Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

 

The Third Sunday after Lent, 2012
St. Margaret of Scotland, Conway, NH

 

Let us pray: O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Did you ever consider what life might be like if we simply followed God's will for us? Because God does want us to follow His will. Think about that for a moment; what would our lives be like?

 

Have you come up with anything? Well, maybe you did; maybe you have an image of that life. But if you are like most people, you might come up blank; not much comes to mind. You might wonder if such a life would be so impossibly dull and uninteresting that it wouldn't be worth considering. Perhaps not people in this holy place, but a lot of people do think precisely that.

 

For many years, I taught high school. One of the courses I taught was Religion. It was an unusual high school, so we were permitted to teach such courses. During one class, a class that was held well into the semester, I asked the students to consider the same question I have just posed to you: what would your life be like if you followed God's will for you? The students looked at each other. Some giggled. Some yelled out a certain word that only high school students seem able to pronounce correctly: BOR-RING. Still others stared blankly. They seemed unable to wrap their young minds around the very concept. I asked them to think, then to think harder.

 

But nothing seemed to come to their minds. Finally, I asked them the key question: "Has the devil really won?" That got their attention. Finally, one very brave young woman raised her hand and said this: "I don't think it would be very boring at all. I just don't think we know what it would be like. It is very hard to live into God's will for us. There seems to be too much in the way."

 

The whole room was silent. It was one of those magical and transcendent moments that happens all too rarely in a classroom. But sometimes, when the truth is spoken, silence reigns supreme. Yes, even in a high school classroom. The silence held for a few moments longer. Then I broke it: "yes," I said. "That is true; you get an 'A'". The students were duly impressed. But, of course, there is always one wise guy. "We don't have grades in this school," he said. "True enough," I said. "But God evaluates us all the time."

 

"Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb." These are the first words of today's gospel message from St. Luke. It seems a little silly when we heard the words, "it was dumb." How can we take the message about some dumb devil very seriously. But Cyril of Alexandria, one of the early church Fathers, considered such devils very serious indeed. He regarded such devils as being the most dangerous of all Satan's minions. Why, you may wonder. They are the most dangerous because they prevent the word of God from being freely spoken. They keep God's word all bottled up, when it should be given freely to the world.

 

We see such devils out and about in the world. They are everywhere, keeping us from our true purpose to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Such devilish purpose seems so ordinary, so "human." In the book of Job, God asks Satan: "Where have you been?" Remember Satan's reply? Satan doesn't say, "I've been sowing seeds of destruction in your world, God." He doesn't say, "I've been killing off your people in the millions." He doesn't even say, "I've been encouraging people to sin." In fact, Satan doesn't say anything remotely like that. When God asks Satan, "Whence comest thou?" Satan answers simply: "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it." In other words, just tending to business. Another translation has Satan saying this: I've just been ranging over the earth from end to end."

 

The devil loves to keep us in the dark and unable to speak the truth of our being as children of God. And he is pretty good at what he does. He has pulled millions of people away from their true purpose in life.

 

Lent is a time for us to reclaim who we are. It is a time for us to get rid of all those things that keep us from God so that we may become those persons we were created to be. Many of us make the practice of giving up something for Lent. These symbolic gestures at fasting are very healthy for us because they show us, in little ways, how much we can live without and still be healthy and happy. But these Lenten gestures are even more valuable to us spiritually when we remember that they symbolize a removal of everything that stands in the way of our connection to God.

 

Two weeks ago, I boarded a plane for South Africa. I took my laptop and my iPhone with me. Those who know me, know that I do not travel anywhere without one or the other. I check e-mail messages compulsively. But internet connections were impossible in South Africa; I went a week without receiving or answering e-mail messages. The first two days were the worst. But it was a little like fasting. After those first two days, things became much easier. Then, around day five, things were ok. I realized that I didn't need that cell phone or that laptop computer – at least not every hour or every day. And I learned one other thing: God is always available to us; His cell connection never leaves us.

 

When Jesus casts out that within us that keeps us from speaking the truth of His presence in our lives, we can experience a freedom we have never known before. We can speak plainly and clearly the truth that we have received in the words of Jesus Christ. It is who we are, and what we have been called to do. And in our lives on this earth, there is nothing more exciting or freeing or joyful than the purpose we have been given by Christ Jesus.

 

Let us pray: Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.