Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sermon, Lent 4A

After five weeks of instructed Eucharist instead of sermons, and three Sundays of being gone on vacation, I almost forgot how to do this.  Almost.

Here is today's sermon.

How is your Lent going?  Have you accepted a discipline of giving something up during this season of reflection, repentance and self-denial?  As I said on Ash Wednesday, maybe giving something up, even as frivolous as chocolate, can be a good thing in that it points out to us just how much we are controlled by our desires and lusts.

Or maybe you've accepted a discipline of taking something on.  Maybe you've made a commitment to attend the Sunday adult study, or one of the many Bible studies offered, or Morning Prayer, or walking to church.  There is no shortage of things you can do for Lent in the area of spiritual growth and in stretching beyond your comfort level.

You may have guessed that this Lent has been very unusual for me.  Mrs. Ref and I spent two weeks in Prague and, because of travel itineraries, did not attend a single worship service.  And while I certainly could have given up chocolate or pies or other delectable items, I was on vacation . . . in Prague.  And I apparently don't have that much self-control.  You might say that I gave up Lent for Lent.

It's not that I gave up Lent, it's more that I was in a place where it was difficult to observe Lent.  Not that Prague is a difficult place to do so, because there are churches, saints and religious opportunities everywhere.  What made it difficult, impossible really, to observe Lent while we were over there wasn't the lack of churches or being in a foreign county; what made it impossible to observe Lent was the lack of an intentional community.  And community is vitally important in a religious context, even to an introvert like myself.

When I was in the ordination process, one of the questions my COM asked me was along the lines of, “Where do you experience God and/or where do you draw spiritual strength?”  My answer was something like, “Morning Prayer in the chapel and the morning Eucharist.”  Introvert that I am, it's hard for me to worship or say the daily offices alone.  Most of our BCP is designed for community use.  There are no provisions for single-person Eucharists.  Although the Daily Offices can be, and often are, used by individuals, the prayer of St. Chrysostom says in part, “ . . . where two or three are gathered together in your name . . .”  Baptisms and weddings require witnesses, and both services ask, “Will you who witness these promises and vows do all in your power to support these persons?”

I believe that while there are indeed problems with communities – not all monks like each other (there's a famous story about several monks trying to poison St. Benedict), a seminary campus is a hotbed of strife and conflict, we aren't always happy and lovey dovey with each other here – it is in community that worship, prayer and relationship with God are best expressed.  And that might just be why I have avoided the problem some priests have of not being able to worship on Sunday morning while they are “on the clock.”  Prayer and worship are best done with others, and it is what we do best.

It is this community that has the ability to be a foundational part of our lives.  This obviously relates to worship, but it also relates to other times when all present will support those making certain promises and vows, and it relates to anytime two or three are gathered together.

What did you give up this Lent?  Did you give up chocolate?  Did you give up TV?  Did you give up Facebook?  Swearing?  Desserts?  Gossip?

What did you take on this Lent?  Did you start exercising?  Are you eating more vegetables?  Are you reading the Bible?  Praying the Psalms?  Attending Morning Prayer?  Praying a rosary?

More importantly, who did you tell?  Who did you tell you were replacing dessert with carrots?  Who did you tell you were replacing TV with Bible study?  Who did you tell you were getting up 40 minutes earlier to attend Morning Prayer?

Part of being in a religious community is being accountable to others and being held accountable by others.  Without accountability within the community, then those promises and vows we make are just so much hot air, easily brushed aside.  My Lenten fast from chocolate and bakery goodness sounds oh-so sacrificial – until I leave for a two week vacation in Prague hoping to experience some of the culture.  My Lenten fast from chocolate and bakery goodness sounds oh-so sacrificial until I learn that part of the culture includes trdelnik.  My promise of a Lenten fast melts away into a mantra of, “It's vacation – live a little.”

I'm telling you all this because for me to participate in the observance of a holy Lent, to be more mindful of prayer, fasting, self-denial and study, for me to successfully do those things means I need you.  I need the presence of a faith community to help me live into Lent.  And not only Lent, but everything that is and proceeds from the church.

What does all this have to do with today's gospel reading of the blind man, gate-keeping Pharisees and worried parents?  Nothing, really.  We are now just over halfway through Lent.  There is still time to take on a new discipline or to learn the discipline of self-denial.

But more importantly, there's still time to remember that this particular Christian community is making the journey to Easter together.  It just might be that Lent is to remind us that we are stronger and more disciplined when we practice our faith together.

How is your Lent going?  Do you continue to be faithful to the discipline you chose?

How is my Lent going, you ask.  Mine has vastly improved since coming home.



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