March 1, 2015
The Second Sunday in Lent
I’m reading the commentaries on the texts for this Sunday and all I can think is blah blah blah blah blah. God loves you! Pick up your cross! Oh, you have a cross too? Quelle surprise!
Abraham laughed! Sarah laughed! God’s promise will not be broken! Woo-hoo!
Fifteen years after the first sermon I ever preached, the commentaries are starting to feel stale.
A lot has changed in my life. Fifteen years ago, I had a one-year-old daughter. Now that daughter is sixteen and I have an almost fourteen-year-old son. Fifteen years ago, I’d been married for five years. Now I’ve been married for twenty. Fifteen years ago, these messages felt fresh. Now…? At a deep level, I can feel that God is still speaking. Yet, the things that were revelations then are sometimes things I have now heard ten, twenty, thirty times before.
What do we do when we reach a point in our lives when so much feels like it’s been said before? When prayer can become rote?
I am aware as I stand here before you that I am younger than many of you and that most of what I’m saying must be very old news to you. And I know as well that you’ve found inspiration and depth in these stories and commentaries after hearing them hundreds of times. Which is why I love being at Seekers–and thank you for inviting me here today.
Still, I am well over thirty years older than the majority of my students. Naturally, I’m quite a bit older than my children as well–and I spend a lot of time with them. Sometimes I feel wise… and sometimes I just feel tired.
As many of you know, I have spent the past two years (and more) in a kind of desert space. It is a place of suffering and of hard lessons–not easy ones.
Today I feel drawn to share with you my noticings about this week’s texts in conjunction with these realities.
The first noticing:
We need to allow God’s time to be our time.
Abraham and Sarah– or should I say Abram and Sarai– certainly had practice waiting. They’d already waited a long time when they were renamed. Sarai was given a new name at the age of 90, and Abram a new name at the age of 99. Not exactly when you’d expect new life. Yet Sarai, whose name meant “quarrelsome,” is changed to Sarah, “princess” or “noble woman.” Abram remains a father: first father of height, or mighty father, and then father of multitude. (This doesn’t seem nearly as momentous.)
Even after they are given their new names, they have to wait. They each have their moment of laughing at the ridiculousness of faith and hope. I love that they name the child conceived of this gift “Isaac,” which means “he laughed.” Laughter of derision is changed to laughter of joy.
Yet even as I write this, I think “blah blah blah blah blah.”
Can I trust that joy will come?
The second noticing:
Learning about suffering is not the same as experiencing suffering.
Today’s gospel reading and today’s psalm are all about suffering.
“the Son of Man must undergo great suffering…” “Take up your cross and follow me…” “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death…”
I’ve heard these passages for years. As I grow older, my understanding of suffering grows. I am struck by how accurate the Psalmist’s rendering of suffering is. It doesn’t have to be that you are hanging on a cross, that you are being physically tortured. When I am terrified, I am indeed “poured out like water… my heart is like wax… my tongue sticks to my jaws…”
This reminds me of one of the texts that has meant the most to me over the past year–a passage from Romans (5:3-5): It assures me that “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
This passage assures me that suffering is not for nothing.
Indeed, I am aware that suffering carves out space inside us, if we let it do so– a space that makes room for love and compassion and understanding.
I don’t exactly notice this happening to me day by day, but I have seen it happen to others–my neighbors whose daughter died suddenly a few years ago, at age 18, of a pulmonary embolism and who have continued to say “yes” to life… a woman who was with me in the Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program whose husband died between the first year and the second–and whose spirit shone bright when I saw her in the second summer…
My prayer is that I may I allow myself to be carved out– a vessel of God’s light.
Patience is needed. God’s timing does not take us from wilderness to old-growth forest in the space of weeks or even months.
Help me to see the beauty of the small desert flowers that come when a bit of rain has fallen.
The third noticing:
“Tell me more.”
This isn’t in any of the passages we read this morning, but these are the three words that are allowing me to better listen to my daughter as she goes through the baptism of fire and the wilderness experience that the spirit has led her into. (And the same three words have helped me listen to my students, my husband, my son, my colleagues… my friends…)
“Tell me more.”
And so, when I encounter you in your suffering, I pray that I–rather than resisting your pain, rather than turning away, rather than assuming I’ve heard it all before (blah blah blah blah blah) — I pray that I will say “tell me more” and that I will be still and listen.
For in God’s time, all shall be revealed…. for God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.