So, during this season of Lent, let us guard against getting spiritual high-altitude sickness as we hop from mountaintop to mountaintop, until we get to the cross on Mount Calvary. Remember that the only reason we go up the mountain is so that we can come back down to change lives, ours and others.’ We go up for perspective, so we can see things as God sees them. Then we come back down better equipped to deal with problems. We go up for power—not ours, but God’s—and come back down not to control others but to encourage them. We don’t go up for the glory; we come down to serve and give God the glory.
All of us are embarking on a journey called 2019. The question is: are we going to be motivated by fear, by our worry about what might happen to us and to our family, friends, church, community, or country in this coming year? Or are we going to be driven by the desire to know what is possible for us, by the longing to experience the joy of meeting Jesus? Like me, you may have nearly flunked Christmas, but we can still ace the new year. The magi say, “Look up. Wise up. Rise up. Your light has come. Your star is waiting. Be on your way.”
Your family are the people who will welcome you, listen to your words, love you and receive your love. They may be your blood relations but they may not be. They may be just friends, instead. When your friends are more like family than your own family, you can call them your “framily.” Church is a kind of framily. If we are doing the will of our Mother in heaven, we are welcoming you, listening to your stories, loving you and receiving your love. And when we do that we are family. That’s because we know that there is something much thicker than blood that binds us together: our faith. The disciples of Jesus were a framily, a true family, and everyone who follows him can belong.
We come to the table confessing the truth that by ourselves, we can’t do anything about the divisions in our country or world except exacerbate them. On our own, we really can’t love our enemies. But if we can accept the fact that Christ loves us—that he loved us even when we were enemies of God [Rom 5:10]—then we can let Christ love our enemies through us. This is the way the division ends. This is the way the world begins again.
There is no time that is sacred anymore. Before it ever arrives, it's already spent. Like the oil in the foolish maidens' lamps, there isn't enough of it to get us through the night, let alone the next day and the next and the next. And so we are in a perpetual panic, a constant state of unreadiness. It's only when we crash and burn or get sick or our kid is in crisis or we have a parent go to the hospital or to the mortuary that we see how foolish this all is. When we are sitting in the dark because our lamp has burned out, where is Jesus when we really need him? Does he shut us fools out because he does not know us or do we shut ourselves out because we don't know him?
If you think this was unfortunate because it forced everyone into one liturgical straightjacket, consider this: Thomas Cranmer and the English reformers were just doing what Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount when he was teaching his disciples to pray. Jesus knew that his disciples were going to be at a loss when he left them. What could keep them together when they came together? Today, Christians all over the world pray "The Lord's Prayer."
The Apostles' Creed is one early summary of the faith. It talks about believing in the Father and the Son and the Spirit. But there is no explanation of how that equals believing in one God. The Nicene Creed is later and longer, but no more helpful. The truth is that fancy theological formulations don't do much for us. If we really wanted to define the Trinity, we would need a very simple, very universal and very precise kind of language. And there is no language more precise, more universal, more fundamental than math.
So on these several Sundays after Easter, I wanted to share with you some reflections on what nature can teach us about the nature of God. As it says in the Song of Songs: "Come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come..." [Song 2:10-12]
Now some will doubt that the Creation is endowed with anything like intention. They won't buy the idea that the earth had a part to play in witnessing to the resurrection. But the more sensitive souls among us just might be open to the suggestion. The 14th-century German mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said, "The Father speaks the Son from his entire power and he speaks him in all things. All creatures are words of God." [Sermon One, in Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spirituality in New Translation, ed. by Matthew Fox, 1980] If Meister Eckhart is right, if all creatures can tell us something about what God was speaking in Christ, then the earth has quite a story to tell. Let's listen:
I've been talking about the stages of faith for weeks now and what I've learned from James Fowler is that we have different needs at different times in our life. So it is no surprise that our understanding of Jesus changes as our needs change. Like every other truth we encounter in life, we get to know Jesus in stages. The crowd that lined the parade route in Palestine was made up of people of all different stages of faith and they had very different ideas about Jesus.