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Lent 3 February 28, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 LENT 3  Year C
Exodus 3:1-16; Psalm 63:1-8, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
Christ Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, February 28, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
“If you think you are standing,
watch out that you do not fall.”
A timely warning from Saint Paul.
“If you think you are standing . . .”
Oh my goodness . . .
          or more accurately,
                   Oh my badness . . .
How many times have I thought
I knew a person
or understood a situation
and have acted
only to find out, once again,
          I had it all wrong.
Standing on the shifting sand
of my imperfect perceptions,       
I had once again slipped and fallen.

Lent is a good time
to lower our eyes,
look down at our feet,
and make sure they are firmly planted
          on solid ground.
“If you think you are standing,
watch out that you do not fall.”
Paul reminded the Church in Corinth
of their ancestral history –
the Exodus,
the foundational story
          of God’s chosen people.
Rescued by God from slavery in Egypt
          and brought through the Red Sea;
led by God through the Sinai wilderness
          by a cloud of smoke in the daytime
          and a pillar of fire by night;
given food and drink
          by God
          where none existed,
claimed as God’s own
          by the Covenant God made with them,
God’s chosen people
          knew themselves blessed
                   above all others.

But they presumed upon that blessing,
found God’s providing insufficient,
and violated the Covenant.
They chose to be guided, not by God,
but by their own
          inclinations and assumptions.
Sometimes out of fear,
sometimes out of ignorance,
sometimes out of arrogance, 
sometimes out of frustration,
sometimes out of pride,
they complained,
they questioned,
they doubted,
they turned from the living God
and made themselves a golden calf
          to worship.
They reaped the consequences
of their foolishness,
struck down in the wilderness –
and compounded their folly
by blaming God
for the inevitable consequences
          of their own poor choices.
Would the Corinthians repeat
          this family history,
or would they learn from it?
As followers of Christ
they were being tested every day
by the values of the
pleasure-seeking, self-serving, idolatrous culture
          in which they lived,
values Paul saw
their communal life and practices.
They argued
over whether it was better
          to have been baptized by Paul or Apollos;
over which spiritual gifts were the greatest
          and therefore who had special status in the community;
over a secret and superior knowledge
          claimed by some,      
          on the basis of which they could do
                   pretty much as they pleased.
There was sexual immorality among them.
Their celebration of the Lord’s Supper
          frequently disintegrated
                   into drunkenness and gluttony.
And the list goes on.
They were a mess.

Throughout his first letter to them
Paul took them to task
          for the boasting, jealousy,
                   quarreling and behavior
that threatened their unity
          and distorted their witness.
Watch out,
Paul warned them.
You are being tested.
You assume you are standing
in God’s favor,
but you are in danger of falling.
Stand not on your pride and arrogance
          and your assumption of your own righteousness.
Stand not on your gifts,
          for they are not yours, but given by God.
Stand not on your intellect or your particular piety,
          for you will frequently be in error.
Stand on the rock that is Christ,
the one who will keep you from falling,
          no matter the test.

We tend to think of Lent as a time
for personal introspection,
for that’s how it’s been taught
for a long stretch of the church’s history,
and of course it is that,
but it’s also a time
for communal introspection . . .
On what do we stand,
Christ Church?
“Thank God,”
we might say,
“that we are not like those Israelites
and not like those Corinthians.”
Puts me in mind of a certain parable
which Jesus told,
          as Luke says,
“to some who trusted in themselves
          that they were righteous
and regarded others with contempt:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray,
one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
“The Pharisee . . . was praying thus,
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people:
thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
“But the tax collector . . . would not even look up to heaven,
but was beating his breast and saying,
‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
“I tell you, this man went down to his home justified
          rather than the other;
for all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”      [Luke 18:9-14]
If we are asked
why we come here to Christ Church,
we can name many attractions
and many excellences . . .
many reasons why we
may not be like other churches . . .
A passion for social justice,
two fine and quite different
          Sunday liturgies,
our intimate chapel,
this astonishing building,
          for which awesome is,
          for once, an accurate term,
our reputation for
          superb music,
          excellent visual arts,
          outstanding formation opportunities,
a sense of closeness and caring for one another,
a certain like-mindedness
          we may enjoy . . .

these are things to celebrate, certainly,
we could easily become
about them . . .
there is danger
in all this wonderfulness . . .
The danger of  
          becoming self-satisfied,
thinking that all this is about us,
          when it’s about God.
The danger of assuming
the 10:30 liturgy is somehow better
than the 8 o’clock liturgy . . .
          or vice versa.
The danger that
liturgy, music, art
          may become ends in themselves,
rather than pointing us beyond themselves
                   (and ourselves)
          to the One to whom they are offered.
The danger of allowing our excellences
          to mask our weaknesses,
          so that we can’t see
                    change and transformation
                             may be needed.

The danger that our like-mindedness
          may lead to insularity
                   and a narrow world-view.
The danger that our close community
          may actually seem a closed community
                   to someone seeking a way in.
The danger of forgetting
          that this marvelous constellation
          of gifts,
          (in which we rightly rejoice) . . .
The danger of forgetting
          that all this
          has been assembled and entrusted to us
          by God
          not for us alone,
                   but for the sake of those
                             who have yet to join us,
                   and for the sake of those
                             who will never join us,
                             but whom we must seek out and serve.
Have we fallen into any of these dangers?
I’m not suggesting we have . . .
but whenever we think we are standing
we do well to watch out
          that we do not fall.
The community of the baptized
          is always a work in progress,
just as the baptized individual
          is always a work in progress.
From the time of the Corinthians
until the present day,
our communal story is rife with examples
of what happens
when churches fail
to be honestly self-examining,
          fearlessly self-critiquing.
I find it interesting,
and I hope you do, too,
(as Father Torvend likes to say . . .)
I find it interesting,
and I hope you do, too,
that the Church through the years
has placed so much emphasis
          on the sins of its individual members
                   and each one’s need
                   for self-examination and repentance,
and so little emphasis
          on the sins of the institution itself,
                   and our communal need
                   for self-examination and repentance.

So the annual Lenten return to
          and renewal of
our corporate disciplines,
          worship, study, prayer, service,
          the Scriptures and the Sacraments,
is a welcome opportunity
for us as a community
to turn our eyes
          in humility and gratitude
                   to the ground of our faith,
to see if our communal feet are down there.
Lent proclaims God’s assurance
that we can get real about ourselves
without fear.
For God knows we are tested
by our own weaknesses,
our own foolishness,
our tendency to take God for granted,
our arrogance and pride . . .
God knows we are tested
by the insidious influence of
our own pleasure-seeking, self-serving,
          media-driven, idolatrous culture.

But our long, long story,
all the way back
to our first parents Adam and Eve,
          tells us God is faithful
          even when we are not.
The honesty and humility of Lent
calls us back to our faithful and merciful God
and to God’s Son,
the rock that is Christ.