Monday, March 01, 2010

Sermon: Given Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sermon 20100228
2 Lent Year C RCL
St. John's Getty Square

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

In the name....

There was a great emperor in India named Ashoka the Great. He ruled in the 3rd Century BC and he conquered all of what is modern India. He became famous because he was an enlightened ruler calling the people of his empire his children, forbidding violence even to animals, and entering into diplomatic and friendly relations with the nations around him. This was due to his conversion to Buddhism. He walked out into the city one day after his victory, and after observing the destruction everywhere, the piled up corpses of the victims of war, he asked, "If this is victory, what is defeat?"

Ashoka, I think, got it. He was a man who could easily fall into the temptation of power: shortcuts, self-privilege, worrying more about power than the judgment of God. H.G. Wells in his book the History of the World said, "... there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves 'their highnesses,'... But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.

Ashoka's empire did not last long, but an emblem of his rule is still to this day on the flag of India. He is remembered for his goodness.

I think this is what we learn in Lent. Our collect says today, the glory of the Lord is mercy. Mercy is his glory. Forgiveness. Aren't we taught over and over again that this is weakness? That it is unjust? That it introduces fault lines in the fabric of our society? Isn't the common wisdom longer and longer prison terms, and heaven help the ex-convict who is looking for a job. But our collect, this Lent, teaches us that the glory of the Lord is mercy.

This is not what we come to understand in our superficial contact with the universe. We think that might, power, being right, being strong is glory. That is what saves us in crisis. But the glory of the Lord is mercy.

There is a deeper truth built into the fabric of the universe. It was wonderfully told in the Chronicles of Narnia. The White witch thought she could take over Narnia by power, by strength. And she had the right to kill one of the four kings and queens of Narnia, namely Edmund, because he had been a traitor to his brother and sisters. Yet, Aslan, the lion, the enemy she feared the most, the son of the Great Emperor across the sea, Aslan, agreed to give his life in exchange for Edmund. The White Witch executed Aslan on a stone altar. When Aslan's friends to their delighted suprise later found him alive and full of a vigor that perhaps surpassed his former power, Aslan said to them that what the White Witch had failed to comprehend was the deeper law writ into the Universe. The goodness of an innocent soul exchanging his life for someone who deserved punishment reaches deeper into the truth of the universe than we normally rech. It is part of a deeper law. The glory of God is mercy.

There is a deeper truth built into Universe, and those who look only at the surface will fail to see it. And to obey that truth makes us sometimes seem foolish, weak and naive to the wise of this world.

Abraham in our story seems foolish. He trusts that God will fulfill the promise to make him the father of a great nation even though a foreigner is his heir. How can Abraham be the father of three religions when at the age of almost 100 he had no children at all. It is because he understood there is a truth deeper writ in reality than that which is on the surface. He trusted in the Lord and it put him right with God and with the world.

Jesus today baffles us. He looks even more foolish. He is warned not to go to Jerusalem by the very people who are in cahoots to kill him, yet he goes anyway. He is operating by a different belief. He is operating by a belief that the glory of the Lord is mercy. He is operating by a belief that God is Love, and that justice, truth and love, will overcome all the tools of the devil, even the fear of death.

One of the reasons we fast is we confront our own mortality. Without food we die. And so we give up food for periods of time to remind us of our mortality. But we also are reminded that food, and indeed life, is not everything. There is more to life. There is goodness, beauty, there is justice, there is delight, there is peace and joy. There is always hope for those with faith. And above all there is love. Sometimes it is better to lay down our life so that it becomes the expression of love than it makes sense to grasp on to it.

Jesus in our gospel knows this. He acts from confidence and from deep wisdom. But I do not believe Abraham does understand it quite so deeply. This strange passage lets me know that Abraham only understands as though in a deep sleep. In his deep sleep he sees this pot of fire representing God passing between these sacrificed animals. He only sees dreamily the signs that means God will keep the promise to make Abraham a great nation whose people outnumber the stars in the sky. For Abraham this deep truth about the world, about the faithfulness and love of God, is seen in shadows of slumber, and in strange symbols.

I think the same is true for us at first. In fact, I think it is scary at first, when we begin to make our decisions based on justice, truth and love rather than on what is best for number one. In fact, some will pity us and call us foolish. Ashoka the Great would not, I do not believe. Neither would the Buddha whose disciple Ashoka was. Neither do I suspect would Abraham, religious forebear of almost 4 billion living people today. I am sure Jesus would not.

At first we come to believe this hesitantly, that justice, truth and love, that mercy are the foundation of life in the universe. But I believe that as we practice prayer, fasting and almsgiving in Lent, as we meditate on the story of Jesus, as we devote our body, mind and imagination to the Eucharist, its readings and prayers and pious acts, as we do this, I think we slowly awake from a shadowy dream like faith into the living faith of Jesus.

I believe this because of the witness of the Apostles. I believe this because of the witness of the Saints. I believe this because I see hints of it in my experience and the experience of others. At first we accepted faith by coercian from our parents and peers, then we began to accept it because it was beautiful, and now I am beginning to think as we gain experience and wisdom, we may feel some of it's peace. If we surrender to God and to a commitment to practice our faith it will bring us to the same peace and acceptance we see in Jesus. Indeed, it will bring us to the fulness of Easter Joy, not just at the holiday, but in the very depth of our being.

In the name...