Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday: "It's Not Complicated"

A Homily for Good Friday 2015


Have you ever taken the time to read through, let’s say, the Book of Leviticus? In modern Bibles, you often find chapter or section headers that describe the contents of the portion of Scripture you are reading… Starting with Leviticus 1:1, here’s what you find:

  • Procedures for the Burnt Offering
  • Procedures for the Grain Offering
  • Procedures for the Peace Offering
  • Procedures for the Sin Offering
  • Sins Requiring a Sin Offering
  • Procedures for the Guilt Offering
  • Sins Requiring a Guilt Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Burnt Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Grain Offering
  • Procedures for the Ordination Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Sin Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Guilt Offering
  • Further Instructions for the Peace Offering


Okay, I am going to stop there. That’s a summary of the contents Leviticus up to half-way through chapter 7. You pick back up at the beginning of Chapter 11 with clean and unclean animals, and keep going through the highlights of the High Holy Days to the relatively obscure regulations concerning the redemption of property. Twenty-seven chapters, the majority of which consists of regulations for Covenant Life.

There are other laws in the Old Testament which discuss other principals of Covenant Life… but I am not going to spend the next hour introducing you to them. Instead, I am going to share with you something that I think, for some, is a bit of a secret.

It’s just not that complicated.

Not anymore.

You see, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ Jesus is our true high priest. He is able to offer, and has offered – as we just heard – the one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for sin… not just for our sins, but for the sin of the whole world. He came and fulfilled all that had been written of in the Law and the Prophets. He cancels the old covenant, because it has been fulfilled. He truly means it when he boldly proclaims, “It is finished!”

And so, you see, it’s just not that complicated anymore.

To be sure, we are called to live a life based on a clear moral and ethical code as Christian believers; but it is not that moral and ethical code that justifies and redeems us. It isn’t the complexity of our worship. It isn’t the astuteness of our biblical studies, nor is it the vocabulary of our prayers.

Our redemption is secured through Christ Jesus’ righteousness, which is poured out upon us through the gracious, loving, and merciful will of the Father through the working of the Holy Spirit.

In Old Testament practice, the rituals, the laws, all were designed both practically and pragmatically – yes, if you could keep them perfectly, you’d be drawn close to God… but from a pragmatic perspective, nobody could keep the entire Mosaic Covenant. It would up being a death sentence.

You and I, as Christian believers, yes… we will sometimes fail at keeping the moral and ethical imperatives of the New Covenant. But when we fail, we need to assemble spotless animals, proper weights of grain mixed with specified additives, etc. We are simply called to look to the Cross of Jesus Christ, and there to be brought to repentance and renewal in him.

It isn’t complicated…

For the just shall live by faith.

May this day be a day in which, beholding the Cross, our faith is strengthened, and our hope renewed.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holy Thursday

Today, my brothers and sisters, we enter into the Paschal Triduum, and we enter that celebration with this solemn memorial of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Holy Thursday also bears with it many other theological significances. All of them are very important… and yet today, all of them are irrelevant.

On the night before Jesus dies, as he prepares for a final meal with his disciples, he stoops down to wash the feet of those who have gathered with him in the Upper Room. In this act of unabashed humility, Jesus demonstrates in a profoundly personal way what his mission on earth is all about.

On the eve of the ultimate confrontation between good and evil, between hope and sorrow, between death and life, Jesus Christ demonstrates that everything he does is pervaded by a love that knows no bounds. None.

The Creator Word and God of Majesty stoops down with pitcher, basin, and towel to wash the dirty, gnarly feet of his disciples; because for God, nothing is more important that showing that he will go to any length to bridge the chasm that exists between him and his creation by virtue of the fall of Adam and Eve.

In the face of the hatred, cruelty, sinfulness, and brokenness of the world, the Jewish leadership, the Roman occupiers, and yes, even in the face of the Devil himself, Jesus ministers simple service and love and demonstrates them as the means to overcome every obstacle that would stand in the way of a new and eternal life with him.

What more is there to say?

What more needs to be said?

If perfect love casts out fear, then the image of Christ washing the feet of his disciples in one final, personal, quiet act of loving service to his disciples… his closest friends… and even his betrayer! should cast our own fears as far away from our minds as the Father casts our sins from us.

The Foot Washing… simple service in the face of unrelenting hatred.

Let us listen.


Let us learn.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

READINGS

Genesis 37:2-4,12-13,15-28
Psalm 105
Matthew 21:33-46

REFLECTION

Envy and desire often breed discontent. It’s clearly evident in our readings today… 

When the discontent is within ourselves, it’s poisonous. Joseph’s discontented brothers wish him gone; the tenant farmers visit violence and death to the master’s servants, and to his son. 

When the envy is aimed at us, it’s painful. Rejection on the part of Joseph. The loss of a child for the vineyard’s master. 

These behaviors and the kind of greed, lust – really – for power, knowledge, prestige, all have their root in the fall. Even the Flood was unable to completely purge the earth. Given the new beginning we got with Noah, and viewing how his descendants have managed to handle themselves… I sometimes shudder to think what our world would have been like in this day and age without God’s intervention!

At the same time, one could argue that Joseph had it coming to him. He was a favorite, after all; and he didn’t exactly mind rubbing in the faces of his brothers just what God had revealed to him. His father treated him like royalty. Their own actions served to give fuel to the fire that brewed just beneath the surface of Jacob’s other sons… the fire that often brews just beneath our own surface. 

And yet, even with intervention, we are still suffering in a world of injustice, of envy, of malice. We live in a world where the rich decry living wages for the poor. A world where governments have no issue leveling villages, towns, and cities filled with defenseless people with the simple flick of a switch. Our reality is also one in which people believe they have born privilege, as well as one in which those who do not have privilege sometimes take it upon themselves to ensure that they get what they believe is fair… or more.

This isn’t what God has called us to… not at all! But it is the reality we face. And we, as people of God, marked in baptism by Christ Jesus and the Spirit, are called to do something about it. “But,” we may ask, “what can we do… I mean really do?”

To be honest, the question is so complex, it would be impossible for me to answer it directly… though I think that the prophet Micah has some suggestions.  

YAHWEH has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Will we solve injustice, cruelty, suffering, and hatred in the world, in our lifetime? No. We won’t. But we can do our part. We can walk in ways that minister compassion, instead of fostering envy. We can seek to help others, and in doing so, we can help ourselves. None of this is possible, though, without the active and vital participation of the Spirit… and so, this day, let us pray that the Spirit would help us to avoid the pitfalls of envy and of breeding envy in others, so that we may bring dignity, wholeness, and hope to those who so desperately need it, in our back yards… and throughout the world.

PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

For those engaged in urban missionary work here in central Indiana,
that they may be given a sense of connectedness to those they encounter,
forging solidarity
and a groundswell of compassion
in the face of homelessness,
substance abuse,
mental illness,
and abandonment,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those engaged in foreign missions,
that differences in cultures and communication styles
would be no hindrance to sharing the message of the living God,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 

For those in positions of civil, economic, and educational authority,
that their primary concern would be for the people their actions effect,
not simply today,
but often for a lifetime,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who foster envy, hatred, and jealousy,
that their hearts and spirits would be turned
through the gracious visitation of the Spirit,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who feel abandoned by God,
that through the work of caring believers,
they may find in themselves the courage
to establish new
and reestablish forgotten ties
with the creator of the heavens and the earth,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the dying as they embark on their final journey,
that they may recognize God’s presence with them in their final moments,
so that, cleansed, forgiven, and fearful no longer,
they may rest peacefully in the promises of Christ,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Hear us now, O Lord, as we bring to you our own personal needs and intentions...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

READINGS
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
Luke 16:19-31

REFLECTION

Lent is often times given a bad rap as a time where we rag on humanity. We focus on our failings, our weaknesses, our sinfulness. Our liturgy takes on a more reserved character, we give things up, we talk about the crucifixion perhaps, a touch more – or a lot more – than usual. Critics of the Lenten observance often feel that it’s just a time to trash ourselves.

I’d like to propose that they are missing something. Well, multiple somethings, in fact.

Lent, when observed rightly, is a time of profound balance. Today, in our readings from Sacred Scripture, we are exposed to our fallenness, our need for divine guidance, and the effects of divine guidance in the lives of the faithful. 

Our reading from the prophet Jeremiah, and our Psalm, both emphasize the fact that human wisdom is, essentially, useless when it is divorced from a relationship with God. Jeremiah especially makes the point when he talks about relying on human strengths and turning their hearts away from God. As human beings, we have wisdom… some might call it street smarts. We have an understanding of how things work in the ‘real world’, but when we rely on such an understanding to formulate the way we approach our lives, we fall woefully short of what God wants of us. He does not want us to turn our hearts away from him… he wants to channel that worldly wisdom we have, to temper it with compassion, with righteousness, with eternal truth, and make of us effective ambassadors for his mercy and love in the world around us.

All the wisdom in the world, and even beyond the world, that is devoid of God’s presence is, ultimately, useless. When we have squandered the Spirit, when we have failed to live justly and humbly before God by tempering ourselves, then we are reduced, not simply to being counted among the wicked, but to being truly pitiful.

Such is the case of the rich man in the parable from our Gospel reading. 

Here was a man who clearly had it all, and yet all his earthly wisdom wasn’t enough to save him. Contextually, it’s made clear that this man had some awareness of the Law and the prophets… and yet he still finds himself judged, and tormented by the fact that his brothers (and presumably his extended family) haven’t amended their lives, or subjected their worldly wisdom to the wisdom and the justice of God.

When we consider the kind of life that God wants us to live, one in which we balance our own needs with the needs of others, the message present here becomes clear: our own nature has fallen, it fails us. It leads us to selfishness beyond what is necessary for the meeting of our basic needs. Thus, it is only in God that our human nature can be redeemed and risen from its debased state… and yet it can be redeemed and risen and restored! We can be more than our fallenness indicates. But we can’t do it on our own.

We need God. Thus we need self-discipline. We need reflection. We need renewal. We need it to redeem the world. And we need it to be redeemed ourselves.

May this Lenten season help us to recover a balanced walk, through the working of the Spirit, by the example of Christ, and in the overwhelming mercy of the Father.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

For a deeper realization of our need for divine guidance,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a more complete understanding of the Scriptures we hold dear, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a continual conversion of heart, mind, and spirit, during Lent, and beyond,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For an indwelling of wisdom as we reach out to others with the Gospel message, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a peace beyond our understanding as we contemplate our mortality, 
and as we cope with the suffering and death that is a part of our world today…
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 

For the needs and intentions we bring with us this day…
(silence for personal prayer)
…let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

READINGS
Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
Psalm 50
Matthew 23:1-12

REFLECTION

When is the last time you examined your motivations for faith?

In our readings today, we are presented with two stark reminders of the ways that our faith can be motivated, and an indictment of our human nature, which stands in need of faith.

In our reading from Matthew’s Gospel today, we are presented with a powerful reminder of the wrong reasons for faith. We should not be believers for the external show, the power, or the prestige of being a believer. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew their scriptures well, and paraded their knowledge widely, but their righteousness was highly questionable, because their motivations were compromised. Their goal was self-justification… something less than God.

The prophet Isaiah, however, reminds us that listening to God’s law and following it righteously requires the intervention of God. He does not say “Though your sins are like scarlet, you can make them white as snow.” God reserves to himself the authority to cleanse of sin and to fill with the Spirit, a Spirit that produces righteousness as its fruit.

There is a component, of course, for us… we must be response to the Spirit’s work, firmly debasing ourselves of any idea that we, in and of ourselves, can wipe our own slates clean. When we listen to the voice of God, when we follow his commands, when we seek to live righteously, we are empowered to do so by the Spirit, not by ourselves. A righteous life is continually nurtured by the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit.

And so, our God approaches us daily… moment by moment. He is present in each and every aspect of our lives. Why bother to claim his name, or to walk in outward fidelity to him if we have no intent to foster the covenant relationship in Christ Jesus? We must accept the Father’s claim on us, secured by Christ’s blood, and nurtured by the presence of the Spirit… or else all our sacrifices, all our prayers, all our outward fidelity will be as nothing in the sight of Yahweh… for he beholds the heart, not the outward appearances. 

And, when our heart is right with him, and our faith’s motivations rest in our knowledge of our fallen-ness and our need for his presence in our lives, well… in those moments, all things are possible, and eternal joy stands squarely in our sight.

Don’t live, my friends, in false righteousness. Don’t seek the world’s approval. And don’t follow those who do. Walk in faithfulness to the Creator… and he will set you free to serve him with a power that knows no limit!

PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

That each of us would take stock of our relationship with God,
and would honestly seek to understand our reasons, motivations, and practices of faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those in positions of leadership in the Church
would seek to minister in humility and love,
not seeking their own glory,
but always preaching the truth, 
whatever the cost, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who have walked away from their faith
on account of the fallen-ness of other believers
may find the courage to encounter Christ again 
and renew their relationship with him on his terms,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who, today, are dying
may divest themselves of all self-reliance,
and entrust their spirits to the one 
who is able to do abundantly more than we can ask
or imagine, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs of our hearts, 
and of those we love, 
would be known by God 
and ministered to through his faithful love…

(silence for personal prayer)

…let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday after Ash Wednesday

READINGS
Isaiah 58:1-9a
Psalm 51
Matthew 9:14-15

REFLECTION

As I was perusing my Facebook wall before bed on Ash Wednesday, I noticed several folks who had proudly posted articles such as "4 Reasons Why I Don't Observe Lent", or "I'm Giving up Lent for Lent". An article on a local news station's website about the local Episcopal Cathedral doing "Ashes on the Go" on Monument Circle had generated 19 comments. Every last one of them snarky repudiations of Lent, fasting, and Roman Catholicism... which is ironic, given the fact that the article was about Episcopalians.

Anyway, the jist of most of the articles is that Lent is just for show, it's works based salvation... that kind of thing. One of the kinder articles listed the following four reasons for why the author doesn't observe Lent:
  • Lent can lead us to focus on giving up the wrong things and leads to a false righteousness.
  • Lent often involves a fast which is frivolous.
  • Lent can wrongly lead people to believe that they can be saved by their works.
  • Lent often becomes ritualistic instead of deepening our relationship with God.
I have to confess... he's right about these cautions he puts out there. Lent can lead to all of these things, and worse. Lent is not something that is to be played around with. It's not a joke... not if it is to be done in a way that is truly God honoring and that will pay out dividends in your own spiritual life.

The writer illustrated his first point, about giving up the wrong things and leading to a false righteousness, with the example of a person who gives up chocolate for Lent by cheats with an ex. He rightly points out that such a practice is quite hypocritical, and is definitely not in keeping with the Gospel. I absolutely agree that sexual purity is of far greater importance than giving up chocolate. But was the transgression caused by keeping Lent? No. It was caused by the sin-nature residing in the individual, a sin nature that such an individual may not have been seeking the power of the Spirit to reign in. That gets back to a key tenant of Lent. 

If we think that Lent is about building our self discipline from our own reserves and willpower, we are going about it the wrong way. Lent needs to be, essentially, a time where we recognize that it is God, and not our own fallen nature, that will strengthen us against temptations... be it to chocolate, or to far more dangerous and sinful things.

This leads to the second observation, about a frivolous fast. Again, the commentator is right, but for the wrong reasons. His thoughts also bring with them a false assumption. First, a terminology check is in order. Fasting means to abstain from food, water, or both. Abstinence means eliminating something (or things) from our diet. When people 'give something up' for Lent, they are abstaining from it. On Fridays, when the fish come out in force in the cafeterias of the land, the reference is that people 'abstain' from meat. Abstinence and fasting are two different animals. Abstinence from, let's say, chocolate for a period of seven weeks is, on the surface, pretty frivolous. Same goes for TV, or coffee, or Facebook.  But there are people who have serious connections to these frivolous things. For them, the removal of these things from their lives for seven weeks is a massive sacrifice. How many of us log into Facebook dozens of times a day? Imagine the time we'd have free for other purposes, perhaps Scripture study or reflection, prayer, feeding the sick... if we didn't spend so much time plugged into the Net. Sometimes, these distractions can overtake our lives. They become reasons for living. The begin to become idols... gods, if you will, in our own lives. Overcoming our reliance, dependence, and addiction (at times) to them is vital for wholeness in life... and it is God who graces us with the ability to walk away and find renewal.

Third, we get into Lent and works-salvation. A few weeks back we addressed this issue, looking at the question of salvation by faith alone, comparing and contrasting Romans and James. As we read, the only place in Scripture where the phrase 'faith alone' is used is in James 2:24 where we are told "we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone." Our actions reflect our response to the God who pours out upon us his grace. When we choose works of faithfulness and righteousness, we do so because we are not refusing God's grace, but are willing to allow his grace to flow freely in our lives. When we choose evil deeds, it is because we are resisting the grace of God. No matter what we do, it is a manifestation of how we are responding to God. The saving work of Jesus Christ is still what brings salvation to us... but we have to manifest a desire to appropriate that work to ourselves, or we are wasting our time. My most compassionate moments of service as a hospital chaplain don't save me. The grace of God does, when I am open to it. If I slam the door on him, and on his abundant gift of grace, I'm exiling myself... and God's grace is not present in that moment.

Finally, of course Lent can become ritualistic. My morning routine is ritualistic. Humans are ritualistic creatures. The issue is not with ritual. The issue is with DEAD ritual. If I keep Lent because I have to - and yes, many people do keep Lent for precisely such a reason, then it's doing me spiritual harm, not spiritual good. Our family relationships can become ritualistic, and devoid of life. How many people do we know who 'stay married for the kids', for example, whose love grew cold years before. If it is all a show, then Lent is useless. 

But you see, the whole point of Lent is missed if we rail against it for all the ways it can be screwed up. Let me, then, summarize what Lent is and can be to you:

Lent is a time of intensive training for the soul. It's a human tradition, an adiaphora (thing indifferent) if you will. We keep it, though it's not specifically commanded in Scripture. It is a time where we join together with other believers in asking God for the strength to continually (not just for 40 days) amend our lives and grow spiritually more resilient.  It is a time where we rightly challenge ourselves, and where we succeed, when we do succeed, by abandoning the self and embracing God as the strength which leads us to overcome our bad habits, our sinful tendencies, and walk in the way of truth.

Lent is a time to lean on the Spirit with a greater trust than you've ever had before, and to transform your life permanently. Alas, we sometimes fail with the permanent part... I know I have. And yet, the good news is that we need not wait for Lent to come around again to pick up on spiritual disciplines and reliance on God. But if we can learn to do it for an extended period, and if we can perhaps continue to build upon past Lents in years to come, Lent can become a time of amazing transformation, setting us up for deeper experiences in our day to day walk with God.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That all who have adopted Lenten spiritual disciplines would learn to trust, 
not on their own strength, 
but on the power and presence of the Spirit in transforming their lives for the better, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who feel listless or unengaged in their spiritual lives, 
that God's transformative grace would encourage them 
to reconnect with him, and with others, 
as they walk the journey of this life, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who feel lost in their sins 
might find, in Christ Jesus, 
the sure hope of mercy, 
and the courage to confess and renew themselves in the Spirit, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who feel overwhelmed in this life, 
as they face critical decisions, 
or walk through their life seemingly alone, 
would recognize the loving care of the Father in their lives this day, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our patients, their families, and our staff, 
that their needs and concerns would be heard with love by God, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the needs dare to speak aloud...
... and for the needs we hold in the silence of our hearts...
...let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday in the Week of Ash Wednesday

READINGS
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Luke 9:22-25

REFLECTION

We face choices daily. Some of the choices are simple: what to eat, and what to wear. Others are more complex: how to handle our household or departmental budgets, what to do about concerns in our relationships.

But there is a third category of choices that we make: choices of utmost concern. In particular today, I want to focus on the choices we make when it comes to faith.

To be certain, walking a Christian life is not a simple matter. The basics of the faith might be easily summarized in a creed, but spouting off random lines from said creeds hardly cuts it when we are asked a question like, "It's surely OK to move some of this money around without telling anyone, right?" Reciting a creed doesn't tend to make an impact when we are presented with an enticement to a sin we enjoy far too much. I mean, when is the last time that a glutton stopped and recited the Apostles' Creed as a 'weapon' against eating that entire deep dish pizza that they just ordered? Creeds are great. Liturgy is wonderful. Scripture is powerful... but the three are effective only to the extent that we have allowed the Spirit to use them to reprogram our fallen nature. 

In our reading today from Luke's gospel, Jesus gives the crowd a choice - turn away from selfishness, take up the cross daily, and follow him. He clearly calls us to abandon any vestige of our lives that would drag us back into slavery to sin and death. This is in keeping with our Psalm too. Those who walk in the way of God's laws find joy and hope. They find peace. They have made a choice that bears life, and they are contrasted with the wicked, whose choices lead to death. 

Moses' words in our first reading are even more stark: You've got a choice - prosperity or disaster; life and death, blessings and curses. Your actions, your embrace of the Spirit, your following in the lead of God will determine the outcome. 

All three of our readings today extend to us an affirmation of free will. But it's important to remember that our free will is compromised by the fall. In Proverbs 14 we are reminded: "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death." In fact, the phrase is so important that it's repeated again, two chapters later. Our free will has been marred by the fall. Our base instincts fail us, and respond in kind with this sinful world in which we live. We don't like to be reminded of that fact, but it's true. The world, and its inhabitants, are no longer in the state that God created them to be in. Emnity, hostility... both were foreign to God's plans in creation; but yet, because we were created in his image, we had to be created with a will that was truly free, even free to fall. And yet, while our wills today are in bondage to the havoc that the Enemy caused in the fall, the prevenient grace of God, and let me define that for you in case prevenient is a term you've never heard of: it means the grace that precedes or 'goes before'  —that grace which precedes human action and reflects God’s heart for his creation. It testifies to God’s being the initiator of any relationship with him and reveals him as one who pursues us. The words of the prophet Joel speak eloquently to this grace: "I will pour out my Spirit upon all people... In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike." (Joel 2:28a, 29). 

We are fallen, unable to save ourselves, unable even to reach out to God without his Spirit, and yet we are also fully accountable for our choices, and our choices have the power to change our lives, here, and hereafter. Sound like a contradiction? Well, I hope you're comfortable with contradiction, because sometimes, that's the way God works - using seeming contradiction to illustrate the faith which we hold. I think he does so, because we exist as contradictions. We were created in the image and likeness of God, and even in our fallen state we still bear that image and likeness, and yet we are fallen and far away from God. How's that for contradiction! There is a tension that exists in our faith between seemingly exclusionary concepts. Some can be easily explained, but others, like the balance between free will and our fallen nature, are far more difficult. I'd say that frankly, even the greatest theologian's attempts will fall short, because no matter what we do, we are still trying to explain the heart of our God in human terms, and he operates far beyond our limited vocabulary.

Suffice it to say, for today, that we cannot save ourselves. We must lean completely and totally on God to do that for us. And yet, as his word teaches, we are accountable for our choices, and he sends us the grace that 'goes ahead' of us to enable us to choose rightly. Next time you're faced with a situation that has the potential to lead you into sin, to rupture your relationship with God, instead of trying to recall the intricacies of the faith, a simple cry of your spirit to the Holy Spirit, "HELP!" might be far more beneficial. 

During this Lenten season, may we make it our goal, daily, to implore the Father to send the Spirit to us in unmistakable ways during times of decision-making, especially when our decisions are being made in difficult or tempting situations... so that, in the days to come, we will be more resilient when faced with the choices of this life, and comforted to know that Christ is preserving us through his passion and his power, unto life everlasting.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That the leaders of the Church
may consistently proclaim the mercy of Christ,
not just during Lent,
but day by day,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the hearts of those burdened today by difficult choices
would call upon the Spirit to help them choose life, prosperity, and blessings
in the midst of a world whose wisdom
would often lead us to disaster and death,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That our minds may be so firmly rooted in the faith
that our cry during times of trial and temptation would be for the Holy Spirit's help,
and not for the pleasing of our own base instincts and desires,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who struggle with feeling unforgivable
and unworthy of love
may find, in the suffering and resurrection of Christ,
the eternal message of worth and redemption
that brings salvation to all who respond to the calling of the Spirit,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our patients, staff, and visitors,
for our own families and friends,
and for the special needs and concerns that we bring with us this day...
... let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.