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Sermons > First Sunday of Pre-Lent

31 Jan 2010

“Be not crushed on their account … They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”  (Jeremiah 1:17b, 19)                    In the name …

Today we begin our remote preparations for all the sacred observances of Holy Week and then finally that joyous proclamation of Easter morn:  “Come rejoice our Lord is risen!”  The church’s season of Pre-Lent is a time for our psychological adjustment.  It’s an abrupt change from talking about Jesus’ birth to suddenly preparing for His death and resurrection.  This is an accident of the calendar that we can do nothing about – except make time to shift gears.  Even the continuation of the Gospel helps to convey this message of a suddenly changed focus.  Last Sunday we read of Jesus’ return to His hometown synagogue in Nazareth, and how He proclaimed to all in attendance, “‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:21)  Today our first verse is the last verse from a week ago.  The connection between the two is intentional.  Today we conclude the story that we began last Sunday.  When we stood last Sunday in the season of Christmas and Epiphany we heard of the nature of Jesus as the Messiah of God, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” said Jesus.  Now that we have made the move into Pre-Lent we continue that same story, but from another perspective.  We now hear of the people’s reaction to Jesus’ self-proclamation that He is the anointed of God. 

Jesus’ old neighbours are incredulous.  They can’t believe what they are hearing from the mouth of Joseph’s son. And now for the first time in Luke we hear the theme that will grow louder and louder as the gospel story moves forward, just as it will grow more and more prominent as we move forward through Pre-Lent and Lent.  The people of Nazareth are infuriated.  They drag Jesus from the synagogue and they attempt to throw Him down from a precipice to His death.  Somehow in the mayhem surrounding this riotous affair Jesus escapes, but none of us can escape from the change of attitude that has taken place in the space between two sentences of the biblical text.  This transition between the proclamation of Jesus’ identity as the Christ, and then the violent reaction that it brings about, captures well the need for Pre-Lent.  This time of transition allows us to catch-up psychologically with the events of Jesus’ life that have moved quickly from themes of birth to death.

It’s too bad that life can’t imitate liturgy when it comes to this theme of being able to step back and slow down.  I can’t help but keep thinking about that young girl Phoebe Prince who committed suicide just a few days back in South Hadley.  She must have felt like she lost control of her life.  Everywhere she went she was defined by other people.  In school there was the harassment.  As she walked home some of her tormentors driving home from school would yell out the window at her and throw drink bottles.  Even her home life was violated by the intrusion of attacks via text messages and Facebook postings.  There was nowhere for her to go to find peace, and when it got so bad that she couldn’t take it any longer she ended it all.  Things had moved so quickly for this young girl that she felt like everything was out of her control.  At that moment she needed the chance to pause and to slow down, to step back and have the chance to find her own bearings.  She needed a sanctuary.

This case has earned national media attention because it’s not isolated to one girl from South Hadley.  It’s also not isolated to the group that tormented her and then gloated over her suicide.  It’s everywhere, both the ones who are hurt and the ones who harm. It was real when I was a kid in school.  It’s real right here at Frontier.  I was speaking with a parent just the other day and one of his or her children actually transferred out of a local elementary school because of the relentless teasing that had to be endured.  This is our reality.  Sharon and I had dinner with another couple a while back.  He doesn’t tolerate humour that comes at another person or group’s expense at all, and his family knows this.  They’re limited to telling him jokes like that of a frog who kept returning books to the library because to each book presented, the frog answered, “Read it, read it.”  And think about it, there aren’t many jokes out there that don’t take somebody else down.  Think back also to the political ads during our recent Senatorial race.  How many of them attacked the opponent rather than stating their own positions?  After a while it became nauseating.  President Obama and the Republicans met this past week in Baltimore.  He asked that political debate refrain from demonizing the opponent because people will begin to believe the rhetoric.  Think about the fact that parents and adults in the stands at high school sports have to be reminded before every single game to be civil to the student-players on the court.  And when I was out blessing houses I was amazed at some of the stories about the violent threats and rudeness that some players verbalize in school-age sports against each other.  This is our reality.  [Ex. of Fr. Rob and language coming from Celtics bench.  Ex. of Washington Wizzards and gun charges.]

Counselors will come in to our schools, and assemblies will be held, and things will get better for a while, but I’m afraid it will come back only because it always has and because it’s a part of the larger world that we have created for ourselves.  And I want to offer a sincere, heart-felt and practical remedy for any of those times when life seems to be out of our control, and when we need to pull back and be able to reorient ourselves.  It’s God.  Jeremiah the prophet was opposed by almost everyone he knew and about everything he said, yet his trust in God gave him a perspective and a confidence that could not be shaken by others.  His faith let him pull back and see his life as valued by God.  I “have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass.”  There is a gift of strength that comes with faith.  There will always be the bullies and the brutish in our world, but in the sanctuary that is God there is the chance to find peace and perspective, to pull back and to see who we are in the eyes of the one who is absolutely unswayed in His opinion of us by the rantings of others, who cherishes who we are and our differences.  There is strength to be found in His sanctuary, a chance to regroup and find comfort, and my prayer is that all of us, especially those who suffer because of the heartlessness of others, that we may actually turn to God in our times of need, loneliness and despair, and in Him find our sanctuary and our chance to pause, recover and heal. For this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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