A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 10 am on Sunday, February 17, 2013It’s Lent. And we just finished the Great Litany, so I know you are pumped. You are on the edge of your seat ready to launch into these 40 days, right? Not so much?
And I know I’m supposed to stand here and talk about how this is a season of penitence. I know I’m supposed to stand here and talk about how this is a season of denial. Where each one of us should give something up as a way of taming the desires of the flesh. A season where we journey with Jesus into the desert.
And that’s all good stuff. Penitence is good. Self-denial is good. Giving something up as an offering to God and in remembrance that all we need is God and each other is good. But somehow this Lent, it just seems like piling on. Somehow this Lent, I feel like if we did that, we might need to start passing out Prozac with communion.
Somehow this Lent, talking about journeying with Jesus into the desert doesn’t make sense. Because we’ve already been in the desert for way too long. And I think most of us are ready for the scenery to change.
This past week, I led Ash Wednesday services in two places. The first was at One Metropolitan Square and the second was at The Bridge at Centenary United Methodist Church.
At first glance, you couldn’t pick two more different congregations. One Met Square is the largest office building downtown and the congregation was made up of lawyers and other professional people. The Bridge is where some of the poorest people in our city spend their days … unemployed and homeless men, women and children who find there a place to give them lunch and time with a social worker and a place to hang out for the afternoon.
But dig deeper than that first glance, and we see something more. Dig deeper and we see that those two congregations weren’t as different as they seemed. When you stop and listen to the stories that come from the people in each place, we learn that they all -- we all -- come carrying heavy burdens. Families that are fragmenting. Addictions that are binding. Fears that are paralyzing.
Dig deeper still, and you see something even more profound that they all … that we all in this room have in common. That as deep as our brokenness might be, we still come together in hope. We still believe or even want to believe or even want to want to believe in God’s promise of a better day, a better way, a promised land.
And on some level, even though we are buoyed by our hope, we’re all tired … and wish that Promised Land would get here soon.
In this morning’s reading from Deuteronomy, we hear Moses talking to the people of Israel. The people of Israel know all about hope and they know all about tired. They know all about wishing that Promised Land would get here soon.
They have been in the desert for 40 years. God delivered them out of bondage and swore to lead them into the Promised Land. But it’s been 40 years of wandering. They are tired. And they are still hearing God’s word of promise. They are still hearing God tell of the land that is their inheritance to possess. The land that God swore to their ancestors to give them. The land of milk and honey.
But where is it?
Now we’ve read the rest of Deuteronomy and on into Joshua. So what we know that those people don’t as they listen to Moses speak is that they are right on the edge of it. What we know that those people don’t is that Promised Land is just over that next mountain. They can’t see it yet … but it’s right there. All they have to do is trust.
I wonder what it was like for those people of Israel in the desert to hear Moses tell them of God’s promise one more time. After all, they’d heard it all before. They heard it when he led them out of Egypt. They heard it for 40 years of wandering in the desert. And sure, God had provided for them if not every want, certainly every need. But it had been 40 long years in the desert. I wonder what they thought when they heard Moses talking about the promise … again.
Only we don’t have to wonder, do we? Because those people of Israel, those people in the desert … they are us and we are them. And we’ve heard this before, too.
It’s been 45 years since Dr. King quoted this same book of Deuteronomy and said he had been to the mountaintop and had seen the Promised Land. 45 years since an assassin’s bullet cut him down the very next day. He may have seen it, but we certainly weren’t there yet. And we’re still not there today.
We’re not in the Promised Land when all we have saved up from a life of hard work can vanish with a housing bubble pop or a pension fund disappearing.
We’re not in the Promised Land when the color of our skin determines the quality of our education.
We’re not in the Promised Land when we can buy crack on a street corner and an assault weapon over a store counter but can’t find a place to get mental health care or job training or to take our children when they get sick.
And so we cry out as the people of Israel cried out. We cry: “How Long, Oh Lord. How Long.” We cry out because we are tired. We’re tired of the desert.
We cry out … but we do not despair.
We do not despair because just as it was the people of Israel thousands of years ago and just as it was to Dr. King a generation ago, God’s promise to us is not a false hope. God’s promise to us is who we are. We are people of the promise. We are people of God’s promise of a better day, God’s promise of a better way, We are people of the promise of God to lead us into a new land and to fashion of us a new people.
And so one more time, as we do every year, we come to Lent … a season where we are told we join Jesus in the desert. Except that we’ve already been in the desert for way too long. And we’re ready for the scenery to change.
We’re ready to finally catch a glimpse of this land that God has prepared for us.
We’re ready to finally catch a glimpse of the people God is fashioning us into.
And so, we do not need 40 days of a Lent of anguish … because we have had enough of that.
We do not need 40 days of a Lent of grief and guilt … because we have had enough of that.
We do not need 40 days of a Lent of thirsting in the desert … because we have had enough of that.
No, we are not at the Promised Land yet and yes, we are probably still a long way off, but we are ready for a glimpse of it that will refresh us.
We are ready for a taste of it that will invigorate us.
We are ready for a vision of the Promised Land that will show us where God is leading us and what we are on our way to becoming.
We’re ready to hear the words God spoke to the prophet Isaiah, words we will be building toward through these 40 days of Lent. Words we will hear on that last Sunday before we join Jesus on his journey into Jerusalem:
I am about to do a new thing.
We’re ready for 40 days of a Lent of promise.
We’re ready for 40 days of a Lent of hope.
We’re ready for 40 days of a Lent of inspiration – literally the breath of God touching our breath, the text of God’s promise touching the text of our lives.
We’re ready to catch a glimpse of this Promised Land that is out there and in here right now, of this new thing that God is about to do and even now is already doing. And to say with Isaiah: “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
And so this Lent, that is what we are going to do. This Lent, we are not going to talk about spending time together in the desert but as we journey together toward the cross, we’re going to ask God to give us a glimpse of the resurrection land and resurrection life that God dreams for us and promises to us at the end of that desert, on the other side of that mountain. This Lent, we are going to look at what that life on the other side of Good Friday has looked like for others who have dared to follow Jesus there and imagine what it might look like for us.
This Lent, we will spend time with people like Kacie Starr Triplett and Kathleen Wilder, who followed Christ’s call and left behind positions of political power and material riches to give their lives to God’s dream of health care and an end to poverty for all God’s children in this desert.
This Lent, we will spend time with Susan Marino, the new head of school of Lafayette Preparatory Academy, and together dream about how we can give ourselves to God’s dream of excellent education for all God’s children in this desert.
This Lent, we will spend time with people at Bridge Bread and HomeFirst, and together dream how we might join them in being a part of God’s dream of jobs and housing for all God’s children in this desert.
This Lent, we proclaim together that even though we have been wandering in the desert a long time that it is not a desert without end. That there is a Promised Land closer than we think. And that we will get there someday together.
This Lent we proclaim together that the promise of God is real. That there is no brokenness … be it in our lives or in our world … that cannot be made whole. That there is no thirst that cannot be slaked or hunger that cannot be sated. That there is no division among us that cannot be healed or poverty among us that cannot be relieved.
This Lent we proclaim together that like our ancestors in the desert before us, we are a people gathered for a purpose. That God is about to do and even now is doing a new thing, right here, right now … in each of our lives and through all of our life together.
So this Lent, let’s get out of the desert and get up on the mountaintop. Let’s strain our eyes and catch a glimpse of that Promised Land that God has destined us for. Let’s dream of not only what that land might be, but dream about who God is making us into as people of that land.
This Lent, let’s get out of the desert and get up on the mountaintop. Let’s give ourselves to God and say “Lord, do with us what you will. Make that Promised Land come in this land of St. Louis. In this land of Christ Church Cathedral. In this land of my home, my family, my life. ”
This Lent, let’s get out of the desert and get up on the mountaintop and ask “What is the new thing God is about to do … through us?”