Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tearing Down Walls and Building Bridges

Third Sunday in Lent – Year A
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95:6-11; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-26(27-38)39-42
Sunday, February 24, 2008 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

During this Lenten season, a number of our programs here at St. Alban’s have been focusing on the general theme of reconciliation. The parish-wide Lenten program, entitled “A Journey from Hostility to Hospitality” and has been dealing with creating an environment of reconciliation based on hospitality, hospitality to our own members and hospitality toward those who are visitors and newcomers. In future presentations, we will expand the circle, looking at reconciliation and risk-taking, and what reconciliation may mean for the Episcopal Church and the broader Anglican Communion. And in Pilgrims’ Way, our parish small group ministry, we have been engaged in a program entitled “Being Reconciled to God’s Creation,” in which we are exploring reconciliation with self, family, community, and the world, and will finish off by looking at what it means to be called to be reconcilers.

While doing some research to find material on reconciliation, I ran across the following story, which seems particularly apropos, not only for our Lenten theme, but for today’s Gospel lesson, as well.

Once upon a time two brothers shared adjoining farms. For over 40 years they worked side by side, sharing equipment and helping each other out whenever needed. Then one day a rift developed. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by months of angry silence.

One day the eldest brother, Pete, was out in his fields when a [pick-up truck] pulled up. Out jumped a man who approached Pete carrying a carpenter's toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs I could do for you?”

“Well, yes I do,” said Pete. “See that creek down there, it’s the border between my brother’s farm and mine. My brother keeps it nice and deep to stop me from setting one foot on his beloved farm. Well I’ll oblige him. I want you to take that timber over there by the barn and build me a new fence, a real tall one, so I don’t have to look over at my stinkin’ brother and his farm no more.”

The carpenter was glad to have the work. “No worries mate. I understand. Just point me to your post-hole digger and I’ll get the job done.”

So the carpenter set about working. Meanwhile farmer Pete drove into town to the local cattle auction. When he returned at sunset he was shocked to see what the carpenter had done.

There was no fence. Instead the carpenter had built a bridge and walking across it was Pete’s younger brother. He held out his hand and spoke to his brother, “Mate after all I’ve done to you these past few weeks I can't believe you’d still reach out to me. You’re right. It’s time to bury the hatchet.”

The two brothers met at the middle of the bridge and embraced. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said farmer Pete. “I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but I have more bridges to build” (“Building Bridges”).

This story is a wonderful example of what can happen when barriers are replaced with bridges. Barriers, be they real or of our own making, keep the other person out. But more than that, barriers, particularly those of our own making, keep our prejudices, our perceptions, and our emotions locked in. And when locked in, with no where to go but to surround us, engulf us, they take on a life of their own, become larger than life, become reality. Over time, a small, insignificant misunderstanding, such as occurred between Pete and his brother, festers and results in out and out hostility.

That’s essentially the situation we step into in today’s Gospel lesson. In today’s lesson from the Gospel According to John, we find Jesus on a journey from Judah to Galilee. The most direct route between these two places was to go through Samaria, which is where today’s story takes place. We know that Jews and Samaritans did not get along. But why? Well, it’s not too dissimilar from the story of Pete and his brother. Jews and Samaritans are actually family. Both groups descend from Jacob. The descendents of Jacob’s son, Joseph, settled in the area that became Samaria. The descendents of the other 11 of Jacob’s sons settled in Judah, home of the Jews. Through a complicated series of historical events, disagreements arose between the two groups regarding social and religious practices. The love and kinship of cousins slowly turned to bitterness, to dislike, to hatred, to animosity. By Jesus’ time, family had become bitter enemies.

So, it is against this historical backdrop that we find Jesus in the middle of Samaritan territory, in the middle of the day, sitting beside a well, thirsting for a drink of water, but having no way to obtain any of the cool liquid that lay beneath the surface. And along comes a Samaritan woman with a jar, obviously intending to draw water from the well. So what does Jesus do? He talks to her. He actually dares to talk to her! How could he do such a thing? First off, she’s obviously a Samaritan, sworn enemy of the Jews. And second, she’s obviously a woman. Jewish men just do not talk to unknown women in public. Jewish rabbis wouldn’t even talk to their own wives in public, let alone a stranger. And third, she’s obviously some sort of social outcast, someone who is less than respectable. Normally, respectable women would come to the well in a group during the cooler, morning hours to draw water for the day. This was their time to chat with their friends, exchange news, and gossip. But this woman was out in the middle of the day. She obviously was not welcomed to join the other women in their daily water-drawing activities. She was probably one of the people the other women would gossip about. As we later find out, through the exchange between Jesus and the woman, there is indeed a reason she is an outcast. She has been married five times and is now living with a man out of wedlock.

So in spite of all the signs as to why he shouldn’t even so much as look at this person, Jesus does the unthinkable. He engages the Samaritan woman in conversation. Given what we have just established, this woman would have undoubtedly been surprised that a Jewish man, particularly one whom she quickly discerns to be a holy man and likely a prophet, would condescend to speak to her. For us the readers, this conversation is particularly important. First, the fact that it took place at all, given all the reasons it shouldn’t have – her being a Samaritan, a woman, and a social outcast – is a clue that something important is happening. But second, because this happens to be the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in all four of the Gospels. This tells us that what is happening at that well in the middle of the desert is significant, a pivotal event, in Jesus’ ministry.

What follows is a somewhat puzzling exchange between Jesus and the woman. It’s a conversational dance around several themes. At times, it entails theological debate regarding Jewish and Samaritan religious practices. At times, it entails imagery of water – the earthly water needed to sustain life, and this mysterious “living water.” Initially, it’s as if the woman doesn’t seem to understand what Jesus is saying about himself and about the “living water” he claims to posses. About the time she seems to get it, she then gets hung up on the earthly, the fact that Jesus has some source of water that will mean she never has to come out here in the heat of the day again, that she will always have the water she needs. And then, Jesus deals the final blow. He tells her that he is the Messiah. Here again, we have a very significant moment in John’s telling of the Gospel story. This is the first time, at least in John, that Jesus reveals in no uncertain terms who he is. And it’s not to his disciples. It’s not to a group of Jewish men. No, it’s revealed to an outsider – to an outcast Samaritan woman.

In this trip from Judah through Samaria to Galilee, in this conversation, and in this revelation of his identity as Messiah, Jesus is crossing a boundary – both geographical and ideological. He has crossed the geographic boundary into enemy territory, into the territory inhabited by a despised people who are deemed by mainstream Jews to be pagan half-breeds. He has crossed the ideological boundary that his message, that God’s message is not just for a chosen people, the Jews, but for all people.

In his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus has gained his first non-Jewish convert, at least, in the Gospel as portrayed by John. But she is not just any convert. She believes what he tells her with such wholeheartedness that she becomes an evangelist – a messenger proclaiming the Good News that Jesus came to preach. And here again, we have another amazing first. In John’s telling of the Gospel, this outcast Samaritan woman becomes the first recorded evangelist. This woman is not judged as a sinner because she is a Samaritan. She is not judged as unworthy because she is a woman. She is not even judged as a sinner because she has been married five times and is currently living with a man to whom she is not married. Rather, she is portrayed as a model of growing faith – of one who hears Jesus’ message, who takes it to heart, and who, despite her gender and social position, has the courage to go back to her city, back to the people who shun her and gossip about her, and proclaims that the Messiah has come and not only that, he is in their very midst. This outcast turned evangelist believed so much that she hurried back to her city and told everyone she found, “come and see.”

And something miraculous happened. The people of Sychar listened to her. Because of her testimony, they believed in Jesus and were willing to go out and meet him for themselves. They believed and were willing to set aside their own preconceived notions about Jews and talk with him, listen to him, and invite him to stay with them.

In the conversation with the Samaritan woman and the events that that conversation set in motion, Jesus challenges the status quo – he challenges what it means to be a chosen people and what it means to be a despised people. He challenges the status quo about what it means to be a child of God. He challenges the status quo, but he does not attack it directly. Rather, by his unconventional actions, by daring the have a conversation with a Samaritan woman, he suggests what is possible in the kingdom of God.

In his actions, Jesus begins the process of reconciliation that would have global repercussions. The message he proclaims is not just for the Jews, but for all people, even the Samaritans. In so doing, he begins the process of reconciliation between sworn enemies. And because of the message he proclaimed, not so much in his words, but in his actions, he furthered the process of reconciliation between humanity and God – that God is not just the God of a chosen people, but of all people. That all people are God’s chosen people.

But Jesus’ actions also set in motion more personal forms of reconciliation. Because of the woman’s role as evangelist, reconciliation begins to happen between her and her community – with her fellow Samaritans. They actually listen to what she has to say about Jesus, to the point that they do not dismiss her, but are willing to experience Jesus for themselves. And perhaps, because of the kindness shown her by this strange Jewish man, and because of her new-found role as evangelist, perhaps she begins to be reconciled with herself – perhaps she begins to see that the feelings of being an outcast or the less-than-respectable person she had internalized were not accurate. Perhaps she begins to see that regardless of what she might have done in the past, she, too, is a beloved child of God.

Through the events set in motion by Jesus daring to talk to a less-than-respectable Samaritan woman, reconciliation had begun for one woman; for the people of the city of Sychar; for a whole, previously despised people; and ultimately, for the whole of humanity.

On this side of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are better able to see the whole story of God’s desire to be reconciled to us and for us to be reconciled to each other. How much more can we be reconciled with ourselves, with our families, with our communities, if we don’t just hear the stories, but if we actually hear and act upon the words of the Samaritan woman to “come and see” who Jesus is and what he has to offer? And how much more reconciliation can occur if we are willing to take a risk, to dare to tear down barriers and build bridges? As the Samaritan woman shows us through her faith, there’s only one way to find out. Come and see.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Building Bridges” story by Scott Higgins, rewritten from a story of unknown source. (February 20, 2008).

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reflecting on Seabury's History

It occurs to me that what is happening with Seabury is nothing particularly new in the 150-year history of the institution. In fact, something of a similar nature happened 75 years ago, when Seabury Divinity School and Western Theological Seminary merged because of “complimentary concerns and common interests” (whatever that means). It sounds to me as if they discerned they needed to move in a different direction if they were going to meet the needs of the ever-changing Episcopal Church. The resulting institution, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, reflected the characteristics of both its founding parts, being both evangelical and catholic, giving it the character and strengths that would carry it and be its hallmarks for the next 75 years.

Now, I would venture to guess that in 1933 when the merger occurred, there were a number of Seabury alums and Western alums who probably felt sad, angry, betrayed, stunned, shocked, whatever, that such an unthinkable think could happen to their seminaries. But the resulting institution would ultimately become greater than the sum of its parts. Hopefully, when the dust settled, most of them were able to see that the death of their former seminary and the resurrection that occurred was indeed glorious.

In hindsight, the merger was actually a very Anglican move. Seabury was evangelical. Western was catholic. In merging, they were able to appeal to and serve a broader base than either institution would or could individually. Just as the Episcopal Church is going through a little upheaval and is attempting to discern and clarify its identity, and just as the Anglican Communion is trying to figure out what it means to be Anglican, so too, I suppose it is only natural that our institutions of theological formation, the institutions that help form the identity of our leaders, must also go through some soul-searching so as to discern how best to meet the needs of a changing church in an ever-changing world.


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Thursday, February 21, 2008

End of an Era for Seabury

This morning as I was driving to work, Moki called to tell me that he had been in Chicago for a couple of days between his meeting in Minneapolis and his meeting in Saint Louis. While he was visiting Seabury, they announced that the seminary would no longer offer the Masters of Divinity (MDiv) program after this year. The current seniors would graduate from Seabury, but the junior and middler MDiv students would have to find another seminary at which to complete their education. A statement from the Very Rev. Gary Hall, Seabury's Dean, can be found here.

This was a shock, although not completely unexpected. Even while I was at Seabury, the writing was on the wall. They had been dealing with financial difficulties for a number of years, and as my time ended, the number of entering students had plummeted (only six incoming juniors my last year, compared to my class of around 25). Moki and I had on several occasions talked about how it was likely that Seabury would eventually be forced to close. But neither of us expected it to be so soon.

Now, to be fair, Seabury is claiming that it is not closing, but rather is in a period of discernment to determine what its future would be. But to be honest, I don’t see how they can hope to survive without the MDiv program – the bread and butter of its existence.

I feel kind of numb about the whole thing. While, as I said, it is not completely unexpected, it is still a shock and very sad to hear. After all, Seabury was my home for three years, and was a very important part of my life. It provided me with some wonderful formation, a very good education, and allowed me to meet some wonderful people, who will be dear friends and cherished colleagues for the rest of my life. A great part of who I am today I owe to Seabury. And to think that it may soon be no more is almost unthinkable.

I had this horrid image of a conversation with someone a decade or so down the road in which I am asked where I went to seminary. I respond, “Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.” To which I am met with a blank stare and, “Where? Never heard of it.” How awful to think that my alma mater would cease to exist. That it may become unknown. Today, when you say “Seabury,” people know of it and its reputation. In another year or so, all that could be gone. I just don’t know how to deal with that.

Of course, the seminary is trying to figure out what it will do with itself. There is a possibility, albeit a slim one in my humble opinion, that it will rise from the ashes, reformed, resurrected into something new and wonderful. I can only hope and pray that I am wrong, and that that will indeed happen.


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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Memorial Service - Ann Sumner

Memorial Service – Anna Emily Sumner
(b. 1904, d. February 9, 2008)

Romans 8:14-19,34-35,37-39; Psalm 23; John 14:1-6
Tuesday, February 12, 2008 – St. Alban’s Westwood

Hail to the hills of Westwood,
To the mighty sea below;
Hail to our Alma Mater,
She will conquer every foe.

For we’re loyal to the Southland,
Her honor we’ll uphold;
We’ll gladly give our hearts to thee,
To the Blue and to the Gold.

Many of you will recognize these words to “Hail to the Hills of Westwood,” the official alma mater of UCLA. This song, dear to the hearts of countless UCLA alumni, speaks of the love for this outstanding institution, and epitomizes the Bruin spirit of excellence, loyalty, and honor.

Today we gather to honor and remember a remarkable woman, one who could truly be characterized as an icon. Like “Hail to the Hills of Westwood,” Ann Sumner, epitomized the spirit of what it means to be a Bruin – devoted to excellence, ever loyal to the honor of UCLA. But Ann Sumner was not just any ordinary UCLA alum. In her very being, Ann Sumner was UCLA.

Ann’s illustrious tenure at UCLA began even before there was a UCLA. She attended classes and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1926. At that time, the Southern Branch, located on Vermont Avenue near downtown Los Angeles, was little more than an extension of the University of California’s main campus in Berkeley, and had only recently achieved status as a four-year university. The year after her graduation, construction began on the then new UCLA campus, what would become the campus we know today. The expansion of the university and construction of the new campus was due to the tireless work of Edward Dickson, one of the Regents of the University of California, who is fondly referred to as the “godfather of UCLA.” Ann would later note that she became like a daughter to Dickson and his wife. She certainly shared his dream of what UCLA could become.

After graduation, Ann worked for several years as the editor of the women’s page of the Los Angeles Evening Express newspaper. In 1932, Dr. Ernest Moore, UCLA provost, convinced Ann to leave the Evening Express and to take a job at the new campus, working for the UCLA News Bureau. One of her main jobs was to write radio speeches for Dr. Moore. She quickly became the chief publicist for the UCLA Extension, a position she held until her retirement in 1967. In that role, she was responsible for making UCLA’s presence in Los Angeles known. At the time that she started, people didn’t know anything about the new university, often mistaking it for the only other university in the southern part of the state – the University of Southern California. But all that would change, thanks to Ann’s tireless efforts.

For Ann, promotion of UCLA was not just a job. It was a passion – one that extended far beyond writing speeches and issuing press releases. She was committed to establishing and working on a number of service organizations that would benefit the lives of members of the UCLA community and help to make UCLA into the world-class institution that it is today:

She was a founding member of the Gold Shield, a component of the UCLA Alumni Association and women’s counterpart of the all-male Blue Shield. The Gold Shield was, and continues to be a hospitality and service organization that, among other things, provides scholarships to women attending UCLA.

She was a founding board member of the UCLA Affiliates.

She was a founding member of the Friends of the UCLA Library.

She was a founding member of the UCLA Arts Council.

She was a founding member of the board of directors of the UCLA Faculty Center.

She established the Ann E. Sumner Endowed Collection in Art History.

In addition to these achievements, she served in leadership roles of such organizations as the UCLA Alumni Association, the Los Angeles City Panhellenic Council, the UCLA Faculty Women’s Club, and the UCLA Chancellor’s Associates.

It is obvious from the list of her achievements that Ann was not only a leader, but also a trailblazer. In an era when women were second-class citizens with little influence, when it was still very much a man’s world, she had the courage and the fortitude to overcome social prejudices and make a difference – a huge difference. She had a vision for UCLA and worked to make that vision a reality. Edward Dickson may have been the “godfather of UCLA.” But Ann Sumner was most certainly its godmother. And, because of her tireless and passionate devotion to UCLA, in 1962 she became the first woman to receive the UCLA Alumni Distinguished Service Award.

Throughout all of this work, she remained very much a lady – graceful, dignified, elegant yet modest, incredibly generous, and always a good friend.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” There is a place for everybody, no matter who they are. This was also Ann’s vision for UCLA. She felt that UCLA was a place for everybody, and that everybody had a place at this great institution. To help achieve this vision, she worked to provide scholarships so that as many people as possible, particularly young women, would have a place at UCLA. She worked to build an infrastructure that would make UCLA a place where people would want to be, to provide a university that would meet the needs of all who came. In doing this, Ann exemplified the spirit of hospitality that is portrayed in the Gospel. Ann lived the Gospel mandate of radical inclusivity.

Jesus tells us that he has gone ahead, following his own death and resurrection, to prepare a place for us in God’s house. This is a promise made to all of us – that when our time comes, we will be lovingly welcomed into God’s home. Based on what I have learned of Ann’s life, I have no doubt whatsoever that she has been taken into the Father’s house, into God’s home, where she has been given a special place there, just as she made a special place for all those who came to UCLA, her home.

With the passing of Ann Sumner, we have sadly witnessed the end of an era in UCLA history. But while she may no longer be here physically, we can be assured that she will live on. Her legacy will remain with us, in the form of what she helped build right across the street. And she lives on in us: in the memories of those who knew her; in the betterment of the countless lives who have benefited from her vision and been nurtured by her tireless work; in the inspiration she provides to those of us who have a special place in our hearts for UCLA, the great institution that Ann Sumner helped to build.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Rainy Days and Lent

Ash Wednesday – Year A
Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Wednesday, February 6, 2008 (7:00 pm) – St. Alban’s Westwood

Sunday morning, I sat in the Common Room at Mount Calvary Monastery, in the hills above Santa Barbara. As I sat there, sipping my coffee and gazing out the window, I recalled that the day before, I was able to watch the sun rise over Santa Barbara, affording a glorious view of the town and the Pacific Ocean beyond. But on Sunday, there was no such view. It was foggy and cloudy, and rain was falling, obscuring the scenery I had enjoyed the day before. As I looked into the clouds and fog, I found myself thinking “yep, it’s looking a lot like Lent.”

Almost as soon as I had this thought, I was taken aback, wondering where it came from. I was puzzled. What does a rainy morning in Santa Barbara have to do with the impending onset of Lent? So, I sat there for a few minutes, pondering this, trying to understand the connection my subconscious mind had just made.

At first, I reasoned that the connection between rain and Lent was the gloominess that I was gazing into. In some ways, it seemed to make sense. I have always felt that Lent has sort of a gloomy feel to it. But not in a bad way, not in a depressing way. It’s just that Lent seems to be a little darker and more somber than the rest of the liturgical year, which, you have to admit, it is – particularly compared to the Christmas and Epiphany seasons that precede it, and the Easter season that follows it. And rain can be pretty gloomy, particularly for those of us used to Southern California sunshine.

But that’s not quite true, at least for me. I don’t find rain particularly bad or depressing. In fact, I kind of like the rain. I find a gloomy day of rain to be a refreshing change of pace from constant sunshine. One of the things I like about gloomy, rainy days is that they tend to put me in a more reflective mood. When I am unable to look out the window and see much beyond the windowpane, I find that my attention turns inward, on myself and what’s going on in my own life, in my own spirit. I suppose I feel the same way about the gloominess often associated with Lent. Maybe that’s the connection between rain and Lent. Lent is supposed to be a period of reflective preparation that takes us on a journey through the somberness of Holy Week to the joys of Easter.

While all of that made sense to me, somehow, it just didn’t quite resonate at the moment. Something was missing. There was some other connection that was being made in my subconscious. As I continued to gaze out the window and pondered what was going on in the recesses of my mind, I became less focused on the gloominess of the scene before me and more focused on the rain itself. I thought about the blessing that rain provides. Particularly here in Southern California, a land that is essentially reclaimed desert, rain is of prime importance to providing water – water that is needed to facilitate and sustain life. Rain is life-giving. That was it! That was the connection I was looking for. As I thought about the live-giving quality of rain, I made the connection. It occurred to me that Lent is also life-giving.

Now, we don’t usually think about Lent as being life-giving. After all, it is a pretty dark and murky season, as we have already established. Liturgically, we focus on Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem, where he will find himself bidding farewell to his disciples, brought before Pontius Pilate on trumped up charges, and condemned to death on a cross. On the whole, not exactly the most joyous of liturgical seasons. On a more individual level, it is also somewhat gloomy as it is a time when we turn our attention to our own sinfulness and seek repentance from God. Through prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and fasting, we prepare ourselves to travel with Jesus on his final earthly journey toward his Passion, and in the process, we prepare ourselves to be reconciled to God.

Through his description of his life and ministry, St. Paul tells us in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians what may be required of us as we travel this Lenten journey with Jesus. “As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” By suffering dishonor and ill repute. By being treated as imposters, as being treated as if unknown. By being poor and having nothing. This does not mean that we will experience any or all of these during our own Lenten journeys. But we might, to some degree or another. Maybe not physically, but metaphorically. As we engage in the work of penance that is typified in this Lenten season, we are prompted to go deep within ourselves, to reflect on our own spiritual states, on our relationships with others, on our relationships with the world, and on our relationships with God. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, and do the hard work of examining what lies within, hidden in the dark corners of our souls, we will most likely experience periods of gloom and discomfort, and maybe even moments of despair, just as during a rainstorm that disrupts a beautiful Southern California day.

But just as a rainstorm does not last forever and comes to end with the parting of the clouds and the breaking in of beams of bright, warm sunlight, so too something beautiful comes of the hard work that Lent asks of us. Paul notes the benefits and fruits of this labor of love undertaken for our own sakes and the sake of our relationships with God and the world. These are “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.” If undertaken in sincerity and humility, we are recipients of honor and good repute. In the work of reconciliation with ourselves, with others, with God, and with the world, we are true and fully known, not only to God, but to others and to ourselves, as well. In so doing, we are made rich and possess everything that is needed for a deeper and more fruitful spiritual journey, and for richer and more fulfilling relationships with ourselves, with God, and with our fellow human beings.

All of this, the hard work of looking inward, and reaping the benefits to be had in such interior work, can only be achieved through reflection. Personally, I find that rainy weather temporarily veils the other things in my life that distract me from looking inward. So too with Lent. Without the distractions of the more festive seasons of the Christian year, I am likewise inclined to become more reflective. And if I can stick with it, and am able to bear the momentary pain of looking into my life and my soul, I eventually find the joy and rewards Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians. And what makes the reflective time of Lent more bearable is the knowledge, the promise, that no matter what I may find when I look inside, I will also find God waiting there, ready to help me carry the burdens of my sins. I will find God there, waiting to transform the dark into light, the hate into love, the pain into joy. I will find God waiting for me to be reconciled to Him, and ready to help me be reconciled to the rest of His creation.

Just as a gloomy day of rain provides life-giving water to maintain and nourish our lives, so too the 40-day journey of Lent we are embarking on today is life-giving. This journey provides us with the opportunity to get in touch with our own true selves, warts and all. Through the course of that journey, what we find is transformed as we approach Jerusalem, as we approach the cross. We find that the self we uncover during our Lenten journey has been reconciled to ourselves and to God, and that it has been transformed into the true self that God is calling us to be. And at the end of the journey, just as at the end of rainstorm, the sun will shine upon us, revealing the joy of the Son’s resurrection, and bringing us to new life in him.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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