Spring it seems is about here. I think many of us are looking forward to its coming. Spring brings a lot of good things like: smaller heating bills and spring flowers. It’s a time to put away the things of winter and get out the things of summer. It is a time for spring cleaning, of opening the doors and windows allowing fresh air to enter the house. It’s a time to not only clean, but to clean out, toss out, get rid of that which we do not need.
In the season of Lent, God’s people are invited to adopt a spirit of spring cleaning, not of our homes but a cleaning out of one’s life in preparation for a new kind of life. This is a season of sorting through what is going on in our lives, of seeing what has become important and what we have left by the way and ignored that maybe we need to re-examine. It is a time of hearing the Holy beckoning from quiet unused corners—a time when we are called, gently, to brush aside our worldly preoccupations so that we might make room for what is to come. This week’s readings help us consider some of the clutter we need to clear away.
The Exodus passage sets the tone when it says, God alone is to be first in our lives for He has freed His people from the bondage of slavery they were living in Egypt. We read that passage and it speaks to us, we are to let nothing else claim first place in our lives for God alone has freed us from the bondage of slavery that sin puts us in. Only God is to be held first in our lives as the God who directs our lives, who nurtures us and calls us His own. We are not to give ourselves to our work, nor our desires, nor our false idols, nor our worldly gods. None of them can do what He does for us. None of them merit becoming our god to whom we give ourselves.
In the gospel passage, Jesus takes a direct approach to clearing out what does not belong in our life. He took action – overturning tables and by some accounts swinging a whip and shouting to remove the destructive and disruptive practices that distracted from the Synagogue being respected and used for its Holy purpose, a place where God is given the honor and respect of being first in people’s lives.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, does his own overturning and clearing out. In what I would expect to have been a strong and forceful voice he calls upon the church to toss out the status markers of the Greco-Roman world— the markings of class, the pride of worldly wisdom, the egotism of personal power and wealth — (now get this) “to make space for the paradoxical ethic and logic of the cross.” Boy, I wish I could have come up with that phrase. Those few words point to the problem people have – trying to balance Christ of the cross with the things the world holds as valuable. How do you hold in any kind of balance what the world holds as valuable with what Jesus taught and lived? The answer is you can’t. They are paradoxical. Something has to be tossed out. Something has to relinquish first place.
But here is not only the crux of these lessons but the surprise of these lessons. Somehow, in each passage it seems that the clearing out is less about getting rid of something and more about creating room for God’s presence. The surprise is He is waiting for us in plain sight. The surprise is finding out how valuable He is to us, to our lives, to having meaning and purpose.
I remember the first time I took Karen to a really fancy restaurant, one that at least back in those days you dressed up for. It was the first time I witnessed the odd but elegant practice of having your table crumbed. Crumbing, I found out, is the technical term—though de-crumbing might be more descriptive—for what happens when a waiter comes to the table after a course of breads and salads have been served and sweeps away any crumbs that has been dropped before the main course is served. The idea is simple: it’s a cue that the main course is coming and nothing is to detract from it. The neater the table, the more guests can focus on and enjoy the elegant main course that has been prepared, giving it their full attention. Maybe our lives need some – de-crumbing.
Each of today’s passages has a main course, a key point to be made, a teaching to be noted. Are we de-crumbed and ready to receive what they have to offer? In Exodus, God offers liberation and covenant. The psalmist offers the wonders of creation. John offers a mysterious promise of the resurrection. Paul unexpectantly offers gifts of weakness and humility. Each one directs our attention away from the crummy distractions of pride in self and preoccupation with worldly values so that we can begin to see God as He is – benevolent, loving and gracious.
Lent offers us a chance to go back to the basics of our faith, to know God in the simple and profound word He gives us and not be distracted by the crumbs the world offers.
Martin Luther taught in his Small Catechism in his explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
We must be called to faith, a faith that Jesus is the Christ, the one crucified. It may have been a moment in time, a sudden, unexpected awakening or it may have been a slow, gradual awakening. But in some way we have been called to faith. That calling is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us to the heart and soul of the gospel, Jesus the Christ. It is the crucifixion that shows the extent of God’s love, the depth of human sin, and the infinite value of each individual human life.
Those who have not heard the call to faith in what God has done through Jesus being the Christ cannot understand or accept this. It is the stumbling block that Paul speaks of. In that sense the stumbling blocks of Paul’s day continue to be stumbling blocks for people in the twenty-first century. When asked – Is God involved in human affairs? Without the Holy Spirt they say – Surely not. With the Holy Spirit – we say, He most certainly is.
And for us gathered here today who confess and profess a faith in God that is what we as the Church are all about. We are to proclaim Christ crucified, that God is that loving. That is the heart and soul of the gospel.
The gospel was a stumbling block to the Jews who remembered Deuteronomy 21 that says, “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” They found it impossible to believe that Jesus who was crucified on a tree could be the Messiah. The Christian gospel was also foolishness to the Greeks who believed that a god was incapable of feeling and could not be moved by any human emotion or plight. A God who suffered and dies on behalf of people was therefore a contradiction in terms.
For many of the world today, the idea of a crucified Christ is incomprehensible, and the way of the cross as the way to life and peace seems like nonsense. Certainly a real God would not ask people to embrace something that makes no sense and yet he does.
Have we cleared out enough space in our lives so that there is room for God to enter? Lent is a good time to look at what is filling our lives and see if it of God? Maybe there are some things that disrupt and detract. Maybe we need to de-crumb our lives.