A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 am on Sunday, February 24, 2013
‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’
Happy Lent! Blessed Lent! Here we on the second Sunday in Lent. That season of penitence, fasting, prayer, reflection, and giving up. But this year the Dean has asked us to do something different for Lent. On our website he says, “Instead of a Lent of anguish and guilt, [let us get] ‘out of the desert and up on the mountaintop’ where we can glimpse the Promised Land God has in store for us.” You may have read it in his email, or on the website, or heard his sermon last week. Our mission statement says that we are to ‘restore to unity all people with God and each other in Christ through embracing our core values.’ Those core values are Spirituality & Faith, Diversity, Communication, Growth, and Service.
So we are caught in this paradox of Lent, a season of essentially stopping and reflecting and being penitential and all that; and a need for a time of reflecting and moving forward. I have to admit that when I first learned of the Dean’s take on what I might call ‘a new Lent’ it gave me a bit of pause. But then I began to think about it.
Yes penitence, and reflection, and giving up and all that are good. Cleaning the slate if you will. But cleaning the slate for the sake of an empty slate is not all that good by itself. Perhaps it is wise, very wise indeed, to observe Lent from the mountaintop rather than from the valley. Out of the desert.
Now I am not suggesting you give up whatever Lenten discipline you may have already undertaken. But a modification may be in order. Look at our five core values. Spirituality & Faith - good solid tenets and very positive; Diversity - we are diverse and celebrate that and thanks be to God, just look around the Church or the community and see how well we celebrate that; Communication - we are striving for better communication all the time, both on Chapter, among the clergy, and with each other; Growth - a good thing for a Cathedral in a downtown undergoing a Renaissance; and Service - Jesus taught us how much better it is to give than to receive and that we are living best when we serve others.
With those core values in mind we are to look from the mountaintop at what God has in store for us as we look out. The Dean raises two questions for us to ponder during Lent - What new thing is God trying to do in our life? and What new thing is God trying to do in my life?
Many great things are occurring here at Christ Church Cathedral - Lafayette Preparatory Academy, Grammy award winning musician Terrence Blanchard here today, a blues festival on Good Friday, the Magdalene effort, working with the Bridge, and a very exciting and forward looking Chapter. Life here at Christ Church Cathedral really is very exciting; what God has in store for us is uplifting. It is important that we stand on the mountaintop and look out at what new thing God is trying to do in our communal life at the Cathedral and in all our lives.
In our Old Testament reading today Abram is worried about his legacy and God says, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars if you are able...so shall your descendants be…’ Abram had trouble seeing it. Our vision is limited by our humanity. But God’s vision, God’s plan, God’s grand scheme is not limited. It is up to us to expand our vision, to look from a high vantage point, from the mountaintop, not the desert valley, to see what new thing God is doing in our life, in my life, in your life. And to do that we really have to have our eyes wide open.
There is a medical phrase that says, ‘you only see what you look for; you only look for what you know.’ The phrase is describing vision. It is referring to being knowledgeable about medical diseases and conditions in order to be able to recognize them. A radiologist looking at a chest x-ray or CT scan won’t recognize a shadow as a breast cancer or TB or pneumonia unless that same radiologist knows what each of those look like. Interestingly our lives of faith are different. We don’t see as God sees. We have to intentionally enlarge our vision to appreciate what God puts in front of us, and even then we so often don’t see it. We have to really take the blinders off and really look.
It really is a matter of perspective. C.S. Lewis, that great Christian writer wrote, “The Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished slave trade, all left their mark on the earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world, that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” Which is why our gospel today ends, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ We are best when we walk in the name of the Lord.
We really must enlarge our perspective to see the promised land God has in store for us. It is said that God usually operates in our peripheral vision. That his work usually isn’t directly in front of us. And we have to be very alert to see it! And open up our perspective. As an example, if I ask you what is half of eight, you most likely will say four. But if I tell you it is zero you will likely tell me I am wrong. But actually the numeral eight is two zeros on top of each other. If you take half of it, you have zero! Or if you draw a line down the middle of eight, cut it in half, you get two three’s facing each other, so half of eight could be three… Or you may have seen the black and white drawings in a couple of books on paradigm that have a picture of a chalice, initially. Until someone suggests that it is indeed an old woman, and suddenly you can see the profile, the outline of the cap, the forehead, then nose and the protruding chin. And then you can’t see the chalice any more.
How much is our perspective limiting what we can see? Or what we recognize? And how hard are we looking?
There is the story of the disciple who asks the master, ‘What can I do to attain God?’ The master answers by asking, ‘What can you do to make the sun rise?’ The disciple says indignantly, ‘Then why are you giving us all these methods of prayer?’ And the master replies, ‘To make sure you’re awake when the sun rises.’
Perhaps a modification of Lent is in order. Perhaps remembering our mission statement, considering our core values, and standing on the top of the mountain looking out will allow us to really be alert and see those things that God is doing in our peripheral vision. Or perhaps, it is just about being awake when the sun rises.