Friday, February 24, 2012

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful."

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, February 26, 2012:
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An Irishman walks into a pub one day and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone. The next evening the same man returns to the pub and does the same thing again – three beers at once. Soon the town is whispering about the Man Who Orders Three Beers. Finally, a week later, the bartender broached the subject on behalf of the town. "Folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?" The man smiled and answered, “Well, you see, I have two brothers, and one went to America, and the other to Australia. When we lived in the same town, we always enjoyed each other’s company over a beer each night. We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we’re at the pub as a way of maintaining that tradition." The bartender and the whole town were pleased with this answer.

 But, then, one day, the man came in and ordered only two beers. The bartender poured them with a heavy heart certain that something must have happened to one of the brothers. Word flew around town and soon prayers were being offered for the soul of one of the brothers. The next day, when the man came in and ordered again just two beers, the bartender said, "The whole town wants to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all..." The man thought this for a moment, then replied, "You'll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well... It's just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.”

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I read not long ago called Home by Marilyn Robinson. It is the sequel to her very successful book Gilead. If you haven’t read either, they are well worth your time to pick up – great Lenten reading. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story as it tells of Jack, the black-sheep of the Boughton family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in his life. But, when I read that particular passage, I couldn’t help but think how fitting a description it is of our annual Lenten journey. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

Lent, after all, is a journey that is all about coming home to the constant and eternal faithfulness of our God. And this is the message in our Gospel passage from Mark today. Mark gives us a familiar story; that of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but Mark gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of it. We’re more accustomed to Matthew’s rendition which gives us the details of each of the specific temptations between Jesus and the Devil. But, Mark’s version cuts to the chase. We hear only that Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, that the Devil tempted Him and angels served His needs. And, then, we hear from Jesus, who say, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Don’t be fooled by the brevity of this proclamation. Although Matthew gives us more detail, even this brief statement in Mark is packed full of meaning. Jesus, first tells us to “repent.” What does it mean to repent? We often think of the word “repent” in terms of sorrow. When we repent we are sorry for what we’ve done or what we’ve failed to do. That is true enough, but repenting, especially in its Lenten sense, has an added quality to it – the quality of return. When we repent, we leave our former ways and return to the ways of the Lord. Our sorrow for our sins doesn’t leave us in our sin. We don’t say “I’m sorry for my sins,” and then just keep on sinning. Rather, when we repent, we recognize that we have wandered, to use the language of my book, and that we need to we turn ourselves back around; not only express sorrow for our sins, but go back in the direction of home; in the direction of God. When we repent, it is the very beginning of the journey of return.

Secondly, Jesus tells us to “believe in the Gospel.” This belief is the effect of our repenting, our turning around, because you see for the believer, the Gospel is our home. When we turn away from sin, the home we return to is the home of the Gospel. We all know that the word Gospel means literally, “Good News.” Our return home is for us the good news of our salvation, the good news that God loves us, God cares for us, God desires us to be reconciled to Him; God wants us to come home. Whenever we are far from that home, God stands at the door just waiting for our return. So Jesus says, don’t just listen to that Good News, don’t merely consider it, but He commands us to believe it; He commands us to live it; to live in it, as we would our home. Hold that Good News in the certainty of our hearts with the knowledge that what we have heard proclaimed is true! We have wandered away from that Good News and during Lent we come to learn what it means to come home.

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, we may find ourselves here today feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, sinful, even far from God. But, God calls each of us today to come home once again; to be renewed in His love and in His grace; to leave behind our sins; to turn around and head towards God once again; to be the people He created us to be. Just like in most prodigal son stories, there is nothing so great that would ever keep the Father from welcoming us back into our home. How strongly our God wants our own 40 days to bring us back into closer, more intimate relationship with Him.

So, my brothers and sisters, come home this Lent; return to God with all your heart; repent and believe the Gospel; the Good News that God loves you, that God cares for you, that God wants to hold you so very close to His loving and forgiving heart.

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

May God give you peace.

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