Saturday, February 28, 2015

I AM...Bread

John 6: 35-40, 44-51
March 1, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

As we turn to scripture this second Sunday of Lent, we shift a bit from last week’s focus. If you remember, last Sunday we joined Moses as he spoke to a burning bush in the desert. God spoke to Moses and called him to go to Pharoah and tell him to set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt. When Moses asked how to name God to the Israelites, God said, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh – I AM that I AM. I will be what I will be.” Now we jump forward to the New Testament, to John’s gospel, to continue to hear those words, “I AM.” Except now the words are spoken by Jesus, and they are in Greek – “ego eime” – I AM.

As we enter the story here in the 6th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus has just fed 5000 people, so they’ve decided to make him their king. He fed them, so they want to make him king, so he’ll keep feeding them. It’s a first century reversal of the politician’s promise of “ a chicken in every pot.” But in this case, he fed them without expecting their votes. And they’ve just had an all you can eat buffet of bread and fish, with doggie bags to take home.

Now they want more. More! Give us this bread always!

So Jesus answers them: John 6:35-40
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."

Jesus shifts the conversation away from their demands and toward the real source of satisfaction – himself. And not only that, he makes use of some rich imagery of Passover, hearkening back to Moses, the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery, and the manna in the wilderness. Because they have been “murmuring” – just like the Israelites did when they complained about God in the wilderness – those Israelites who had been freed from slavery and were now being led by Moses and fed on manna – bread from heaven – God’s provision. Listen for more of God’s word to you in John 6:44-51

No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, "And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

Wednesday night at our Lenten soup and study, we began the evening with fresh, warm bread, just out of the oven. You know, not so hot you can’t hold it in your hand, but warm enough that the butter melts instantly when you spread it on. As we looked at the bread, and smelled it and tasted it, many of us were transported to other places, other times, times in the past when we walked in the door and smelled the bread baking in the oven. There is hardly anything, to my way of thinking, hardly anything, so good as warm bread with real butter. It is so very satisfying.

Most of us have never known real hunger, the kind of hunger that the world’s poorest people face. Most of us have gotten hungry, but we haven’t experienced the grinding pain of true hunger. Many of the people in Jesus time were hungry, often. There were day laborers who made just enough to get by – for one day. There were slaves whose daily bread depended entirely on the good will of their masters. To be invited to a banquet was a wonderful thing – a meal with plenty of food for everyone! So it is understandable, I think, that if Jesus fed us so lavishly yesterday, we’d want him to do it again today. In fact, we’d want him to “give us this bread always.”

It’s also understandable that Jesus would try, once again, to help them understand that he came for more than the lunch rush, more than the blue plate special, or a happy meal. As generous as he was about feeding people, and as glad as he was to go to dinner with them, he had not come to them for gastronomic purposes. So his words are pointing them to another kind of bread, the bread of heaven – not manna – but himself.

It’s easy to draw a connection from Jesus words here to the last supper and his words as he gave them the bread. And I think that is intentional. But the message for the hearers at this point, around the feast of the Passover, and long before Jesus is taken to the cross, is about the passion – the crucifixion. Jesus is drawing parallels from himself to the Passover lamb.

He is using bread as a metaphor for life, for true life, for satisfaction. He himself is the bread that feeds our deepest hunger.

Maybe that deeper hunger, that discontent, is the reason we get so nostalgic about home-baked bread. Time was, everybody ate home-baked bread, because that’s all there was. Then when store-bought sliced bread became available, everybody wanted that. It was the next big thing, the greatest thing since … sliced bread? We are way past that, now. We all want the next big thing – bigger televisions and smaller computers, phones that do everything, even though we don’t make calls on them, more stuff, and someplace to store it, bigger kitchens, better cars.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but anyone whose ridden for long on the street car of desire can tell you that it takes you nowhere. It is more like a bad dream where you are at an all you can eat buffet but you can’t taste any of it and you never feel satisfied. The gnawing hunger for more and better stuff is never satisfied. As we baby boomers have gotten older, more settled, the marketing geniuses have gotten smarter.

Now they don’t just sell us stuff – they sell us experiences:
ziplining in Costa Rica, hiking in the Andes, photography in Kenya, skydiving, cooking, bicycling, gambling, white water rafting – adventures for sale! Plus you can go on silent retreat, or hang out at a Tibetan temple, or work in a rainforest. Your own personal version of “Eat, Pray, Love.”

But if your heart is restless, what do you buy to satisfy it?
If your spirit is hungry, what do you buy to feed it?
Jesus, as you know, is always the answer.
He’s the bread of life – the bread that satisfies. 

You can’t buy Jesus, though many have tried to sell him. You can’t own Jesus, though many would tell you that they do. If you want the bread of life, you just have to show up at the banquet. Jesus is the host there and he is the bread. He said it – “I AM the bread of life.” One of the delights of homebaked bread is that it makes you realize how hungry you are for that satisfying taste, how much you’ve missed it, how you’ve longed for it. So you come to the table, drawn by the aroma of grace, and you join all the other hungry people.

You ask what true satisfaction is, and Jesus answers, “I AM.”
You ask what true love is, and Jesus answers, “I AM.”
You ask what real, true, life is, and Jesus answers, “I AM.”

“I am the bread of life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

What can we say in reply ?
“Give us this bread always.”


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hineni! Here I Am!

Hineni! Here I Am
Exodus 3:1-15
February 18, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am."

5 Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6 He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."

11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

12 He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."

13 But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, "What is his name?' what shall I say to them?"

14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I am has sent me to you.' "

15 God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

אהיה אשר אהיה

If you are of a certain age, this story will evoke a certain set of images. If you are of a certain age, when you hear this story, you will, in your mind’s eye, see Charlton Heston, deep voiced and broad shouldered, standing in front of a burning bush. If you can, rewind that film clip and set it aside.

Imagine, as you hear this story, not Charlton Heston, but someone more Middle Eastern looking. He’s Jewish – more like a muscular Woody Allen than a leading man type. He’s not very self-confident.

He is someone who has struggled with his identity as a member of the ruling household that has enslaved his own people. In other words, his birth parents are the slaves of his adoptive family. Not an easy thing to live with. What’s more he has an uneasy conscience, having murdered an Egyptian and hidden the crime, then fled to the desert. He is a fugitive from Pharoah.

He’s also gone through a major career change, from being the adopted son of the Pharoah’s daughter to herding the sheep of his father in law.
Prince of Egypt to immigrant shepherd.
The guy is a mess.

Even so, when Moses sees this strange sight, a bush that is burning, but the flames do not consume it, and hears a voice speaking to him from the bush, calling his name, “Moses! Moses!” he answers simply, “Hineni! Here I am!” It is the answer you give when God calls your name. Abraham answered, “Hineni! Here I am!” So did Esau, and Jacob, and Joseph and Samuel. And now, Moses, alone, out in the desert, no one to talk to but sheep, answers the same. God instructs him to take off his shoes. He is on holy ground, standing in the presence of God.

The first introduction is lengthy:
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

There is no mistaking the source of this voice calling to Moses. And there’s no mistaking the purpose of this conversation. God has heard the cries of the enslaved Israelites; they will be delivered out of slavery, and into freedom, out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses will be their leader. He will be the one to confront Pharaoh. He will go to Pharaoh and demand the release of his people. Later in the story, Moses will explain to God how he is unsuited to this occupation, what a terribly bad leader he’d make, what an incompetent public c speaker he is.

But for now, Moses is just impudent enough to question God.
God has already said, “I am the God of your father, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob.”
Moses has the nerve now to say, “Who should I say told me this?”
And God answers.
God says, “I am that I am.
I will be who I will be.”
Tell them that “I AM sent you.”

Think of it, Moses out there, uncertain, afraid, tormented by the question of who he might have been, no more ready to be a hero than you or I would have been. Think of it, really – stop a moment and put yourself there.

In front of you is this bright flame, an angel of some sort, and in your ears ring the words of this voice, speaking from the midst of the flame:

“I AM.”

I AM – it means this voice is not just a voice, but an entity, not something, but someone,
someone who sees you and knows you and wants to be in conversation with you.
The other gods, the gods who are not the god of your father, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Rachel, the other gods demand sacrifice, and threaten punishment. They do not offer covenant, nor relationship.

This God sees you, in the fullness of your being, in all your faulty humanity and strengths and failings, in all your glory and your grief, in all your beauty and your brutishness.

This God knows who you are, and speaks to you, so that you may know this God!

And you know who you are – you know you are not worthy, not smart enough or strong enough and certainly not good enough.

But God sees something different.
God sees the beautiful blessed creation that walked in the garden.
God sees the beloved, exquisite soul made in God’s own image.
God sees the pure spirit that spoke and said, “Hineni, here I am.”
And God says, to you, “I AM that I AM.”

“I will be what I will be.
You can speak to me, you can love me.
I will love you back.
I will know who you are and love you.
I will make a covenant with you, out of that love.
And you can know me, as much as is possible, you can know me.”

In that shimmering, breathtaking moment,
you know that you are connected with all of the universe,
all of the trembling leaves on the trees,
the tiny mouse in her bower of grass,
the lonely goose traversing the sky,
the exalted mountain and the smooth prairie,
the weeping orphan and the dancing bride,
all of them are a part of you and you are a part of all of them,
you are a beast but "you are an angel,
you crawl, but you can fly," (1)
and you have said “Here I am”
to this God who knows you and can be known,
the God who sees and can be seen!

It is the first Sunday in the season of Lent, the first rest stop in a forty day journey of penitence and self-examination. From now until Holy Week, we will travel this road every day except for Sundays since every Sunday is a little Easter. For forty days, still in the gray of winter, yearning for the new life and resurrection of spring, we will examine our choices in light of God’s claim on us.

Many people choose this time to turn their attention more closely to God, to fast from some pleasure that distracts the heart, to feast on some practice that delights the soul. Others commit themselves to acts of mercy and charity, or to disciplines that strengthen body or spirit. Whatever Lenten discipline you choose, whether it be exercise of your body or the exercise of prayer, I implore you to take a moment each day to recognize and rejoice in this amazing and incomprehensible reality we have experienced today, encountering the I AM, seeing and being seen, and responding, “Hineni. Here I am.”

Take a moment each day to recognize your connectedness to all of the universe, your place in the cosmic order, your indestructible bond with God through the covenant, and your connection to all people. Pause a moment to deeply feel that connection and say,

“Hineni! Here I am!”

Then you will hear God’s voice speaking to you, saying
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, 

Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:6-11)

Hineni, O God! Here I am!


(1) Joni Mitchell, "Down to You"

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ash Wednesday Meditation

The I AM
Ash Wednesday Meditation
February 18, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Everybody knows what ashes are.
They’re what is left after the fire burns, what remains after destruction, the leftovers of death. We don’t think of ashes much, unless we have to clean out the fireplace, or if we are at a funeral. You all know the words: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust All of us go down to the grave.”

Ashes are what is left after everything else is destroyed.
Not a very happy thought, really.
Not the kind of symbol most of us care to have in front of us.
Not the kind of thing we want marked on our foreheads.
Not the image we want to see in the mirror.

You can wash them off, of course, and people do that. But symbols are not the reality, and getting rid of that cross of ashes doesn’t make the reality behind it go away. The reality is that we are someday going to die. The hard truth of Ash Wednesday is that it reminds us of limitations, that each one of us has an expiration date. That  isn’t something we like to think about.

But there is good news in these ashes, good news in the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That cross of ashes is good news because it tells us two things: it tells us that we are on this earth for a limited amount of time, and it reminds us to whom we belong. That cross reminds us that we belong to God, through Jesus Christ. The ashes remind us that our time here will end, so it is important to make the days and moments count.

It is important to know who we are and why we are here. Ultimately, who we are is all about to whom we belong. You know, of course, to whom we belong – we belong to God, through Jesus Christ. In this season of Lent, we’ll be looking at stories that help us know God. God said “I AM that I AM” said “I will be who I will be.” Jesus said “I am …” too – then used lots of symbols to help us understand.
Jesus told us,
I am the bread of life
the light of the world
the good shepherd
the true vine
way, truth, life,
the resurrection.

 All these symbols, all these ways to understand, tell us more about who God is, who Jesus is, and so, they tell us who we are. We belong to the great I AM and we were made in the image of God, created for a purpose – to share God’s love and mercy with all people.

The cross on our foreheads can help us consider our own deaths, and so, push us to consider our own lives – to spend our time in the best way we can manage. Because the season of Lent reminds us of our limitations, but it also invites us to conversation,
to imagination, to transformation.

The season of turning and returning is not only about remembering that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. It is about turning our faces toward the God who redeems souls and the God who conquers death, and the God who calls to us saying “Return to me!”

Repent – turn – come back to God, to life, to grace, to hope.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust All of us go down to the grave.
Yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

May this season of Lent, this cross of ashes, stay on your forehead, even after you have washed it off, so that you will seek the joy and goodness in each and every day,
turning away from that which is destructive,
turning toward that which is good,
living each day in the knowledge that you belong to God,
who loves you extravagantly and eternally.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Chariot of Fire

2 Kings 2:1-12
February 15, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

2 Kings 2:1-12
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."

Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be silent."

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on.

Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.

Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha,

"Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you."
Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit."

He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.

At the celebration of the Passover, those gathered for the Seder dinner have four cups in their place settings. Each cup has a particular meaning, and is drunk at a particular time. And at every table, there is also a fifth cup – a cup for Elijah. Elijah was a prophet in about the 9th century BCE, a messenger of God who got into quite a tangle with Queen Jezebel. By the time he was around, Israel had lost the unity of the nation that had prevailed under King Solomon in previous generations. The northern and southern kingdoms were once again divided, and Elijah appeared as if from nowhere, to confront a wicked king.

Now, you remember that the Seder meal, during Passover, which takes place at the same time as our observance of Holy Week, is the annual commemoration in which Jews remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They recall the plagues sent upon the Egyptians, the angel of death passing over their houses, and their miraculous parting of the waters of the Red Sea so they could cross safely into freedom.

Elijah was not part of that story – he came long after Moses and the Pharaoh. But there’s the cup, and the empty place at the table – and after all the prayers have been said, the children go and open the front door for Elijah. Because Elijah is the herald of redemption, of the deliverance of God’s people. When Elijah comes, the next appearance will be the Messiah.

This story of Elijah and Elisha marks the end of Elijah’s presence on the earth, but it is by no means the end of his presence in the Biblical narrative. The time frame is vague so the story takes place in a kind of transitional time and space, at the boundary of one era but not quite in another, neither here nor there – much like this Sunday, as we end one season but are not quite yet in another. The season of Epiphany is past, but Lent has not yet begun.

Elijah’s tenure as prophet of all Israel is ending, but Elisha’s has not quite begun.
So, together, they travel – Elijah and Elisha, from Gilgal, to Bethel, to Jericho, to Jordan.
Three times, Elijah enjoins Elisha to turn back; three times, Elisha refuses –
he will stay with Elijah until the end, whatever that may be.
He will stay with his teacher, his mentor, no matter what.

Twice, the company of prophets warn Elisha of what is going to happen,
“Today, your master is going to be taken away from you.”
Twice, Elisha acknowledges this reality, but also tells them to be silent.
It is as if he knows the truth is too much to bear, too hard to speak of.

At last their journey brings them to the banks of the river Jordan. The river Jordan, the last crossing before the Israelites entered the promised land. The river Jordan, where John the Baptist cried out to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. The river Jordan, where Christ himself would be baptized.

Down by the river, Elijah rolls up his mantle and parts the water. The fifty prophets who had followed them stand back, and watch Elijah and Elisha cross over on the dry land. There, Elijah asks Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." And the plea is, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." Elisha knows that his spiritual father will soon be taken from him. He knows that they stand on the brink of transition, and that the mantle of authority that Elijah once placed on Elisha’s shoulders will now be Elisha’s for good.

So Elisha asks, like a firstborn son would ask, for a double share of the inheritance, a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Even before the chariot of fire descends, even before the whirlwind comes to carry Elijah away, Elisha has seen the luminous quality of Elijah’s spirit. He has seen and known it, and he wants to inherit a portion of it, the right of inheritance of a spiritual son.

A Jewish friend of mine writes,
“According to our Torah, some people shine with more grace than others – however, grace is not some innate quality that people are gifted with, or not. Rather, grace is cultivated by the practice of kindness – and as one practices kindness, our tradition reveals that our face then, shines with the majesty of grace – for ‘heaven will have compassion on those who show compassion to others.’”[1] This is the double portion Elisha yearns for – the double portion of grace.

Elisha’s request is granted when a chariot of fire and horses of fire separate the two of them. As Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven, Elisha kept watching and crying out,
"Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" His grief is likely compounded
by his knowledge of the magnitude of his loss by the way the mantle of Elijah now weighs more heavily on his shoulders. Elisha is now the prophet of all of Israel. Elijah is gone.

This was Elijah, the prophet, the one whose name means, “My God is Lord.”
This is the Elijah who appears at Jesus’ side, with Moses on the other side, when Jesus is transfigured on the mountain top. Here’s the story from Mark 9, the Common English Bible:

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus,

“Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8)

Like Elisha, Peter is overwhelmed by this experience, but unlike Elisha, Peter’s response is not to seek God’s gift to his spirit. No, Peter’s response is to convene a building committee!
God’s voice, speaking from the cloud, asks but one thing: “Listen to him.”

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent begins, the last Sunday before we move into a time of forty days of preparation, forty days of penitence, forty days of recognition of our limitations, forty days acknowledging that the power of death is still in the world, but that the majesty of God’s grace is stronger than evil, stronger than death.

On Wednesday, our foreheads will be marked with ashes, and we will hear the words,
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes remind us of our finitude, our own mortality. Lent reminds us that discipleship is not always easy, and that the chariots of fire and transfiguring moments of glory are uncommon events, while the challenges of life are normal.

Lent reminds us that we are not in control of this world, and that the blessing of our inheritance, like Elisha’s double portion, will come also with grief and sorrow. Like Elisha, like the disciples, we acknowledge that we are helpless in our loss, but that we are also powerful in our compassion, in our willingness to be channels of God’s infinite mercy.

The forty days of Lent are also a time of hope, of waiting, and of preparation, of pouring the cup in readiness for the one who is to come. Elijah, standing at the side of Jesus, up on that mountain, heralds our redemption – promises that the Messiah will come.

These forty days are a microcosm of our life of faith.
We will know difficulty, but we will also know deliverance.
We will know desolation, but we will also know transformation.
We are tempted, like Peter, to build monuments to our experiences of God’s presence with us, tempted to build a sturdy shelter to house our faith and keep it safe from outsiders, from challenges, from change.
But the time is not yet, and we are neither here nor there.

We are not settlers.
We are pilgrims.

The journey continues, even now, from Gilgal, to Bethel, to Jericho, to Jordan, until we cross the Jordan into the promised land, until we see the chariot swinging low, coming to carry us home.

May God’s grace shine through us until that day.


[1] Rabbi Neil Blumofe, FB post on Congregation Agudas Achim page, accessed 021314