How are your training sessions going, your Lenten Cross-training sessions, that is?
People train in different ways to keep their bodies and minds healthy.
A couple months ago I walked into a fitness center and was greeted by a recently commissioned Navy ensign. We had worked together for a number of years as part of the Navy ROTC unit. He continued to work in the ROTC unit while awaiting his time to go to Pensacola to begin flight school.
We talked for a while. He sensed I was not overly eager for that day’s workout. In good leader form, he was drawn to motivate me. “Chaps,” he said, “there is only one thing worse than working out”. I asked, “what?” He smiled and said, “Not working out”.
A nice thought to reposition how I approached that training session – and many since.
What’s the only thing worse than Cross training? You got it: for us not to be trained by the gift, message, call of God through the Cross.
In the second lesson, Paul writes, “many live as enemies of the Cross of Christ”. The Greek word behind ‘enemies’ means ‘hatred’.
Oddly, I think of such ‘enemies’ as more often being within the church than outside of it. I suspect such self-identified, true believers do more damage to the Cross and to God’s message through the Cross than do those unbelievers, at least as identified by the ‘right’ Christian folks.
Such ‘enemies’ include those prosperity gospel folks, who re-orient the cross around ourselves, when they don’t ignore it completely. In the Bible that action is dubbed ‘sin’, not faith.
Other people who live as ‘enemies’ of the Cross seek to write legislation and take over government, turning the country in a theocracy around their conception of God that they want to impose on other people. Funny, but I don’t remember Jesus doing that. In fact, in the gospel Jesus confronts and chastises the religious leaders for protecting themselves by getting rid of those who came to speak God’s word, but that they did not want to hear.
Such Christian people seem to need to see ‘enemies’ lurking all about in order to self-justify some of the beliefs, positions, stands, and practices they advocate. I even read that one such Christian leader spoke about ‘the boxcars’ waiting to take away Christians. Apparently he was feeling disrespected or disempowered about something. He needed to pump up people’s fears that in turn leads them to be more vulnerable to be manipulated by such untruth.
Is this faithful Cross-Training? No, in my opinion. And how insensitive to our Jewish brothers and sisters, who actually experienced such boxcars, at a time and place when many Christian folks supported the elected governing order and their ‘solutions’.
Cross training drives us to work out around the Cross: to see our sin, to see God’s love, to see other people, to be formed by God’s grace. Not working out leads to some flabby – and dangerous – Christian notions.
God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross you promise everlasting life to the world. Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy, that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
32He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.
4:1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 32He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.' "
What do think of when you hear the expression “crossing the line”?
It is probably most often not a reference to people crossing a picket line. But it probably does refer to some perceived transgression. Either actions or words have gone too far. Someone has colored way outside the lines! But to what effect or consequences?
One of my peccadilloes is religious people who think they absolutely know where God is – and, therefore, also where God isn’t. Perhaps they believe God is reliably in church but never in a night club or bar. Perhaps they believe that God hangs out in one political party or with a certain class of people. Or that God is more often found with a certain gender, or race, or ethnicity, or . . . . . .
Such people may be confident God doesn’t know his/her way around the poor side of town because God doesn’t hang out with lazy people. Or with those welfare moms and food stamp people. They will get what they deserve. You know what I talking about.
Jesus encounters some religious people who think they have God in a box, all figured out. They believed that those people who died in that recent accident, well, that was God’s will. Otherwise, it would not have happened. The dead deserved what they got, right?
Jesus says, “oh no, no, no, no, no!” Let me give you some tips for your cross training, people. That is attributing to God evil things, evil actions. And if you do not repent of such things, such thinking, such attributions, such building-God-into-such-a-terrible box, well there will be consequences for you.
But the people back then and also now seem not to pay much attention to Jesus’ caution and call to repent of such thinking.
People still manage to declare God was the author behind everything from hurricanes that kill and displace 100’s and 1000’s of people, destroying lives and homes to the destruction of the World Trade Towers. Because such a view fits in someone’s preconceived politics or nationalism or religious fervor or . . . . .
I ‘think’ Jesus would say the same thing today to such people who proclaim such tragedies are an act of God: “you are not fit as God’s people; here’s a tip: repent or . . . . .”
I ‘believe’ God cries and hurts with people in such tragedies. And that God invites us to reach, help and serve our neighbors in such times. There is the presence of God – with those who suffer such tragic loss. There is God – on the Cross. How does that fit into your Cross-training program?
Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world through the life, death and resurrection of your Son. Help us to hear your word and obey it, and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
SERMON: “Tips for Cross Training”
2[Jesus] asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did”
6Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play." 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
6Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' "
Cross training in the exercise world is meant to bring benefits from different forms of exercise to enhance the overall fitness of the person.
This Lent, we are exploring how we as people of the Christian faith might similarly be formed by different aspects of the Cross to make us more ‘fit’ to serve as God’s people in the world, reflecting God’s will.
In today’s first lesson we may ponder how ‘fit’ the Israelites were to get to the Promised Land – after a 40-year journey.
In the gospel lesson, the ‘good’ religious leaders observe that the new itinerant rabbi from Nazareth is hanging out with an unclean and perhaps rough crowd. They grumble that Jesus welcomes sinners and even eats with them! He is not ‘fit’ to be such a religious leader. At least, he was not ‘fit’ to be with the leaders in their religion, and in their hard-earned purity.
Jesus responds by telling one of his most famous stories: a parent had two kids: a younger one who ran away but came back; and an older one who stayed home, but who never really felt ‘at home’.
This parable bears in its usual title the word ‘prodigal’, which means wasteful, profligate. All three of the main characters are ‘prodigal’, aren’t they, each in his own way?
The parent gives and then goes out of his way to forgive. The younger child demands, gets and then squanders his family’s resources, heritage, name, reputation. The older child squanders a family he has never received or taken to heart.
The story continues to unfold – in our times and lives.
What kind of ‘prodigal’ does this story train us to see?
What kind of ‘prodigal’ does this story train us to be?
The bottom line is that by our own actions and doing we are never ‘fit’ to be in the family of God that we are graced to be in. But we rejoice that God continues to welcome us back. And calls us to welcome others into the family on the same basis.
God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy. By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
SERMON: “Whether Horse nor Mule”
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
10While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
25"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.' "
Even under the sign and shadow of the Cross, the notion of giving up something is hard.
I think that most of our life-training is about setting a goal, strategizing how to get to that goal, and then working to achieve it. We are programmed for acquisition. We are much less skilled at letting things go.
Health, relationships, jobs, careers, portfolios change and challenge us to change also, by letting go of something that no longer is. Or we can refuse to let go and get compulsive or obsessive – or crazy.
In the second lesson this week Paul reflects that in his former life (as a practitioner of the Law and as a proponent of earning his position before God) he had worked to build a significant portfolio by his own doing. Now in his new life (as a proclaimer of the Gospel and of being graced/gifted into a relationship with God), he sees that what he formerly counted as ‘gain’ is really ‘loss’. The stuff he had placed in the positive column before was now in the debit column. The Cross of Jesus has re-trained him. He had to let go of the old way of self-centered merit, as he lives in the new way of Jesus’ unmerited love and grace.
In the gospel lesson, Mary (sibling to Martha and Lazarus) gives up something expensive for Jesus. Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus does not decline but accepts the gift. Judas criticizes Mary’s extravagance. Judas voices the principle that the money should have been given to the poor. A sensitive topic, a noble idea, but in this case a diversionary ruse. In reality, Judas was the treasurer of the group. He wanted the money to be under his control so he could skim from the pot for his own personal use. Jesus defends Mary.
This Sunday’s prayer of the day states the challenge of our faith when it asks God to ‘open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing that you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through . . . Jesus.” Amen to that!
This Cross re-trains us to think how the ‘finances’ the Kingdom of God work. That leads us to change the way we think of the Kingdom and how we engage in the Kingdom’s mission.
Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness, and your grace waters our desert. Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
SERMON: “Water in the Desert"
7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
so that they might declare my praise.
12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5"Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
Our Lenten theme has attempted to help us be mindful of the ‘Cross training’ God offers us so that we are more ‘fit’ for discipleship in God’s name. Such Cross training comes at a significant cost to God. Yet, God is willing to pay that cost out of God’s great love for the world.
Today we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to begin the last week of his earthly life. He rides humbly on a baby donkey, just five days before the Cross.
The events of the coming days will unfold and escalate. By his actions Sunday and Monday, as well as Thursday and Friday -- and next Sunday! – Jesus continues to train his followers through the events and message of the Cross: the depths of God’s love.
His entry on this Palm Sunday leads him to visit the Temple, where he cleans house overturning tables and throwing out people who are commercializing faith, selling and buying relationships with the Almighty. Jesus’ action riles the Temple leadership and crosses into accusations and plots to get rid of this unfit troublemaker.
Thursday evening’s ritual Passover meal with his disciples results in one of them betraying him to the authorities. That leads to Jesus’ arrest Thursday night and to his death Friday on a Cross.
When we reflect on our days not only this week but every week, we realize there is not an exact one-to-one relationship between our actions and outcomes. Sometimes we do the wrong thing and don’t have to pay the full price for our actions. Sometime we do the right thing and we do not receive the benefit of things going the way we had intended. That is all real and true.
Today’s training module comes as Jesus enters humbly into the last week of his earthly life. He rides a baby donkey. No full-grown stallion. No war chariot. No weapons.
The second lesson talks about Jesus emptying and humbling himself.
The biblical concept of humility is not about having no will or power. It recognizes ‘other’ and submits.
We all have probably worked with ‘big’ people. We acknowledge their name/work/reputation/influence is larger than ours. That is a training course in humility. I have experienced that most of the ‘big’ folks I have met and/or worked with are pretty decent people.
The parish I served 40 years ago in NJ was just a commuter train ride outside of NYC. The membership of that congregation included almost a dozen pastors (who worked in the national church offices in NYC), two dozen Ph.D.’s (who taught at colleges/universities or worked at Bell Labs), several CEO’s (national trucking firm, a Wall Street Stock and Bond Firm, etc.), and a couple of chief economists (Nabisco, Exxon).
Those CEO’s and chief economists could do more to change the world through a 5-minute memo on Monday morning than I could do with a whole preaching series during Lent. Almost to a person, they were decent human beings. Such training led me to walk realistically and humbly.
Today on the way to the Cross Jesus trains us to enter humbly into all our next steps.
Everlasting God, in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross. In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with oyu and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and forever. Amen.
Matthew 23: 1-12
11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
to the glory of God the Father.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,* and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.* 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.* 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.