Read Rev. Mary Bea Sullivan’s sermon here. Unfortunately, there is no audio for this sermon.
Just hours left to live, and Jesus wants to make sure his disciples get it—that WE get it.
Loving puts us on our knees. There is action to love, it is beyond sentimentality. There is humility in love, we deny our natural inclination to elevate ourselves, as if we are any better than others.
And we get on our knees and serve.
On Saturday, our dear friend John came to our home to teach me how to prune our crepe myrtle. I was struck by the tender and contemplative way John studied the tree. He silently walked around to view it from all angles–gazing in love and admiration.
I studied John as he studied the tree.
“We want to create space in the center so that sunlight can shine through.” John explained.
Later he mentioned that light-deprived branches, become infested and moldy.
Creating space for the Son-light to shine through is what Lent is all about. One of our most fruitful pruning practices is forgiveness. At all times, but especially in Lent, we are invited to trim away the anger, resentment, and pain which harden and decay our hearts.
Surveying our hearts from every angle, as John surveyed our crepe myrtle, we might wonder: Where am I being invited to prune old hurts, resentments, and anger?
Forgiveness is the shear to create space for the Son-light to shine through. Depending upon the depth of the wound, or the amount of time we have been holding on to our pain, forgiveness can be incredibly difficult.
Painful as it may be, true forgiveness is always life-giving. John reminded me the reason we cut away branches is so that the limited energy of the tree is used to make fewer branches healthier. Anger, resentment, and pain suck the sap of joy, love, and laughter from our lives.
Sometimes, the person we need to forgive is ourself, other times it is parents, children, partners in love or business.
In preparation for our time together Sunday, and in keeping with our Lenten journey, I encourage you to take time in prayer each day this week to consider:
Where am I being invited to prune old hurts, resentments, and anger?
Yes this can be hard work. Take heart, like John lovingly gazing at the crepe myrtle, the Master Gardener gazes at you and me, ready to assist in our desire to make space for the Son-light.
Thank you John. Thank you God.
It is my intention to spend a bit of time each day with you reflecting on forgiveness in this space. If you want a partner on your forgiveness journey, I invite you to email or call me to set up a time to pray and prune.
Bishop Marray shared a story of how an HIV-infected outcast in a church where he was serving, became an integral part of the community after Bishop Marray hugged his sore-infested body.
Crossing the uncomfortable divide of touching the untouchable healed the man, healed the community.
Bishop Marry also told about the challenging, important work that is being done at Grace Episcopal Church in Woodlawn. Grace has for years been a beacon of hope in an under-resourced part of Birmingham. They are a model for urban ministries–even though they struggle greatly to meet their own modest budget.
Recently, in a presentation to the diocese, Grace’s rector, Mother Robyn told of how Grace opens its doors to those in need on cold nights. Robyn and members of the congregation sleep on cots with the homeless, awake early and cook them a hot breakfast.
“It is good that we are uncomfortable so others may be more comfortable.” Robyn told Bishop Marray and those who were at the gathering.
I felt so convicted. My sister Robyn was willing to camp out in her sanctuary with whomever stopped by, and just a couple of weeks ago I had chosen to sleep in a hotel instead of a bunk-style cabin at Camp McDowell with fellow Episcopalians.
“It is good that we are uncomfortable so others may be more comfortable.”
Jesus was always pushing comfort zones–eating with sinners and tax collectors, challenging authorities–Sunday we will even hear him call Herod a “fox.”
Where are you being invited to step outside your comfort zone to be Christ’s presence in the world?
Where are we as a congregation being invited to step outside our comfort zone so others may be more comfortable?
As we begin our Lenten journey, we are encouraged to be particularly intentional about spiritual practices. Three practices associated with Lent are fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Most of us think of fasting from a particular food or drink. Partnered with prayer, this kind of fasting can, among other things, create an awareness around our attachment to personal comfort. Denying ourselves can call to mind a solidarity with those who have no choice but to fast–like those suffering in Syria today.
After listening to our diocesan convention keynote speaker, Tom Brackett, I have been wondering about how fasting from habitual ways of thinking, might create awareness around attachments to beliefs that separate us from God.
- I need to succeed to be loved by God, or others;
- God is vengeful and punishing;
- There is limited abundance in the world, therefore celebrating the gifts of others will diminish my own
- My worth is determined by net worth, good looks, ___ you fill in the blanks.
This Ash Wednesday morning, what one belief would you like to release in the service of deepening your relationship to God, yourself, and the world around you?
I pray for our release from unhealthy beliefs, and I welcome you to join us for Ash Wednesday service with the imposition of ashes at 7pm tonight. Childcare and children’s chapel will be provided. In fact, the children will begin the service in the parish hall instead of our customary practice of the nave.
Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of the all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,…through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (The beginning of the Ash Wednesday service in the BCP p. 264 )