An Invitation to Dinner

I was privileged to preach at my church today.

Listen to this sermon here.

The readings for today are at the bottom of this post.

In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus gets invited to a dinner party at someone’s house.
Not just any dinner – but the Sabbath meal.
Not just any house – but the house of a leader of the Pharisees. A leader among the most traditional and conservative of the priests in the city of Jerusalem.

Most of us who have had some success in our careers, get opportunities like this. We get invited to the Boss’ house, and we make polite conversation. We admire his or her home, we accept a seat at the table, we watch how much we drink. We don’t express our opinions too forcefully. We just try to make a good impression.

Jesus does not act the way we usually do.

(pause)

Over the last two Sundays, our gospel readings have shown Jesus as the revolutionary, the firebrand, who came to bring fire to the earth!

Who said

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

Who rebukes the leader of a synagogue with

“You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

All too often, when I see some problem with our country, or our community, I feel this outrage!
Something must be done about this right now!

I sometimes then waste my limited time and energy confronting people, rather than finding some way to work with them.

In our gospel readings of the past couple of weeks, Jesus seems to be feeling this outrage, this need for action.
But Jesus knows when to be forceful, and when to use a different approach.

A leader of the Pharisees invites Jesus, this wild, rough, Galilean prophet, the son of a carpenter from the countyside, invites this Jesus to his home for the Sabbath meal.
Jesus could have been loud and reactionary. He could have blamed the Pharisees present for many of the problems with their society. But, Jesus does not see the Pharisees as his adversaries.
Jesus ministered to everyone, even the Pharisees.
Everyone.

Can you imagine Jesus at this Sabbath dinner?
Jesus is the special guest, with all these high status religious leaders. He could claim if not the best seat, at least the second best seat at that table. Maybe, one of the Pharisees, has not gotten the word and has already claimed the seat reserved for Jesus. The other Pharisees are whispering to this man, you should move to another seat, we want Jesus to sit here so we can question and watch him closely.

Jesus is watching these men, with the love and regard he has for everyone.
Jesus then speaks,

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

After Jesus said this, I wonder if there was a sudden rush for the seats at the foot of the table?

Jesus, once he has their attention, also gives them a bit of his revolutionary, kingdom of God stuff, which he addresses directly to the leader of the Pharisees who invited him to this dinner.

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.”

I am sure, that Jesus’ tone was friendly, but this message is a rebuke, because this is exactly who the leader of the Pharisees had invited to this dinner.

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I wonder how the leader of the Pharisees received this message from Jesus?
It seems that Jesus was not invited to dinner again.
We do not see in the gospels that Jesus regularly attended the sabbath dinner at a Pharisee’s house.

How are we to spread the message of the good news of Christ Jesus?
How are we to move our society towards the kingdom of God?

(pause)

It is very easy for us to demonize people who do not agree with us. We disagree about some issue, and we label them as liberals or conservatives, progressives or libertarians. Once we have labeled them, they in turn label us. Their and our positions on issues harden as our hearts harden, so that even if we talk to one another, we are shouting slogans at each other, rather than listening to each other in the give and take of a conversation.
We start to see these people as our adversaries,
as an obstacle to be overcome.

As I was writing this sermon, I remembered two people who lived lives of protest. Who creatively and courageously worked to bring about the kingdom of God. Who also consciously and consistently refused to see the people who disagreed with them as adversaries or opponents to be overcome, but saw them as neighbors, friends and collaborators who had not yet joined with them.

John Woolman was born in 1720 in the colony of New Jersey. As a young man he learned how to tailor clothes, and how to run a business. He was a Quaker, and came to a personal realization that slavery was wrong, and that he must do something about it. With the support of his local Society of Friends meeting, he traveled to Quaker and other church meetings throughout New England for over 30 years, speaking against slavery, asking everyone who owned slaves to free them. In 1772 he traveled to England presenting the case to end slavery to the Yearly meeting of British Quakers. This one man, working throughout his life to convince his fellow Quakers to end slavery, led to the Quakers getting slavery abolished in Pennsylvania in 1790. Converting people who owned slaves on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line to give up the institution of slavery; convincing them to free their slaves by talking to them one on one.

Mahatma Ghandi was the other person who came to my mind as someone who creatively and courageously protested British rule, seeking freedom for the people of India.
Ghandi felt very strongly in the worth of every person he met. So when he was invited to a gathering where there was a servant present waiting on himself and the other guests. He would take the serving tray from the servant, thank them, and serve the other guests himself. Ghandi would do this at meetings with Indian leaders to remind them that the people were not protesting just for the Indian leaders to replace the British ones. But that those Indian leaders should see themselves as public servants of a free India. Ghandi’s act of service to others is a great example of a personal act of protest and awareness.

Before we protest,
before we work to change anyone elses’ opinions on the great issues of our day,
we have our own inner work to do.

In our hearts and in our minds, we should know that these people, our neighbors,
who disagree with us,
who we are protesting,
who we are confronting, are not our adversaries.
These people, are our brothers and sisters of God, our Father and Creator.

We should strive to strike that balance, as Jesus did, delivering our message of protest to the powerful, in a creative way.
With the resolve of John Woolman, pleading for the dignity of all people for over 30 years; never giving in or giving up.
With the moral force and firmness of our own conduct and example as Mahatma Ghandi did throughout his life.
Courageously seeking to convert,
always seeking to speak to our common humanity.
Always listening to that small, still voice of the spirit.

Jeremiah 2:4-13

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?”
I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the
love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share
what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit
down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come
and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the
lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the
table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich
neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Eccentricity

A new thought, sparks in a mind.
Not like a fire, or the sun’s light,
not as any thing, which is only physical.
An idea, an inspiration, an obsession.

She meditates on it.
It is disruptive,
she does not want it.
It cannot be unthought.

It challenges beliefs long held.
She has discovered
a cracked foundation stone,
in her tower of understanding.

Over several months,
she examines it.
Though her variable moods,
she holds it in her heart.

The world reels around her,
as the reality of what was true,
ceases to exist.
Her new Truth is born.

A new tower takes shape,
out of the rubble of the old.
Each Truth examined anew,
as each course is laid.

A new thought, sparks in a mind.
Not like a fire, or the sun’s light,
not as any thing, which is only physical.
An idea, an inspiration, an obsession.

Release Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Sir,

I have been very pleased to hear that my fellow Information Technology professional Mohamedou Ould Slahi is being considered for release from military prison on the Guantanamo Bay Naval base.

It has been a very long time in coming.

Please do everything you can to expedite Mohamedou Slahi’s release from our custody.

release1

Trinity in Community

This is the sermon I presented for 22 May 2016 – Trinity Sunday.
The readings for this Sunday follow the sermon.
Listen to this sermon here.

I noticed something interesting in our lessons for today.
In every one of our lessons, the congregation, the community of believers is being addressed.

In our reading from Isaiah, Wisdom is speaking,

To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

Wisdom is not speaking to an individual person, she speaks to all of us, to all that live.

In our reading from Romans, the Apostle Paul is speaking to everyone who lives in Rome. In Romans chapter 1 verse 7

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints

Paul goes on to list all the people in Rome he is speaking to, Jews and Gentiles, Barbarians, and Greeks.
The congregation of believers,
the entire Christian community.

In our reading from the gospel of John, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and through them to all of us who are here today. Jesus is talking about how the spirit of truth, the holy spirit, who will speak to us individually, however, Jesus is addressing this message to the group,
to the congregation,
to the people who will become the Christian community.

When I was growing up, I thought of my relationship to God as that of a one-on-one personal relationship. My understanding of what it was to be a Christian was that it only involved Jesus Christ and myself. That if I believed in Jesus, and God our Father and Creator, that I was a Christian. That I would be guided by the Holy Spirit in prayer. But look at what Paul wrote to the Romans in our reading for today.

we are justified by faith
we have peace with God
we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand

Paul does not use I anywhere in this passage,
because he is speaking about and to his brothers and sisters in Christ,
the Christian community.

What I had not understood for so many years was how important the Christian community, the community of believers, is in our relationship with our Creator and God. All the theology I’ve been studying in the past several years has stressed that the surest way for a Christian to lose their way is for them to spend too much time by themselves.
Even the people that you would think were all on their own, like the holy hermits of the desert, or contemplative Christians: our brothers and sisters in abbeys and monasteries, live in community.

To become a Christian, all we need to do is to believe in the risen Christ, who was sent by the Lord God our Father and Creator. But to really live in Christ as a Christian, we are called to do more.
To study scripture,
to pray for understanding,
to listen in stillness for that quiet voice of the spirit of God,
And there is yet another thing that keeps us on the right path:

For our own Christian formation we should also live in a community with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is in the community that those insights we gain from our study and prayer and contemplation can be tested.
It is the community that grounds us and can help us when we let either our imagination or our fears get the better of us.
It is our brothers and sisters who mirror our beliefs and actions back to us, so that we are able to see ourselves as we are.

It is easy for me preach about community, but it is sometimes incredibly hard to live in community. Especially when that community is helping us to see our own faults. Is it not those people who are most like us, who irritate us the most?

(pause)

So what does all this have to do with the holy Trinity?

The last time I was scheduled to preach on Trinity Sunday two years ago, I was given this book by my mother-in-law, “What are they saying about the Trinity”, by Fr. Joseph Bracken. Fr. Bracken was a Jesuit priest on the faculty at Xavier University and he also preached at my wife Darlene’s church, St. Dismas in Waukegan, while she was growing up. By the time I received this book, I had already written my sermon, so I just put it aside.

This year, I was assigned Trinity Sunday again, so I finally read and studied Fr. Bracken’s book. I was astonished to find that among the more recent theories about the nature of the holy Trinity, many modern theologians are discussing the interactions between God’s persons as a community. That the experience of God in three persons by the first Christians has lead to a new understanding, a new modern philosophical realization of God as a community.

Here is a quotation from one of these modern theologians, Juan Luis Segundo also of the Society of Jesus from his book “Our Idea of God”.

“For, as long as God has thus been conceived as a being totally independent of his creatures, human beings have tended ……, to imitate God in seeking their own self-fulfillment in terms of self-sufficiency and independence of others. If, however, God is understood to be a society of three persons who are sympathetically involved with men and women in history, then human beings will perhaps recognize more readily that they too have a basically social orientation, that the perfection of their nature lies in interdependence with others for the achievement of common goals, not in some unattainable ideal of independence and self-sufficiency.”

The perfection of our nature, lies in our interdependence with others.
That independent, self-sufficiency is unattainable and unrealistic. That, perhaps, our belief in the holy Trinity, our God as a community of persons, should make us think, should make us aware, of how much we depend on other people.
That we do not have to go it alone.
That God created us to live in community with each other.

When we realize that our strength comes through cooperation;
with our neighbors,
with our family and friends,
with our brothers and sisters in the church.

It is truly wonderful that we continue to find new insights in the most holy Trinity.
The Spirit of truth continues to speak to us.

It is just as Jesus said in our gospel reading.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me,
because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.
Amen.

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth–
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”

Romans 5:1-5
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.

John 16:12-15
Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes,
he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own,
but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and
declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.
For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Citizenfour

President Barack Obama,

Just watched the movie “Citizenfour“. It is pretty damning account of the crimes of our intelligence services against, well, everyone. I highly recommend it to you.

The intelligence services who all report to you.

The intelligence services whose leaders have forgotten to whom they are ultimately responsible.

The intelligence services whose leaders know that you are not going to hold them accountable.

Enjoy,

citizenfour

Anastasia

My daughter wrote this poem ten years ago, with her permission I post it here.

In the golden city,
On a diamond throne she sits,
Anastasia!

Where my heart belongs,
That is where it always lies,
Anastasia!

On the empty throne lies
A crown that was her own,
Anastasia!

The battle was fought;
The sky blackened by arrows,
Anastasia!

There our Queen sat still,
Enclosed in a silent gloom,
Anastasia!

In that starry night,
The ground was soaked with dark blood,
Anastasia!

On that fateful day,
Demons came up and took her away,
Anastasia!

Cursed and swore we did,
On and on we kept calling,
Anastasia!

In the dark we searched,
Until we found the hidden lair,
Anastasia!

Our weapons were wasted,
We fought until we could not fight,
Anastasia!

As I turned retreating,
I got a look at our Queen,
Anastasia!

She was not alone,
All the slain were there with her,
Anastasia!

I could not go forward,
I could only go backward,
Anastasia!

As I saw her eyes,
There was only pity and sorrow,
Anastasia!

There she was silent,
How I wanted to join her,
Anastasia!

My eyes pleaded,
My only task has failed,
Anastasia!

People would mock me,
She would haunt me forever,
Anastasia!

I will now wander,
I am only a shadow,
Anastasia!

Please, let me join you,
Where you are; I will be happy,
Anastasia!

My spirit is gone,
I will fall on my sword soon,
Anastasia!

My love, ’tis for you I go,
I will go to the halls of death,
Anastasia!

Listen to my tale,
So listen to my sorrow,
Anastasia!

The Mystic

Is there not more?
More that we can see,
more than we can touch.
Unseen, unheard, yet present.

Before we invented history,
we explored the unknowable.
Through ritual, fasting, prayer and pain,
pursuing wisdom through the dreamtime.

Christians and Muslims, Brahmans and Buddhists,
and too many others to name or number.
Influenced all by that nameless presence,
which whispers to our souls.

Perhaps, all arts have this source,
a wellspring deep within our being.
In spiration* with all creation,
we inhale deeply of pure, raw, possibility.

See for yourself.
Close your mouth and eyes.
Quiet the restless mind.
Listen in stillness.

Listen not only with your ears.
Listen with your entire being,
feelings, guts, blood, and bone.
Trust your Self.

Is there not more?
More that we can see,
more than we can touch.
Unseen, unheard, yet present.

* spiration

1 obsolete : the action of breathing as a creative or life-giving function of the Deity
2 obsolete : the action of breathing as a physical function of man and animals

The Seer

“What is Truth?”, They ask.
“Truth surrounds us, can you not see it?
Feel, touch, taste, hear it?”,
whispers the Seer.

She whispers on purpose.
Angry mobs with stones,
are unusually restive;
when obvious truths too loudly are revealed.

There are none so blind,
as those who choose not to see.
So it is, with most of us.
We live among the lies we tell ourselves.

If only, we had known,
we tell ourselves.
If only, we had realized,
what might have been!

She only knows what is.
She will tell us, if we ask.
“Listen closely.”,
whispers the Seer.

The Alchemist

Light, that’s all it was.
A light divine,
too pure, too bright for mere mortal eyes.
I still see it in my dreams.

Prentice to Albreq, I was then.
Clearing an oaken bench, long disused.
Curious flask, holding a metallic powder.
Well sealed with wax and twine tied in knots Gordian.

Of course, I opened said curious flask,
testing the powder by means arcane,
discovering nothing.
A candle knocked o’er the powder which remained.

Light, pure light, in that darkened room.
Burning like the fire of the Greeks.
Neither sand or water would put it out,
burning through a hands width of solid oak.

Many years it has been,
many lustra* since I became master,
many powders have I tested.
I quest still to find that powder.

My prentice has now been given this task,
carefully putting each powder to the flame.
Well warned is he by his master’s blindness,
since that day.

Light, that’s all it was.
A light divine,
too pure, too bright for mere mortal eyes.
I still see it in my dreams.

* Lustra – plural form of Lustrum – 5 years

Desert Fathers

I gave the Ash Wednesday sermon at my church today.

The readings for this sermon are below.

Listen to this sermon here.

About four years ago, I started meeting with Steven Godfrey our former priest here at St. Martin’s, to talk about my calling to ministry in the church. In one of our first meetings he told me about the desert fathers. I have since studied the stories and sayings of the desert fathers and mothers. Their teachings have fundamentally changed my understanding of what it is to be a Christian.

When I read our gospel lesson and the reading from Isaiah for today – Ash Wednesday – I was immediately reminded of the practices of these Christian ascetics who lived in the desert so long ago.

In the third century after the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, many Christian men and women in northern Egypt decided to dedicate themselves wholly and completely to prayer. They traveled into a deserted region now known as the Nitrian desert in northern Egypt. They supported themselves with small vegetable gardens and the weaving of reed baskets which they sold in nearby market towns. They were the first Christian monks and nuns, and became known collectively as the desert fathers. From all over the Christian world, religious people traveled to this region of Egypt to ask them questions or to become monks themselves. Some of their stories and sayings were written down and are a wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in Christian contemplation and mysticism. One of the many pilgrims who traveled to the desert was Saint John Cassian, who published his own book of the sayings of the desert fathers – “Conferences of the Desert Fathers” in 420 AD. After publishing this book, John Cassian devoted his life to the founding of a ‘desert father like’ monastic community in southern France near Marseilles. Cassian’s book “Conferences of the Desert Fathers” was also a major influence for Saint Benedict nearly 200 years later when he established his monastic rule, and to the present day the stories of the desert fathers are read by nuns and monks in their daily offices.

On this first day of our season of Lent, it is good to remember the desert fathers and mothers. As ascetics, they fasted all of the time, and they were very hard core, a fast for the desert mothers or fathers was not eating at all. Many of them as part of this religious practice only ate every other day. They practiced poverty, earning only enough to keep them alive, and giving anything extra they earned to the poor. The goal of the desert fathers and mothers was to be constantly in prayer and contemplation, not only in the time they set aside for prayer and study in their cells, but at all times, even while they were working to support themselves.

The desert fathers following the example of Jesus, practiced extreme humility in everything they did. There are many different ways that the desert fathers and mothers practiced this extreme humility.

To not to allow yourself to care if others either praise you or insult you.

The practice of hospitality, sharing everything they have with anyone visiting them. Sitting down and eating with their visitors, even if by so doing so they were breaking their own fasts, so that their visitors would not be ashamed to accept their hospitality.

One of their most difficult practices (for me to follow) is to not do anything which might cause your brothers and sisters to sin. Always returning good to another whether you have received either good or evil from them. Say, someone steals something from you. A desert father practicing extreme humility forgives the thief, instead of accusing the thief. Because if the thief were to be accused – he or she would probably deny the theft – and then the thief, just because of the accusation – will have committed two sins, stealing and lying.

Today, the practice of extreme humility I want to concentrate on is that of false reputation. When we glorify ourselves before our friends and neighbors. This follows directly from our gospel reading for today, as Jesus is reminding us that when we seek to pray, to worship, and in our charity work; we should not be doing it in a showy way as a performance, to gain favor among our fellow men and women. I think we have all witnessed religious leaders who in public pray with flowery phrases and are highly regarded for their charity and piety.
Jesus warns us against this showy behavior in public.
Jesus teaches us to pray, and perform our good works in secret.

There is a story about a desert father who would travel to town to attend church services on Sundays. He did not want people to have a false regard for him by seeing him go to church, so he would always sneak into and out of the church and sit behind a pillar on a side aisle during services so that no one would see him.

The desert mother Amma Sarah said this about her reputation, “If I prayed that all people should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, so I shall rather pray that my heart shall be pure towards all”

Here is another desert father story about reputation. There was a monk named Abba Moses who was widely known for his wisdom. The provincial governor wanted to talk with Abba Moses and sent two of his servants to bring Moses to him. Abba Moses heard they were coming and left his cell to avoid meeting with them. Moses ended up on the same road as the two servants, and they asked Moses for directions not knowing him as the man they had been sent to find. Moses told them that they were wasting their time, that Abba Moses was a false and unworthy monk. Moses was so convincing, the servants decided not to continue on their journey and headed back to the nearby town, where they learned that the anonymous monk in the desert they had met was in fact Abba Moses himself. The story ends with the governor greatly edified by the humility of Abba Moses returning to the capital without ever meeting with him.

What I love about these stories of men and women is that their humanity, both their virtues and their faults, have been preserved as well as their practices and beliefs.

A certain wandering brother came to a monastery. He saw the brethren working, and rebuked them, saying, “Why do you labor for food which perishes, for Mary has chosen the good part.” Referring to the story of Mary and Martha, where Mary just visits with Jesus while Martha does all the work around the house. So the abbot gave a book to this brother to read, and put him into an empty cell. At the ninth hour (which is about 3 in the afternoon) the brother looked out and gazed along the path to see if anyone was coming to call him to a meal. After a while he went to the abbot, and asked, “Did the brethren eat to-day?” The abbot told him that they had already eaten. Then said the brother, “Why did you not call me?” The abbot answered him, “You are a spiritual man. You have surely no need of such food as we eat. We, indeed, are but carnal; we must eat. We labor, but you have chosen the good part. You read all day, and have no wish to receive carnal food.” At this point this brother asked the abbot and the other brethren of the monastery to forgive him.

As we celebrate and observe Lent this year, remember that it is not important what people may think about you.
Our reputation should be the least of our concerns.

For Lent this year:
Find some practice,
perhaps some offering of your time and attention,
perhaps some self-sacrifice that no one else need know about.
Perform this offering to the Lord in secret, as though your left hand knows not what your right hand is doing.

In our lessons for today, the prophet Isaiah has some suggestions for us about what we might do for Lent this year, I am reading from the God’s Word version of Isaiah.

Is this the kind of fasting I have chosen?
Should people humble themselves for [only] a day?
Is fasting just bowing your head like a cattail
and making your bed from sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call fasting?
Is this an acceptable day to the LORD?
This is the kind of fasting I have chosen:
Loosen the chains of wickedness,
untie the straps of the yoke,
let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke.
Share your food with the hungry,
take the poor and homeless into your house,
and cover them with clothes when you see [them] naked.
Don’t refuse to help your relatives.
Then your light will break through like the dawn, and you will heal quickly.
Your righteousness will go ahead of you,
and the glory of the LORD will guard you from behind.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer.
You will cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am!”

 

Isaiah 58:1-12

Thus says the high and lofty one
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see– we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”