Third Sunday in Lent
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
Wow! I don’t know about you, but the last week has been one of the more roller coaster-esque that I can remember. I was talking to one of the older members of our parish late last week and she was telling me that in her long lifetime she doesn’t remember anything like the current experience we are having on a global scale. We’ve had challenging moments in our history of course; much more challenging times, one could say, than these. A World War, Korea, Vietnam; movements of various kinds, energy crises of various shapes, financial challenges; so, the challenges we face as global, national, and local community, because of the coronavirus pandemic, is nothing (necessarily) new. But as people living in the 21st century, we really haven’t experienced a confluence of challenges quite like this; certainly not in anyone’s living memory. So, we’re afraid and confused, to put it mildly, wondering what’s going to happen next and how long are our lives going to be up-ended and impacted by the lingering and continuing effects of this virus?
What I wanted to attempt today, if nothing else, was to offer some words of encouragement and hope for us as a community. And I’m not talking about some false hope, but a hope born of challenge while still able to see light through the goodness, mercy, and presence of God. I don’t want to blow sunshine up anybody’s backside, if it’s OK to say that in church; forgive me for perhaps being a little bit crude. I don’t want to give people a meager, flimsy hope nor false promises about the time to come. Rather, we are offered the wonderful gift of Christian community. At times like these, we hold on to a hope that is, actually, altogether real and enduring in a way that nothing else in the world or our lives can be. “What is that hope?”, we might rhetorically ask?
By way of explanation, I have decided, ultimately, to go to the height, breadth, and depth of this week’s reading from Romans. I thought we might begin - and perhaps we will end, right there. Listen again to the words of Paul and his letter to the Romans this week.
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
There are a couple of wonderful blessings in Romans that give us a sense of God‘s presence and tell us just how much God loves and attends to us. Because of what God in Christ has done, we are standing in grace, standing in the undeserved but totally and freely given forgiveness and reconciliation of God. Remember, reconciliation takes us beyond forgiveness. We may understand instinctively, as people of God, that because Jesus Christ came, died for us, and rose again that we are forgiven. We may appreciate that His willingness to sacrifice himself breaks the bond of the yoke, the imprisonment of our sin and not that only but of all of our brokenness which may separate us from God. In reality, we have not only been forgiven, we have been brought fully into the presence of God: that is Grace; that is reconciliation. Paul magnifies this idea that we stand in the grace of God by reminding us that Christ sacrificed not because we made promises to God and not because we have become the people that God intended for us to be. Christ came among us and sacrificed himself for us in the midst of our weakness, in the middle of our confusion, fear and challenges. God entered into our human history in Jesus Christ when we needed God the most. So, Paul tells us that while we were still in our weakness, Christ died for us. How much more, then, will God bless us, now that we have been brought back into the presence of God in Christ through the gift of his resurrected life. The Resurrection of Jesus reminds us that God’s life among us continues. It didn’t end with the crucifixion; grace was accomplished fully in death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ claims that the power of the Spirit, which is God’s love, has been poured into Our hearts and continues to work on us and heal us. Reconciliation, this gift of God that we have because of Jesus Christ, means that we are brought into full relationship with God.
Why is it so important to talk about reconciliation at a time like this? Paul reminds us that he and his fellow ministers had been through tremendous struggles and trials, beatings, stonings, rejection at every turn; kicked out of one back water town after another. Paul, Barnabas, Silas and all of those who followed Paul, Jesus’ disciples, they learned that no matter what they went through, God would continue to be with them. They were standing in the grace of God because of what Christ had done. And everything that they were going through, everything they had been through, and all they would continue to go through, would strengthen them. Their endurance had produced a character consistent with a disciple of Jesus, a person who lives in the very real hope of the promises of God, come what may, because of what God has done for us, through us, and to us. We stand in the reconciling grace of God fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And because we are reconciled to God, God is calling us, constantly, to be reconciled with each other.
Now our awareness of God’s grace in which we stand is not some talisman that makes everything OK. It doesn’t make the coronavirus suddenly go away. It doesn’t make all our insecurity and fear about the future dissolve into the ether. One of the great benefits of scripture is that it shows us real people grappling with monumental difficulties. We see Peter, James, John and Paul, the people of Israel, making huge mistakes. But what marks their lives is an irresistible yearning for the presence of God as the only thing that could satisfy their unquenchable thirst. We thirst for God, for the living God of our lives. In these difficult times we want to know where God is. What Paul is reminding us, and Jesus demonstrates with his incredible grace, mercy, and wisdom with the woman at the well in John’s Gospel today, is that the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts because of God’s unending love for us in Jesus. We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what the stock market is going to do. We don’t know how long this virus is going to hang around and haunt us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, what we do know is that God‘s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. We are reconciled to God even in our weakness and fear by the sacrifice and continuing life of Jesus Christ. Let us take comfort in the real presence of God. And whether we can gather together in actual community or we have to do it online, virtually, or in our hearts, we are bound together by the reconciling love of God in Christ. One of the great ways we can be disciples of the God of all reconciliation in these difficult times, is to reach out and make a phone call to a member of the parish or to a friend that is elderly or vulnerable to illness who may be particularly fearful in this time. And we can offer them the reality of God‘s love in Christ through our offering of that gift and assurance of the Holy Spirit. Let us not despair or give ourselves over to fear or panic. Now more than ever we need the reconciling love of God. It is OK to be afraid and it is entirely understandable to be frustrated and confused by the disruptions of our lives. But this time does offer us an opportunity to pray into our fear and challenge. God has reconciled us, even in our weakness, and bound us to the hope of His continuing life, a life best shared and rejoiced in, even when dark skies threaten.