Posts

Ash Wednesday

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

People muted their cell phones and pocketed their earbuds in the fall 2005 to sit in a packed theater in monkish silence for the premier of Philip Gröning’s three-hour documentary, Into Great Silence.

The movie has almost no dialogue. Into Great Silence follows the life of monks in the Grande Chartreuse monastery hidden away in the French Alps, where they have kept their monastic rule since 1084 when they were founded by St. Bruno. For almost a thousand years, the Carthusian monastics at Grande Chartreuse have searched for God in solitude, practicing “the habit of the tranquil listening of the heart, which, they say, allows God to enter by all paths.”

Gröning originally proposed his idea for the film to the monks in 1984.  The monks said they some wanted time to think about it. 16 years later they invited him to come shoot the movie. Gröning lived at the monastery for a total of six months in 2002 and 2003. He filmed and recorded on his own, using no artificial light. The movie has no spoken commentary or added sound effects. It consists of images and sounds that depict the rhythm of monastic life with occasional selections from Holy Scripture.

The monk’s lives are an experiment.  They live according to God’s declaration in Isaiah: “Listen to me in silence” (41:1) and inspired by Jesus, who “rose long before daybreak and went out alone into the wilderness to pray” (Mark 1:35). They order their lives around radical availability to the present moment, like the child Samuel awake in the night listening for Eli’s call (1 Samuel 3). (Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners)

The world insists that we are what we do and achieve, but silent contemplation invites us to practice under-doing and under-achieving and reminds us of the simple grace and humility of being human.

In these days when, often, we are exhausted, or enraged at the news of the day, or afraid of the social, political, and ecological forces we do not understand, and feel powerless to control; as we work to tighten our grip, put on a smile, and squeeze one more spoonful of sweetness and energy by sheer force of will to greet the new day–if that’s how you feel –then it might be time to let go. Let your hope and strength and wisdom be renewed by God.

This Lent could we let the Holy Spirit show us again how to be human beings, rather than human-doings? If you’re still searching for something to do this Lent, let me suggest you give up words.   Specifically, prayers with words. Instead, listen, like the Carthusian monks do with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.

Can you set aside a minute, three minutes, or five minutes in your daily routine and just let yourself be?  Let yourself go silent in order for the still, small, life-giving Spirit to speak.

19th Century British pastor Alexander Maclaren called it sitting silent before God.  Warmed by the light of God’s grace we pray that our fisted minds and hands may be opened to the compassion and understanding that is truly required to solve difficult problems. That treasure comes from God.

The spiritual disciplines of the Lenten season – prayer, fasting, giving, prayer – these are not designed to leach you of your time and energy. They are meant to help reorient your life in God, and God’s promises. They are meant to refresh and restore you. They are meant to help you breathe again.

Jesus said, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Store up treasure in heaven by releasing grace and love into the world that comes from God. You don’t need to keep going at the pandemic and all the troubles of the world by your own power and strength but let go. Let go of the blizzard of thoughts, and feelings. Let go of your words for God to meet you again, in silence. Amen.

Transfiguration B-21
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

On the mountain of his transfiguration, Peter, James, and John learn something you and I already know. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Son of God.

The Greek word used is metamorphothe and is translated as transfigured, yet it comes closer to expressing something English can’t quite convey. It wants to say something like “changed shape and beingness and allness into some other form thereof,” or some other equally awkward and wordy translation. What happened, in other words and in the fullest sense, was a “metamorphosis,” which again is Greek and again has no good analog in English. (Phyllis Tickle, God’s Politics, Sojourner’s Magazine)

So, what happened on that mountain was like the barrier between heaven and earth, the visible and the invisible, being ripped in two. The heart and character of Christ was revealed to be the same heart and the same character as that of the living God. On this holiday weekend dedicated to loving devotion, you could say the transfiguration was Jesus’ Valentine. Jesus took the disciples aside, dropped all pretense and declared his eternal love for them and for us. “You are not alone. I see you,” God says. “I love you. I have always loved you and will never stop loving you.”
St. Paul quoted lyrics of an early Christian hymn, “though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6-7). This is something like what Jesus revealed on the mountain.

One week before Lent, when, in a normal year we would be sitting down to eat pancakes on ‘Shrove Sunday,’ Mark clarifies the true identity and mission of the Messiah. What an incredible spectacle it was, dazzling to the eye! Yet, apparently, Mark’s gospel does not want us to focus on that. It’s not about what the disciples saw. A bright cloud overshadowed and blinded them. What has been called the cloud of unknowing accompanies the very presence of the living God. It is not penetrable by the human eye, but only by the ear. The disciples could not see but they could hear a voice. A voice speaking from the cloud echoed the command at Jesus’ baptism. It said, “This is my son, the Beloved; and with him I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
Listen to him. From that moment on, the course of history was set, and, in many ways, the church was born. Although they didn’t know it yet, the peaceful transition of power was set into motion that day, from Jesus to the disciples, and now, to us.

Jesus was transfigured but we are transformed. Our beingness and ‘allness’ is changed. We are born again into Christ. The calculus by which we measure wins and losses in our life has widened. Narrow self-interest is no longer enough. Instead, we cheer at the advance of the mission and purposes of God.
On this last Sunday of Epiphany before the beginning of Lent, we stand once again on the threshold. God invites us to cross over. Resurrection is ours on the other side. Let us bravely step into that unknown future illumined by grace and glimpsed only by the ear. Listen to Jesus.

This Lent our theme is listening. I’d like to highlight for you some of the ways we have prepared for you to do that. This Wednesday @ 7:00 pm, we will gather online for Ash Wednesday worship, and for the all the Wednesdays in Lent we will gather at that time for a six-week prayer project called Be Still, and Know, led by intern Justin Perkins. Each week, we will host a half-hour session that will include a short reflection on the roots of “Christian mindfulness” with the opportunity to learn from the example of different historic figures from the past. Sometime the week after next, I invite you to stop by the church grounds for walking meditation inspired by the stations of the cross as conceived by artist, Mary Button in her series entitled, Refugee Journeys. And finally, we will also let our feet be our prayerful response to hunger in our community through a neighborhood appeal for toiletries, personal care items, and cash donations for our local food pantry, Care for Real.

We must not be like the disciple Peter whose words got in the way of the message on the mountain of Christ’s transfiguration. In this time of division and change we must listen. We must listen more than we speak to heal our country and repair the bond between neighbors. We must speak after listening to transform the dread of this pandemic and the fear of social upheaval into hope for a brighter future. We must listen. Listen and pray. Pray without speaking. Learn to pray without words because, sometimes, our words get in the way of what God may be showing us.

Archbishop Oscar Romero was especially devoted to the Transfigured Christ. Unlike the disciples, Romero understood Christ’s passion; he and the people of El Salvador lived it on a daily basis, caught between a civil war and the state-sponsored terrorism that accompanied it. For Romero, the Transfigured Christ gave him confidence that Jesus will triumph over death and despair. The plight of the poor in El Salvador did not allude God’s attention. In a homily three weeks before his assassination by government forces, Romero said, “The theology of transfiguration is saying that the road of redemption passes through the cross and through Calvary, but that the goal of Christians is beyond history. Not to alienate oneself from history, but rather to give more meaning to history, a definitive meaning.” (Michaela Bruzzese, Sojourners)

Jesus moves from transfiguration to the cross and to resurrection. This is the path we walk by listening. We listen to the living Lord to follow Jesus from his rightful place in glory to an embrace the world God so loves. With eyes wide shut and our ears wide open we step into the unknown through faith. Martin Luther put it this way:

“This life, therefore, is not godliness
but the process of becoming godly,
not health but getting well,
not being but becoming,
not rest but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be,
but are on the way.
The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on.
This is not the goal but it is the right road.
At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle,
but everything is being cleansed.”