Will you pray with me: Gracious and Loving God, be with us now and as we hear your word, help us to interpret its meaning for our lives today. Amen.
My grandfather was a teacher. In fact, I come from a long line of teachers. All of my great aunts and uncles, my grandfather’s siblings were educators, all attended Shippensburg University. The road which extends past my ancestor’s homestead was renamed Shippensburg Road because of all their travels back and forth. My aunt was a teacher, and my mother was set to attend Shippensburg as well until she met my father, married and began a family of her own. I used to love going to visit my grandparents who lived only a few miles from Shippensburg Road.
My mother’s father was not only a teacher, but a great hunter, trapper, and Indian artifact collector. In fact, most of his collection could be seen from the road. His domain was the open front porch which extended from one side of the house to the other. He loved the outdoors, so he spent most of his time, no matter the weather, on that front porch, shelling walnuts, skinning his day’s catch, cleaning arrow heads he found in a local farmer’s field, even fashioning jewelry with items from his collection or from bobbles found at Five and Dime stores or the Good Will. I learned a lot when I would sit with him on that porch. Truth be told, I was saddened when upon his death, my grandmother decided to have it enclosed, replacing the old wooden chair where he sat with a bold blue and purple floral loveseat. I hated that couch!
Why am I telling you about my family? Typically, when I sit with the text for any given Sunday, I look around for clues that might help me relate to the ancient message. Often, I turn to books, but this week, I picked up the box of Indian artifacts that I have from my Grandfather. Holding them, examining their intricate design made me think about the plight of our indigenous ancestors, brothers and sisters who remain a small part of our culture today. How the questing and imagination those who founded the country we know and love influenced and abolished the imagination and culture of those who were here long before our dreams were imagined. The Apache, Navajo, and Hopi of the Southwest, the Shawnee, Delaware, Powhatan and Leni Lenape of our own Eastern Woodlands, the Cherokee, Chickasawa, and Wichita of the Southeast and the Sioux and Cheyenne of the Great Plains to name just a few. It is ironic, isn’t it, as we hear so much talk about what to do about the influx of migrants wanting to come into the United States? I held an arrow head in my hands, and wondered about a lost culture, a people misplaced, not about how we can remain hospitable while refusing shelter to those who are truly in need.
I think of the word, "neighborliness" and how much power it possesses if we remember the second great commandment about loving our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me that neighborliness is a beautiful and compelling vision for both our internal and external affairs. The Rev. Kate Huey of the UCC National Office suggests:
In other words, neighborliness is a vision we could all embrace. We don't need to impose our religious beliefs on one another, or punish one another for infractions of religious laws. But we can all hold up an ideal of neighborliness that would inspire us to share, to be just, to include rather than exclude, to heal and repair and strengthen, to protect the vulnerable, to care about one another and show respect for every person.
Our text for this 2nd Sunday in Lent focuses on two things, our right to full citizenship with the angels in heaven and on earth, and our natural desire to protect what we believe to be our own. The reading from
the Gospel of Luke provides us with deep contemplation in the form of hard truths which open our hearts and minds. And Paul in his message to the Philippians announces that their lives belong to God, not when they (we) get to our final destinations, but as we live them daily. Both passages contain a message that sums up a way of life and an understanding of a Godly life that is citizenship in heaven, right here on earth. How we might be angelic toward another.
We hear in the first verse of the fourth chapter in Philippians
4Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Paul wanted nothing more for his brothers and sisters in Phillippi then for them to follow the Way of Christ. To live in the same love with each other that he showed toward them, a Divine unconditional love: A love that surrenders the advantages of power to become followers of the Way, the only Way toward God. Jesus had such power, because God exulted Christ above all others. But after Jesus’ death on the cross, Christ’s way of being in and among and for humankind transformed into the light which brings us all back to God’s love. This is a lifelong journey.
So how can we live out these words today? In what way can we take Paul’s message to the early church and make it viable for our daily living? How can we live lives fully trusting that our God of Creation has our backs? Perhaps a good place to start would be heeding the advice of poet, Marianne Williamson who writes:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
In other words, every one of us has the power and the ability to show forth God’s unconditional love toward others without limitation, without fear of who is watching. J.K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter novels once wrote, "To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever." There is that word again, protection. Jesus claimed he wanted to gather his followers under his wing, like a hen with her chicks; a powerful metaphor of love and protection.
It is by no mistake that Jesus compared himself to a mother hen who will do whatever it takes to protect her baby chicks from the menacing fox. Even to the point of giving his own life in the hope that they (we) will be spared. Like the hen who gathers her young under her outstretched wings. The hen is no match for the fox, not really. And yet that is the way of the Gospel, isn't it? It is always the way of love and sacrifice over power and domination. It is always courage over simple bravery. It is always the willingness to stand up, in the face of violence that threatens to take much that matters. Where do we see such courage in today’s world? The beloved 19th Century author, Mark Twain, pondered, "It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage
But, luckily for us, we have the promise of the message of the ancient text. We have the potential of a better way for living. We have the courage presented to us in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ who was and remains the Way, the Truth, and the Light. The Truth for us to take away from today’s message is that Jesus was the word, the logos in the beginning that was with God, the word that was God. The power of that word was enough to create the heavens and the earth, to give rise to the animals and animate dust to flesh. Christ is the truth that reminds us that as followers of this Word, our light must not be hid under a bushel, but must radiate from the hilltop for all to see the Way. The truth that matters is that Jesus is the word made flesh… a truth since the beginning of time. Yes, our light is powerful beyond measure. Our light is God’s light, the same light that covered this world in darkness but only for a little while until the light was resurrected for all of time.
Our Lenten Journeys should not only be about giving up chocolate, or coffee or other indulgences, but should be about daring to immerse ourselves with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, on journeying with Christ to the cross. These texts serve to remind us that we should take a hard look at the obstacles that block us from God, obstacles on our own personal spiritual path, but also difficulties on the road toward a whole new world of justice, wholeness, and peace. Our Lenten Journey, our Christian walk, should be about our discovering how we can use our God given talents to work toward unity in God. How our actions should be bathed in the light of inclusion rather than to be used to hide the chaos of exclusion. Living our lives along the Way needs to be about a realization that God’s words are powerful and the Herod’s of our world’s words are useless.
How can we come to such realization? What can we do in order to allow our light to shine with such magnitude? For me, it is recognizing how the people of my life have influenced me, and shaped me into the person that I have become. Although I never had an opportunity to truly get to know my grandfather, I spent my life hearing from my family how much I resemble him physically and intellectually and occasionally when I hold the pieces of his memory in my hands, I wonder how I too, might help to keep a trampled upon culture alive. How I might be able to help repair the damage done by a people who, like Herod of the ancient world, acted upon fear to conquer another tribe.
How are you living out the Way? How might you let your talents and abilities shine so that others can recognize the Way in your life? What will it take for us as this church community to continue down the road to Jerusalem with Christ; fully aware of the destination, yet whole heartedly willing to continue the journey? Amen.