Sunday, March 12, 2006

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B, March 12, 2006

In the name of the God the Creator, Jesus the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer. AMEN.

We live in such an affluent world in the United States. We have riches vastly above our needs. Even those of us not rich by the standards of the United States are wealthy beyond belief when compared to most of the rest of the world. And yet as a nation we seem no happier than anyone else and perhaps less content that in our past. In fact, in many ways we seem even more miserable. Suicide rates continue to rise. It seems obvious to me that material things, very nice in and of themselves are ultimately useless in bringing spiritual satisfaction in our lives.

The Gospel today points to a radically different way of viewing the world. The Gospel warns that gaining the whole world is not the answer. Materialism is a dead end. Jesus teaches the path of self-denial. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This is what we are called to do. Deny ourselves. There are many ways we can practice self-denial. During Lent many Christians choose to practice self-denial for a period of time. But I think that the self-denial that Jesus speaks of here is a much different thing. This kind of self-denial is the kind that says that others needs are more important than my own. It is the self-denial that allows us to bring food for our food basket to share with those whose needs are greater than our own. It is the kind of self-denial that gives up an hour on Sunday once a month to participate in our new service at Wesley. It is the kind of self-denial that causes us to donate our change to the UTO box. It is the kind of self-denial that allows us to give more to others even when that means that we have less for ourselves.

This is not an easy thing to do. Our society tells us to look out for number one. We are taught that we must have more and more to be satisfied. We learn to gratify ourselves with credit cards and loans. We choose to live lifestyles that we cannot afford.

Jesus shows us the path to follow. A path that is much different. When Jesus stated plainly his path was to his death, Peter tried to rebuke him. The death of his leader was certainly not in Peter’s plan. And yet Jesus chastised Peter for having set his mind on human things rather than divine things.

It is the focus on the divine that Jesus calls us to follow. A focus on the divine is a call to deny ourselves and our own self-centered plans. As Jesus pointed out it is of no use to gain the whole world if at the same time you are loosing your life. We see way too much of that in our society today. People who will neglect family for work and money. People who trade everything for a career. People end up wealthy beyond my wildest imagination and yet they have lost themselves. When they finally have it all they look around and are still unfulfilled and unsatisfied with their life. This is a human tragedy.

We bring this tragedy upon ourselves when we try to fulfill our lives without God. Too many people try and replace God with things in their lives. While these things can take the place of God in our lives they will never be fulfilling.

We were created to be in relationship with the holy. If we are not there will always be a void in our lives. We can try to fill that void with material things but that can never quite completely meet that relationship need.

Lent affords us an excellent time to look fresh at this aspect in our lives. How have we responded to the need for the holy in our lives? Self examination is a good thing and Lent reminds us again of this important duty to ourselves and to God.

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