Isaiah 50: 4-7 Philippians 2: 6-11 Luke 22: 14 – 23: 56
Most of us, at one time or another, have felt overwhelmed by our lives and the challenges we may face. We may experience pain or suffering, rejection or loss. This is not a lament about these things. Rather, it is a recognition of reality.
With that in mind, we heard today the account of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ as told by Saint Luke. The facts are familiar to us. What they represent, in the manner that Saint Luke tell us about them, is the tragic manner in which Christ is united with us in the reality of this life.
Consider this: the whole life and ministry of Jesus is upended, thrown into disarray. Peter, at first, was ready to defend Jesus with a sword, and then denies him. Even Jesus, we confronted with suffering and death experiences in his human nature a very personal crisis as well as indecision.
Then there are the unexpected contradictions that abound in this account. For example, those who are supposedly learned in the law mock and condemn Jesus. A pagan Pilate declares that there is no case against Jesus. A foreign Roman governor, Pilate, becomes a friend of a native-born, traitor and ruler, Herod, who is greedy for power and wealth. A bandit proclaims Jesus as king and a Roman soldier says that he is innocent. Many of us, too, experience contradictions in our own lives.
In other words, as we hear the account as told to us by Saint Luke we can consider the challenges that we all face and recognize that Jesus Christ, the God-man, encountered so much. Despite this, despite even death on the cross, it was not a tragic end but a gateway to triumph. What Jesus experienced, what he suffered, would lead to the Resurrection, to new life.
A message that we can hear today is that in all challenges and difficulties we may encounter in life, we can be joined with Jesus in confidently trusting in a good and gracious God.
Isaiah 43: 16-21 Philippians 3: 8-14 John 8: 1-11
If the story of the Prodigal Son, which we heard last week, is the most powerful Gospel story on forgiveness, and I believe that it is, then what I just read is the account of the most powerful incident during the ministry of Jesus about forgiveness. It is powerful because it addresses the important matter of infidelity to the marriage covenant. It is powerful because of the response that Jesus made: simply scribbling in the sand. It is powerful because of the reminder that is made to the accusers that only one who is free of any guilt could condemn.
In hearing this account it is important to remember that the action of being unfaithful to the covenant of marriage is the sign in the Scriptures of how God’s Chosen People treated the relationship with God. Despite God’s goodness to them, they had been unfaithful They had turned to their neighbors, to other religions, to paganism, and abandoned God. They were unfaithful to the commitment of a loving God to them, to God who had acted on their behalf.
The question made to Jesus was what did he have to say about such infidelity. It was not a question, as we can understand John’s Gospel, about the infidelity of the woman in question, but about the infidelity in humanity’s response to God. In essence, Jesus’ response is directed at our unfaithfulness to God’s love. The real beauty of this story is that Jesus said nothing to the woman at this point. He only scribbled in the sand. When te accusers were gone, he tells her simply not to do this again. She was to change her way of life. She was to eliminate this infidelity from her life.
This incident and the response of Jesus sums up the whole direction of Christ’s teaching and ministry which is to reconcile us to God. Christ seeks to have all of us realize the depth of God’s desire that we be reunited with God, that we be one with God. It is in this way that we gain an understanding of the purpose of our lives and the manner in which we are to live our lives. We are constantly and continuously to reflect in our lives the image of God that we are. We are to realize that the possibility of renewing that relationship with God is always open to us.
God’s love, God’s forgiveness, persists. We need only to respond to it. Like the woman in the account, no matter what we have done, God will not act to end the relationship between us. Only we can do this, Only we can end the relationship with God if we cut ourselves off from God, if we are unwilling to change, if we are unwilling to repent, if we are unwilling to work to restore the loving relationship with God.
We heard Isaiah the prophet remind us today that whatever has been part of the past in our lives, God is doing something new with us. This is the renewal we prepare to celebrate at Easter, the renewal of the relationship between God and ourselves. St. Paul spoke with confidence as he acknowledged in himself the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus and the change that this has made in his life. Everything of the past that might hold him back was just so much rubbish.
Jesus simply scribbled in the sand when he heard the very human and vengeful judgement made about the woman. More than anything else this reveals the truth of the loving forgiveness available to us from our good and gracious God.
Joshua 5: 9a, 10-12 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21 Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
In the efforts that we make to express our feelings for someone who is important us, be it a friend, a spouse, a child or a parent, it is often a most difficult task to convey the genuineness of the love that is felt for them. Words can often fail. A gift is not always understood or appreciated. Doing something for them often does not accomplish what was hoped. All of these efforts can become frustrating.
The story of the Prodigal Son struck me as being one more attempt by Jesus and, through him, by God, to reveal to us the depth of the message of God’s love for us. I believe it to be one of the richest stories in the Gospels. It is one of the fullest illustrations given to us of the purpose of Christ’s mission.
Those who gathered around Jesus and heard this story represent all of us. All of us include those who, in some way, are estranged or distant from God. All of us are those whose choices limit the way that we are to be reflections or images of God. All of us are also those who neglect or reject, or take for granted, our possibilities to live lives in peace, inharmony, in love with God, our Creator and with one another.
If we are honest, each of can find something of ourselves in this story of the Prodigal Son. In the case of the younger son, he simply takes things for granted, as if all that is involved is his right. What is his father’s, he demands for himself. He feels that it is his right to do as he pleases, to waste what is given to him, to think only of himself. What has been freely given to us by our God we often feel free to waste. We have been given the ability to live, to love, to better the world in which we live. But we can think that it is not our responsibility, it is not our duty. We need only think of ourselves.
Then there is the case of the older son. He is the righteous one, the “good” son. He correctly pointed out that he did everything that he was supposed to do. But he did this with a selfishness that was not unlike that of his brother. He was closed in on himself, He resented not only the waste by his brother but also the generous and unquestioning love of his father. Like the older brother, what good we might do is diminished by the expectation we have that God act toward us according to our limited self-serving ways, ways that doubt God, that question God, that fail truly to trust God.
The father in this story represents our loving God who responds to us in whatever way we find ourselves. I can almost hear him say: “What did I do to have sons like this?” These are sons who waste the goodness that is shown to them. These are sons who reject the love that has been freely given to them. So our God can readily speak to each of us. If we are honest, in some way we can identify ourselves with the sons. In some way the desire of our God is to tell us, to show us, the depths of the Divine love for us, has not penetrated our thinking fully. In some way we hinder God’s love for us. We set up obstacles to this love. We choose ourselves instead. We choose sin. In some way we fail to appreciate the transforming power of the relationship God seeks with us. We fail to recognize the effect that this relationship is to have on us, on our world, on with all that is around us. All of this can be understood in this story Jesus tells us of the Prodigal Son.
Like the father, our God waits, longingly and hopefully, for our return so that we can be reunited with our truly good and gracious God.
Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15 1 Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12 Luke 13: 1-9
I suspect that at one time or another any one of us might have been envious of the story of Moses and the during bush that we heard today. Basically what is being told to us concerns a mystical experience with God which Moses had. It was a transforming experience which changed Moses for life and which, indeed, transformed the world. The insight given to Moses and to mankind is that God, or God’s name, is “I AM.” It is not “I was” or “I will be.” It is “I AM.” Always and for all times God is and God is with us. It is an insight into the unlimited reality that is God. Any restrictions on our understanding of God are due to our limitations, not God’s.
We may often look for a burning bush in our lives, for some magical answer of some sort. The reality is that the bush was only a sign, a gesture, of something much deeper. It is a sign of God’s continuous presence with us that affects the whole of life. It is the sign of God’s abiding, unchanging, constant presence with us to which we are to respond.
In various ways we can easily think in terms of looking for clear signs of God like a burning bush. Consider the comments Jesus makes to his followers in the Gospel we heard today. To a certain extent they are unusual or strange. They are tragic stories about historical events that happened. But, of themselves, they are not reasons for change as we might often hear. They are not messages of God that call for an instantaneous response that is superficial, transitory and made out of fear, like the response to the fig tree that was not producing fruit. What Jesus is seeking from his followers and from us is a response that is a constant, continuous process of growth and development, a response that involves a continual process of fertilization of mind and heart that brings about a genuine change and conversion.
In order to accomplish such a conversion, a deep and genuine renewal of faith at Easter, two things are needed as we continue the journey through Lent. The first is a firm and unwavering commitment to faith to God, to God’s life, to God’s reality of “I AM” in our lives. God is to be with us in all aspects of our lives. God affects us in all aspects of our living. There is no limitation of God to time or place. We experience the presence of God here in prayer and worship. But this is just a brief moment of the time that makes up a whole week. God is to be present, part of the whole of our life. “I AM” is here and there, wherever “here and there” might happen to be.
The second thing that is necessary is that we need to have, we need to exercise, a constant discipline of this faith. This involves an outlook on a life, a practiced inclination to recognize God’s life as a fundamental part of my own life. I am and I am to be the image of God, the reflection of God. “Godliness” is to be found in each of us, and is to be evident in how we are in every aspect of daily living.
All times, all places, all that is said and done and even thought offer opportunities for a constant effort , a constant fertilization, a constant growth. A constant bearing fruit that is a revelation in each of us of our good and gracious God.
Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18 Philippias 3:20-4:1 Luke 9:28b – 36
As human being, what sets us apart, what makes us unique in all of creation, is the ability we possess to choose. Unlike any other part of creation, we can choose, we can improve, how it is that we live. The source of all that is, God, has bestowed on each of us this wonderful ability to make choices.
The fundamental choice we have been given is whether we choose to live our lives in a relationship with the God who made us. Do we choose, that is, to live out our lives in accord with the potential we possess as creatures, as reflections of this loving God. It is this basic question that is presented to us in God’s word to us today.
In the spiritual, religious, experience of Abraham, the first believer in the one God, Abraham understood that God and he were entering into a relationship, an agreement, a covenant. God, as represented by a flaming pot and torch, pledges fidelity to this covenant. For our part, do we choose, as did Abraham, to live lives that reflect a similar faithfulness toward our loving God?
In the religious experience of Peter, James and John, a summary of all that has been revealed thus far is represented by the presence of Moses and Elijah, the Old Covenant, the Law and the Prophets; a summary, as well, of all that would be is seen in the glorious transfiguration of Christ. This experience took place so that they might be encouraged in the choice they had made to have faith that God, indeed, had come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Soon that faith would be tested. They would have to confront the reality of Christ’s suffering and death. They would have to resist the temptation to reject the revelation of the totality of God’s love.
In contrast to these religious experiences, we hear practical words from Saint Paul. He addresses the Christian community at Philippi, but he is also speaking to us. What choice are they to make? What choice are we to make. Do we choose to join with Paul and remain faithful to a life that is a reflection of our potential as followers of Jesus Christ? Do we choose lives that appreciate the goodness and presence of God who seeks to enter a loving relationship with us? Do we choose lives that respect the dignity and worth of all creation? Or, do we choose to fall back into a life that is opposed to Christ and his teaching, whose god is the stomach, whose glory is shame, who end is destruction? Paul gives a very graphic description of a very limited view of life, of the selfishness of sin, of a rejection of God and godliness that we can also choose to show.
These choices are presented to us day after day. Our presence here today suggests that we have made the right choice. But each of us needs to be strengthened in that choice by uniting with God and by being encouraged by one another. In this way are helped to remain faithful in our relationship with God this day, this week, until we come back together again, having made the choice to give honor and praise to a good and gracious God.