Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Supreme Supreme Court: no vacancies, always in session

Preached at Holy Trinity, Charlotte on February 28, 2016. (Luke 13:1-9)

Last Monday night I was at our City Council meeting for the vote on the non-discrimination ordinances. I was one of 140 people who spoke. Some of us favored the ordinances and there were also those who opposed them. From the opposition, we heard recurring themes. There was a whole lot of misinformation being spewed about who can and can’t use a public restroom. There was also a lot of quoting Scripture and condemnation of whoever doesn’t interpret it the same way they do.

According to many of those who opposed the ordinances, Charlotte would pay for its errant ways if they passed. God would smite us, in a big way. Well, they passed. Are any of you scared?

We’ve heard this kind of logic before. Various groups who don’t meet the moral standards of the religious right have been blamed for everything from 9-11 to Hurricane Katrina. According to them, God’s in the business of rooting out evil-doers and punishing them. Sometimes in horrific ways.

Today’s gospel lesson reminds us that this viewpoint is nothing new. Jesus points to some of the tragedies that were making headline news in his day, and he knows that the conventional wisdom of his time said those tragedies occurred because the people had done something to make God angry, so God zapped ‘em. “But that’s not how things work,” Jesus says. God isn’t out to get us when we sin. In fact, just the opposite.

The philosopher Susan Nieman has written about evil in modern thought. Basically, her thesis is that we ascribe evil to things we don’t understand. It’s a way of creating the other, the person or thing or idea we label evil. The other is the manifestation of fear and ignorance. Nieman says that once we understand what we had designated evil, we no longer see it as evil. For example, at one time a person with schizophenia was considered demon possessed. Now, we understand more about it. The person isn’t evil. They have a mental illness. We ascribe evil to the things we don’t understand.

So, when we throw God in the mix, and we project our own limited and often distorted way of thinking onto God, we figure God must perceive evil the same way we do.

That’s the first fallacy in a theology that ascribes catastrophes and tragedies to the activity of God. That logic concludes, if you sin, according to our definition of sin, then you’re evil and an enemy of God.

But there’s a second problem with that theology. It assumes that God is angry and vengeful. And that’s what Jesus addresses in today’s lesson with a parable about a fig tree.

Now, Jesus could have chosen any kind of tree that his listeners might have been familiar with in this story. But he chooses a fig tree, and here’s why. Because a fig tree tries a gardener’s patience. It has to have just enough sunlight, just enough cultivation, just enough nutrients to produce figs. And even if you do all that, it can take a while for the tree to bear fruit. And, by a while I don’t mean  a year or two. It can take up to six years for a fig tree to grow fruit. That’s a lot of work, and that’s a lot of time to wait. Many a gardener would be tempted to cut the darn thing down after a year or two with no results. “You good for nothin’ fig tree! You’re outa here!” Chop! Chop! Chop!

And yet, that’s not how the parable goes. Instead, after three years with no figs the man who planted the tree is ready to cut it down. “It’s just wasting the soil,” he says. But the gardener replies, “Let’s give it another chance. Let’s give it more time. Let’s not be so quick to say it’s worthless. Let’s care for it and see what it can do.”

Jesus wants his listeners to know that they’re all wrong about God’s justice.

You see, there are two kinds of justice. One is retributive justice. That’s a tit for tat kind of justice. You hurt me or someone I care about, and I’m going to hurt you back. You say something I don’t like, and I will verbally rip you to shreds. You attack our country and we will blow your country to smithereens. We call that justice. You will pay for what you’ve done, and you will pay in a big way. But that’s a limited view of justice. It’s retributive justice. That may be what we expect from something like the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Supreme Court takes us someplace else. God’s not into retributive justice. When we talk about the justice of God, that’s not what we’re talking about.

God is into another kind of justice—restorative justice. Restorative justice has a different goal. It’s all about restoring the relationship. When someone harms us, our relationship has been broken. The way to restore the relationship doesn’t come through punishing the other person. It comes through mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.

When we say that God is a God of justice, that’s what we’re talking about. Not that God is going to zap everyone who does evil, but that God will do everything possible to bring us back into relationship with him when we’ve wandered from that relationship. It’s the kind of justice we’ll read about next week in the story of the lost sheep and the prodigal son.

Trusting in the restorative justice of God is the work of Lent: Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful. Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Like the gardener in the parable of the fig tree.

The parable invites us to consider the distinction between judgment and mercy. The easiest way to deal with the fruitless fig tree would be to cut it down.
That’s always the easiest way to deal with jobs that are difficult. Or people who are difficult.  Or situations that are difficult. We just walk away. We cut them off. Problem solved.

It’s more difficult to care for the tree, to hunker down and do the hard work. We’ll have to endure a little manure under our fingernails and wait in hopeful expectation for fruit that may or may not come.

Mercy is like that. It takes lots of sweat and toil, with no guarantee of success or reward. There’s a big difference between being a person of retributive justice and a person of restorative justice-- a person of mercy.

In today’s parable, Jesus challenges his listeners, including us, to be merciful as God is merciful.  As a community of people striving to be loving not judging, that’s a direct challenge to us.

So, consider the trees God has planted in your life. They may be people or a place or a situation. They may be dreams or projects. Which ones have been giving you a hard time lately? Which ones aren’t producing the fruit that you’ve expected? Which ones have you been tempted to chop down and walk away from? Perhaps with a little more tender care, these barren trees just might produce some fruit.

The question is, are you willing to be patient enough for this to happen? That’s what the Jesus way of life, loving not judging, calls us to do.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Mother Hen's Lament

Sermon preached at Holy Trinity on February 21, 2016.

            Being a parent has been the greatest joy in my life. But it’s also been a great source of pain. As the mother of two children, from the moment each of them was born, I have felt my heart being ripped out of my chest again and again. When I carried them in the womb, they were safely enveloped in my protection. But once they were born they began a journey that has taken them further and further away from me.
            Hurt and disappointment and failure are an important part of life and in order to become whole people, I know that we all need to experience those painful times, and my daughter and son are no exception. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, and they’ll have to make theirs too. But there’s a part of me that wants to protect them from all of that. When they became adults, I had to let them go. I didn’t have a choice. But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch them make decisions and do things that result in pain and heartache.
            When my daughter decided to marry, I knew it was going to be a train wreck. I tried to talk sense to her, but of course, she didn’t listen. I could see that the train was leaving the station and I had to jump on board. So, I played the part of the happy mother of the bride at her wedding while my heart was breaking. And then I walked with my daughter through the pain of a failed marriage.
            Whenever I’m with my son Ben, every chance he gets, he’s lighting up a cigarette. Knowing the long-term effects of smoking for his life, it absolutely rips my heart out. But I’m helpless. Much as I might like to gather my kids under my wings the way I could when they were little, I can’t do that anymore.
            If you’ve ever loved someone you couldn’t protect, you know how this feels. And you may understand a little bit of how Jesus is feeling in today’s gospel lesson when he looks out over his beloved Jerusalem and he weeps for her.
            But that’s not where today’s passage begins, so let’s back up a bit.
            In this part of Luke’s gospel, we’re on the road with Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem. Here we see him on the outskirts of the city. And some Pharisees come to him with a warning. “Get away from here, Jesus. For you’re on King Herod’s most wanted list and he wants to kill you.”
            Now, it was nice of them to do that. And I suppose they expected Jesus to turn back and go into hiding. But instead, Jesus takes a stand. He has a mission, and Herod’s not going to get in the way. His exact words were: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”
            Jesus is making it clear that he’s not intimidated by Herod. He shows this by poking fun at him. He called him a fox. Only capable of catching small animals. Skiddish. Sneaky. Not at all the way Herod saw himself. Herod had been referring to himself as the Lion. Noble, Strong, Brave. The king of all beasts. When the lion roars, you’d better be scared. Herod says, “Rrrroar!” And Jesus replies, “Yeah. Whatever.”
            The way this story begins is all too familiar to me. It’s the story of a man with a mission. The odds are stacked against him. But he’s one of the good guys and he knows he can’t back down. I’ve seen it so many times. The names and the places may vary, but the story is always the same.
            When I was a kid there was a show on TV called, “The Lawman.” I remember the theme song had a line in it that went, “there was a job to be done.” The hero of the show knew how to use a gun. He didn’t want to use it, but he always found himself in situations where there was a job to be done, and he had to use it. I’ve seen the same plot again and again. In movies like  “Rambo,” “The Godfather”, “Batman,” and “The Revenant.” Jack Bauer on the TV show “24”, Red Reddington on “The Blacklist.”  Just about every movie Clint Eastwood has ever been in. There was a job to be done. And nothing will deter our hero from doing that job. Nothing will stand in his way.
            That’s the way Jesus is sounding here. He’s got some attitude going on when he says, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”
            So, just when I think, yeah, I know this story. I know where this is headed… All of a sudden the plot doesn’t continue along the same path that Clint Eastwood would take at all. It makes an abrupt turn and Jesus moves from a defiant stand against Herod to a lament of love for the people of Jerusalem. Herod is of no real concern to him. But the people of Jerusalem bring him to tears.
It’s the lament of a mother who knows she can’t protect her children. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! ….How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
            Now, of all the animals Jesus could have chosen to identify with, he chooses a mother hen. What’s that about? In literature, most of the images to describe Jesus are powerful. TS Elliott writes in one of his poems about Christ the tiger. In the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis makes Christ a lion. In Revelation Christ is a powerful white horse. But when Jesus chooses an image for himself, he goes with a…bird. Okay. But if he must go with a bird, why not an eagle? After all, the eagle has precedence in the Hebrew Scriptures. But a mother hen? That’s not the kind of bird you send in to face your enemies when there’s a job to be done. Not a mother hen for goodness sake!
            And yet, the mother hen fits. Because Jesus is talking about loving people he can’t protect.
All the mother hen can do is raise her arms. She can’t make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world. Wings spread. Breast exposed. The preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says that if Jesus means what he says, this is how he stands.
            Taylor writes: “Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first. Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her – wings spread, breast exposed – without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”
            This is clearly one of those times when Jesus is making a statement that foreshadows his death. But it also reveals to us something about God’s relationship with his people that runs deep.
            God loves us like a mother hen who longs to shelter us under her wings. When she extends those wings to us and bids us come, all too often we run away from her. And God laments the needless pain we cause ourselves just as Jesus lamented over Jerusalem.
            One of the definitions of sin that resonates with me is that sin is what we do that breaks God’s heart. The greatest harm that sin brings to our lives is not that we have fallen morally and need to deal with the guilt we bear. Sin harms us because it damages our relationship with God. It’s those decisions we make about how we will live our lives that break God’s heart.
            God offers enough love that we can rest securely under her wings, content being the people she created us to be, made in the Creator’s image. With no need to hide who we really are before God because we can trust God to love us as we are. No need to search elsewhere for the happiness that always seems to elude us – in material things, or human relationships. In our careers, or our accomplishments. In proving that we’re better than other people, or more worthy than other people. God offers us life, the real thing. So why do we so often turn away from the life God offers us?
            Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. And as long as our restless hearts continue to seek meaning in places that ultimately have no meaning, we break God’s heart. As long as we turn our backs on the abundant life that God offers us and choose instead self-destructive ways, we break God’s heart. As long as we reject the healing that God offers us and choose instead brokenness, we break God’s heart. As long as we turn from lives of authenticity and choose instead to hide behind the lies our egos have convinced us are true, we break God’s heart. As long as God offers us a place at the banquet table, but we decide we’d rather go dig through a dumpster and eat garbage. We break God’s heart. God weeps for us and cries: “How often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
            Of course, none of us can presume to know what God is thinking or feeling when God looks at the way we’re living our lives. But the scriptures do give us some revealing metaphors for God. Today’s gospel tells us that God is like a mother hen who longs to protect her chicks and keep them close.
            The way Jesus reacts to the rejection of Jerusalem leads me to believe that when we reject the love of God, it breaks God’s heart. I wonder why a chick would choose to run around the barnyard waiting to be gobbled up by any predator who comes along, when that chick could be nestled safe and secure under the wings of its mother?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Can we get our minds out of the toilet?

The non-discrimination ordinances of Charlotte are up for consideration yet again, and people are focusing on an issue that is a complete non-issue. They’re worried about a transgender person doing something harmful to a child in a restroom. This red herring is thrown into the debate to instill fear in people and distract them from the real purpose of the ordinances. The fact is, in every city where such ordinances are on the books, including some for a very long time, there has not been one instance of such a thing happening. Not one. Ever. So, can we get our minds out of the toilet and consider what’s really at stake?

Although I’m proud to live in a city that has strong anti-discrimination ordinances in place to prohibit discrimination against people because of race, color, religion, national origin or sex, I’m also disheartened to know that we haven’t yet extended our commitment against discrimination to all people. On February 22, we’ll have the opportunity to update our nondiscrimination policies to remedy the omission of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. It’s high time that we put an end to discrimination, not just for some, but for all of our citizens.

Did you know that currently, there is no law to prohibit a public business from refusing service to persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity? Can you imagine what it might feel like to make reservations to eat at a nice uptown restaurant in Charlotte only to be refused service at the door because the maĆ®tre d’ doesn’t approve of the person with whom you will be dining? As a straight person, I have difficulty ever seeing myself in such a scenario, and yet I know that, for many LGBT Charlotteans. it is a possibility that never leaves their awareness.

LGBT people are gifts to our community, and we are richer for their presence. They are parents, health care providers, educators, firefighters, artists. They work in retail, the service industry and factories; they build our homes. They volunteer in our schools, hospitals, museums and soup kitchens. They are citizens who vote and pay taxes, just as we all do. We share a common humanity, and yet we are not equally protected by the law. 

As a pastor, it grieves me to hear some use religion as a reason to discriminate against others. Religious freedom is one of our country’s fundamental values. Following the teachings of one’s faith is important, but that freedom doesn’t give any of us the right use religion to hurt people, to impose our beliefs on others or to discriminate. All faith traditions teach a deep and abiding responsibility to treat others respectfully or as we would want to be treated ourselves. 

I know there are some religious types who believe in their heart of hearts that homosexuality is a sin. They continue to insist that same gender couples shouldn’t legally marry. And they have a hard time understanding what it’s like to be transgender, especially if they’ve never met a transgender person. I want them to know that the ordinances are not about whether or not they find LGBT people acceptable. They are about recognizing that LGBT people are, in fact, human beings, and all human beings deserve equal protection under the law, no matter how we might feel about them.

We’re often anxious or uncomfortable with things we haven’t experienced; that’s just human nature. Sometimes our discomfort can get in the way of doing the right thing. We focus on our anxiety instead of the core values of our faith that call us to love, not just people who are like us, but especially people who are not like us. Discrimination is not a Christian value.

The nondiscrimination ordinances are not just a concern for the LGBT community in Charlotte. When we fail to protect all of our citizens from discrimination, we are complicit in injustice. I’m trusting that our City Council will understand that and it will soon be against the law to discriminate against any person in Charlotte for any reason, including sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Removing our masks

When I was a kid, my friends and I liked to hurl insults at one another. There were some classic lines like, “Is that your head or is your neck blowing bubbles?” Or, “Do that trick again, open your mouth and make your face disappear!”One of my favorites was always, “Halloween’s over; you can take off your mask!” Well, that's close to the meaning of Ash Wednesday, only it goes like this: Mardi Gras is over, you can take off your mask.

Mardi Gras, which literally means “Fat Tuesday” in French, is one last day of revelry before the solemn season of Lent begins. One of the traditions of Mardi Gras is wearing masks. It’s not just a fun thing to do, but it actually has some significance. For this day, Ash Wednesday, the day when Lent begins, is the day we remove our masks.

Back in ancient Greece, when they had plays, the actors wore very large masks to portray their characters. That way, even in an enormous Greek amphitheater, people could see the facial expressions of the actors. The theatrical mask was called a persona. It’s a word that's been adopted in modern psychology to refer to the self that we present to the world around us. Our persona is our psychological clothing. Carl Jung said that “the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is.”  It’s a mask that we can hide behind.

We all wear these masks. In many ways they’re useful. They can define the role we fill in the world around us and help us feel comfortable with one another. I spend a lot of time wearing the mask of a pastor. That’s the persona I present in order to perform a function. It wouldn’t be helpful for me to wear the mask of a computer geek or a politician or a basketball player when the people in my congregation need me to play the role of the pastor.

Sometimes we also wear masks to protect ourselves from being too vulnerable to others. That’s not such a bad thing either. We all learn what we need to do to protect ourselves in life, and that includes knowing the appropriate masks we need to wear in different settings.

But our masks become a problem for us when we use them to hide who we really are from others so that no one ever really gets to know us. Our masks become an even bigger problem for us when we use them to hide the truth about who we really are from ourselves. And, our masks become the biggest problem of all when we use them in an attempt to hide who we really are before God.

The truth is, despite our best efforts to hide behind the masks we wear, God knows who we really are. Lent is our time to return to the relationship we have with God. The first step on our Lenten journey involves removing our masks so that we can be honest about who we are. 

The life of faith is not about the masks we wear that make us look like good, moral people. The life of faith is about the relationship we have with God, and that relationship doesn’t stand a chance unless it’s honest.

So many of us miss this. We tend to focus on Lent as a time to clean up our act and we’ll engage in pious activities like fasting and good old fashioned groveling in confession for our sins. Those aren’t bad things to do, but they don’t necessarily lead us to a more authentic relationship with God. In fact, they can actually become yet another mask that we use to hide behind. For as long as we approach Lent with our agendas, we’re presenting a false self to God. We’re filling a role that we've created to God and we’re not authentically the people God created us to be. We’ve become the religious person praying on the street corner when God longs to meet the person we are in the privacy of our room with the door shut, in secret.

So, how do we do that? How do we remove the masks we hide behind so we can have an authentic relationship with God? We won’t get there by controlling and directing how our relationship with God will go. We can only meet God by getting our persona out of the way. It happens in moments when we’re open, undefended and immediately present. 

It can be scary to stand before God, stripped of all pretenses. But that's the only way to a genuine relationship with him. God doesn’t want our religiosity, God wants our authenticity. As Psalm 51 reminds us, “God takes no delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.” 

At the end of this day, along with Christians all over the world, I will go home and look in the mirror to see a reminder that I am mortal, that my time on this earth is limited and that my life belongs to God. My mask will be gone, and on my forehead I will see an ashen cross. That's the way my Lenten journey begins.    

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Panthers, Parties and Prayer

Sermon for Holy Trinity, February 7, 2016.
I’m what’s known as a bandwagon Panther fan. I haven’t paid any attention to them whatsoever since I moved here in 1998, and now that they’re about to win the Super Bowl, here I am, cheering them on.

Up until the beginning of December, I didn’t know who Ron Rivera was. In fact, just a couple days ago I was corrected when I referred to him as Don Rivera.

I had heard the name Cam Newton and knew he had something to do with the Panthers, but that was it. So, when Panther fever was running rampant through the community, I finally decided to sit down and watch a Panther game. I learned that Cam Newton is the quarterback. And then I saw, “Oh my gosh, our quarterback is black. And he’s big. He not only throws, but he runs the ball. And he’s smart and fun to watch!” And just like that, I caught the fever, too. So, yes, I’m a bandwagon fan.

Now, people who have been following the Panthers for years, through the dark days of losing seasons, are resentful of those of us who jump on the bandwagon in time for the Super Bowl. And I don’t blame them. This is their team that they’ve followed through thick and thin. They’ve earned the right to be at the Super Bowl with their Panthers. People like me, not so much.

It’s kind of like the attitude I notice from a lot of Christians on Easter Sunday. We come to worship in this place, and the pews are packed. Our attendance more than doubles. And those of us who are here week in and week out—the faithful remnant who came to worship on Labor Day weekend, and the Sunday after Christmas, and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the ones who will be there the Sunday after Easter—we look around on Easter Sunday and, although few would admit it openly, if we’re completely honest, we know that we feel at least a little bit of resentment toward those who haven’t been a part of the community all along and then show up for the big party. There’s something not quite right about that.

Yeah, sure, we truly are happy to have everybody together for the party, even those who only show up for the party. But deep down inside, we have to admit that we’re at least a little annoyed by the audacity of those who only show up for the spectacular events and are nowhere to be found for the mundane ones.  

Of course, what we need to acknowledge is that it’s human nature to jump on the bandwagon or show up for the party. People like to be present for the spectacular finale, even if they weren’t around for all the preparation that went into it. And that’s certainly true for people of faith, as well. We love the splashy spectacle but aren’t so crazy about the day-to-day drudgery of plodding through this life as a person of faith.
Just look at the story of the transfiguration from Luke. Jesus takes his friends Peter, James and John with him up a mountain so he can pray. I have to wonder how exactly Jesus prayed in a situation like this. Did he and his friends all join hands? Did he pray aloud so they could hear him? Did he end every petition with the word, “Lord in your mercy…” and did the disciples respond, “…hear our prayer.” Was it silent prayer, or maybe a contemplative style of prayer? The story doesn’t tell us. But what we do know is that for some reason, when Jesus brings his disciples along to pray with him, they can’t keep their eyes open. They’re weighed down with sleep.

Now, does that remind you of another story where Jesus takes his disciples up a mountain to be with him while he prays? Not too long after today’s story, Jesus will withdraw to pray on the Mount of Olives, and when he returns to his disciples, they’ve all fallen asleep.

I can’t be too hard on them because I’ve been known to fall asleep during prayers, or during worship or during a sermon. (It’s really embarrassing when you’re the one preaching.)

So, Peter, James and John are just about to nod off when, Bam! Jesus’ appearance is transformed and he is shining like the sun. And then all of a sudden he’s talking to Moses and Elijah. Well, the disciples were wide awake now! This was the coolest thing ever, and Peter wanted to build a shrine up there on the mountaintop, to preserve the glory of the moment, so it would never end.

The prayers may have put them to sleep, but the spectacle got their attention. And here’s the thing… Jesus needed both to prepare himself for what was before him.

Notice that today’s text begins with” “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and they went up on the mountain to pray.” About eight days later than what sayings? Well, if you back up in your Bible, you’ll hear Jesus talking to his disciples about his death and resurrection. He has his mind set toward Jerusalem. In fact, during his conversation with Moses and Elijah on the mountain, they’re not just shooting the breeze. They’re talking about his departure and what he’s going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Much like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he’s praying for guidance and strength to face the cross, Jesus is struggling here as well. God gives him that guidance and strength through a spectacular moment with Moses and Elijah.

Jesus needed this to prepare himself for what was ahead. I suspect Peter, James and John did, too. But the spectacular alone wasn’t going to carry them through the days ahead. They also needed the day-to-day connection with God that came through quiet times of prayer.

That’s the way the life of faith works for us, too. It’s not all about the big moments; it’s also about the small ones. It’s not all about the grand acts where we see God doing amazing miracles in the world around us. It’s also about acts of mercy and compassion that are quietly bringing healing to the people everywhere.

The life of faith isn’t just about going out into the world and doing great works in the name of Jesus. It’s also about visibly doing nothing at all, but simply resting in the presence of God. The life of faith is expressed outwardly and inwardly. It’s God meeting us in times of the glory of the transfiguration and in the struggle of the cross.

I’m afraid we have a tendency to be either/or people when the Jesus Way is both/and. So our spiritual lives get out of whack. They become unbalanced and incomplete. As we enter into the Lenten season on Wednesday, it’s a good time to examine that for ourselves. Where our lives are out of balance spiritually, we have an opportunity during the Lenten season to focus on bringing them into balance.

Some of us are all about serving. We’re volunteering at Merry Oaks and caring for elderly parents, we’re coaching soccer or building a house for Habitat for Humanity. It’s all an expression of faith. But it’s all about doing. If your faith life is all about doing, I need to tell you that you’re missing something. You’re missing the relationship with God that a deeper prayer life can bring.

Or you may be all about a quiet spirituality. You may devote yourself to reading the Bible and other spiritual reading and prayer every day, but you never really do anything in the world to express your faith.
During these upcoming weeks of Lenten self-examination, take some time to consider whether your spiritual life is balanced. And where it’s lacking, strive to make some changes so that your whole self is in relationship with God.

Of course, God loves us whether we’re totally with him, or only fractionally with him. But when challenges come—and we know they will, we can’t escape them—we’ll be better able to face them when we are wholly in relationship with God.

Ours is a God of the spectacular and the mundane. Ours is a God of wholeness. May we grow to experience a deeper connection with God during the weeks ahead.