Preached at South Wedge Mission
Rochester, New York
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church
Webster, New York
Third Sunday in Lent
3 March 2013
Day Texts: Isaiah 55.1-9
1 Corinthians 10.1-13
-“Why do you spend your money for that whcih is not bread, and your labor for that whcih does not satisfy?”
-These exact words jack-hammered into my brain as the dentists’ drill descended into my teeth to seal the first of thirteen cavities. Why, exactly, have I been pouring my spare change and my appetite into Coca-Cola, and Dr Pepper, and French Fries, and Starbucks Iced Chai - with soy mind you! - when all they will bring me is further craving, increasingly uncontrollable and distorted desire, and an empty wallet?
-Strange as it might seem, much of my spiritual nourishment this Lent as come from journeying with the Buddha. I’m still a firm believer in the salfivific power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the Trinity, etc etc. But I like to imagine that, every time I attain an insight via the dharma into the fullness of the shalom of salvation, somewhere in the infinitude of the cosmos, the Buddha and Jesus are giving each other the ol’ high-five.
-See, Buddha, along with many Christian contemplative monastic masters like St. Anthony of the desert, St Gregory of Palamas, St John of the Cross, and so forth, taught that the first step towards living fully in God - and also, btw, cavity-free! - was to enter into a struggle for right appetite and desire. Namely, towards sensual things. Towards food items of various sorts. Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn, who I had the honor of meditating with when I lived in Denver, has this to say:
Much of our suffering comes from not eating mindfully. We have to learn ways to eat that preserve the health and well-being of our body and our spirit. When we smoke, drink, or consume toxins, we are eating our own lungs, livers and heart. If we have children and do these things, we are eating our chilldrens’ flesh. Our children need us to be healthy and strong.
-Now look. I’m no about to go imposing unneccesary or unreasonable dietary standards on anyone. We are loved and claimed by God because of the cross of Christ, regardless of who we are, or what we eat. Period. End of story.
-And yet, I cannot help but be compelled by the logic of our Buddhist brothers and sisters. The more I study their works and pray their prayers, the more I am convicted. That spiritual practices - like Lent, for example - are given to us. As gifts of our baptism. Not to make us miserable, or to lead us into times of mortification. But are in fact presents. Gifts. Guideposts. That lead us into a more healthy, a fresher, a more full and “shalom”-orietned way of being in the world. A pathway to walking in the light, as He is in the light. Not just to say “don’t be bad.” But also, as an offering. “Try this. Be alive.”
-See, the prophet Isaiah doesn’t just exhort us today to avoid messing up or dying. So much of our culture is fear-based like that. Just drive down Ridge Road or 490 and see all the billboards promising us a better future, or, at least, a more protected one. No, Isaiah says, quite clearly: “incline your ear and come to me; listen, so that you might live.” It seems to me that Isaiah is proclaiming a different way to God than just “not messing up.” Than just “ be pure and holy and a good moral example.” Isaiah, like the Buddhists, is calling us to a different way of being. A pro-active way of being. A way that is not just putting off or avoiding death. A way that is actively cultivating, seeking, and living, an abundantly life. God’s promised new creation. Here and now.
-I don’t know about you, but I desperately want such a new creation. I don’t have a baker’s dozen cavities for no reason. If you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced living life controlled - dare I say, enslaved - by some compulsion or other. Deceived by the false promise that, somehow, fulflling this desire or want instantaneously will, miraculously, fulfill your longing, your craving, your deep-yet-deranged desire, completely.
-And maybe it doesn’t take the form of food or appetite. Maybe its that needling in your mind that says to take on just one more 60 hour week. Maybe it says to suspend your deepest ethical values just one more time so that the company may flourish - and with it, your vested stock options. Maybe it begs you to give up just a little of whatever you hold dear. Because safety, and success, and security, are worth the price of your integrity.
-And yet, as Isaiah the prophet of two millennia ago proclaims, this will not satisfy. Because, in the end, we live this basic lie. That somehow, we need to pay for and climb towards and even compete for a prize which has always already been given to us, free of charge. Listen to these insane words of the prophet:
-“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
-See, God is calling all people to come, and simply receive. Not to manipulate. Not even to consume, in order to “support the economy” or increase GDP or prevent a fiscal-cliff or whatever. God does not sequester God’s abundant gifts from God’s people. God subverts the dynamics of sensible human economy, saying “my gifts are free and for all, and especially for those who are most needy. For those who recognize, rich or poor, that they are nothing and cannot survive without me.”
-For someone enslaved to their compulsions and their fears - someone like me - this is very good news. Because, see, it means that God is not primarily concerned with what we give up. The God of Lent, the God of Jesus Christ in the wilderness, is less concerned with making us miserable through fasting. Instead, the God who is Incarnate in Jesus Christ and who speaks by the Spirit through the prophets, also cares deeply about our health. Our wholeness. Our freshness. Our being-alive.
-The God of the universe is not in this thing to make us miserable. This God goes to the cross in Jesus Christ, shedding Godself of health, wholeness and community, taking only bitter vinegar wine as God hangs from the cross, so that we as humans might be given a new heart capable of living into the fullness, the SHALOM, the new creation, of a world where God is king. Where we no longer have to believe the lies of compulsions that lead us to spend our time, our money, our best selves on that which does not satisfy. A world where there truly is enough for all. And where the promise of abundance surpasses our wildest dreams and deepest understandings.
-When I served my internship in Denver, I had the privilege of being in community with a number of alcoholics. I was always amazed to hear their testimony converge upon a single moment of clarity. A moment in which they recognized: “I can have a better life, starting today.” A life where we are not merely controlled by compulsion, but drawn by desire. A desire for the very marrow of life, transfigured by the Spirit of the Living God, to drink deeply of the goodness of creation. See, we fast in Lent and in all times, not to deny the evils of the flesh, but to remind ourselves of just how powerful the pleasures of the present life can be.
-And its all free. Not a result of the money we make, or the justice we do, or the good person we strive to be. Its a free gift. Given when we realize that we are unhealthy slaves to compulsion, and we know we need help to be something different. Given when the dentists’ drill bores down on the first of many fillings. Given freely, to those who trust the Word of God that indeed, we are beloved children of the Creator of the Universe, given every good and perfect gift of a loving parent, who longs that we be, not just holy, but also whole, and healthy. Fully alive. And so, fully capable of experiencing the joy of gratitude, thanksiging, and peace.
-Come, all who are without the money of achievement. Whose dreams have failed. Whose good intentions have left them bankrupt. Come those with addictions and compulsions. Come, all those in the universe - ALL those in the universe - who have been claimed by the cross of Christ to receive the gifts of God for the children of God. Come, and discover the freshness, the healthiness, the wholeness, which is the free, the unshakable, the unquenchable savor of the love of God, in Christ Jesus, through the Holy Spirit.