Owning Up. Lent One Sermon by Nathan Kirkpatrick

OWNING UP
A sermon preached at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate | Lent One 2017

 One of the strangest realities about our life together as church
is the way we come together and say the hardest things to each other.
And then, somehow, when we have, we walk away a bit lighter.

It happened on Wednesday.
At noon and at 7, groups of us gathered in this place.
With ashes on our foreheads,
We looked at each other and said,
“remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Lisa put it as bluntly as possible in her sermon, we. Will. die.
And yet, on Wednesday evening, after the service,
I, for one, walked out into the rain and felt vibrantly alive.

It’s one of the strangest realities about church —
We come together and say the hardest things to each other,
And yet, there is in the saying of it some measure of liberation.

It happens here on Sunday mornings, too.
We gather together.
And we, perfectly lovely, perfectly nice people,
Come together and reveal the reality about our lives.
We come together and we pierce all our illusions and facades that we spend so much of the rest of our time constructing or protecting,
to acknowledge who we have become
and how we are and how we live in the world;
what we really hope for and what we really fear;
and whether it’s a simple or sprawling prayer of confession,
we acknowledge the evil we have done
and the evil done on our behalf.
We gather and sit with sin, our own and our own.
We say the hardest things about how our lives have gone.
And then we hear a word of liberation –
That the Lord has put away our sin,
that our transgressions have been forgiven,
that mercy embraces those who trust in God.
It’s one of the strangest realities of our life together as church –
We come together and say the hardest things to each other,
And find, when we do so, there is some measure of freedom.

This telling the truth is the hardest part of Lent.
As a child, I thought that the hardest part of Lent
was the giving up — the no chocolate, no candy, no cookies,
the no peanuts, pretzels or cracker jacks.
The no television, no video games, the no internet
(not that we had the internet when I was a kid,
Al Gore had not invented it yet; but you get the idea).
I thought the hardest part was the giving up.
But, what I’ve come to realize is
that the hardest part of Lent is
not the giving up but the owning up. 

It’s not that the giving up is easy,
but the owning up is so much harder —
it’s hard to tell the truth about ourselves,
not just because telling the truth, in and of itself, is hard,
but because we confront this tension
between who we were created to be and who we so often are.
We confront the truth that it’s easy to forget who we are created to be.

It’s why we begin our readings this morning in a garden,
Soon after the birth of all things.
You remember that, in the beginning of Genesis,
We hear of a God who creates everything that is
Not because God had to
but because God – in God’s own life –
Was overflowing with love.
And God births the universe out of love,
To share love, for the sake of love.
And the clearest way we know that?
Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of God,
as reflections of God in the world, to love –
To care for one another, to care for creation,
To walk humbly and justly before God.
That’s why we’re here.
It’s why we were made in the beginning.
It’s why creation carries on;
Love is why creation carries on.

But, we are told just a few verses in that this love gets sullied.
We heard the story this morning.
Now, I don’t want us to get hung up on the talking snake;
Whether or not there was a loquacious reptile is beside the point,
the story points to something profoundly true about the spiritual life:
the temptation for Eve and for Adam is to forget who they are.
The serpent – the craftiest of creatures –
whispers in the young woman’s ear –
“God knows that if you eat of this tree
your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.”
The problem with this reasoning is
That just a few short verses earlier
We are told that Eve and Adam
already were like God
In every way that mattered.
They were made from God’s love for God’s love to be love.
Their temptation is to forget.

The temptation is always to forget.
In the Gospel reading, we find Jesus, moments after his baptism,
Perhaps still a little damp from the full immersion in the river,
still reflecting on the dove and the voice from heaven,
Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God.
(My favorite cartoon of this scene shows Jesus strapped into the passenger seat of a Jeep with a ghost-like driver saying to him, “just two more hours.”)
Not what it means driven.
Jesus is moved, propelled into the wilderness by the Spirit of God.
There, after forty days of fasting and prayer,
Jesus meets the tempter,
The nagging voice, the shadow side, the adversary, Satan,
However you want to narrate it.
But there, in the wilderness, as the voice had whispered in the garden,
The tempter whispers to Jesus – “forget, forget, forget.”
The voice that whispers you are not enough and who do you think you are – what Brene Brown calls the twin tapes of shame. Forget. Forget. Forget.
“If you are the Son of God … turn these stones into bread.”
Forget that the Son of God came not to be served but to serve.
“If you are the Son of God … throw yourself down and let angels catch you.”
Forget that the Son of God came not for signs and wonders, for show and splash.
“If you are the Son of God … worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth.”
Forget that the Son of God came to announce a new kingdom that exists by God’s priorities and passions and not to lead the old ones.
Forget, forget, forget…

But we notice here the difference between Adam and Eve and Jesus;
It’s the difference Paul is calling our attention to in Romans –
If the temptation is always to forget; then the grace that is found in Jesus
is that he remembered.
He didn’t forget that love is the way, the calling, the reality of our lives.
And so, when the tempter, the nagging voice, the shadow side, the adversary, Satan – however you narrate it – comes and says “forget,”
Jesus says, “remember.”

And so, the hardest part of Lent is to remember, to own up
To who we are,
to who we are made to be,
and why we are here.
To remember that we are made from love,
for love,
to be God’s love in the world.
The hardest part of Lent is to remember that sin isn’t the truth
of who we are, but is what happens when we forget who we are.

And let’s not overlook the fact that some of us
Grew up in homes and with families that help us forget;
The language was of love but the acts were of harm.
Forget…
Some of us – many of us – still live and move in systems and structures
That enable us and encourage us to forget.
We live in systems and structures that
Reward the degrading of creation instead of the care for it,
And when we do, we pillage and pollute our own homes.
Forget…

We live in systems and structures that tell
persons of color and the poor and the prisoner
that they are less than,
and when we believe it or act from it, we are all diminished.
Forget…

We live in systems and structures that
Encourage us to seek our own welfare before the welfare of the city, the common good,
That make apathy an easier choice than love.
Apathy is the great challenge of our day, not hate.
And when we believe it, we lose.
Forget…

It’s a curious thing about our life together —
How we come together and say the hardest things to each another.
We do it so we don’t forget. It’s so we remember.