Thursday, February 26, 2009

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Titus 2:1-15
4Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

9Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Parts of Paul’s letter to Titus sounds dreadfully old-fashioned. Train the young women to be subject to their husbands. Teach the slaves to be good slaves.

Other parts seem profound, “We wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ….”

What do we do with this? Do we ignore it, or do we dig deeply enough to find out what kind of society Paul wanted Titus to reach?

We Americans are near sighted. We have cultural myopia. We need cultural glasses. We forget that in much of the world, men rule over women. We forget that there are probably more slaves or essentially enslaved people than at any time in that past few hundred years. What kind of missionary has any hope of reaching these peoples and bringing the good news?

Paul seems to believe that our present state, whether male or female, master or slave, is not particularly important compared to showing the power, love and attractiveness of Christ.

Does this mean that he thinks Christians should ignore inequality, injustice, oppression, sexism, and the like? Probably not, since in other writings he offers that in Christ there is neither male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free. And in a very personal letter, (Philemon), he urges that a slave be freed.

We have the luxury of living in a world with 2000 years of Church history, and church power. Paul was writing to people who might be executed if they raised too high a profile. Paul is writing to a new pastor, who is pastoring new believers, in a place where they are a very small minority.

Context is critical. Paul may hope for more for Titus little church. But right now he is trying to keep them growing, developing, and becoming a witness to others in their culture. Perhaps he knows that as people seek to be good and serve Jesus, that the Holy Spirit can convict, convince, and change them even more than they would believe possible.

In our own day, who are the people we must first understand culturally in order to share Christ with them? Do you pray for them? Will you pray for them? Do you ask God to transform their culture? Do you think they might see some of our culture's sicknesses and be asking God to transform us as well?

May our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness, purify us and make us a people that are his very own; eager to do what is good. Let us seek to influence others, walking by Jesus example of charity, humility, and peace. Amen.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

"Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return."

I had the privilege of being with a parishioner at a funeral home yesterday. It was a reminder that Ash Wednesday, the day we discover that we are but dust, comes to all of us.

Later, before the final Ash Wednesday service, while I was sitting, trying to prepare myself I read this in the 5th Chapter of 2nd Corinthians, the chapter that precedes yesterday's Ash Wednesday reading.

2 Corinthians 5:1-3
" 1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. "

I love the image of my body as a tent. I have an old tent in the garage. It still works, but it shows lots of wear, and there will be a day when it can no longer hold anyone.

My body will someday no longer be able to hold me. At that point St. Paul says I will get a body that has been shaped to live in the continuous presence of the living God.

So, what do I do with the tent I live in now? Do I leave my trash on the tent floor, do I relieve myself in the tent, do I let the dirt and grime accumulate? Or do I sweep the tent, throw away the trash, and cleanse myself?

Lent is the chance to come clean. A chance to confess to God, and perhaps to our priest, to a 12 step sponsor, to a trusted confidant, our sins, seeking pardon from God, and amendment of life.

While we have these old tents, let's use this Lent to sweep them clean.

Finally, let's remember that we have a guest who lives in this tent with us, and that our guest is with us wherever we are. Paul says the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our heavenly dwelling. He means that Holy Spirit came into us when we were baptized, when we accepted Christ, and that He is with us. So when we get ready to clean the tent, we have a partner who will help, who will show us what to throw away, and give us the strength to do so.

Come Holy Ghost and help me sweep this old tent. Blow new life in through the window and the door flaps. And when this old tent fall apart, carry me to that new land. Amen.