Manuscript for 3 Lent 2010

3 Lent 2010 ~ March 7, 2010

“Its Not All About Being Good!”

By this time, everyone at Ascension Church has heard about vitality and how it differs from viability.  Viability is easier to point out, often because it refers to something physical, a roof that keeps out the rain or an endowment that helps pay the bills and underwrites our desire to bring relief to those among us who are in need.

It’s not as easy to point out evidence of vitality.  Up until this past week, that is.  Vitality is that buzz in the air as preparations for Rebecca Gibb’s service (held here yesterday) were being made by so many members of Ascension Church.  With much of the Vestry’s current focus on Vitality and what that looks like for a parish likes ours, suddenly there were plenty of ways to speak of vitality in our midst.  Nice to have the right word at hand to name that buzz in the air. Even as we had all these smiles being shared which also speak of vitality quite perfectly.

So allow me this heart-felt word of thankfulness to you and to those of you who knew what to do and how to step forward to make this sacred work of honoring the life of Rebecca Gibbs and of showering our love and support upon Ben, Anna, and Glenn.  Yesterday was the experience of love in motion, love flowing beautifully and flowing thoughtfully and intentionally to where it was needed most.

There was one conversation among many I enjoyed during the sweet reception held in Boone Hall that helps me now segue to something I want to share with you this morning.

This dear woman began to well up with tears as she expressed to me her wistful desire to stop time in the midst of the reception.  Why, she wondered, couldn’t we just stop and say “No” to the absurdity of what we call our daily lives: the constant, obsessive racing from here to there, the silly arguments, the concern about how we look and whether we have enough.

She said all that in fewer words, but did so with a heavy heart, and that conveyed more to me than her words.  She wanted to stay put in a place where all the getting by, getting ahead, and not being sure why it’s all so important anyway–is left outside.  She liked abiding in a sacred space.

We all know what we mean by “mountain top experiences.” They show us a sobering view of life down in the valley, as well as our reluctance to rejoin that world after having succeeded in slipping away for a while.

Without question the world in which we live from day to day is hard on us, demanding, never satisfied with us, waiting, it seems, to catch us faltering, to correct our behavior, our manners, our posture.  And mostly we respond in earnest, sincerely wanting to show the world what we can do, and how we know right from wrong, and, when necessary, accept the shameful consequences of being caught doing what we know to be wrong, disappointing those who believed in us, invested in us, and expect more from us.

And so, yes indeed, that world is different from a space largely shaped by the absence of all that, a sacred space formed by the spirit of loving embrace that fills it.

Jesus lived in both these worlds and calls us even now to learn how to live in both.  Since to live in one without living in the other amounts to living without living fully; such a life cannot bring peace to the soul or healing to the world.  Such a life is a fig tree bearing no fruit.

“But isn’t it true, Jesus, that bad things happen to people who are bad, and good things come to those who are good?”

This, by the way, is mostly what we believe since this is how the world works most of the time—and how we behave most of the time.  We punish those who are bad and praise and give raises to those who do what we want them to do.

“So, isn’t that the truth of how the world works, Jesus?”

“No.  If you think the people killed in Haiti are lower on the ladder of worthiness than you are, you are totally mistaken.   And yet, if you do not repent, you will perish just as they did.”  Wow!  That’s getting our attention!

And here it is helpful to know that “repent” for Jesus does not mean simply resolving to avoid bad behavior and becoming good boys and girls.  Repent here means, turning away from seeing your worth only in relation to others, and turning toward experiencing your worth from direct contact with divine presence we refer to by the word “God.”

With so much of our time playing God and judging others to be better or worse than we are, we forget that there is a divine presence inviting us to take off our shoes and step onto holy ground, and experience for ourselves the vitality of divine reality.

Moses underwent that experience and everything he did from that point onward became a life traceable to God, a life transparent to the transcendent.  That, my friends, is living.   Turning into a direct experience with “I AM WHO I AM” and then returning to the world bearing the fruit of that encounter is not easy, but it is immensely rewarding and begins to transform for yourself and others the taxing, petty life of keeping track of who is wrong and who is right into something meaningful and beautiful.

Repentance is infinitely more than avoiding the bad and doing the good.  Where is God in that?  To repent is to drink of the experience of being in God’s presence without which we will indeed perish, not because we are bad but because we have no life, no vitality, no relationship to the transcendent to bear as fruit into the world.

That sweet soul at the reception knew there has to be more to life than forever trying to be good, and trying to be better.  She did not want to return to that world.  Instead, I believe she left here yesterday blessed by the spirit of vitality she felt here, transformed some by the presence of God she encountered here, and, therefore able to bear that fruit more readily into the world out there that needs as much fruit as it can get.

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