Monday, March 5, 2012

March 4, 2012 Reflection by Rev. David Boyd

Second Sunday in Lent

I was out for coffee on Shrove Tuesday and the server asked if I'd like something sweet with my coffee. I made some joke about it being Fat Tuesday and that I'd better get in eating sweets for I'll have to swear off them for the 6 weeks of Lent. I haven't really given up sweets for Lent, but I was trying to be clever. The lesson is always that when you're trying to be clever, it usually backfires—at least it does for me. The server, without missing a beat, asked me what Shrove Tuesday and Lent were. I mumbled something about a religious observance in the Christian tradition.
It was an illustrative moment that showed my own illusions and perhaps pointed to the illusions under which we operate as a society. I thought of that brief encounter with the server as I read again about Peter rebuking Jesus, trying desperately to hold onto his illusions about Jesus, about life, about the Romans, about death, about many things. Jesus' rebuke of Peter was a rebuke of the illusions that Peter held onto so tightly.
One of the things that Lent invites, and indeed our religious tradition invites, is that we are called to move beyond our illusions. Jesus didn't reject Peter, but he rejected the illusions under which Peter was operating. Peter didn't think it appropriate that Jesus undergo the great suffering that he predicted, or that he be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed by the Romans. Peter saw in Jesus the Messiah, the One who would bring liberation from Rome, freedom from oppression, a new community of peace and equality. Perhaps most of all, Jesus quashed the illusion that we can create peace and equality, love and justice, without suffering, without hard work, without encountering opposition and maybe even rejection.
I know that part of my journey of change and growth these past few years has been a dismantling of illusions I have long held about my own family and my ancestors. I remember learning some years ago about a couple of truths both with respect to my mother's fatherÑmy grandfatherÑand my own father. The truths opened a whole new avenue of thinking for me and some understanding of my own family dynamics and my part in that. I had to die to my illusions in order to discover something of the truth of grace, forgiveness, and new opportunities.
I've spent some time over the years reading something of the wisdom traditions of other religions, and it was gratifying to see that there are a many parallels. One of those parallels that exists in most religious traditions is the idea that sometimes we have to die to what we believe to be true in order to discover and live out a greater truth. Many traditions use the analogy of a seed dying when it goes into the ground and yet springs to life when it busts from the soil as a beautiful plant. There'll be more to say about this when we read a passage in John's gospel about wheat dying in the ground.
One of the great illusions of our time is that we can control every aspect of our lives. Perhaps Peter was pointing to that in his encounter with Jesus. We simply cannot control every aspect of our lives. Things happen; and it isn't about what we deserve or don't deserve. And things don't happen to us because we are supposed to learn something. Things happen and we do learn, but we learn because our worlds might be momentarily shattered or at least cracked, and we have to figure out how we live this new reality. We learn from our challenges in life as well as our joys; we learn because we are open. But, as leadership experts are telling us these days, giving leadership to our own lives means that we seek to live with vision, seeing into the mysteries of life or accepting the mysteries of life; we seek to live with purpose, defining who we are and how our gifts might meet the deep needs of the world; we seek to live with a certain amount of paradox, that life is both and. And the experts tell us this is different than trying to manage our lives, which is about control, where we try to put things back to the way they were before. We can never go back to the way things were before; too much has changed. We are changed and life is different.
The irony of seeking to deny ourselves, challenge our illusions and grow and change, which seems such an individualistic thing, is that we tap into something larger than ourselves. Challenging our illusions and working to challenge the illusions of our society help us to tap into the basic values that are universal in scope—values of love, community, equality, grace, forgiveness.
In my conversations with people from different cultures and traditions, in some cases countries of origin where persecution has been severe, I discover again and again the deep desire to live with respect and love in a community of people who are equal and equally cherished. True solidarity is setting aside our presumptions about the other and truly meeting the other heart to heart, setting aside what we think is right or wrong, setting aside our illusion that we can control a given outcome. This is love at its most basic level and it invites us to live as fully human beings together in freedom and hope.
There is much more to say, so stay tuned to these Lenten conversations.

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