Sermon for Lent One Feb 21st 1999. The Rector at St. Stephen's, Pittsfield.
I drove up Elm Street the other day and saw this sign outside of George's
Liquor Store: "Fast and easy redemption center". Then as I parked near St.
Stephen's it was behind a car which displayed this single word bumper
We who are serious Christians know that we cannot accept the current
slogan of troubled youth "whatever". Nor do we believe that redemption
is ever fast and easy.
Of course we know that we are being saved by God's amazing grace and
that salvation is a gift. But it is precisely at the moment that we accept the
gift that the struggle begins. Doing what St. Paul describes as "working
out our own salvation with fear and trembling" is never easy. We cannot
take care of our souls if we accept the determinism or apathy of
"whatever", or the cheap grace of "fast and easy redemption".
We all recognise the importance of our bodies, and most of us take more
than adequate care of them. In some cases we pamper them. We are
grateful for our minds, for the ability to think, to plan, to discuss, to
decide. We see the tragedy of mindlessness when our beloved ones
develop Alzheimer's disease. We understand what it is to have a spirit,
that part of us which can be beaten down by sarcasm or cowed by a bully,
that part of us which can be enriched with music, art, the life of prayer or
by the laughter of a child.
But what about our souls? What about this "me-ness" of me, the "you-ness of you"? Perhaps we only think about our souls when we encounter
someone who is soulless, or someone who has sold his soul to the
corporation. But what about our own souls? When the chips are down
"who are we"?.
The readings present us with the options which will define our struggle for
the wholeness and integrity of our souls. The Genesis parable with its
charming tale of the man and the woman must be approached with
caution since it has been wilfully misused to blame the woman for the ills
of the world. Faith has no place for scape-goating. But the story does
present the option of autonomy. Frank Sinatra was singing in the garden
as the man eating the fruit, hummed along "I did it my way". This way of
autonomy, this way which cries "for Christ's sake get out of my way", is the
way which leads to the death of the soul, which in dying kills also the spirit
of a spouse, a child, a nation.
And the wilderness story gives us the option of co-operation. This man
Jesus, fresh from the waters of Baptism must now wrestle with a vocation
which to be true to his call, must be a vocation of co-operation with the
Holy One. And struggle he must, thank God, for his struggle enlightens
ours. And he leaves the desert convinced that his soul, having been tested,
will now live in communion with God. The angels are harbingers of that
To care for our souls is to feed and nurture them. Christian parents will
feed and nurture the souls of their children. And if their daily diet is rooted
in endless television, video or video games then they are being fed soul
poison. And if their daily diet never includes a reading of scripture and
prayer with Mummy or Daddy, then they are mal-nourished. What is your
care for the soul of your child?
What is our care for our souls? Do we believe that Jesus spoke truth when
he asked "what will we profit if we gain the whole world --- yet lose our
souls"? Do we believe that our souls are best served with a plateful of
Letterman and "Friends"? Are we so afraid of our souls that we will drown
them in drink or in apathy? "Whatever".
What is our care for our souls? Did anyone ever tell us that the soul must
be fed by daily prayer, by frequent Eucharist, by community with other
Christians, by coming to confession, by working for justice, peace and
reconciliation, and by serving others?
How is your soul? What value do you place on it?
If we care for our souls, there will be no fast and easy redemption. If we care for our souls there will be struggle and wrestling with God. The choice is clear. On the one hand "I did it my way". On the other "I found co-operation and communion with God". It's the garden or the desert.
Lent is desert time.
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