26 February 2012

Homily for Cheesefare 2012

We are damned by ourselves; we are saved in community. We need to keep that in mind as we begin this Lententide. In last night’s Vespers we heard Adam sitting outside Paradise, mourning his Fall. The Fall brought death—separation—in Adam’s relationship to the world, to his wife, and to God. You may remember that when God confronted Adam, Adam blamed Eve. And Eve blamed the serpent. It was everyone for himself.

Still today we reap the fruit of that bitter harvest. St. Paul speaks of reveling and drunkenness, of debauchery and licentiousness, of quarreling and jealousy. Just consider drunkenness. Many folks get drunk for one of two reasons: either they want to overcome their own insecurity to make it easier to relate to others…or they want to forget the pain and brokenness of relationships that went bad. Either way, they end up lonelier and more isolated than ever.

That death, that separation, can even be seen in the church. Again, St. Paul speaks of the stronger and weaker brother. One man eats all kinds of food; another eats only vegetables. (By the way—did you notice that Paul says it’s the weaker man who eats only vegetables? We need to remember, as we enter the Fast, that fasting is a confession of our weakness, not something to boast about.) Even in the church, differences can lead to separation…alienation…death in our relationships.

In his mercy, Christ God gives us the weapons we take up during Lent to make us stronger, and to enliven our life together. “When you fast,” he says, because fasting turns me away from concern for my own life. “When you give alms,” he says, because giving alms makes me think of the other person, the one who lacks the things he needs. Remember Christ says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon?” We use money to make friends, when we give it away.

And then, “When you pray.” Prayer restores our link to God. In the words of last night’s vespers, “I shall return to the earth from which I was taken, and I shall cry to Thee, O compassionate One, have mercy upon me who am fallen.”

Our prayer, our alms and our fasting don’t heal the breach between man and God. No; that was done when God the Son took on flesh from the most pure Virgin, and embraced our fallen condition. He fasted to overcome Satan; he prayed for fallen Adam and his seed; he gave the best he had, his own life, into death so that by his death we might have life. He rose victorious in the strife, to prove that the ancient breach was healed.

So why then do we take up the weapons of prayer, and fasting, and giving alms during Lent? It’s because like Zacchaeus, we would get a clearer view of Christ…like the Prodigal Son, we want to return home…because, while we live in the light, we want to do those things which Christ will praise on his return in glory.

We are damned by ourselves; we are saved in community. In a few moments we
will mark Forgiveness Vespers. Each of us will ask forgiveness from everyone else, for the ways we have hurt each other this past year…for the ways we have chosen our own concerns over the life of the community. We will pray the prayer of St. Ephrem, which says in part, “Grant me to see my own sins, and not to judge my brother.”

And we will offer more services during Lent. It isn’t easy to come more often to church, I know. It means giving up some of my own pursuits. It means making tough choices. But the Lenten fast is too hard to do on your own. We need each other, to encourage and support each other. We are damned by ourselves. We are saved in community.

So come, brothers and sisters; let us greet the Lenten fast with joy. Let us forgive one another; let us love one another; let us encourage each other as we make ready to celebrate Christ’s holy resurrection. For by his obedience he has conquered our sin; by his death he has conquered our death; and by his rising he has restored us to the image of that ancient beauty in which we once were fashioned.

22 February 2012

Homily on the Last Judgment

Space and time are so tied to our life that we rarely give them a thought. Indeed, our every thought presupposes them both. We are, all of us, artists. Space is the canvas we paint on, and time is the brush we use.

Sometimes we think about things we might paint on that canvas; it’s then we use the word “if.” If I eat less, and exercise more, I will lose weight. If I study, I will get better grades. “If” is a wonderful word. It lets us consider possibilities—what might be.

But other times, we think about things that most definitely will be painted on that canvas. At those times, we use the word “when.” I remember sitting beside Cindy on her parents’ couch. I had proposed to her three times, and each time she said, “Don’t ask yet.” But as we sat there, I heard her say, “When I’m your wife…”—and to be honest with you, I can’t remember what came after those words. I only remember stopping her, looking at her and saying, “When? I accept your proposal!” And here we are, nearly 34 years later.

Today’s Gospel begins with the little word “When.” “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” Today we remember that Christ’s return in judgment is not a possibility. It’s a certainty. It’s not an “if,” but a “when.”

And his words make us think about what we’ve been painting on the canvas we’ve been given. To those who have sought him and seen him in the least of his brothers, he speaks words of greatest joy: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. I was hungry, and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me drink…”

But to those who haven’t sought him or seen him in the least of his brothers, his words speak terror: “Depart from me, O accursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you didn’t feed me; thirsty and you didn’t give me a drink…”

For me, most of the paint on my life’s canvas is already put down, already dry, already set. And when I think about it soberly, there is much to inspire me with fear. I have not sought the Savior in the least of his brothers. I have thought myself somehow better than others. I have excused my sin, and blamed others for theirs. I have served my own passions and desires. I have not wept at the thought of my sins. I have lived in exile from the Father, and fed myself on pigs’ food.

Dear friends, we are a year closer to the time that today’s text will be an overwhelming reality. The text does not start with “if,” but with “when.” When the Son of Man comes, he will judge; and come he most certainly will.

What, then, is our hope? Only this: that in his goodness and love for mankind, then “when” has not yet happened. We who hear his words still live in time and space. There is yet more color in our brush; our canvas is not yet full.

Here and now, he bids us think of his other “when"s, now fulfilled. The virgin conceived and bore a Son, God with us. God the Word became flesh and visited us. He has clothed us with his own righteousness. He has fed our hunger and quenched our thirst with the finest of fare—his own life-giving body and blood.

Because our God is good and loves mankind, the “when” of judgment has not yet happened. He gives us a precious gift—the people in our lives, this place where we live—on which to write. He gives us time—not much time, but only “today”—with which we may write the message of his mercy on that canvas.

It is still not over. It is not too late. With the prodigal from last week’s gospel we can still say, “I will arise and go to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; let me be your servant.”

We do not have forever, my brothers and sisters. But we do have today…today to meditate on his mercy…today to trust his goodness…today to show forth that goodness in the lives of all those he gives us to love.