Sunday, April 24, 2011

Letting Jesus into Your Life

After having a very difficult Lent keeping my promise to fast between meals, I was so happy to hear Fr. Jonathan's homily this morning. But his homily went far beyond shattered resolutions to the crux of the matter and that is my trust in God. Below is much of his homily with some scriptural additions to sort of flesh it out. The content in blue is from Fr. Jonathan's homily.

Jesus Christ is Risen! Alleluia!!!

The Resurrection is, indeed, the greatest event of all time! Everything - EVERYTHING else is pointless without it. There is something deeply important about the Resurrection that is Good News for us and for everything that truly matters in our lives. 

The Sin of Adam and Eve

In the beginning, after the sin of Adam, we no longer walked with God. And ever since, we become separated from God through our personal sin. We repeatedly turn our back on God - the God Who created us out of love. What did it get us - this turning away from God? It brought us death - a death predicted by God Himself.
~ Genesis 2:16-17 ~ "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.'" 
God gave the command to Adam before Eve was ever created. Adam then communicated it to Eve. Somehow, it lost something in the translation for Eve added things when she was being enticed by Satan.
~ Genesis 3:2-3 ~ "And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, '"You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die."'" 
Here the command was not to eat from one tree but the temptation to see God as being unfair came from the serpent who convinced Eve that the fruit of the tree was good and that God was deceiving them.
~ Genesis 3:4-6 ~ "But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate."
Adam and Eve listened to the serpent. That was their big mistake. They judged the tree's fruit from appearances and the temptation by the serpent to be wise like God. But their judgment was faulty. God had forbidden the fruit knowing what would happen and they failed to trust God. This is how they missed the mark: they failed to trust God. And so, God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden. He banished them so they were not able to also eat of the Tree of Life which was also in the midst of the garden. 
~ Genesis 2:9 ~ "And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." 
Why did God banish them? It seems harsh, but in fact, God was being merciful. He did not want them to eat from the Tree of Life. If they had eaten of the Tree of Life, their death would have been permanent. "But isn't death our permanent condition?" you might ask. The answer is no and here is why.

God's Plan All Along

Dying was unacceptable to God. Death was not His plan for us although He knew that Adam and Eve would disobey. And so, at the appointed time, God came to do for us what we ourselves could NOT do. In the Exultet on Holy Saturday, we hear the words proclaimed, "Oh Happy Fault! Oh necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!" God's plan all along was to send His only begotten Son.
~ Galatians 4:4-5 ~ "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." 
You see, something very powerful happens when God dies. When God dies, death is defeated.
~ I Corinthians 15:55-57 "'O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
 The Way Things Appear Is Not the Way Things Are.

And so the Resurrection gives us hope. The way things appear is not the way things are. God created a new way. When God, Who is Love, enters into death, death becomes a passage to new life. We must allow the power of the Risen Christ to help us - to change us from the inside out. The Resurrection means that NOTHING can keep us from God. 
~ Romans 8:38-39 ~ "I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Christ, our Hope, has risen! And so we have a new pathway to God.

Judas and Peter both turned against Jesus. In some ways, Peter's sin was greater because he denied Jesus three times. But Peter's actions afterward were different from Judas. Judas' repentance was motivated by his desire to undo what he had done. But only Jesus could do that and so he was unsuccessful, he despaired. While it appears that Peter did nothing but weep and run away, we have to understand that he also returned to the tomb and had faith that Jesus would somehow fix things. Later, on the shore of the sea of Gallilee, Jesus asks, "Do you love me? . . . Do you love me? . . . Do you love me? . . ." Peter's answer is a resounding "YES". It was Peter's sin of triple denial of Jesus ("I AM not.") that needed healing by the Risen Lord. 

This reminds me of a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago.

 Oh, Peter, weathered fisherman!
 How much we are the same!
 So clumsy in our love for Christ
So uncertain of our name.
You stood beside the charcoal fire
To warm your doubtful heart.
Hiding from yourself,
You stood denying who you are.
"I am not," you sadly said.
In fear you turned away,
Rejecting Jesus and yourself until the light of day.                                                          
But, Peter, I remember
There's another charcoal fire
That Jesus built upon the beach
To quench your fierce desire.
And now, when questioned by the Lord, upon the morning shore,
You said, "You know I love you" like saying "I am yours."          
And that is who we really are
In him we are set free.
His love and mercy tell us who we are to be!
The first denial, "I am not"
Is transformed by his death.
And in his rising,"I am yours" is acceptance in every breath.
If we’re open to His mercy
He will set our hearts aflame.
Then when He asks us, “Do you love me?”
We can answer without shame,“I am yours.”

Where We Need Jesus Most

The place where we are most ashamed - where we are hurting the most - is where we need Jesus most. It may be that we have committed some sin that we think is unforgivable. It may be the relationship in our family that is most difficult. These are the places where Jesus wants to give us new life. 

In Baptism, Jesus made us part of what He did. It begins there but continues each Sunday so that we can continue to have the power of Jesus Christ within us. This is Jesus' triumph over death that we celebrate in the Sacraments. Jesus, the New Adam undid what Adam and Eve did in the garden and He wants to free us from the shame and guilt that resulted.
~ Genesis 3:8 ~ "And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden." 
Where have I turned away from God? 

Where am I ashamed to walk with God in the cool of the evening?

Where do I hide in the darkness that keeps me in slavery?

Where to I allow sin to have power over me?

That is where He wants to bring healing. It is where He wants to come - where He wants to come NOW! Let Jesus into your life! AMEN!

Letting Jesus Into Your Life

As Fr. Jonathan says, "The Church is not a hotel for saints; it is a hospital for sinners." Letting Jesus into Your Life takes a firm and resolved "yes". It doesn't mean we will not fall. It simply means that when we fall, we will get up and try again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dying to Self

Life has been busy at my house this Lent. An entire week was devoted to making the wedding cake of a friend whose reception was to have 250 people. Now that's one very big cake. Actually, it was a bunch of cakes - over 15 cake mixes total and over 50 cups of frosting. The final result was very pretty, but I'm not sure I'll ever do this again for someone else. Having said that, it was certainly an experience I'll never forget. I think I prayed with every egg and cup of sugar for this young couple. That should get them through the first 50 years of marriage, don't you think?

Congratulations, Audrey and Andrew!

I have to admit that having their wedding during Lent was a challenge for me. I found it so difficult to resist tasting as I went along. ;-) And I wasn't always successful. Lent has been extra hard for me this year for some reason. My first resolution was to cut out between meal snacks. I really need to go on a diet and I thought that this would be a good first step in self-denial. I recently found out that in addition to RA, I have osteoarthritis, and my weight is a factor that makes me a high risk for other problems. What I struggle with regarding weight loss is that I have lost weight in the past only to gain it all back and then some. I am terrified of trying again only to reach a weight greater than when I started. It is sort of a lose/gain situation. Excuse the pun.
Cat on a bathroom scale

Then I tacked onto my Lenten observance by denying my extracurricular shopping which was really hard since I really enjoy shopping. I have to admit that it is somewhat of an addiction. I always seem to find some excuse to go shopping. Someone needs a gift. I need something new to wear for a particular event. You know! Any excuse will do. I can walk into a store without any specific purchase in mind and easily come out with several purchases for this very reason. Pleasure shopping is a stress reliever for me and yet, when the bills come in, there is always more stress. Now that's a lose/lose situation.
I had a conversation with my husband tonight. He was complaining about having a bad Lent - that he was making excuses to give in to this resolutions. I approached it from a different perspective. If you are caving this Lent, perhaps that's reason to call it a good Lent. It is an opportunity to know that WE are not the ones accomplishing our goals. It is only by God's Grace that we are able to live up to the goals we set for ourselves.

It got us into an entirely new conversation about the Church and her rules for the Fridays of Lent. An inventor of rules himself, I thought it interesting that he thought the rules set up by the Church are oppressive. Then I tried to explain the purpose behind the rules. Observances that ask us to deny ourselves something are intended to sort of hollow us out. The more we are hollowed out, the more we can fill up with the things of God - even God Himself! Primarily, during Lent, these are three traditional observances of prayer, fasting, and alms giving. They carve us out so that we can be filled with virtue - so that God can make us more holy through them. 

I know it's the wrong time of year, but the pumpkin story about what it is like to be a Christian sums it up beautifully. We are do die to self as God breathes His Life into us. 


It is like being a pumpkin.
God picks you from the patch,
brings you in, and washes all the dirt off of you.
Then he cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky stuff.
He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc.,
and then He carves you a new smiling face
and puts His light inside of you to shine for all the world to see.

Suffering does the same thing, if we let it. It enlarges our heart for God. Like the mythological bird, the phoenix, we are called to die to self by trusting God in all things. The resurrection is not far away. This reminds me of a poem I wrote over 15 years ago about the phoenix. I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life and realized that I was not in control. By holding on, I was only delaying my personal spiritual growth. I had to "Let go and let God" as they say. The primary image in my poem was the phoenix, the mythical bird that lives for 500 years only do die by fire and rise from its own ashes to live for another 500 years. Although you might think this is an image of re-incarnation, the phoenix is actually a symbol of the Resurrection. I think it is also a good symbol of trust and dying to self. My poem follows.

Canticle of the Phoenix 

Again, the time has come for me to seek the peace
Of symbol that to me will speak,
And meditate upon the lasting trust
Of Bible's Abraham, in faith found just.
 But his is faith I have not come to own;
His sacrifice is his - to me unknown.
At first I find a giant Banyan tree
With many roots and shiny leaves of green,
But bent beneath the weight of it, I think,
"This tree is not the symbol that I seek."
And soon I find an anchor on the shelf,
But cold and lifeless, it is like my self.
 My eyes then catch a sacrificial fire.
The phoenix, high upon its fun'ral pyre
'Mid waves of heat that rise and leave my sight -
Ethereal, sparkling, peacock-colored light –
 Spreads wide its lovely wings as if to fly.
Its head, thrown back in death-song's glorious cry,
In voice proclaims that death is worth it all
To sing with sweet surrender to the call.
 And deep within the joyous strains of death
Is trust triumphant in the final breath.
The cost of faith to me is now revealed;
How I must sing this death-song to be healed.
 And He who sacrificed His Life
For me is waiting - for my gift to selfless be.
But fear of dying stirs in me a dread,
And disappointment bows my humbled head.
 This final hymn is one I do not know.
Its music sings of faith and letting go.
I follow Him to find the missing key
That plays the phoenix song to set me free.
 I fin'lly understand: to sing such strains
Requires a heart that seeks Him in our pain.
The song of death – the song of trust - are one;
We cannot sing unless we hear the Son.
Yet, when it stops the death-song - still - is heard.
Like incense lifting praise unto the Lord.
Yes! When in death's abandon do we sing,
Then we shall fly on trust's triumphant wing.