Today’s lesson from Daniel is the tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that seemed so fantastical in childhood. As an adult, I have to wonder, “Why risk being hurled into a fiery furnace when you could just pretend to worship the golden calf?” The unfortunate truth is that it’s rarely the most attractive option. The passage commands us to leave the safety and security of where we are. To be strong. To risk being unpopular. And even to suffer. Examples abound.
Lent is a time of reflection and absolution of one’s sins; however, the forgiving of sins is only accomplished through faith in the Lord and acceptance of Christ’s words as those of God. These three passages poignantly speak to elements of the Lenten “contemplative process.”
In John, scribes and Pharisees bring before Jesus an adulterous woman. Rather than condemn her, Jesus defends her as he says to those who brought her, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And all the men walked away and Jesus bid her to go and not sin again.
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Today’s Gospel reading is perhaps understood best in the context of the preceding chapters. John announces the Incarnation immediately, and then throughout his early chapters illustrates Jesus’ dual nature as both God and man. In John, Jesus announces that he is the Messiah, that he has come to save the world, and that we must be reborn of the spirit through him. Since he is also Joseph the carpenter’s son and he breaks the Sabbath laws, his claim to be from God confuses most and threatens many.
“Membership has its privileges; membership has its price.” These words from a sermon this past year accurately portray faith’s dual nature. The price of faith is the constant testing we must overcome in our daily existence. I have experienced many tests in my relatively short lifetime: unemployment, betrayal, rejection and the difficulty of forgiving those who have trespassed against me. After my adult baptism, I had hoped the testing would abate. No such luck.
“Almighty and most merciful God, drive from us all weakness…”
Obedience, never a word with which I am particularly comfortable, is what is asked for. God has made a promise to Abraham that he will give us eternal life, greater than anything that we can imagine, if we obey him.
The people of Israel following Moses through the desert had a very difficult time grasping this concept. Even after the parting of the Red Sea and the manna and the other marvels that God performed, they greedily disregarded these acts of love. They took it for granted and wanted more.
In today’s lessons we read of the constant theme of all Jewish and Christian history: the relationship between God and his people. In Isaiah we witness the people of Israel hearing of the faithfulness of God, but responding that “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” The Lord responds to the servants unfaithfulness with continued faithfulness: “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
Earth changes…mountains shake…rivers roar.” Amidst the uproar, Psalm 46 says: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
What a juxtaposition of thought — strength and refuge! We need the church to provide spiritual shelter and protection from distress. Yet, a comforting place to retreat from “the troubles of the world” is only part of what we need. Today’s lessons challenge us to balance our need for refuge with strength of mind and body, enabling us to do God’s will in the world.
God, you have taught us through your son Jesus Christ that a prophet has no honor in his native place. Let me honor you, though my heart has been a native place to you; since a child, I have known you through Baptism and the Sacraments.
I have always been sure of my motivation to be baptized, and sure of my motivation to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church and once there to become an acolyte and serve on various committees. But do I sometimes push aside the fact that I wish to glorify him in all these things, and instead wallow in the warmth of self-importance? Do I sometimes yield to the temptation of thinking, as the Pharisee in the Temple, that I’m better than the person next to me on the subway because I’m so involved in the life of my church?