First Sunday in Lent 2017

First Sunday in Lent 2017


The First Sunday in Lent 2017…and our liturgy is ever calling us back to the most important things…ever calling us back to Jesus and His great salvation work…the foundation upon which we continue to build our lives. We are ever changing…faith in fact implies movement and change…and each of us is different to some degree than we were at this time in 2016…and each of us is living through different things than we did in 2016: some good things, some bad things, some joyful things, some sad things…certainly some new things-the many and varied things that have come into our lives and into our world…those “changes and chances of this mortal life” as our prayer book describes them which we live through everyday.

And our liturgy…the Church through her liturgy…is ever and again calling us back to the most important things and to the Lord Jesus Himself in the midst of all that change…calling us to continue to build our lives day to day upon Jesus, the Savior and Lord and His great work of salvation

St. Paul wrote:
I am confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus…and then in the same letter, he admonishes us to:

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (ie very carefully and deliberately…Lent reminds us to be very careful and deliberate in living our our faith)

for it is God who is at work in you to will and to work for His good pleasure.

They don’t tell you that at the Rotary Club meeting…they don’t tell you that on the six o’clock news…you don’t read about it in the morning’s news media…but in this place you hear about it all the time! The entire church year and sacraments and liturgy are ever reminding and warning and encouraging us to: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you to will and to work for His good pleasure.

And we need to be in here to hear that more than ever, and we need to get our loved ones, our neighbors and our fellow citizens in here too; to listen, to learn and to pray…to know and experience the power of Jesus’ resurrection and Lordship as well…to make Jesus and His kingdom the starting point for all our interactions, for all our discussions, for all our decisions, for everything we do! Go ahead and try to get people to vote for a particular candidate…but even more importantly get people in here to listen and to worship and to pray! Can we think about that during Lent!?

And
so we pray:

Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers; and dispose the way of thy servants towards the attainment of everlasting salvation…

Like the rudder on a ship, our supplications and prayers directed by the liturgy of the Church through the ages and the wisdom and understanding they contain, “dispose” our way…dispose? throw out? No: rather “dispose” meaning to place, to distribute, or to arrange in an orderly fashion and formation.

So…Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers; and arrange the way of thy servants in an orderly fashion and formation towards the attainment of everlasting salvationThat’s what’s happening here! The Church, leading us in our supplications and prayers, brings us into communion with God that He might arrange our way in an orderly fashion and formation towards the attainment of everlasting salvation …and continuing in the prayer:

…that among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, thy servants may ever be defended by thy most gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

With God’s merciful assistance and His most gracious and ready help and through our supplications and prayer led and shaped by the liturgy, we are arranged and brought together on the way of salvationon the path that brings life…in the midst of all the changes and chances of this mortal life.

What changes and chances of this mortal life are you experiencing and navigating this year, this month, this day? Don’t be troubled by it all, don’t allow it all to overwhelm you…rather come to the Church and allow her teachings and her liturgy to give you what you need (list): to make sense of it all, to grow in your faith, and to grow in your relationship with God’s great work of salvation…His salvation masterpiece…for it is God who is at work in you to will and to work for His good pleasure!

Following the liturgy directs our lives to Jesus and His Kingdom and connects us to one another among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, like the rudder directs a ship to its final destination through the swelling and boisterous seas.

In today’s epistle reading, we heard St. Paul’s admonition: Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.
Walk in those doors, and what do you hear every time you do?
Today is the day of salvation!

God has come to men…
Today is the day of salvation!

As Christians, every day becomes a day of working out our salvation…arranging ourselves inside and out and moving forward in the right direction among all the changes and chances of this mortal life. Today is the day of salvation, and there is a reliability and a personal intimacy about the Church and her liturgy that helps us in experiencing the reality and power of Jesus’ work of salvation every day.

If you remember, at the time this letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul was being roundly criticized in Corinth. “How could he be an apostle? He’s weak, always in conflicts, rejected, oppressed and imprisoned.”

St. Paul’s accusers greatly troubled the Corinthians, puzzling and stirring up these new believers concerning Paul. “What
has he been up to? Can we really trust him? We better get some letters of recommendation, some references like these other teachers are bringing us. He did bring the Good News to us…but what’s with all these difficulties and persecutions he’s facing? What does that say about him?”

Most parents like to talk about the joys and not the sorrows of child rearing. They don’t like to list all the sacrifices they’ve made or inconveniences they have endured for their children…basically because they are glad to do it, knowing that parenting includes both pleasant and trying times…the love for their child and the hope that each child would do well in life ever moves them on.

St. Paul was writing to his spiritual children who were giving him a terrible time…doubting his authority, questioning his ability, abandoning their father in the faith while listening to these loud-mouth know-it-alls intent on tearing Paul down!

“You’re giving me such a rough time,” I can hear St. Paul saying to his rebellious children, “so I’m just going to let you know what I have been through in striving to be a good spiritual father to you and to all the churches. I don’t really want to talk about all this, but you’ve made it necessary by doubting my sincerity and love, and abandoning me. So I’m just going to open my heart and
let you know what being a spiritual father to the churches has demanded of me in a last ditch effort to win you back!”

His list is still challenging today, and especially at the beginning of another lenten season, for while none of us will have to suffer as St. Paul suffered, his account does reflect the ways and rhythms of the mature Christian life as well as the conflicts encountered in seeking to live as the People of God in a world filled with powers and people that don’t like what we are saying or the way we are aspiring to live
.

I found this modern translation helpful: We try to live in such a way that no one will ever be offended or kept back by the way we act, so that no one can find fault with us and blame it on the Lord. In fact, in everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God.

Good Lenten prayer: I want my life to draw everyone I encounter closer to God…and I never, ever want anything I do to turn people away from following Him.

And here is what happens and here is what to expect in trying to do so…St Paul continues:

We patiently endure suffering and hardship and trouble of every kind. We have been beaten, put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, stayed awake through sleepless nights of watching, and gone without food…

The Gospel is good news! Yet the messengers of the good news can expect real push back from those people and powers threatened by the authority, certainty and decisiveness of the message. St. Paul’s example is instructive for he teaches us to embrace the very real difficulties and sorrows associated with this present age while breathing in and living by the oxygen of the kingdom of God…to face the darkness and rejection this present age can bring, with the grace and love of Jesus and His Kingdom, ever joyful to be united to Him.

And so his letter shifts
from what he enduredto how he respondedfrom sufferings, difficulties, hardships, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, and going without food…to…(Paul’s response in the face of all that): purity, knowledge, long-suffering, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love…by speaking the truth, by the power of God, with weapons for God’s faithful work in the right hand and the left.

The changes and chances of this mortal life, along with powers and people threatened and opposed to the Gospel and those endeavoring to live it, can create quite a headwind for us at times!

St. Paul points us to higher ground. S
ufferings, difficulties, hardships, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, and going without food are met with purity, knowledge, long-suffering, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love…and by speaking the truth, by the power of God, with weapons for God’s faithful work in the right hand and the left.

That’s how it’s done! “Lord teach us the way to that higher ground during our Lenten devotions 2017!”

And then come St. Paul’s parings in the epistle which really amplify the point that being a Christian includes embracing the realities of this present age with the hope of the Gospel and the power and presence of Jesus in our lives and world. The accusers said one thing…faith insists on an entirely different perspective:

as deceivers-yet true; as unknown-yet very well known; as dying and look-we are alive; as punished-yet not killed; as sad-yet always celebrating; as poor-yet bringing riches to many; as having nothing-yet possessing everything.

Let those loud-mouthed accusers say what they will about me…but I know the truth about what is going on here. They say I am accused, worthless and a fool, having nothing going for me at all…I say I am a child of God possessing all things.”

It’s Lent, and the new life we have received in being united to Jesus continues to call us on to maturity…on to being messengers of His good news by our words and by our lives. God’s call moves us forward…(not away from the difficulties but into the difficulties)…the transforming power of the Gospel felt and realized within our own lives and everywhere we go…God’s light shinning in even the darkest places of the world.

God is at work in the lives of His people, and the joys and beauty of the new creation and new life in Jesus clash and grind at times against the sorrows, difficulties and perplexities of this present age. Like the apostle, we too must learn to respond to the sorrows, difficulties and perplexities we face with the new life of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives…
in everything we do trying to show that we are indeed God’s people.

In our Gospel lesson, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. “It is written…it is written…it is written,” Jesus tells the devil…Jesus’ faith in His Father’s call moving Him ahead. The encounter and event mark the beginning of the evil one’s defeat…and became the precursor of what would be fully realized at Calvary on Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem. …And remember, when Jesus said, “No!” to the devil, He was saying “Yes” to the cross.

Likewise, when we say “No” to temptation, no to the lies of our accusers, and
no to a faithless way of life…we are picking up our cross and following Him. It is the path of servant-hood to which our baptism has commissioned us and which the world, flesh and the devil and the temptations they bring seek to block and disrupt.

But “
we are indeed going to Jerusalem” as Jesus told the disciples in last Sunday’s reading. We are going to Jerusalem to die with Jesus, and to rise and live with Jesus in this life and the next.

May our new life with Him and in Him come into ever-sharper focus this Lenten season…and may these 40 days along with all our days fill our lives with the color, beauty and joy of being the people of God. Amen


Bp. Peter Manto