey towards that symbol of both death and life.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

Finally, St Paul tells us that even though we don’t have to fully know it or understand it, we need to believe it, for there our salvation lies. The cross is our symbol that God is still with us and is at work even in the most terrible of moments and God will save us still.

When Moses went up the mountain, it was a tense time for the Israelites, some wanted to return to Egypt and found the rough sojourn in the wilderness too much to bear, other were seeking guidance, what should they do? God gives Moses on Mount Sinai what we call the 10 commandments. The first four deal with our relationship with God, the final six with our relationships with each other. In many ways, these are just basic rules for us, and yet if we truly followed them…

Bernard Madoff would not have stolen the money he did and bear false witness about what the funds were for. We wouldn’t have a renegade militia in N. Ireland trying to destroy the long sought after peace there.

Those 10 commandments are there to guide us into our best selves. What might we look like if we truly took the Sabbath seriously and took it off? It helps to remember God didn’t give us all this to burden us, but to help us become the best of who we are.

When Jesus entered the temple, he did not see the best of us, he saw a marketplace instead of worship, he saw a place that did not honor God but was more interested in making sure people paid their way to right worship. That was not what God intended and Jesus was furious. He drove them out with a whip of cords. I think of a story about another rabbi…

A rabbi had a busy week, so busy that he never got around to visiting the sick members of his congregation in the hospital. As a result, he had to cancel a planned family outing on Sunday afternoon to make his calls. But after an hour, it was clear he had wasted his time: two of the people he had come to see had been discharged the previous afternoon (and were now probably angry that he had not come to see them); two others were sleeping and he hesitated to wake them; another had a roomful of visitors and saw the rabbi’s presence as an intrusion;

and the last patient he visited spent twenty minutes complaining about her aches and pains and previous afflictions and cited them as the reasons she could no longer believe in God or value prayer. The rabbi could not help thinking of all the ways he would rather have spent the hour. Walking back to the parking lot resenting the time he had wasted, he passed an office building where a security guard was on duty in the front. “Good afternoon,” the guard said to the rabbi, which prompted the rabbi to stop and say, “It’s Sunday. The building is closed and empty. Why are you standing here?” “I’m hired to make sure nobody breaks in to steal or vandalize anything. But what are you doing here in a suit and tie on a Sunday afternoon? Who do you work for?”

The rabbi was about to tell the guard the name of his congregation when he paused, reached into his pocket for his card, and said, “Here’s my name and phone number. I’ll pay you ten dollars a week to call me every Monday morning and ask me that question: Remind me to ask myself, Who do I work for?”[From Overcoming Life’s Disappointments by Harold S. Kushner.]

The rabbi was reminded by the security guard for whom he was working. Not only the people of his congregation but for God too. The same can be said of us. Too many merchants and others we have allowed into our lives and we have forgotten the presence of God in our midst, our creator. There is no space for God when we over extend ourselves with all that life has to offer. For it is then we look at our life and wonder how we can make it better.

Lent is that time to make it better. As one author put it, “Lent challenges us to cast out the money changers who shortchange our time and attention from the important things of life; these days call us to drive out the useless, the meaningless, and the destructive that desecrate the sacred place within us where God should dwell, the God “whom we [ultimately] work for.” (Jay Cormier)

The cross is that stark reminder in our lives of God’s presence with us even in the midst of this hurting world. And it is God who calls us to follow where Jesus has led, away from the marketplace, towards that sacred ground where we remember our relationships with both God and our neighbor. To some, our faith is foolishness, but to us, we know, deep down, our faith leads us on the path to be our best, to the cross and beyond, for it leads us to God.

“The one who has found Jesus Christ on the cross knows how wondrously God hides in this world and how God is just there, closest, where we believe God to be farthest.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

This Lent may we open ourselves to God and get rid of all that hinders us on our journey. Let me end with Niebuhr’s Serenity prayer (let us pray):

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Amen.

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