Friday, April 22, 2011

Truth and Reconciliation

Easter Day, April 24, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

The nation of South Africa changed the face of human history in the decade of the 1990's.  South Africa held its first free election in April of 1994.  The world had watched with bated breath as the edifices of apartheid were systematically dismantled and another way of life was build on its ruins.  The crumbling of the old system had begun 5 years before when President, F. W. De Klerk surprised the parliament and the nation by removing the bans on liberation movements, and releasing Nelson Mandela.

The Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, records the cataclysmic inner struggles of that April day.  On the one hand South African blacks were being allowed to vote for the first time in the life of the nation. They were overjoyed to the point of delirium.  On the other hand, they had lived with reprisals for so long that some feared that the whole day was a set-up for an even more crushing blow.  South African whites voted because they always had.  Many supported the change and voted for a new South Africa, even amidst the growing sense of betrayal of the system that had so benefitted them, and many of them feared the reprisals awaited them from newly empowered blacks.  In the World Community optimists heralded the day as the end of yet another oppressive regime in the world.  Pessimists and realists who had seen what had happened in other similar situations were far less hopeful.  They predicted a bloodbath as the newly enfranchised blacks pushed their hated oppressors into the south sea.

But it just didn't happen.  Oh, yes, there were the excesses of the day, but nothing of the bloody aftermath everyone feared.  Far better than the pessimists, even more than what even the optimists hoped, something happened that was totally new in human history.

It was clear that all were victims of a system gone wrong, the great question was how to set it right.  Tutu and Mandela saw two impossible extremes.  On the one hand cruel justice had been dished out on Nazi war criminals in the Nuremburg Trials, and the result was only more fear and less reconciliation.  On the other hand, calls for blanket amnesty were hardly honest with the horrendous pain the country had experienced, both the pain of the oppressed, and the damage to the conscience of the oppressors.  They chose instead the knife-edge of the middle ground.  They created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked with the profound work of reconciling a people alienated from itself.  It functioned on two principles.  First, amnesty may be granted only to those who in good faith came completely clean with their deeds, and restitution was something negotiated between the perpetrator and the victim.  There just would be no reprisal.

It was astoundingly successful.  More often than not the experience of victims being able to tell their story in a context of support and truth, combined with hearing the perpetrators tell the full story of their deeds and ask for forgiveness was enough to have both leave the room arm in arm, both delighting in their newfound freedom and friendship!  The nation of South Africa realized that the way forward had to be the way of forgiveness.

Well, maybe it wasn't the first time in human history.  The very first time took place a couple of millennia earlier.  This time it was not a nation that was alienated from itself, it was a whole creation.  It was not just political and economic, it was cosmic.  Jesus also faced the possibilities.  When Jesus rose from the dead He could have marched into Jerusalem at the head of his disciples' army, stormed the Temple and seized the High Priest.  Pilate's palace would have been next, followed by Herod's stronghold of Caesarea, and then, with the Armies of Heaven behind Him, He could have marched on Rome itself.  What could have stopped the King of Kings from asserting His place?  Or He could have stood in the middle of the air and pronounced forgiveness for all of creation, for we knew not what we did in killing the King of Glory, He could have whisked us all into heaven, and lived happily ever after.

But these were also impossible options.  The first would have been to reduce His kingdom to a kingdom of the earth, built on the same systems of power that have produced such mixed results for us, and the second would have been to obliterate our part of the deal, short-circuiting our engagement in the process.  Instead He chose something radically different, something in-between—in good Anglican style!  To the fearful men who ran to his grave He sent an angel to send them into Galilee instead.  Galilee, where it all started, and from where it would all now once more begin, Galilee of the Gentiles, shadow of the world-encompassing mission to come.  To the faithful woman who wanted to find his broken body he called her by name; personal, warm and present! “Mary!”  In the grand scheme of things Peter, James and the other disciple, Mary and the women, were no less guilty than the Pharisees and the Soldiers.  But in the resurrection God walked the knife-edge of forgiveness with us.  Cruel and harsh justice was set aside, with its inevitable end of winners and losers where in the end all lose, as was mere unthinking amnesty with it's Pollyanna forgetfulness.  Instead God opted for reconciliation, whose end is relationship, purpose and fulfillment!

You would almost think that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu had heard of that story before!  In fact, there were others, like the young Welshman named Patrick, caught by Irish slave raiders in the 6th century who escaped and then return to Ireland at the risk of capital punishment to win the land for Christ; and J. Hudson Taylor who gave his life to share Christ with the Chinese and is remembered there to this day; or 5 young men who landed on a gravel bar along the Curaray River in eastern Ecuador half a century ago, and gave their lives to reach the warlike and violent Waorani who now follow Christ; and Bruce Oleson who contracted malaria to reach the unreachable Motilone of Venezuela.  The list literally goes on and on and on.

Yes, Tutu and Mandela's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is unique in the way it reconciled a nation to itself, built as it was on Christian forgiveness, but the reconciliation of the world through forgiveness has been happening countless times and in countless ways throughout the world.  You’ve lived it, and if you believe in the resurrection you’re called to live it in ever greater circles around you.  Every instance is unique, yet every instance is built ultimately on one great moment between God and His creation, the resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

90 Degrees and Other Expressions of Hope

The Great Vigil of Easter, April 23, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

90 degree angles can get you in trouble, especially when they're not 90 degrees. But we're all 10 feet tall and bulletproof when we're in our mid 20's, and I knew better. We had gone upriver to go hunting, some friends and I.

The river ran perpendicular to the airstrip—at least at that point in the river. And the airstrip was always directly lined up in front of the mission's DC-3 when it flew in from the mountains to the west, which means it had to be oriented east-west. So the river ran north, right? We rode up the river all day in a motor canoe and stopped where the oil companies had blazed a perfectly straight seismic testing trail through the tangle of the jungle. It hit the river at a right angle which means it must be—are you still with me? East-west.

One of my friends, Carl, went with me hunting one morning. We heard game off the side of the trail and followed--making sure to cut directly away from the path at a 90 degree angle, so now we were headed south. We lost the game and headed back—we turned directly around and promptly got totally lost! (Later when I got to a map I discovered that none of the angles I figured were 90 degrees in actuality were!)

I tell you, the feeling of being lost in the Amazon jungle with nothing but miles and miles of trackless jungle around you is perhaps just a bit like Good Friday.

By happenstance, in our wanderings, we approached obliquely to a strange opening in the jungle. Simply because we thought we could get our bearings better we decided to step into the cleared area. Lo and behold, we stood once again on the seismic trail, not 50 yards from where we had left it. Relief is hardly the word. In a word, we understood Easter Sunday!

Tonight we celebrate the same sense of hope in the darkness, but on a cosmic scale. The little ones we baptize this night pass not just from the vastness of the Amazon onto a known trail, but out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. And we, in reaffirming our baptismal covenant, remind ourselves and them of just what we are doing.

Therefore the Covenant begins with the Apostle's Creed:

I believe in God, is the first light in the darkness.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, is the rays of sunshine bursting through the gloom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit embraces the coming light with joy and gladness!

And then we promise to live in a way that gives expression to that hope in the form of 5 promises:

To live in the faith community of the Church, (To stick together, even when we feel we're lost)

To mould our lives after the pattern of Jesus Christ, (To follow the compass, even when it seems wrong)

To share the knowledge of Christ with the world, (getting others to look at the map, too)

Share the love of Christ with the world in acts of service, (sharing our compass)

Struggle for justice and peace--the values of the Kingdom of God, (urge one another to follow the map)

I thank God that we found our way out of the jungle that day, but I thank God more for bringing us out of the jungle of darkness, into the glorious Kingdom of God's Son, who is our light, and our path!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One in Life, One in Death

Good Friday, April 22, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Earthquake and darkness, the very cosmos looks on as its Creator is murdered by His creation. It is the world's most cataclysmic self-contradiction, and creation itself cannot but shudder. Whatever got into God that He might allow such a thing? What great divine hick-up allowed such freedom to humanity, such audacity, such moral expanse, to be able to spit in the face of the fountain of one's being? How can it be that the creature could threaten his own livelihood thus? And yet, somehow, our faith bids us call this Friday "good." Was it good that we nailed the King of Righteousness to the Cross? Absolutely not! It was humanity's greatest evil, our deepest depths of depravity. Was it good that we stood there and taunted our salvation even as he died? Absolutely not! So few, so few had even an inkling of what was going on and beat their breasts in holy fear.

We call this day "good" because ultimately the joke is on us, not God. Our greatest efforts to hold God at bay only resulted in Him being closer than ever. Such is the great surprise of sin.

This day is good because in this moment God cannot be closer. It was humanity that killed the Christ, we imagine that we can take control over our Creator, the ultimate treason, the final betrayal. As if pitting petty god against petty god, we imagine we fought him and won the day, and all the while we wonder at how he does not return our hostility, proving thereby, that He is not over against, but one with our spirits.

It was humanity that killed the Christ. We, today's humanity, continue to kill the Christ in every act of rebellion against Him, in every act of hatred toward His creatures, no matter who or what they are, in every act of selfishness or thoughtlessness, we return to nail Him there. We nail Him down where he can't get away, right in the midst of our immorality. We prove Him to be one with our souls.

It was humanity that killed the Christ. We submit the immortal to mortality. After all, as mortals we could only perpetrate on Him what we had to give. He willingly joins us in our dying. We prove Him to be one with our created bodies. What a serendipity that today is also Earth Day. The earth that was entrusted to humanity as stewards, testifies to the job we've done by its response on that first dark Friday, and reminding us that the way we treat our God is reflected in how we treat His creation. The two are intertwined and cannot be separated.

On this day Jesus died for our sins, and for the broken creation itself, that as Paul says in Romans 8, it might with us taste of resurrection. On this Day, behind and beyond and through our evil deeds, God has acted. As God joined us in our depths, so and only so can He take us to the heights, and therefore we call this Friday good.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Eating and Drinking

Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, April 21, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

I have a watch that is both digital and analog. It has an electronic chip in it that keeps track of all kinds of things with great accuracy: It tells the time, it tells the phase of the moon, it tells the temperature, it tells you the time in selected cities of your choice, it has a timer and a stopwatch and all those bells and whistles. It does it with millions of 0's and 1's that all answer one very logical question: Is it on or is it off? Yes, or no?

It also has a face with real hands that go around and around. My ancient brain registers quickly what time it is in relation to where the hands on the clock are. It has a digital read-out, but I never look at it. The symbolic value of the hands quickly wires around the numbers and gives me a relative time--good enough for me.

These two ways of calculating, analog and digital, parallel two ways of approaching religious rites. We approach them analytically, we tease out the theology of them, we line up ideas one after another in cause and effect relationships and we group ideas together because they are similar in important ways. We also approach them analogically. We sense the mystery, we are taken by the multi-valenced power of the symbol, we sense connections that are neither logical nor illogical, but just are.

Tonight we celebrate, more than anything else, Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper. When He did it He recast part of the Seder or Passover meal, but shortly after His death and resurrection, when the numbers of Gentiles increased, the church's understanding of it deepened and broadened to lay the foundation of what we have today. Let's take a look at the celebration of the Eucharist through these two lenses, the analytical and the analogical.

The analytical understanding of the Eucharist fills libraries full of textbooks on the theology of the Eucharist, but it can mostly be boiled down to some basic concepts. The Eucharist is a participation in the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is a way of touching once again that eternal reality of Christ's death and resurrection, and allowing it to form our Christian living. Why it is done as a meal harks back to Jesus' use of a meal and eating images, but if you think that we are what we eat it makes more sense. We nourish our souls on these realities, and let the power of the Spirit so conferred empower our living.

There are basically three approaches to understanding what Jesus' death and resurrection do for us. One is juridical, and it goes like this:

God is holy, God cannot abide anything that is unholy. We sinned, rendering us unholy. But God wants to be in relationship with us anyway. But we can't do anything about our un-holiness, so God did instead. Jesus takes our un-holiness on Himself on the cross and pays the price we could not pay so that we could be reconciled to God.

This one saw its heyday in the Middle Ages and up through contemporary evangelical theology.

The next is pedagogical and it goes like this:

God is holy, but we sinned, rendering us unholy. Jesus came to teach us what holy living is all about, and gave Himself in self-sacrifice as an example of what the love of God is really like. We are called to die to sin and be raised to new life, just as Jesus was, albeit in a smaller way.

This one got its start in the early Church and found a stronghold in the Eastern Church.

The last is relational and it goes like this:

God is holy and cannot abide anything unholy. When we sinned and were rendered unholy the relationship between God and humanity was damaged. Jesus came as the required sacrifice to reconcile us back to God. When we are baptized and when we partake of the Eucharist we are accepting what God has offered, a renewed relationship.

This one is Jewish through and through, informing the earliest Church's Eucharistic theology, and is experiencing a resurgence in the last 30 years or so.

The analogical understanding of the Eucharist is more of an approach than an understanding. We see bread and we see wine, we taste bread and we taste wine.

We do so shoulder to shoulder with our fellow-Christians. We experience that fundamental life-giving experience of eating and know that the experience is more than just eating material food. Eating is nurturing, Jesus nurtures us with His own self, His own body and blood, Jesus calls us to be His body in the world, which means that it is ourselves that we see on the altar, offered to God as a sacrifice of praise, and it is us in union with Jesus that we experience when we partake of the Holy Meal. We find that afterwards we are linked to one another in a fundamental way, we find that we know the same reality together, that of the renewed life of Christ within us, and we face the same challenge together, that of carrying this presence that we have come to know out into the world in the power we have received.

What does it all mean, then? Either way, analytically or analogically, we finally arrive at the same point. In this meal Jesus does something deep within us that unites us to Himself, empowers us to be His presence in a broken world, and sends us out to reconcile the world to Himself. And this is exactly what He did when He offered Himself on the cross, and then rose again 3 days later. So it is fitting to celebrate this meal this night, for tomorrow we celebrate His death so that on Easter we might celebrate His triumphant resurrection!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Connect the Dots, a Palm Sunday Story

Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Hello, my name is Judah and I am a temple Scribe. My job is to copy down meticulously the texts on the sacred scrolls, and to teach what they say to the people in the Temple. I apprenticed this job from my father Jehoachim when I was 13. Now I am old and grey, I have been copying down the sacred words for the last 55 years. Yes, it grows tedious sometimes, and I am tempted to think I know it all by now, but I love my work, and something happened just the other day here in Jerusalem that set me thinking. It leaves me wondering if perhaps after 55 years I have not really truly read the Holy Scriptures.

You see, Jerusalem seems to be a magnet for every fool who thinks he knows something about the law. The people are eager to learn, they flock to whatever teacher stands on their corner to preach. So it was with one Jesus, of Galilee. They say he was born in Bethlehem, that He is descended from the great King David, but he was raised in Galilee, and there is where he had his biggest following. Here in Jerusalem he drew the attention of the Temple officials; seems he stepped on their toes over something. The guy was really pretty gutsy. Just over a week ago he entered the city on a donkey. A bunch of people got real excited and started to proclaim him King, like David, sent by God. We'd like a king, really, someone who could liberate us from Rome, and some people thought he might do that, but it didn't end that way.

The temple officials got really upset over him, really bent out of shape. Turns out one of his disciples wasn't too cozy with him either, and turned him over to the authorities. And the authorities got Pilate to put him to death. Awful shame, I sort of liked the guy. But the thing that has me thinking, that has me really rather tied up in knots are the words. I've been a man of words all my life. And when I see a parallel between our words and the Words of Holy Scripture I know something important is about to happen.

Well, when you look carefully you can see some rather amazing ways that this guy's life parallels the Words of God. Rumor has it that the disgruntled member of his band, one Judas, was given 30 pieces of silver for turning Jesus over. And then afterwards in remorse he threw the money back into the temple. The prophet Zechariah took 30 pieces of silver from the sheep merchants for having badly shepherded the sheep. He took it and put it back in the temple treasury. It's almost as if this disciple was the bad shepherd and the one sold is the good guy...makes a man think.

What's more, it is rumored that this Jesus knew about Judas' plot ahead of time, but walked right into the trap anyway. Now anyone who could heal the lame and blind and even return people from the dead would have known what he was doing. Isaiah the prophet talks about the leader of Israel "going as a sheep to the slaughter," and giving his back to those who strike and his cheek to those who pull out the beard…maybe...makes a man think.

And it is said that he told his followers ahead of time that they would desert him (which they did,) quoting this scripture: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered." Now this comes again from Zechariah in which God Himself strikes the shepherd of Israel for being a bad shepherd. But this man wasn't the bad guy. Or was he putting himself forward as some sort of sacrificial lamb or something? It makes me think of Isaiah again. And then, he goes right to where he always goes, like he doesn't even care he is walking into Judas' trap, when Judas comes with the temple guards and a mob of thugs one of Jesus' followers fights back—and Jesus stops him. Sounds dumb, but the idea of not returning violence for violence is clear in the prophets, I can't cite you passages off the top of my head, but I assure you it’s there.

And then you know what Judas did? Seems almost poetic justice, but there is more. They say he went out and hanged himself. King David had a friend who betrayed him and then hanged himself over it. Makes you wonder about just who this man Jesus really was! And the temple authorities (I saw this with my own eyes) bought the field of a potter as a cemetery for foreigners. Blood money it was, and now it is even more so. What is it about this guy that the story just won't quit?

Now this, however, is the really spooky part. Jesus reportedly told one of his other followers, one Peter, that he would betray him three times before the rooster crowed. I was in the courtyard, I saw it happen. The maid questioned him, and then another guy, and then the maid again. Each time Peter said he didn't know Jesus (the one he said he wouldn't desert!) And then, as if on cue, the rooster crowed.

And then, the temple authorities got the clearance to have him crucified. And Pilate put that mocking title on the cross, "This is the King of the Jews," as if the Romans weren't cruel enough, but had to rub it in, as if to say, "This is what we will do to anyone who claims to be King of the Jews." So much for liberation from Rome—but then why all these signs?

And then Jesus died really suddenly, and the temple, the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies ripped from top to bottom. You know what that means? The holy place is essentially desecrated. Anyone can just look in there on the most holy things. It wasn't any trick of human action. That veil is really thick, it's 10 meters high, and it ripped from top to bottom, as if God Himself was ripping it. This man predicted that the temple would be destroyed, maybe it has already started.

Then it was dark in the middle of the day for three hours. The last time something like that happened the Israelites were at war in the desert, and as long as Moses held his hands in the air the sun did not set, so that two men had to hold his hands up so that we could win. Makes you wonder just who won the final play now, Jesus or Pilate.

And then the ground shook and the graves of holy men of old have been opened and there are no bones inside. It's as if they have been raised to life by this man's death. You know, the guy is supposed to have predicted that he would die and rise again in 3 days, so the temple authorities have asked for a guard to seal and guard the tomb until the day after tomorrow. But in view of it all, you just wonder how much power a Roman guard and seal can have with such a man. If the man said he was coming back and all this has happened, who’s to stop him?

You line the pieces up and connect the dots...and it just leaves you wondering.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rod and Staff

Lent 4, April 3, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Psalm 23 is one of the most well-known passage of Scripture. It is used almost universally at funerals! Appropriate as it may be for funerals, it has something to say to us today as well, on this 4th Sunday of Lent. In contrast to today, originally it is believed that it was probably used as a psalm of thanksgiving. It was probably used at a feast or dinner party thrown by a worshipper who has made a thanksgiving offering to the Lord in the temple, and has gathered later together with family and friends to share in the meal provided by the sacrificial animal.

What does Psalm 23 have to say to us on this day, the 4th Sunday of Lent? Let’s look at the images and the flow of this beloved psalm.

There are two primary images in this psalm. Throughout the Old Testament a shepherd is an image for a king. A good king was supposed to provide for and protect his people, as a shepherd is supposed to provide for and protect his flock. David, a good king, is called the Shepherd of Israel, and in Ezekiel the prophet rails against the shepherds of the people that instead of protecting and feeding, consume and scatter the flock. Bad times come on the life of the flock when the shepherd is hardly distinguishable from the wolf!

Verses 2 and 3 tell us how the Lord is shepherd. The phrase, "He revives my soul," can be perhaps better translated, "He keeps me alive." He provides those things which a sheep needs to stay healthy and thrive: He provides pasture in which the sheep can feed,

He provides water that they can drink, and he provides a safe place for them to rest. He does so "for His name sake," that is, because it is of His nature to do so. It comes naturally. For us Christians, Jesus tells us in John 10 that He is the fulfillment of what even David pre-figured. It reminds us that in His death and resurrection He cares for us in ways no earthly king or shepherd ever could, and that in the life of the Church we have all that we need to be part of Jesus' flock.

The scene shifts in the last part of the psalm to the scene of host. The language shifts from third person to second. Now, as the worshipper is host to his family and friends, he reminds himself and all present that really God is the host, and he is the guest, provided for in the presence of threat (enemies) who, because of God's presence, are rendered harmless. The word, "follow" in vs. 6 is better translated, "pursue." God's goodness and mercy shall pursue the worshipper, as he dwells in the presence of God forever. God the heavenly host actively engages us, tries hard to get our attention, seeks to impinge upon our lives. God wants us!

It seems that in all the psalms of Lent there is a hinge, a turning point at which we turn from adoration to a more Lenten theme. In this psalm such a point also exists. You may have wondered why the psalmist talks about the shepherd's rod and staff. We normally think about the shepherd's crook by which he can pull wayward sheep back into the flock.

But that dates from the Middle Ages. This is a more ancient, and perhaps less accessible image. Arnobius the Younger, a bishop of the 5th century in Gaul, is known mainly for his commentary on the Psalms. He writes, “He has a rod by which he warns the delinquent ones. He has a staff by which he succors the penitent.” I remember hearing a meditation on this psalm that keyed off that little image of the rod and staff. The author drew out that little distinction and then said, "Lord, please, a little less rod and a little more staff!" And that is the significance of this Psalm on this Sunday.

4th Sunday of Lent traditionally called "Mothering Sunday." It comes from the traditional Roman Catholic lectionary that assigned to this day the Gospel lesson about the true mother, sisters and brothers of Christ to be the ones that keeps His word. We are brothers and sisters of Christ, and the church is the mother of the Christian, that nurtures him or her in the life of grace. The lectionary has changed and we did not read that Gospel lesson, but this Psalm is very fitting. Again, Arnobius the Younger writes, “We have in the previous psalm the tribulation of the passion. In this one let us receive the joy of the resurrection.” There is a shift today. The focus is not so much on the disciplines of Lent but on their end, the light of Easter is just beginning to dawn on the liturgical horizon.

Today we shift from rod to staff. Lord, a little less rod and a little more staff! I am hoping that for you who are participating in our Lenten program this year. You will find that it offers some of each. If you are doing the Love Dare there is some rod. It is not always easy to do what will enhance your marriage. It will challenge your ways of being and doing. But there is also some staff. There is the response of your spouse, the enhanced love and respect you have for one another, and the beauty of renewal. The same applies if you are doing the Fireproof Your Life program. There will be the disciplines of a more orderly lifestyle patterned on your faith, and there will also be the joys of a clearer mind, conscience and perhaps even calendar!

For those of you who are not, the same principle applies. The disciplines of Lent are not meant to beat you down. You are not merely scum on which the Prince of Heaven deigns to honor you by placing his divine foot on your neck. They are meant to make you a better person and a better Christian, better able to live the meaning of your faith in this world, better able to share in the redemption of your world.

The substance of the Christian hope is this: As surely as Easter follows Good Friday, rod will always be followed by staff.

A Promise Sure

Lent 5, April 10, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Psalm 130 is a Psalm of ascent. It was used procession up to the Temple. It may sound a little strange for that use, exclaiming as it does one's dereliction before the Lord, but though the psalm starts in the depths, the end of where it is going is reflected in the first word: Out. It is out of the depths that the psalmist has come. It makes it especially appropriate this 5th Sunday of Lent. Next week begins Holy Week. It is the celebration of Jesus' descent to the depths, and His victorious rise to the very heights of heaven.

The Psalm again has two great themes. The first one draws its power from the experience of the Exodus. In the exodus when the Hebrews stood with the Red Sea blocking their escape from Egypt, and Pharaoh’s army bearing down behind them, they were in the depths of despair. They were too weak to stand up to Pharaoh,

So the only way forward was into the waters, the waters that to them symbolized death, destruction and chaos. It seemed surely a lose-lose situation. It was out of that place that God brought them into a new day.

As expressed by this psalm, then, it describes by extension the experience of the guilty soul. Our guilt puts us in the depths, for if the Lord were to note what we have done, what hope would there be? It is only because we know the Lord heard the cries of the Hebrews in the depths and delivered them that we can conceive of crying out to Him in our distress.

The second one is in the last verse. It is a hope claimed even though it is not yet fully realized. It is in that sense what theologians call an eschatological hope, for it hopes for a new day, a new dawn, the fullness of redemption.

The Lenten hinge-point in this psalm is in vs. 4. Waiting is what one does when one is in one place and needs to be in another, be it between Pharaoh and the other side of the Red Sea, or between one's guilt and one's forgiveness, or between the limitedness of this world and the limitlessness of the next.

It is in one sense the place of the Christian. Jesus said we are in the world but not of it. The Gospel Lesson gives us multiple images of it. We are like the on-looking Jews, blind to the reality of God's resurrection power, yet about to be confronted by it. We are like Mary and Martha, mourning the death of their brother and protector, yet soon to be restored to joy. We are like Lazarus, dead to this world, but soon to be alive in Christ. We are, in short, in the depths, yet we have hope not to remain there, we wait with yearning, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

The hidden treasure for us here is in the tense of the verb in vs. 7. The psalmist does not say, "With him there will be plenteous redemption,” but "With him there is plenteous redemption." It is as if the promise of redemption is not entirely in the future, though it is not entirely realized yet either. As in so many other places in the Psalms the author claims the reality of the promise as a present reality even in the midst of the darkness.

This is the beauty and power of an eschatological hope. It transcends time and space, because the hope is ultimately located in God, who transcends time and space. So as the writer of the Hebrews tells us, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the willingness to live now as if the promise is as good as delivered, a little bit of heaven lived while yet on earth, an in-breaking of celestial life and health into the brokenness of our world. Our waiting is not just for something that is entirely yet to come, it is a waiting for the full revelation of what we already have received.

So now as we approach the whole drama of Holy Week, how, then, shall we live? We know from Palm Sunday what the secret ending will be. We can freely mourn on Good Friday because we know Easter Sunday cannot be prevented. We can do so with renewed hope. It is tempting to think that the assurance of forgiveness cheapens our confession, but that is to miss the point entirely. The person who knows he can swim need not fear the deep water. The sinner who knows he is forgiven need not fear the depths of the whole raw truth of his guilt. Precisely because we are assured of forgiveness can we be fully honest with our sinfulness.

So I challenge you to be fearless. In your marriage, in your friendships, in your work and in your play, fear not the depths. Be honest and present, be clear and engaged, be thoughtful, intentional even at the risk of being wrong, for you know from the beginning that you have a friendship with God.

In your politics and in your economics, fear not the depths. Read the opposition with an open mind. Talk openly with someone with whom you disagree. Consider the ethics of your dollars and your votes, for you know from the beginning what is the end of all earthly kingdoms.

In this last week of Lent, fear not the depths. Confess your sins bravely and completely, plunge to the depths of the ways you are breaking your world rather than fixing it, dive to the bottom of the murk of your noisy, addicted patterns, wade through the muck and the mire, for you know from the beginning what is the end.

We cry out from the depths because we know we are already heard.

Ode to Nimrod, a Ballad

An owl’s quick wing-beat silent as light

Sent two fledgling hawks out into the night

Orphaned and destitute, baby-fat carried

Them out into nothing but hunger’s hard bite.

They wandered far past the nest’s comforting view

Searched for anything edible, searched for the clue

That their parents’ short lives had endeavored to show,

How their powerful feet held the promise of food.

And nothing but thorns and mesquite and hot sand,

‘Til a kind-hearted human reached out his skilled hand,

And carried the two to his home’s bounty high,

Unrecognized hope buoyed their thin bellies’ band.

A phone call conveyed the news far, far away,

And another skilled human was soon on his way.

One’s world changed forever, in lands to the north,

But his brother soon languished and in the dust lay.

Nimrod was eager to do what induced

The man to produce a rich morsel of food.

He learned to come quickly to glove, lure and perch,

And to tolerate dogs, cars, TV and the hood.

Soon free again, flying along with his team

Of human and dogs and a beating stick lean,

He played at the game of hunting his prey,

And practiced his wing-beats from glove and high beam.

One day when the wind was especially strong,

A burst of it drove him all tumbling along,

Into a fence where starvation-weak bones,

Broke quickly and crippled his powerful toes.

The man’s friendly cohort and hunting companion

Was also skill-handed as veterinarian.

Soon the snapped bone was trussed up in a brace,

With two months of tedious recuperation.

Then six months of fat and full lazy days

Saw baby-hawk feathers soon all replaced

With noble clean feathers of nature’s full force

Of just what a Harris’ hawk’s world has to face.

New on his wings, and quick with his feet,

September’s winds saw him launching so fleet,

To learn the full force of a hawk’s fierce-some flight,

And to catch and to kill, to tear and to eat.

The chill of fall promises cold winter rains,

The speed of his wings and his quick-footed gains

A promise of greatness, deep from within,

To high-flying glory sometime to attain.

He learned to catch grasshoppers quick in the air,

He learned to catch rabbits and mice with great flare.

Ducks would dive back to the safety of ponds,

He even once chased a fleet-running deer.

He also re-challenged the owl’s darkest hours,

And pulled noisy grackles from roosts in great hordes,

A spot-light on pigeons ensconced under bridges

Directed his flight to their grey cement towers.

One day when the human, the dogs and our star

Had not managed to roust any prey near or far,

To satisfy urges to kill and to eat

Took our hero again to the pigeons’ high lair.

The first one would surely have flown free and clear

But the hawk turned and snagged it aloft in mid-air.

The second one also soon tumbled to ground,

In ten minutes’ time twice victorious he fared.

One last pigeon remained, and instead of retreat,

The human’s desire for an e’en greater feat

Pitched the hawk against darkness and cold springtime wind.

The pigeon dodged quickly and sealed the defeat.

Battle-trance thoughtlessness quickened the hawk’s gait,

Like the owl of his youth he drove hard in pursuit.

And the air turned him upward and into the way

Of an oncoming motorist servant of fate.

The man hoped against hope that the hawk had gone high

And managed to top the oncoming car’s flight.

But no quick show of wings, no motion at all,

So he climbed up the bank to find tragedy nigh.

The broken and twisted remains of his friend

Lay hard on the pavement too still and too bent.

He picked up the remains of a promise cut short

And quickly drove home before tears stained his hand.

In good time the brave hunter was laid to his rest

On the ranch where he reclaimed his raptor’s bequest.

On twice-borrowed time, he had thrice challenged fate,

And to the risk taken had given his best.

His grave received softly his human’s hard grief

Shared on the shoulders of two friends’ belief

That all things that are done in this world below

Will in God’s endless tapestry come to relief.

pm, 4-5-2011