If all Stephen had—if all we have—is the Jesus kerygma, then what we have is a dead man who died years ago, hanging on a tree. That would mean that today is just another weekly funeral liturgy where we come together to eulogize this man Jesus, to remember his teachings, and to try our best to be like he was. But brothers and sisters, we have so much more.
To this day,
they still call me “Doubting Thomas,”
and fine . . .
I’ll own that.
But who here doesn’t doubt?
Who here doesn’t sometimes wonder
if they’re really on the outside looking in?
If maybe God doesn’t really love them
the way they thought he did?
Who here isn’t envious of those
who always seem to get it right,
who have a special connection to God,
who walk through life
like they’ve just had an encounter
with the Risen Christ,
while you sit there thinking,
“But what about me?
What about me, O Lord?”
Like all the saints
through all the ages,
we who are baptized
have gone under the water.
We have gone into the grave.
“We have been buried with Christ in his death,
and just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too can walk in newness of life.”
The hard truth is that
Judas is not some literary type.
Judas is not some necessary character in a play.
Judas is not some vile, dastardly villain,
nor is he some noble, misunderstood saint.
Judas is us.
I wish we weren’t so guarded
in the ways that we love Jesus.
I wish we weren’t so polite,
so well mannered,
so easily offended.
I wish, like Mary,
we could lose ourselves,
that we could pour ourselves out,
that we could let it all be just a bit . . .
If Jesus is only your teacher,
if Jesus is only your rabbi, your guru, your guide,
if he is merely an example for you to follow,
a companion on your “journey,”
a divine mentor,
a missionary motivator,
a spiritual friend . . .
then he is not enough.
More and more we live in a time of deceptive certainty, of hubris, of bluster. Ours is an age wherein everyone has a sick need to be seen as strong, as certain, as right. The problem, however, is that when we live this way, we put ourselves in the place of God. No wonder we cannot hear him.
This sermon was preached at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, South Carolina as part of their annual Lenten Speakers Series.
“You want to talk about ‘declaring a fast?’ You want to talk about what it means to ‘give something up?’ Then at some point we have stop talking about ourselves, and we have to start talking about Jesus. . . . Despite all our pretense about fasting and giving things up—always with twisted, understated hopes of improving ourselves or currying favor with God—the truth is completely the other way around. God has fasted for us! God in his Son Jesus Christ gave it all up for us! By virtue of the Cross, in a mystery that we will never fully understand, Jesus who was in the form of God—who had all the power and glory of God right at his fingertips—gave it up! fasted from it! emptied himself of it completely!“
The hard truth is that you will struggle with temptation for the rest of your days, and you will fail. Miserably. But there is one whose potency outweighs your incapacity, whose righteousness outweighs your sinfulness, whose proximity to God outweighs your temptation from God. He is Jesus: friend of sinners and vanquisher of Sin.
Lent is not about accomplishing things just for the sake of accomplishment. Lent is not about proving anything to anyone . . . not even to yourself, not even to God. Lent is not even about improving yourself or becoming holy, because the hard truth is you can’t. You, my friends, cannot make yourselves holy; only God can do that.
What, then, is Lent about? Lent is about the story of God’s love.