11 March 2012/Lent 3B - Exodus 20:1-17/1 Corinthians 1:18-25/John 2:13-22
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills
Can You See The Cross?
We currently have seven candidates preparing for Confirmation and Reception. From the earliest days of the Church, Lent has been the time for such preparation. In confirmation and reception one renews and reaffirms the promises made in Baptism – The Baptismal Covenant. At the Easter Vigil we will all renew our Baptismal Covenant. In a sense it is our job description as Christians – it sets out in no uncertain terms who we are and whose we are – we are the Lord’s, we belong to God in Christ. Or, as we say in Rite One during Lent, “That he may dwell in us and we in him.”
As a sign of our Oneness and covenant with God in Christ, each of our candidates was asked last Sunday to write down the 38th verse from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It was suggested that when times are tough, or things seem uncertain, we ought to return to this verse, pray with it, and remember our covenant relationship with God in Christ.
These first three weeks of Lent our First Lessons have provided a history of covenant. Week One it was the covenant with Noah and “every living creature.” God had grown weary of our bad behavior and destroyed all but a boatload of people and creatures. As Noah builds an altar of stones at the end of the flood, God places a rainbow in the heavens as a sign that never again “shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Showing our God to be merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
Next was the covenant with Abraham, the foundation of monotheistic religion for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. God promises Abraham, if you will be my people, I will be your God. I will make you fruitful and multiply; I will give you a land; I will make you a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. To Sarah and Abraham is born a beloved son, Isaac, and the journey begins.
The descendants of Abraham, however, end up slaves in Egypt. God hears their cry. Moses leads the Passover/Exodus escape. On the other side of the sea, Miriam, Moses’ sister, breaks out the tambourines and leads the sisters in dancing and singing their freedom: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously! The horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea!”
Which brings us to today’s depiction of the covenant with Israel – beginning with the Ten Commandments. These Ten Commandments made Israel, “the fewest of all peoples,” God’s little demonstration community. They have become the foundation of all western civilization and give shape to what freedom really means! They are neatly given in two parts: Commandments 1-4 define our relationship with God – Commandments 5-10 define our relationships with one another. Love God and Love neighbor, says Jesus. We might note carefully that the first four take up the bulk of the text, with nearly a third of the whole text devoted to the importance of the Sabbath. It is ironic that we feel we are just too busy these days to take a whole day off – to value time more than our acquisition and consumption of things of space.
Our Baptismal Covenant, as we heard last week, re-shapes our relationships with God and neighbor in ways exampled by the life and actions of our Savior Jesus Christ - He who defined neighbor in the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Last Judgment. As the African hymn has it, “all our neighbors to us and you.” All. Not some, not many, not a few, but all people are our neighbors, and we are to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons.
My first baptism as a priest was a little girl named Eleanor. Her mother Frances was baptized as well that day. Eleanor was about 4 years old. When I asked her, "Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?" She could answer for herself, "I will with God's help." "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? Will you strive for justice and peace for all people? Will you respect the dignity of every human being?" "I will with God's help." Then I sprinkled her with water, traced the sign of the cross on her forehead, marking her as Christ's own forever.
Afterwards, we were at her house having brunch. I was talking with someone when there was a tug on my pants leg. It was Eleanor. "Can you still see the cross on my forehead?" she asked. There was a powerful sense of anticipation on her face seeking an answer to what would be a great question for all of us to consider every day. Eleanor could internalize what had just happened to her in ways most of us completely miss. I looked into her eyes and replied, "Yes, Eleanor, I can still see the cross on your forehead!" And off she skipped like the very happiest of all little girls everywhere! I thought for a moment what a great question that really was. Then I returned to eating quiche, drinking wine and talking with others about far less important things.
A week passed. I really had not thought about Eleanor's question at all. But fortunately for me the Lord was not finished with me yet! The next Sunday, as I was vesting, there was a tug on my alb. I turned to see that it was Eleanor again. "Can you still see the cross on my forehead?" she asked. It was at that moment that God broke me open. Just last Sunday we heard the scripture, "If you want to be a disciple of mine you must pick up your cross and follow me." I had always thought that meant the tough and difficult things in life – “He has had a great cross to bear,” we say. “She has had so many crosses to bear.” This usually means things like hardship, disease, loss, loneliness, alienation, bigotry and all those things that make life hard to bear.
It took a little girl to help me to see, this is the cross we are asked to carry – the cross traced with oil blessed by our bishop, sealing us and marking us as Christ’s own forever. A sign of promises made, promises meant to shape our lives together. People ought to see who we are and whose we are by all that we do and say; by the way we respect the dignity of every human being; by the ways in which we fellowship together; by the way we seek and serve Christ in one another, and in all others. Because Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, we like Miriam can dance and sing our freedom from sin and death! Because nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! Lent is a time to remember all of this and act accordingly- we are God’s little demonstration community! Lent is a time to ask ourselves, Can you see the cross on my forehead? Amen.
Can you see the cross
On my forehead
Sayin’ Jesus lives inside of me
Can you see the cross
On my forehead
There for all the world to see
To see how we are meant to love
To see how we are meant to live
To see how we are meant to share
To see how we are meant to give
That he is Lord of all that is
That he is mine and I am His
As I strive for justice, peace and dignity
I share in his every ministry
That I am God’s beloved child
That our God is well pleased with me
That we can laugh and dance and sing
Nothing can separate the love of Christ from me
Copyright Kirk Kubicek/Sounds Divine