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THE TIMES WE LIVE IN

REV. JODI BARON – February 21, 2016 – 2 LENT, YEAR C: LUKE 13:31-35

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

This morning I woke up and felt drawn back to the Old Testament lesson. That part that tells us,

 

“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”

 

Mostly because, (and I realize this may be the first some of you are hearing this news) as the sun was going down yesterday, our Michigan community experienced a “terrifying darkness” that has descended upon our State, our Diocesan boundaries, our neighbors in Kalamazoo.

 

As I opened the news this morning, (for an updated account on the situation, here is one account from local news WoodTV8) I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It took my breath away to read about yet another mass shooting that has happened, only this time it was just down the highway from us.

 

I’m not going to go into it, because (a) it’s still unfolding, and (b) the families of some of the victims are still being notified.

But I do have a few thoughts that I wanted share, as they pertain to this season of the church calendar we find ourselves in and the scriptures we just got done hearing or reading.

 

First, what in the world?!?!?!

 

I was literally on the street the police apprehended the suspect they believe was responsible for the death of seven human lives in Kalamazoo last night. That violence has stripped away a sense of basic human safety in ways the police have said they have NEVER seen in our area. This violence has created a cloud of darkness that many folks are finding themselves smack dab in the center of right now.

 

Second, if you are the praying type Kalamazoo needs your prayers.

 

Some of the families are just now hearing the news, some of the families are keeping vigil with their loved ones as they fight for their lives in the hospital, the police are in the midst of interviewing this suspect. As this dawned upon me the only thing I could think of was to pray. So I opened my prayer book and searched for a prayer that might offer a glimpse of comfort or the warmth of human compassion for the families affected by this senseless act of violence.

 

That simple prayer, introduced to our Common Prayer in the revision of the 1789 Prayer Book, served as a catalyst to propel me to re-commit to my Lenten practices. The tragedy in Kalamazoo was, and continues to be, a sobering reminder of the times we live in, and why we take up disciplines each year to strengthen our faith so we can have the courage to serve the world in the name of Christ.

Because here we are.

 

Ash Wednesday & the First Sunday in Lent have come and gone and set the course for our pilgrimage to Mount Calvary.

 

How is it going for you?

 

By now you’ve had a chance to settle into the practices you’ve selected for this season, you’ve had a chance to live out the fasting or giving or prayer practices for a while now…

 

So…how’s it going?

 

Training is challenging, isn’t it?

 

I’ve had the opportunity to train for a few different events in my life; baptism, surgery, college, new jobs, marriage, backpacking, giving birth, the priesthood, a 5K…right now I’m in the midst of training for my first 10K.

 

It’s challenging.

 

All of these events I’ve trained for have been challenging in their own way.

 

But all of them share a common motif.

 

God’s covenant and the newness of life offered by transforming grace.

 

Laurence Stookey, a professor of preaching in the DC area, wrote a book awhile ago about a Theology of liturgical time. In it he walks through the church calendar and offers thoughts about the week-to-week cycle we find ourselves in, if we are liturgical christians. I love it because it helps give me insight into the inner weeks of seasons, patterns between years A, B, and C. It pulls me out of my commentaries and throws me deeper into the meaning of each season.

 

He writes that “Lent is like an ellipse: It is a single entity with a double focus. The Forty Days are (a) a time for a probing consideration of our human condition, including sin and its deadly consequences for both individuals and society, and (b) a time for an equally intense consideration of the new possibilities offered to us in Jesus Christ and their implications for practical living.”

 

Some scholars describe this particular week in Lent with the focus on Abram’s vision through God’s gracious initiative and promise (on which we can depend and to which we are called to respond with joyful and sustained obedience), as well as Jesus’ gift of newness of life as we focus in on the Cross.

 

As one theologian said, “Lent is not six-and-a-half weeks of marching around the foot of Mount Calvary. Rather, this season engages us in the process of confronting who we are by nature, who we are by God’s purpose and redeeming action, and what we can become by divine grace.”

 

These interior Sundays, as he describes, “propel us forward so that finally we do find our feet planted at the base of the cross, with our eyes gazing beyond to behold the power of the resurrection and the seek its manifestations even now in our daily discipleship.”

 

But not yet.

 

First we have to train.

 

So if you’ve slacked in your practices, like me, from time-to-time, don’t give up! Start again. This is a rich time of transformation and our world needs your disciplines, now more than ever! Our world, your neighbors, need to cling to your steadfast faith as you knit, run, pray, fast, give, repent…You are a disciple of Jesus and your practices…our practices…are one of the ways God is transforming the world. So, please…don’t stop trying to grow deeper in your relationship with God.

 

Be renewed.

 

Those families in Kalamazoo need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, our comfort.

 

Our families facing horrid medical troubles need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, our comfort.

 

Our friends among us preparing to be baptized, or received, or confirmed into this crazy Christian expression of The Episcopal Church, need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, and our comfort.

 

This is an intense time of Training for Christians. This has been said before, but bears repeating, as a church, this is the annual time in which we are constrained to insist that there is no route to an empty tomb except by way of the cross.

 

Jesus desires to gather all of God’s children, us “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Unlike those in Jesus’ audience in this morning’s Gospel, however, let us be willing to be gathered. Let us be willing to bring more into the fold and under his wings. Let us train with perseverance and steadfast faith so that when we gaze upon the empty tomb we are not surprised by grace, but are propelled to live more faithfully the life Christ has called each of us to.

 

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’