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Calvary Episcopal Church
Memphis, Tennessee
February 7, 2004
The Second Sunday in Lent

Renee MillerComing to Yourself in God
The Rev. Canon Renée Miller

Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
(This sermon is also available in audio)

It was a cold, snowy, icy afternoon when she came. We were in the middle of Lent and we were still living through the short days and long nights of an Idaho winter. During those short days and long nights, the troubles of her soul had slowly risen to the surface. She remembered all too well the details of what she had done. She had tried for some time to keep those feelings of dis-ease at bay, but something about the possibility of forgiveness and freedom edged their way into her consciousness. And so, she had called during the week to ask if she could come to make her confession.

I met her at the church door and we walked together up the aisle of the chilly and silent church. She knelt down at the altar rail. I sat on a chair just inside the rail. I put on my purple stole and we began the service of reconciliation. This was her first confession and even a woman in her mid-forties has had enough experience in life to know there were things that she should have done but hadn’t done, and things that she had done but shouldn’t have done. Her heart began to open, and out tumbled all that had kept her soul from feeling whole.

But, there was one thing in her life that had seemed to overshadow all the others and it was this that had held her soul captive. As she began to share the details it was obvious she was re-living it all over again. She was giving voice to what had been playing silently in her imagination for so long. Tears flowed unheeded down her soft cheeks. I reached across the rail and wiped them from her face.

Finally, she was silent. What had been carried shamefully within for so long no longer had any power over that beautiful young woman’s soul. Her tears slowed, she breathed deeply, and her whole body relaxed. We sat in silence for some time, and then I talked with her about the wonder of God’s love and forgiveness. After we prayed together I blessed her and we walked down the aisle of that chilly and silent church again.

But, the woman had been changed on a cold and icy Lenten afternoon in Idaho. She had been freed--freed because she was forgiven and loved. I’ve heard many confessions during my ministry, and each one was this woman and this woman was each of them. All were burdened by sorrow and given light and life anew. All:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto me and rest;
and in your weariness lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has make me glad.

(From The Hymnal 1982, "#692", ©1985 by The Church Pension Fund)

Confession and even acknowledgment and recognition of sin is out of fashion these days. At best we use psychotherapy to get us over all the issues of our lives, and at worst, we simply deny or repress those things we have done and not done. It seems that sin feels too oppressive, too strong, too shaming, too damning. We would rather focus on the goodness that is indeed alive in us. But without an awareness of our shortcomings, our goodness is shortsighted.

Perhaps, part of the problem is our understanding of sin. We have grown up thinking that when we commit a ‘sin’ we are offending a holy and righteous God. While that may be theologically true, the more palpable truth is that we offend the creation of God when we sin. What I mean is that sin has the potential of hurting us--and from there the entire creation of God. We become like the young woman--carrying the sadness and sorrow of being less than we can be. Over time, we literally do become less than we could otherwise be. The beautiful gift of ourselves that God has given to us is diminished. Then the world is diminished. Finally, even the entire creation is diminished.

Sin is oppressive, strong, shaming and damning but not because it is a moral transgression. Sin is oppressive, strong, shaming and damning because we have not honored the gift we have been given of our humanity in God.

Then we compound the problem. Rather than going to confession to bring ourselves into wholeness and alignment again, we take ourselves to the self-help section of the bookstore, or watch Dr. Phil or Oprah, or take another pill, or spend more money, or eat more food thinking that there is a suitable substitute for naming the truths and untruths within ourselves. But self-help books, Dr. Phil, Oprah, pills, money, and food cannot restore what seems to be lost. The glorious body and soul that feels charred and scarred has left us unable to feel fully alive, and nothing but God’s love and forgiveness can breathe that life back into us.

The Scriptures are filled with the stories of people who were out of step with God and themselves. They had wandered too far away from the source of their life. The lure of the world about them had distracted them. And just like us, a lack of alignment with God led to their diminishment and it was not long before everything was ‘going south.’

But the story of salvation history is that the time of dis-ease and sorrow came to an end as God always desired to bring them home. It always is the case that when we confess, God forgives and restores. As the writer of I John says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us…” (I John 1:9) Or, consider the passage from Micah 7:19, that tells us that God takes our sins and casts them into a sea of forgetfulness, never to be remembered again. The power of this makes us able to sing:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise,
and all your day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in the light of life I’ll walk
till pilgrim days are done.

(From The Hymnal 1982, "#692", ©1985 by The Church Pension Fund)

There need be no fear in confessing the truths and untruths within us because this is the story of salvation history--this is what all the Bible stories are about --it is the great secret of the Kingdom of God. When we confess our lack of wholeness, God covers all our sins, silences our inner struggles, and we come again into alignment with God.

For me, it’s the pungent odor wafting from the creosote bush that does it. When I go back to the desert it is that familiar fragrance that seems to permeate every particle of air after a desert rain that I long for. When I smell the creosote bush, I know that I have come home. Of course, I know intellectually that I’ve flown home after a long trip, but it is the smell of the creosote that brings my heart and soul home. It’s such an important symbol for me that I even keep a tin of creosote leaves and twigs here with me in my kitchen in Tennessee, so that when I need to ‘go home’, I can take a whiff and be transported!

Lent is like that fragrant creosote bush. It calls us to see that we have been lost in the distractions of our daily existence and now are being invited to come home. It invites us to stir ourselves up and take hold of God--to wake up and claim our space in Christ’s presence.

Here we are at the second Sunday of Lent. We can find ourselves weary with the somber solemnity of the season. We can find ourselves tired of trying to keep up a Lenten discipline. We can find ourselves longing for Easter so we can be free of the Church’s emphasis on sin--and free of the truth of our own sin-- our own shortcomings. We all carry within us times of regret and sadness, feelings of shame and disappointment that we have not been all that we have been called to be. But, Lent is a time to come home to the place where in the quiet space of love, our inner disparities can be brought into alignment with God’s great love and purpose for us.

It was in mid-Lent that she came. On a cold, snowy, icy afternoon she came into a chilly and silent church to empty her heart and find new life. Too long had she felt the disjointedness of being at odds with herself and God. For years her soul’s cry had been muffled, but this year she heard God’s voice within her to come home. She came prepared to give herself, and what she received was a gift--a gift that prefigured Easter. The gift she was given was nothing less than coming to herself in God and being re-united to God. It was the middle of Lent but she felt there the resurrection of Easter.

I just wonder what Easter might be like for us if we were all ready to unburden ourselves and receive the gift of coming to ourselves in God--of coming home to God. Amen.

Copyright 2004 Calvary Episcopal Church

Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "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. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed
outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the
name of the Lord.' " NRSV

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