1 Lent B—2/18/18
1 Peter 3:18-22; Gospel: Mark 1:9-15
Pr. Scott Kramer
I’ve been enjoying the Olympics, and maybe you have been, too. One of the most surprising events of the first week was the women’s Super-G Slalom. This is a downhill ski race, and American Mikaela Shiffrin was the favorite to win gold. Earlier in the week she’d won gold in a different event, but this Super-G Slalom is her specialty. In the end, though, she failed in that event even to make the podium—no medal at all!
Part of the problem, it turns out, was that many skiers had gone before her, gradually wearing a deep groove into the snow. When her time came, she followed that well-worn trail, which slowed her down. The route had become a rut. She didn’t make the podium.
We use that expression, don’t we—”getting into a rut.” We follow a well-worn path of habits and routines that we or others have followed, a path that probably served us and others well at one time in the past. Because it worked so well at the time we saw no need to change.
But habits of thought, word and deed that never change can become a rut. And that rut will keep us “off the podium.” Mind you, when I say “off the podium” I don’t mean “not good enough.” I don’t mean “not worthy of God’s favor.” “Off the podium” in this case means missing out on the gifts of God: the deep peace, joy and love that God desires for us and all people.
We come to worship, I hope, to hear good news. That Good News is the unconditional love of God for you. But it becomes Good News to the extent that we are first willing to hear the bad news, and that bad news is that we all are in a rut of some kind or other: habits of thought, word, or deed that seemed to serve us well in the past but which have outlived their usefulness.
Yesterday morning my wife and I participated in a three-hour meditation retreat, which included several breaks. Before we began our meditation, our leader reminded us that meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices—including Sunday morning worship–are not an escape from the world. Rather, these spiritual practices lead us to more clearly see where we have kept ourselves “off the podium” by developing habits that are in need of change. Our spiritual practice, far from allowing us to escape the pain of the world, equips us to more deeply embrace the world’s pain, as well as our own.
These forty days of Lent are a wonderful opportunity to deepen our walk with God. The news headlines of our day underscore how important a role disciples of Jesus Christ play in the world, because our society has fallen into a rut. Our nation and our world need spiritual people who courageously make different choices, who follow a different path. For example, there was another school shooting this past week. Will it be the last? No. Will the laws change? Not if the past is any indication. We…are…in…a…rut.
How many young people, I wonder, will have to die before we as a nation do the right thing? But habits of the heart can keep us stuck–habits of the heart that lead us to arm ourselves to the teeth. Habits of the heart that lead us to worship not the God of love but weapons of violence and the personal freedoms that we hide behind as an excuse to cling to these deadly “toys.”
There is a glimmer of hope. Not everyone is stuck in a rut! In yesterday’s paper was an article about students in Florida calling out politicians, demanding change. That’s where I put my money: on the young people! It’s only because the young people rose up, for example, that the slaughter of tens of thousands of young Americans and Vietnamese came to an end in the 1970s. If grown-ups are stuck in a rut. If we older folks keep ourselves off the podium. If we can’t do the right thing, maybe the Holy Spirit can once again use young people who haven’t yet fallen into habits of thought, word, and deed that should’ve died a long time ago.
But maybe you’re someone who longs to get out of a rut and longs for your community and nation to get out of a rut. But maybe you feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world and wonder what difference one person can make. As spiritual people, as disciples of Jesus, we are bold to claim that on the evidence of the life of Jesus Christ and the Christian story through history, one person can make a difference in the world. Such individuals working together–prayerfully, hopefully, courageously–by the power of the Holy Spirit can transform the world!
Dear friends, the shape of our week and the shape of our lives begins here, on Sunday morning. Followers of Jesus gather to discern where the Spirit is leading us. This gives us focus and motivation and hope for the opportunities and challenges of the week ahead. This includes discerning where in our lives we might be stuck in a rut, keeping ourselves off the podium.
You’ve noticed this morning a few changes in our worship space. The baptismal font has been moved to the entrance of the sanctuary. A table has been placed where the font used to be. This is not just rearranging the furniture like we might do at home for a fresh look. No, there is purpose in these changes.
When the altar is back against the wall and all the sacred objects are up front in what might be thought of as sacred space, some of us might get the unconscious message that God is separate from humanity, at a distance. Remote, removed. But the story of Jesus, as we remember from the season of Advent less than two months ago, is that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” or, as Eugene Peterson translates it, “God moved into the neighborhood.” God is not far off, so the table where the meal is prepared is closer to the people. The font, or “the bath,” is among the people. During the season of Lent we will be experimenting with our space, using our imaginations to discern what God might be up to among us.
Traditionally, during the season of Lent many Christians ponder what they might “give up for Lent.” Often times it’s something like chocolate, or, ice cream, or something that’s given up for six weeks but has little lasting effect on our lives.
What if this Lent we raised the bar to risk changes that require more of us? What do you think? Could a shift in our personal lives, our neighborhoods, cities and nation begin with something so simple: Could rearranging the furniture of our worship space lead to habits that allow the Holy Spirit to rearrange the furniture of our hearts and minds? Might we be bumped out of a rut and onto the podium? The podium of joy. The podium of peace. The podium of love that knows no bounds.