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Bishop's Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

March 4, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent, Year B
[Resurrection of the Lord Church, Waipio]

What does the Lord need to whip into shape in your life?  Jesus loves us, of course, and he always will try to persuade us humbly and gently to follow his ways, because he knows that following God’s commandments is for our own good.  If we abide by the plan of the One who made us, we will become our best selves, rather than our worst selves.  But sometimes we just do not “get” it, and we do not pay attention; or we become so involved with sinful ways that we don’t even realize how sinful they are.  Our reading today shows us that Jesus is not above raising his voice and whipping us into shape when his normal way of acting just is not working.  He will not hesitate to turn the tables on our madness when that is the only way we may finally pay attention.

And so we hear the first of the Ten Commandments:  “I, the Lord, am your God….  You shall not have other gods besides me.”  How often have we just changed one little word in that commandment and perverted it completely?  Instead we say, “I, the Lord, am my God….  You shall not have other gods besides me.”  We take to ourselves what belongs to God alone.  We set ourselves up as the arbiters of all truth.  If we want an embryo to be a beloved baby, so it is; but if we want it to be only a blob of tissue we can destroy at will, poof, so it is.  We make ourselves the ones who decide when life shall begin and end, what gender I will be, or how I want to define reality.  There may come a time, however, when this tendency to make ourselves gods becomes so self-destructive and destructive of our community that Jesus steps in forcefully to whip us into shape and to recognize there is only one God – and that God is not us.

Or we know how merciful God is, and we understand that there is no sin he is unwilling to forgive if we are repentant.  But we often take God’s name in vain, not so much by using “swear words, but by presuming that he therefore does not care if we sin.  And so we deliberately do so, thinking that such a merciful God does not demand repentance.  If we play this out to its logical conclusion, then there is no need for a Savior.  When we have fallen so far into error, Jesus may just love us enough to overturn our taking his name in vain and explicitly call us to real repentance for our sins.

Perhaps we do not keep holy the sabbath day by resting as we should or by dedicating the day to prayer and worship of God.  Maybe we have a melt down because of our frenetic busy-ness, which may be Jesus’ way to whip us into shape to realize that we will never be able to give thanks to God for all the good things he gives us unless we slow down and spend some time to deliberately take stock of the blessings in our lives.

“You shall not kill” is a commandment we can all agree is good.  We are outraged with a shooter randomly kills many innocent people.  But, then again, if that hidden little child in the womb is considered a burden, then we make an exception.  If a person who is terminally ill is suffering, perhaps we feel it is right to make an exception there, too, as long as the killing is done “autonomously,” that is with full permission of one’s doctor, lawyer, and legislature, and in a manner that is not messy or bloody.  If someone becomes too burdensome to care for or is draining our resources or causing our insurance premiums to go through the roof, well, maybe we can make an exception there, too.  In fact, we will all feel much better about it if we do not call it killing, but rename it “compassion,” “choice,” or “mercy.”  Perhaps this is the time the Lord wants us to raise our voices, to turn over the tables which seem so innocent, and to cast out of the temple of our culture this lie that we can become the arbiters of life rather than leaving that to God.

We normally think of Jesus as gentle, humble, merciful and loving.  And he normally is.  But because we sometimes discard the commandments of God to our own detriment and begin to accept sin as normal, from time to time Jesus, through his risen Body the Church, raises his voice, turns over the tables of our vices, and whips us into shape so that we will not continue on the slippery slope to destruction.  This is, in fact, what Lent is about.  It is a time for the Lord to shake us up and wake us up to see more clearly how much we defile the temple of the world in which God wishes to be worshipped in our families, schools, places of work, and body politic; and then to call us to true repentance.  Because it is only in worshipping God as he deserves that we can live fully as God long for us to live, in the fullness of his life and his love.