Lent 3, Year C, February 28, 2016
The Rev. Lupton Abshire
A Zen Story: There is a story from the Zen Buddhist tradition about a wise, old hermit who was meditating by a river when a young man approached him and said, "Master, I wish to become your disciple." "Why?" replied the hermit. "Because I want to find God," said the young man. "Then follow me into the water," answered the hermit. When they were well into the river the old man suddenly pushed the young man's head under the water and held it there for several minutes. Then he released him.
After the young man calmed down a bit, the hermit asked him, "Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water?' The young man gasped, "Air!" "Very well," replied the hermit, "Go home and come back when you want God as much as you just wanted air."
Eagerly Seeking God: This kind of directive is not unique to Buddhism. In fact, we find it in today's appointed psalm. In the opening verse the Psalmist exclaims, "O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water!" Eagerly I seek you! A more apt translation might be: desperately I seek you.
A Reevaluation of Values: The Ash Wednesday liturgy points out that the season of Lent is a time for "self-examination." Typically, we think of self-examination as simply 'fessing up to personal flaws. But for self-examination to be spiritually efficacious we must go deeper to the point of reevaluating our values. The key question is: "What do I want...really?" Like the young man wanting air while under water, and moreover the psalmist wanting God like thirsting for water in a desert, Lent challenges us to discover what it is we want most of all--what we value most of all. More to the point, we should dare to inquire: What does my soul value most of all?
Do Not Become Idolaters: Paul warns the community in Corinth about "idolatry." We tend towards a somewhat cartoonish understanding of idolatry, imaging primitives kneeling down before carved statues. Perhaps a more productive approach to the realization of idolatry is this: idolatry is devoting oneself to anything other than what I most deeply value. To be sure, this is an ongoing discovery process--often lasting a lifetime. And God is intimately involved in this process, as indicated in Psalm 51:7 -- "For behold, you look for truth deep within me."
A Lenten Quest -- To be honest, we don't really know what we value. One day this is important; the next day that is important. We value many things. Some of our values complement one another; others are in direct contradiction and competition. Lent can be for us a time to step back, settle down, and reflect on the words of someone who engaged in a lengthily and arduous quest, St. Augustine: Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord. Amen.