God’s Name

the First Sunday after Christmas
26 December 2019

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

Click here to access these readings.

        Back when I was interviewing for the job as your priest, someone on the BAC (I think it was Pete, maybe John) asked me, “Do you prefer to be called ‘father’ or ‘reverend’?” This is something that people talked about at seminary quite a bit. Everyone had a preference, and everyone had a different reason why. Jesus said not to call anyone ‘father’ but your Father in Heaven, but ‘reverend’ comes from ‘reverence’, and none of us for sure didn’t want anyone to reverence us.

        The women in seminary had an even more difficult choice: few of them wanted to be called ‘mother’, but not all of them liked ‘reverend.’ Some of them decided not to have a title at all and to just go with their first names, while others wanted to root themselves in tradition. One woman I knew, who graduated a year after me, asks people to call her “Father Jane.” Everyone’s different.

        And so when Pete or John asked me this question, with all the BAC around, I had these discussions running around my head. I personally prefer ‘father’ because of it’s traditional, but I knew there were folks out there who would balk at the title. And so I did what I usually did as a teacher when a student asked me a difficult question: I reflected. “What do you want to call me?” I asked. I was eventually pressed into making a choice, but I used the question, as I’ll use it now, as a teaching moment. It’s very nice to know what I want to be called, and very important, I think, but I think it’s also important to know what you want to call me. It tells me what you see a priest as and what you need in a priest.

        What you call someone says a lot about what you need and who you are. I remember, once, a student emailed me to tell me that he was dropping my class. Normally, students would address me as ‘Tim’ or ‘Mr. Hannon’, and if they were asking for a favor, they’d even try ‘Dr. Hannon’, even though I told them I didn’t have a PhD. But this student, thinking, perhaps, that he was dropping the class, so why bother, addressed me as “Tim-o”. And the email that he wrote, and the reasons he gave for dropping my class, continued this rather relaxed, up-front, and disrespectful air. Helene and I, on the other hand, try our best to have Gwendolyn address you all with ‘mister’ or ‘misses’ in front of your names, not only because we want her to show you respect, but because using these titles helps Gwendolyn respect other people (at least we hope


        Now, St. Paul does something very interesting with titles in our letter to the Galatians. But before we get to the Bible, I want to ask you all a question: how do you address God? Now this might change depending on how you’re praying. At least that’s how I work. If I need something, or if I want something (which are pretty different, even though we sometimes forget that they are), I make sure I’m very polite. “Oh, dear God, loving and giving Lord, God who does wonders and loves those who are in trouble, please hear my prayer.” I lay it on thick, for sometimes I forget that God isn’t like us humans who, now and again, need a bit of buttering up. And if it’s thanksgivings, I’m usually a bit shorter. “Thanks God” or “Thank you Jesus.” The more I need, the more long-winded I get, and this says more about me than about God. I wonder if you’re similar.

        But jokes aside, how do you address God? Or, in your heart of hearts, how do you think of God? Who is God to you? Is God someone you feel you have to placate, who you have to persuade, you need to cajole, or maybe even someone you have to bribe? If you only do this for me, God, I’ll make sure to pray every day, or donate more to church, or something similar?  Is God someone you have to address like a lawyer addressing a court, choosing your words carefully and making sure that you ask exactly what you want, lest God misunderstand you or trick you and give you something you really don’t want or that you just can’t handle?

        In the light of day, on a nice morning here in church, maybe not, but when things get dark, many of us feel that God is a lot like a lawyer or a judge or, even, a jailer. We can say that God is a god of love, but in the back of our heads we often wonder if that love is a hard love. When we pray, and those prayers aren’t answered, we can wonder that, maybe, we prayed wrong, or that we’re not good enough for that prayer to be answered, or that because of our sin God is mad at us and won’t listen, even if we pray from the depths of our hearts. And if you have never felt this way, then you are blessed; but know that there are many who we serve who do experience God this way. They feel beaten up by a god who seems to care more about perfection than grace.

        And this is why it is so amazing that the way St. Paul talks about addressing God is to use the word “Abba.”  Now, ‘abba’ means something a bit more familiar than “Father” but also a bit more formal than “Daddy”; something like “Dad”, but more like “my dad” or “my father.” And Paul writes this not only because he wants his readers, and you yourself, to understand something very important about God, but because he wants you to know something very important about you yourself and yourselves. You are children of God. You’re not slaves, not servants, not defendants in a court or anything like that, but children. You are beloved children.

        Now, this doesn’t mean that God will be a doting parent, or that, because you’re children of God, God’ll overlook things like you wreaking his car or something. As C.S. Lewis wrote, God isn’t a tired old grandfather who just likes to sit back and watching kids have fun, or who will buy his grandkids candy behind their parents back. No, God is a father, a parent, and so there are some chores to do, and when we do wrong we need to seek reconciliation.

        When we say that we are children of God, we mean that we share the same relationship with God that the Son has, that Jesus had and has even now. And while that relationship didn’t mean that Jesus would have an easy life, it did mean that there would be a light that is instilled in us that is as deep as Creation. That Life that Jesus had while healing, while preaching, while teaching, while going around all throughout the land and being with the people; and that Life that, even when it was crucified, could raise again; and that Life that was so mighty and so beautiful and so True that it pulled up each and every one of us  towards heaven with it, and not just you and me but the whole of Creation; that Life lives within us now. That Hope, that Life, that eternal Life that Jesus had and has, that is something for us all, not as something given into our hands like a present on Christmas but something born inside of us, a relationship of love that can outlast the stars themselves.

        And now I will ask you the same question I asked Tuesday night because I really want you to think about it: what will you do with this Life? You have been given a gift, and you are now a Child of God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth. You have a life within you that has defied empires and that has calmed the mightiest storms of doubt and grief. You have the same heart that St. Francis did when he preached to the birds, and you have the same heart that St. Thomas had when he gave his life to study. And you have the same heart that has caused countless generations of Christians to live good, honest, quiet lives of love, of hope, and of grace. You have that life, for Jesus Christ has been born within your heart this Christmas, and at your baptism, and every time you join in the Eucharist, and every single time you turn, again, from sin and hatred to the loving light of God. How will you live, knowing that you are a Son or Daughter of God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?




Stuff and God

the 11th day after Pentecost
Proper 16
August 25ht, 2019

The readings for today are:
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Click here to access these readings.

            Have you ever heard of the liturgical workout? No, it’s not what Episcopalians do when they go to the gym. It’s what we do right here in our church nave. It’s often said that we Episcopalians, and many others who worship God liturgically, are always standing up and sitting down. And you might not notice this if you’ve worshipped this way for a long time. It all seems, to us, pretty simple. We sit down for readings – unless it’s the gospel reading, then we stand. We also stand for the Nicene Creed, but then we sit back down for the Prayers of the People. And when it comes time for the Eucharist, some people stand and some people sit (both are just fine, by the way). And some people, if their piety is just right, will kneel instead. We are always getting up but then sitting back down.

       And we don’t do all this just because it’s fun to stand up and sit down all the time. When we pray liturgically, we don’t just pray with the voice but with all the senses and the whole body together. And each of these different ways we pray – they mean something. Why do we stand at the gospel? It’s because we are people of Jesus Christ, people of the Gospel, and we stand to show respect to the words of our Savior. Why do we sit or kneel at confession? It’s because in our confession we are humbling ourselves before God. Nor are we just saying, “God, I’m sorry”, but using our whole body, our knees and our shoulders and our hands and our voices to confess our sins to God. And why? Because we feel that doing so helps us come to a fuller realization of our sins and mistakes and, hopefully, leads us to an amendment of life. Physically sitting or kneeling, we believe, helps that process, as does, when we’ve been absolved, standing up helps us enter more fully into God’s mercy, grace, and love.

       There’s a kind of “stuff-ness” to liturgical worship, isn’t there? There’s a lot of stuff, a lot of physical things that you can touch or things that we do. We’re always standing or sitting, bowing and crossing ourselves, or using water or oil or chrism or bread and wine. We have chalices and patents, bells in towers and hand-bells that acolytes can ring through the whole Eucharistic prayer (not that this happened recently…). Our priests wear three layers of clothes and we like holding hymnals better than using projectors. We like stuff – things we can reach out to and touch, things we can hold, things that help us reach out and touch God and one another in love.

       But then comes the letter to the Hebrews. The author seems to be saying something different here. He writes that, when we come to God, we come to something that you can’t touch. Being with God isn’t like holding onto stuff like bread or a book, but like a blazing fire, something that is there and that you can see but that you can’t reach out and hold in the palm of your hands. Or like darkness or gloom, or the raging of a tempest, or even just the sound of a trumpet. These things move us, or allow us to see, or send us running, but no matter how much they affect us we can’t hold them. You can’t put God a box or a nice pretty bag. We can learn about and be brought to God through things, through stuff, through God’s Creation; but at the same time, it’s important to remember that God isn’t Creation. God is more than this world. God isn’t tangible, he’s not what we can see on the surface of things. God is more than that.

       So, does that mean that we’re wrong to like all this stuff in our worship? If God is something that we can’t touch, if God is like the sound of a trumpet, or the blaze of a fire, or darkness and light, things we can’t hold, then is it okay to have so much stuff here in church that we can hold? Well, yes, it is. This is actually an old question for us Christians, one that folks were talking about over a thousand years ago. You see, back in the 7 and 8 hundreds, people were worried and wondering: should we really be making art that depicts God? Should we paint pictures of God or build statues of him and his saints? People were, of course, already doing this, and doing it quite a bit, but theologians were wondering if it was such a good idea. They were worried that people would see those pictures and statues and think, well, here’s God right here – and then worship the pictures and statues and forget about the true God. In other words, they asked: doesn’t all this stuff – these images, these statues, these bits of our worship that are just things – doesn’t all this stuff get in the way of worshipping God?

       And the answer from a thousand years ago is this: no. Keep your art and love your art. Keep all that stuff in your churches. And they said this not because they just really liked art but because of how God saved humanity in Jesus Christ. God did not come down as some vague spirit to save us. God did not just think us into salvation. And God didn’t just give us some great, intelligent, wise person to lead us into a better way of life. No, God came down to us as Jesus Christ – as St. Paul writes in Philippians: God humbled himself to be with us, to walk on this earth with us, to kick around in the dust and to lift us from the dust, all to save us. God became that dust, entered into and became that dust that we are, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, so that that dust, so that we who are dust, could walk in eternal life.

       But the essence of things, the truth of things, is not in the dust, but in the one who became dust, who humbled himself, even to death on the cross. All this stuff here in church is beautiful and joyful and so very helpful to our lives in God, and while these things aren’t God, we shouldn’t just turn from them all to a form of worship that is somehow more pure because there are fewer things in the room. For in being Incarnated into this world, God said to a bit of metal with a rope attached to it (a bell): you are worthy to sing my praises. And God said to some sheep wool and probably a bit of plastic fabric (a chasuble): you are worthy to stand at my altar. And God said to us, who are dust, and to dust shall we return: you are worthy to shine with the same light as that of my Son, Jesus Christ. Because through all of it the light of Jesus Christ, which is like a burning flame lighting our path, or the sound of a trumpet calling us home, through all of it shines the holiness of Jesus Christ.

Ascension Day

Ascension Day

Today’s readings are:
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47 or 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

Click here to access these readings.

Today is the Feast of Ascension Day.  It’s one of the big days of the Church.  Another way to say this is that it’s one of the Principle Feasts, alongside Easter, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas, and Epiphany.  Principal Feasts are the holiest of holy days, and we celebrate them with special acts of devotion, prayer, and joy.  There’s a world-wide effort, actually, to encourage pray all across the Church on these ten days between Ascension and Pentecost.  I’ve posted a few of these on our Facebook page, but you can also find the main page here.

Ascension Day looks to the passages in Luke and Acts listed above, where, following his Resurrection and teaching the disciples, Jesus ascends bodily to be with God in Heaven.  There’s a lot of great art throughout the history of the Church that depicts this event.  There is also a chapel dedicated to the ascension in the church of Our Lady of Walsingham in England.  Inside the chapel, if you look up, you’ll see a set of feet (Jesus’) ascending through the ceiling.  You can see this picture above.

Now, Ascension Day (and images like feet sticking through the ceiling) might seem like a strange or really very particular sort of thing to celebrate.  Jesus’ ascension may appear to be another bit of theological nit-picking much like the old medieval discussion of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.  Whether Jesus died again after the Resurrection, or wandered away to some other country, or rose bodily to Heaven, may not seem to matter all that much.  Jesus is with us, and isn’t that alone important?  But I think that the ascension is one of the really important parts of the story of Jesus, and it’s a part of the story that touches us closely.

Let me take a step back for a moment and tell a story.  After my wife and I had our first child, a friend of ours in seminary gave us a little book called “Holding your Newborn Child.”  It was a set of meditations on bits of Scripture and prayers that the Church holds dear.  Nor was it all a bunch of vague philosophizing, but were centered on the new life that we held in our arms.  

And I remember, very well, how real that life was.  As an infant, my daughter wouldn’t sleep unless she was held, and so my wife and I traded off holding her all through the night.  We were exhausted, but it also bound us with our daughter in a really special and amazing way.  During those long nights, I remember praying in a way that I had never prayed before.  I had always had worries, sure, and been anxious or joyful or hopeful about the future, but in holding that young baby, just a few days old, I was centered in my prayers so much on the present moments of grace.  The reality of this child, this small weight of life in my arms, and my love for her, was my prayer.  I found that I had no words to pray other than, very simply, to hold my daughter.

And just like a newborn, Jesus is not just some vague “figure” or spiritual force that exists in our lives.  Jesus is not just a hope, not just a dream, nor just some “energy” that we direct with our prayers.  Jesus is real, and Jesus is alive.  And Jesus is alive not as a spirit, but in his body as well.  And that brings us, who are both bodies and souls, so much closer to him.  It reminds us that our bodies matter, that our care for Creation matters, and that our lives matter.  Christians can’t just look to the future when all will be made right; we must also look to what is present, to the life that is in our hands and indeed all around us.  And we are also reminded that God holds us, for we are to him his beloved children.  God’s real arms, as Jesus Christ, are holding us, even now, in our grief, raising us up in our sorrow, and celebrating with us in our joy.  God is truly, truly present.

There are a lot of parts of our Church and our Christian lives together that is about stuff.  On Sunday we gather together in a single place, kneel or stand with one another, and join together in the Eucharist, which is the eating of real bread and the drinking of real wine.  And when we go out from our worship into the world, we work with our hands and our feet, our voices and our bodies, to do the work of God.  And God is present in each of them, both bodily and spiritually, especially in the Eucharist but also in our good work as Christians. 

In the end, Ascension Day reminds us that God is real, and not in some “purer” way that hates the world and is ashamed of bodies.  No, on Ascension Day we remember that Jesus Christ is, even now, in bodily form, but in the most perfect bodily form.  And it is this form to which we will one day go ourselves, and which all the world, in the New Heaven and the New Earth, will one day be.  And it is a further emphasis of the promise that God is with us, always and forever.


The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Readings for this week are:
Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Click here to access these readings.

        What does it mean for God to make his home among mortals?  This is something that St. John writes in our reading from Revelation that we just heard: where the loud voice says from the throne: “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”  And John wasn’t the one who came up with this idea; all of the Bible, really, is trying to help people understand that God is with us.  And God is with us not in some small, secondary, or ancillary way, like a relative who stays (or overstays) through the holidays, or a friend who’s there in the good times but, really, when the going gets tough, is nowhere to be found.  No, the Bible tells us that God is with us.  That’s why Jesus, whose name means “to deliver” or “to rescue”, is also called Emmanuel, which means, quite simply, “God is with us.”  God is with us, God dwells with us, God lives with us; but what does it mean for God to make his home among us?  What does it look like in our lives, and what does it feel like in our hearts?

        Well, to be quite honest, I think often we think of God living with us like a boy getting a new dog.  Gwendolyn has this book called Charley’s First Night.  It’s a really wonderful book about Henry Korn getting a little puppy called Charley for his birthday.  It’s all written from Henry’s point of view, and it’s all about Henry showing Charley around his home.  And for Henry, everything (from the place where the vacuum is kept beneath the stairs to the moonlight through the kitchen window) everything becomes new and magnificent.  Everything speaks of Henry and Charley’s new love for one another.  And this is all summed up at the start of the book, where Henry says, “I carried him in my old baby blanket, which was soft and midnight blue, and we were new together and I was very, very careful not to slip in the snow and I thought about his name.  I was the one who thought up his name.  Charley.  Charley Korn.  My name is Henry.  Henry Korn.”

        Now, I mention this story not just because I really like children’s books, but because Henry’s love for his new dog Charley, and the way that they were “new together”, it’s really one of the ways we experience God.  And this is especially true when we’re young, or when we’ve been brought by the Spirit into a new closeness with God.  Think, yourself, of times of particular joy for you, recently or in the past.  Maybe when your kids or grandkids were born, or at the beginning of spring when all the flowers started blooming.  Doesn’t it feel that same way, that you and those things you loved, and God as well, all felt new together?  I think of the first day of my road trip from Georgia up here to Oregon with Helene.  We were delirious with joy, and each mile seemed new.  But I also think of the disciples in the Book of Acts on the day of Pentecost, when the tongues of flame settled above their heads, and they spoke in all the languages of the world and proclaimed the Good News, the Gospel, of Jesus Christ raised from the dead.  Everything is new in these moments, even Henry Korn’s old baby blanket, which became soft and midnight blue.  And they were new together.

        But over time, newness wears off.  Things become normal again.  Not even the saints live their full lives in the pure ecstasy of the newness of rebirth in the Spirit.  After a while, we go back to the work-a-day world, and not because God leaves us, but because we are called to bring God back into that work-a-day world.  We Christians are messengers, ambassadors, guides, who have seen the true light and wish to help others see it, experience it, and live it, too.  The Joy of God is not for us alone, but for us to give to others.

        But when this happens, when we come down from the summits of our experiences with God and go out into the world to do God’s work again, when this happens, God living with us might seem less like Henry and Charley and much more like Henry’s parents and Charley.  Dogs are fun for kids, sure, but parents end up doing all the work.  Dogs need to be walked, fed, potty trained, and brought to the vet when they’re sick.  I remember, as a kid, wondering why my own parents got frustrated with my dogs; weren’t dogs all fun and joy and beauty and wonder? 

        There are times for us Christians when God, or at the very least Christianity, can become something of a chore.  For God works deep into our lives, deep into the fabric, the warp and woof of our lives.  It’s great when God lifts our hearts to sing in the joy of the new spring of our souls, but, man, when God asks us to lay all things open before him, or to let parts of us (and, worst of all, parts of us that we might really like) die, when God says to love our enemies, to open our hearts even if it hurts, to love even if it means something like death on a cross – well, God begins to look much less like a puppy or a bright, sunny day and more like a hard-nosed boss who won’t stop nagging for more productivity.  As C.S. Lewis writes, we often want, not God the Father, but God the kindly Grandfather, who dotes on his grandkids and sits back to let them do what they want.

        Last week, I preached on the idea that the Bible isn’t a set of laws or rules that we need to follow, but that it is a book that we need to give our heart to and to love.  We enter into the world and the story of the Bible, and love it as a story, and doing so is what changes our lives and helps us grow closer to God in Christ.  And it’s the same with the Christian life.  If the Christian life were just a set of things to do, just a list of good deeds and best practices, then it wouldn’t mean much.  Because people, because the world, because life, isn’t just about best practices; life is about living, it’s about living to God and with God and in God.  The Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t the discovery of some new way to live, as if we uncovered some political system where true peace is possible, or some law code that explains and enacts justice perfectly.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is that all things, whatever they are, have the potential of rebirth baked into them.  That everything, from working in our garden to our old baby blankets to us broken, wayward humans, have the love of God deep down within them.  And not only that, but the Spirit of God himself is with us, to lift us through death and resurrection to a life fully renewed in love and hope.

        When God makes his home among us, then , it’s much less like getting a new puppy.  Or, well, perhaps it is, though it is God who brings us home, wrapped in his old blanket, which is soft and midnight blue.  It is God who brings us around the house to show us the light and the joy and the goodness in all the things.  It is God who is very, very careful not to slip in the snow, who shows us around the house saying, “This is home, my beloved”, and he says it again and again so that we know that we’re home.  And it is God who reminds us that part of our work is to go out into the cold, wet, rainy world and bring in others, so that we can bring them inside and show them that it is not just our home, but everyone’s home.  It is God’s home.

Father Tim’s sermon for February 24th, 2019

Jesus in the Desert, by Ivan Kramskoi

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Luke 6:27-38

Click here to access these readings.

        To much joy and many accolades from the children, we are going to be changing our seasonal colors again soon.  We’ve been in green for six or seven weeks, and, after Ash Wednesday, we’ll be in the long months of purple.  And you’ll probably remember from my sermons before and during Advent, purple is the color of contemplation, reflection, and penitence.  Purple marks the times of the year when we sit down, alone or in community, and look at our lives in a mirror, strengthen ourselves and deepen our faith.  It is a quiet time, a calmness before the storm.  But the storm in this case is Easter, when light and life and joy is poured out upon us by the Spirit.  In this time of Lent, we remember and witness in our own hearts the last gasp of Death before the Resurrection, when Jesus rose above death and made the whole creation new.

        This time of reflection, though, is not often easy.  These times of muted colors, when we turn to face the darkness of the world and the darkness of ourselves as well, are not easy.  And it is not a coincidence that the time of Lent follows the season of winter, and that time just before the coming of spring.  Oregon seems particularly apt for a dark, cloudy, stormy Lent.  I wrote this sermon on Saturday morning, when it was cold and rainy and still.  And so it may seem like the best cure for the dark and dreary is for a nice dose of joy, to turn up the lights, lighten to some happy music, and sing and dance.  And doing so may certainly help, but doing so would ignore the wisdom that is in the dark and stormy times, not just of the seasons but in our own hearts as well.  In Lent, the Christian tradition says, “God is here as well.”

        And we know that God is here in the dark times, because Jesus was here when he walked on this earth.  Lent is forty days long, a number that is pretty rife with symbolism in the Bible.  Noah’s ark was out on the sea for forty days and forty nights; the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years; and Jesus was tempted in the desert for forty days.  And on the cover of your bulletin, I’ve put a magnificent and haunting picture of Jesus in the desert.  It’s a 19th century oil painting by Ivan Kramskoi.  When I think of Jesus in the desert, I often think of him as stoic before the devil, denying each temptation with an easy wave of the hand.  But Jesus wasn’t annoyed by the devil; he was tempted.  In this image, Jesus remains strong and steady, but there is deep grief written all over his face and in his clenched hands.  God, in Jesus Christ, knows the dark times of this world and our hearts, because he lived through them, too.

        Now, during Lent, we are called upon by our Church to take on some practice or discipline.  And we do this not as some kind of self-improvement scheme but instead to help us see God more clearly in the world.  I remember one of the first times I took part in Lent, I gave up my mornings.  Now, I really, really, really like to sleep in, so I thought, hey, that’s something that I think is good, so why don’t I give them up for a few weeks?  I’ll wake up early, maybe pray a bit, read from a devotional book, and start the morning right.  Yes, that’s what I’ll do.  And I failed.  In those forty days, I think I got up a total of three times, and once I fell asleep in the chair while reading.  And part of the reason I failed is because I really, really, really like to sleep in, and my will-power is at about zero in the morning, but also because I did it because I thought I should do it.  I thought it’d be good for me, that God wanted me to get up early in the morning, because that’s just a good thing to do.  My discipline was more about me than it was about God.

        And it was around this time, as I was struggling with my disciplines, that our bishop, Michael Hanley, told a story about his own struggles.  He also met with failure, and he also realized that some of his practices were more about himself than about God.  And so he did something very simple: he sat down with God and said, “God, where do you want me to be today?  How can I do your will?  How can I give your love to your people today?”  And after praying, he wasn’t hit with a great epiphany of what to do or how to serve, but each time he sat down with God he asked this question again.  And just by praying this way, just by looking away from what he saw was his failure, he turned himself, each day, more and more fully to God.  This is what we should be doing in our practices.  If there’s a “goal” of Lent, this is what it is.

        Our practices are seeds.  St. Paul writes that we don’t sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed.  And what he means by this is that we don’t start in perfection.  We aren’t baptized into a full and perfect faith that never falters and never fails.  We may come into moments of beautiful clarity and presence before God, but then we see again the grief of the world, and we despair; or a loved one dies, and we doubt; or we speak an evil word, and we lose hope.  And we think: my faith is so weak, what good is such weak faith to God? 

But the ground, the soil, that we are sown into is pictured on the front of your bulletin.  Our ground, the thing that nurtures our seed, that gives it nutrients and water and warmth, that life-giving ground in which we grow is Jesus Christ.  And haven’t you experienced this life before?  Those times when you’ve prayed, “God, I need your help to get through this” and you find that, somehow, you can; or just that person you really needed to talk to calls up or walks in; or the grief lessens just a little bit so that you can see where to go next?  In our lives, be they in conscious practices of turning to God or us just going about our business, in all our lives we encounter these moments of life, of renewal, of hope, strained or free.  These are encounters with God, even if, or especially if, they are small.

We are about to enter into Lent, and Lent is something we prepare for.  A week or so ago, I gave you a challenge, and I gave the people at our Soup Supper last Wednesday a similar challenge.  And I’ll give it to you again this morning: God has planted seeds in our faith and in our lives, and God is right now nurturing those seeds.  Where is God calling you, right now, to focus.  To which seed, or which sapling, or which young tree, is God calling to you to tend and nurture with him?  How is God asking you to not only observe Lent but make it a holy, life-giving Lent?