March 2, 2023

It's a Mess Out There

Depending on when you’re reading this, Lent has either begun or is a few days away. Perhaps it’s the readings, but at this time of year, I always reflect on my life and on the state of the world. I’m writing this blog on Sexagesima Sunday – a term that is a throwback to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer – denoting the second Sunday before Lent.

I rather like the old terms for these three Sundays (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima) because they give me time to transition from my Christmas and Epiphany mindset and prepare for Lent.

In some ways, they feel like the onramp to Lent, and, just like driving on a freeway, it’s best to come up to speed before you merge. I feel like I have a richer experience of Lent by observing these pre-Lenten Sundays.

My reflections this year have led me to a simple conclusion: it’s a mess out there. I don’t need to go through the complete list of why I feel this way, but my greatest hits include the remnants of COVID, an ongoing war in Ukraine, the rise of authoritarian governments globally, an increasing disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and climate change.

In a conversation with a priest friend of mine, after listening patiently to me, he gently pointed out that it’s ALWAYS been a mess “out there” and challenged me to look more closely at what’s going on “in here,” as he pointed to my heart. Clearly, I had neglected to reflect as deeply on my life as I did on the
state of the world.

Nothing gets fixed in the world unless and until we do the inner work required, which leads us to take action. Today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah spoke to that fact:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? THEN (my emphasis) your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, here I am.

--Isaiah 58:6-9

Our light breaks forth in the world WHEN we have cared for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, and the naked. It’s also not lost on me that Isaiah’s words prefigured the parable of the last judgement in Matthew’s gospel, 25:31-46. The bottom line is that we will be judged on what we did or didn’t do for the least among us.

It’s easy, at least for me, to ignore the responsibility we have as Christians to preserve and enhance the goodness that exists in the world. Today’s gospel reading was about salt and light and offered a perfect continuation to the words of Isaiah. Being the salt of the earth is about preservation and enhancement of the good; salt also, as the primary seasoning in cooking, unifies a dish. As our preacher said today, it softens sweetness and counteracts bitterness, unifying all the elements.

It is a mess out there. It always will be. Which is why we need to have the courage to live our faith with conviction, knowing that it is our actions on behalf of the least among us that will allow our light to break forth.

As leaders, let’s commit to taking the first step this Lent, and be examples for everyone in our parish.