Sermon Recap 2.27.22 "An Invitation to a Holy Lent"
Sermon Summary 2.27.22 “An Invitation to a Holy Lent”
Today, I opened with a beautiful icon that is a treasure of Ukrainian and Christian culture and heritage. Below is a bit more detail on its history than I shared in worship. Our Lady of Kyiv, which arrived in Ukraine about 1134, is a masterpiece comparable for its beauty and psychological depths to the Mona Lisa. The icon was written by a Byzantine artist about the year 1132 for Prince Mstislav(1125-1132) of Kyiv. Mstislav, the son of King Volodymyr Monomakh (1113-1125), of Kyiv Rus, decided to build a church in Vyshorod, near Kyiv, for which the foundation stone was laid in 1132. He commissioned an icon of the Virgin and Child from Byzantium.
Ukrainians usually call the icon the Virgin of Vyshorod, while the Russians call it the Virgin of Vladimir. The reason is that Prince Andrew Bogolubsky removed the treasured icon in 1155 or 1164 to his northern city of Vladimir before he destroyed Kyiv. Some Ukrainian historians consider this the first attack of the nascent Russian nation (Suzdalia) on Ukraine.
This icon displays an animated face, and the great tenderness of the Virgin for her child, which was very unusual for the strict code of icon painting in its day. The Virgin's head, touching the baby, is a gesture of such deep affection that, iconographically, it is described by the word "tenderness". It has a profoundly Slavic spirit and set the standard for Ukrainian icon painters. In 1395 it was taken from Vladimir to Moscow and is now in the Tretyakov Gallery there. The original icon measures 78.1 x 54.6 cm.
The icon and others like it have been a part of my own story (my Lutheran grandmother collected such figures, my Catholic grandmother thought it silly… which is kind of backwards and may explain a lot about my own somewhat mixed-up journey ( )!
I shared this in this moment because it both proclaims Christ and the incarnation beautifully and connects us to both history and the present news. The icon sheds light on our faith, and the way that religion and politics have long been deeply intertwined. We overlook that history at our peril and we are called to learn and grow beyond old patterns of violence and control.
Paired with it, I shared a powerful poem by the late Ann Weems. She was known as the “Poet Laureate of Presbyterians” and had a gift for capturing a moment and taking us deeper into it in faith. Her poem is provocatively titled “I No Longer Pray for Peace.”
On the edge of war, one foot already in, I no longer pray for peace: I pray for miracles. I pray that stone hearts will turn to tenderheartedness, and evil intentions will turn to mercifulness, and all the soldiers already deployed will be snatched out of harm's way, and the whole world will be astounded onto its knees. I pray that all the "God talk" will take bones, and stand up and shed its cloak of faithlessness, and walk again in its powerful truth. I pray that the whole world might sit down together and share its bread and its wine. Some say there is no hope, but then I've always applauded the holy fools who never seem to give up on the scandalousness of our faith: that we are loved by God...... that we can truly love one another. I no longer pray for peace: I pray for miracles.
Poets like Ann Weems help us to see differently. More fully. To begin anew in every situation.
One of the things I appreciate about the Christian liturgical year is how often we are invited to begin again. To “reset.” We begin in late Nov or early December with Advent. 4 Sundays of preparation for Christmas - the birth of the savior. We continue to celebrate Christmas from Dec. 25th to January 6th and Epiphany. During that time, our culture celebrates a new calendar year.
In the church, we move into stories of Jesus ministry and then in late February or early March we begin Lent. A season of repentance and preparation for Easter. Our assurance, again, that darkness does not overcome light. Suffering and death, war and violence do not have the last word. Love has already won!
With that in mind, I invited us to be intentional about this upcoming Lenten season with an invitation that is often read on Ash Wednesday:
“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
the early Christians observed with great devotion
the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection,
and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration
there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.
It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
and had separated themselves from the community of faith
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
and restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way the whole congregation was reminded
of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ
and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
to observe a holy Lent:
by self–examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self–denial;
and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.”
With that invitation offered, we began looking at, and juxtaposing, two scriptures that have been a focus of my attention lately. One is an assigned lectionary reading for this last Sunday before Lent - Luke’s account of the Transfiguration and the other the beloved Psalm 23. I pointed out that when churches do use the lectionary, we often only read half the assigned lessons and often less than that. Too often we separate the mountaintop from the valley.
Psalm 23 is many people’s favorite scripture. It is a hymn of assurance. Traditionally authored by King David, it proclaims God’s provision. God “renews my soul” and provides all that is needed. Our cups overflow - we are anointed. A shepherd would anoint the sheep with oil both to keep pests away but also so that they would not injure themselves when butting heads - the slick oil helping avoid entanglement. Even when we walk in darkest valleys - and I recalled the illustration of Wesley’s voyage sailing through a storm that he and the crew feared would sink them, only to encounter Moravians singing praises to God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God and we need not fear. God is present in the valley as well as the mountaintop.
Luke 9 is a powerful chapter that I think needs to be heard and pondered together. It begins with Jesus sending out the 12 disciples in pairs - charged with “authority over all demons and to cure diseases” - and they successfully share this gift. Then we hear the feeding of the 5000, Jesus demonstrating God’s abundance and the disciples collecting 12 baskets of leftovers! Jesus asks the disciples who people say he is - they say John the Baptist Elijah or another prophet - but Peter says “You are the Messiah.” But upends their expectations with the first foretelling of his death and resurrection - a challenging call to “take up your cross daily and follow me.”
Then we get to today’s reading. Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to go with him, up the mountain to pray. There his face changes, his clothes become dazzling white and he is seen talking - about his “departure, which he is about to accomplish at Jerusalem” with Moses and Elijah - the law and the prophets. The shepherd of the journey of God’s people through the wilderness and towards the promised land and the voice of challenge and correction. A voice from the cloud says to the disciples “‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” But the three don’t seem to be able to process it. They keep silent and (for now) don’t share the experience with anyone.
The lectionary reading continues with the trip down the mountain where they find the remaining disciples in some conflict. A man cries out to Jesus to heal his only son - which the disciples have been unable to do.
Jesus is angry. ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” I shared I usually read and ponder this scene in Mark’s telling, where the reason has to do with prayer. Luke doesn’t give a reason the disciples have failed and instead highlights Jesus’ frustration. The scene goes on with Jesus again foretelling his death - saying “the ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ Yet the Disciples do not hear. They “could not perceive it.” Is that because the God who just spoke saying “listen to him” wills them not to? Or is it because they are too full of their own expectations, their own plans and vision that there is no room in them for what Jesus is doing in their midst.
The inability to heal the man’s son - despite having been granted that power just verses ago and the next scene (which we didn’t read today) where they are arguing over which of them is greatest suggest to me it’s their own selfishness.
Lent is about changing. Recognizing where there is a problem or an opportunity and accepting God’s grace to change. I shared a trivial example of this with the new remote I purchased - for 4 straight weeks I’d encountered tech problems that were basically the result of me pressing the wrong button on a remote I’ve used for years. Now I have one where the buttons is large and feel different - so it’s easier to do what I intend. That’s lent - seeing, hearing, being willing to change rather than blame or make excuses. It’s about changing patterns to be more fully Jesus’ disciples and embracing the humility he models. We are, as I shared from Philippians 2 a couple weeks ago, to have the mind that was in Christ. Humility - not self-depreciation or self-deception. To use all we’ve been given in service to others.
We closed with reference to another Psalm of David, which is often read on Ash Wednesday. In Psalm 51 he asks “create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me.” That is Lent. That is our journey - and so I invited us to share one more prayer, this attributed to St. Francis but spoken by disciples throughout the centuries.
Lord, make me a channel of your peace, That where there is hatred, I may bring love: Where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness: Where there is discord, I may bring harmony: Where there is error, I may bring truth: Where there is doubt, I may bring faith: Where there is despair, I may bring hope: Where there are shadows, I may bring light: Where there is sadness, I may bring joy:
Lord, grant I may seek rather To comfort than to be comforted; To understand than to be understood; To love than to be loved;
For it is by forgetting self that one finds, It is by forgiving that one is forgiven, It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen.
These prayers, psalms and scripture passages all guide us into the meaning of Lent. It is about change and growth - not beating ourselves up, not seeking suffering - but walking with Christ in humility and service.
We are invited to a Holy Lent. Blessings on your journey.
I hope you’ll join us at 7pm March 2nd for a special Ash Wednesday service.