Lenten Reflections, a sermon delivered March 3, 2013

“We are not defined by our sin.  We are always becoming something new, something more whole.  We are always standing in a place where we are offered healing through the reconciling power of love.  Lent reminds us of this promise and asks us, begs us, to let that promise transform us. “

Children’s  Story – STOP, LOOK, LISTEN  based on the original by Andrew Hewlett

Reading – “Unitarian Universalism and Lent.” http://uubible.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/unitarian-universalism-and-lent/

Special Music:  “Capricho Arabe” Composer Francisco Tarrega (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qg46zm6tLhE)

Sermon

Francisco Tarrega, the composer of the piece we just heard, was born in 1852 in Villareal Spain to working class parents, and his mom, like most working women at the time, went back to work right away because she couldn’t afford not to work.  Francisco was put in the care of a sitter. Well, before you knew it he was walking, and one day, the sitter took her eye off him just a split second too long (you know how it goes) and as toddlers do he wandered out of eyesight.  Unfortunately he had a bad fall and the fall led to an infection and the infection left him partially blind.  His parents were really upset, as any parent would be when something happens to their kid that is going to affect their whole life.  But this was also the 1850s.  There was no disability insurance, no social security, no awareness of accessibility like we have today.   In fact, disabilities were often seen as moral failings, as the judgment of God for some deep sin.  That prejudice meant that disability could easily mean a shortened life of intense poverty.  Francisco’s father agonized about how to give his son a decent chance at a decent life.

Well, he looked for a trade that didn’t require sight.  Francisco’s father, it is said, played flamenco, and Francisco would often pick up his dad’s guitar, even as a toddler, and try to play.  So when he was old enough, his father took him for guitar lessons, ironically, with a blind teacher.  Perhaps he could earn a living as a musician.  It became pretty clear that Francisco was a child prodigy and one of his teachers, seeing his gift, taught him not only the art of classical guitar, but the art of playing to an audience.

When Franciso turned 10, he decided he’d learned everything he needed to and it was time to start his career.  So he ran away to Barcelona and began playing in coffee houses and pubs.  Not only did he love performing, he loved performing for money.  But he was ten.  And of course his father came looking for him.  Several times, his father tracked him down and brought him home, only to have him disappear again into the streets of Barcelona.  Eventually, his father sent him away to another teacher, and from there an aristocrat offered to pay his way to the Conservatory of Music in Madrid and Francisco went on to become one of the most esteemed guitarists, composers and teachers in Europe.

This is a story of what can happen through brokenness.   When Francisco lost his sight, his parents could have lost hope, but they didn’t.  And strangely enough, if he had not lost his sight, his dad may have never sent him to music school and Francisco may have never found his true gift.  I’m by no means saying that Francisco losing his sight was a good thing or a blessing.   But how his family responded to the brokenness was.  That’s the truth here.

Today is the 19th day of the Christian tradition of Lent, which started on Wednesday February 13th   with Ash Wednesday and will end 40 days later on Easter Sunday.  Traditionally, the focus of Lent is to reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for humanity, which in orthodox Christian doctrine is the sacrifice of his own life for us.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “He died so that we might have eternal life.”  Traditionally, Lent is about reflecting on that sacrifice so that we might become spiritually ready to practice that kind of self-giving sacrifice in our own lives.

During Lent, Christians are encouraged to sacrifice something that really matters to them so they might become stronger spiritually to withstand the daily temptations to put themselves first.  Lent is a time that is about emptying out, becoming less attached to the material world, and focusing on what really matters.  How is the state of your soul?  Are you in right relationship with God or the sacred?  Where are the broken places in your soul and your life and how will you tend to that brokenness?

Part of Lent, the part that many of us often feel most uncomfortable with, is that part that asks us to reflect on our sinfulness.  In Christian orthodoxy, we have the doctrine of Original Sin, which says that we are all born depraved.  This doctrine is what informs many Christians’ interpretation of Jesus’ crucifixion, which is that our sinfulness, our depravity, put Jesus on the cross and killed him, and he let himself be the sacrifice, so that God would forgive us and through his grace we would have everlasting life even though we don’t deserve it.  So in traditional Lent, you are supposed to reflect on that sinfulness, and that’s why Unitarian Universalists and many progressive Christians struggle with Lent, because progressive religious traditions are much less likely to see the human nature as essentially sinful.   There is no place in progressive religion for guilt.  There is nothing transformative and liberating about guilt.   There is also no room in progressive religion for Original Sin and that means there is no room for the kind of Lent that becomes 40 days of atoning for sins that we have no hope of avoiding, because we are born with them.

This is why many of us struggle with Lent.  What have we given up for Lent?  We’ve given up Lent for Lent!

My question is this.  What happens if you replace the idea of Original Sin with the concept of brokenness, the kind of brokenness that grows in us simply because of the twists and turns of life in our imperfect world?  Unitarian Universalism gave up Original Sin because we see it as a damaging and abusive doctrine, but that doesn’t mean that we are not in need of the kind of reflection and emptying that Lent offers.  Just because we have turned away from Original Sin, does not give us the excuse to turn a blind eye to our potential to be sinful.

We all miss the mark.  Every one of us.  The difference between an Original Sin model of humanity and a brokenness model of humanity is that the Original Sin model defines us by our sins, and the brokenness model does not.  In the brokenness model, our sins, the ways we miss the mark, are not who you are and they are not your destiny.  Our sins are like a child that wanders out of the eyesight of its sitter and falls.  Our sins are like the yearning of a ten year old to make it big in Barcelona and so we go not realizing that our parents will be completely sick with worry.  We sin because we’re human.  But it’s not a federal offense.

When we miss the mark it’s not like we should be struck by lightning or condemned.  It is a moment, and granted those moments can have and often do have a lasting impact.  Francisco was afflicted with blindness for the rest of his life.  But his blindness did not define him.   So there is no good reason to fall into the narcissism and self-centerness of guilt for the ways that you have missed the mark.   There is a gentler way.  A way that holds us accountable for our actions and choices, that affirms that “we are all connected, to each other and to the universe and the cycle of life.”   We came from dust and we’ll go back to dusk, and we are a compilation of those who came before us.

Every one of us has fallen, and in our own unique ways become somewhat blind.  Every one of us carries brokenness and if you go along your merry way thinking that your brokenness is going to go away just on its own, that your brokenness affects only you and no one else, if you keep running, then you are missing an opportunity to grow and become more whole, and more likely, we’ll start missing the mark even more.  Having a laissez-fair attitude to our brokenness, that’s when we allow our sins to define us.  They have the power, not us.  Brokenness is not a call to keep doing the status quo.  It’s not life as normal.    Brokenness is a call to a new way of living and that is what Lent is about!

Lent is about being able to STOP and LOOK and LISTEN so that we can cross that busy street and find our way to the park.

There are so many stories in the Jewish and Christian scriptures that are about making ourselves empty as a way to engage and move through brokenness.  I’m going to share three of them with you today and in each story we see a way for us to transform our brokenness into new life.

First story.  In the story of Noah’s ark, the world has become so sinful that God decides it needs a total overhaul.  Noah and his family and two of all the beasts of the earth are cast adrift in a wooden boat and the earth floods for 40 days and 40 nights, and when the water recedes, they still have to wait for months until the earth dries enough for them to leave the boat.  This was a long time of emptying before they could start their new life.  And they had no idea where they were drifting, and when the water would recede, and what their new life would look like.  They just had to be patient and wait and accept that for a time they were powerless over the currents that carried them over the seas.

Second story.  When the Ancient Israelites fled from slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert for 40 years.  It took them 40 years to heal from the brokenness of being slaves.  They had so internalized that brokenness that they kept hurting themselves and making really bad choices.  They weren’t ready to build a new nation.  So they kept wandering until they worked it through, and that’s when they got to go home.

Third story.  When Jesus is about to start his ministry, he goes to the desert and fasts and he is tempted by power and glory for 40 days.  During those 40 days, he had to empty himself of the last little pieces of arrogance and self-grandeur so that when the temptation ended and he went back and started his ministry, he would be strong enough to resist all the ways that his work could be sabotaged.  He was pre-emptively dealing with the brokenness he knew he had rather than waiting for it to get the better of him.

Every one of these stories is about healing and brokenness and offers us a tool for the ways that we miss the mark.  The story of Noah’s ark overcomes brokenness by leaving behind what isn’t working and tenderly protecting what does so that the healthy parts have a chance to be what they’re meant to be.  The story of the Israelites overcomes brokenness by very slowly disengaging from it.  Baby steps.  Jesus in the desert overcomes brokenness by testing himself so that he’ll become strong enough to resist the greatest temptations.   And in each case, the transformation doesn’t happen overnight.  There were times when it felt like nothing was happening.  Times where everyone felt stuck.  But all kinds of stuff was working itself out under the surface.  That’s Lent.

Lent is kind of like how Francisco’s father kept finding him and bringing him home.  Lent is about finding ourselves in the streets of Barcelona playing in bars and coffee houses and bringing ourselves home to the village, home into our own bodies and our own hearts and our own minds and spirits.

One of the promises of Unitarian Universalism is that there is nothing that can’t be healed.  Let me say that again because it’s really important.  One of the promises of Unitarian Universalism is that there is nothing that can’t be healed.  Now I know we’re a bunch of rationalists and I can already see some of your skepticism when I say that so let me tell you what I mean by that. I don’t mean that we believe in miraculous healings.  Something that is broken can never be returned to the state it was in before the brokenness.  Because that’s not what healing is.  Healing isn’t going back.   Healing is going forward.  When I say that there is nothing that can’t be healed, I mean there’s no pain and no brokenness that can’t be transformed.  That is the radical promise of our faith and why we can’t give up on anyone, especially ourselves.

Now there’s often no way we can know what that healing is going to look like.  And we can’t heal other people, we can only heal ourselves.  So what other people do or don’t do isn’t our responsibility.  But what we do is.  And if we can STOP and LOOK and LISTEN, then it doesn’t matter how long the flood lasts, and it doesn’t matter how long we’re stuck in the desert, and it doesn’t matter how long the temptation lasts.  We are not defined by our sin.  We are always becoming something new, something more whole.  We are always standing in a place where we are offered healing through the reconciling power of love.  Lent reminds us of this promise and asks us, begs us, to let that promise transform us.

Lent ends on Easter Sunday, when the women find the empty tomb.  Lent ends with the transformation of death into life. What will you do with this time of emptying and waiting?

May the spirit be with you and yours, and may we be held in the steadfast love that is freely offered and beyond our imagining.  Amen and blessed be.

N.B. – These sermons are made available with a request: that the reader appreciate that, ideally, a sermon is an oral/aural experience that takes place in the context of worship – supported and reinforced by readings, contemplative music, rousing hymns, silence, and prayer – and that it is but one part of an extended

conversation that occurs over time between a minister and a covenanted congregation.  This sermon may be freely shared and reproduced, provided that credit is given to Rev. Krista Taves.

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About kristataves

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister serving the Unitarian Church of Quincy IL. St. Louis is my residence. I am a dual American and Canadian citizen living in the great state of Missouri and building my life in this wonderful and sometimes very frustrating state.
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