Good morning, St Andrews!
I’m pretty sure most of you are somewhat familiar with the Daughters of the King. We are an order of women between the ages of 7 and 107. Yes, it’s an order, not an organization. The Daughters of the King have chosen to be strengthened by the discipline of a Rule of Life that includes intercessory prayer, study, and most scary of all: evangelism. Not to worry though, in true Episcopal fashion, our brand of evangelism borrows heavily from St Francis who said: “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Thank you, Francis! One of the ways the Daughters reach out is through so called Quiet Days. All Daughters and members of the congregation are invited to spend a few hours in guided contemplation and meditation. Just recently we had our Lenten Quiet Day. This time we engaged in something called lectio divina or divine reading. This is an ancient form of reading scriptures in a prayerful manner, seeking communion with God. Scripture isn’t studied here, but rather inwardly absorbed in silence until we discern God’s words to us. Part of lectio divina is of course to read a pericope, a passage from scripture, and to read it several times, maybe even different translations of it. While doing so, we focus on what word or theme sticks out, which one grabs our attention? Or as one Daughter put it: listen with the ears of your heart. Those are the words to contemplate, to meditate on. The word that grabbed the ears of my heart that day was the word Oasis. As is befitting for Lent, our scripture was about the wilderness. The scripture vividly described the desolate wilderness, but it also painted a picture of the Oasis our God provides for us in the wilderness. A place overflowing with life and goodness in the middle of a stark wasteland.
This beautiful word, oasis, came to mind again when reading our psalm today. Psalm 27 is a psalm of praise, then lamentation, and back to praise. You know, the stuff of life, we praise, we cry, we praise. Repeat. It’s existential. That’s why I like the psalms, they are relatable. They make me feel less conscious or guilty about my own lamentations and cries, small and big, imagined and real.
In the initial praise the psalmist describes how even “though war should rise up against me, yet I will put my trust in him.” Nothing can hold fear with God by our side. Not even war. So the praise goes. But soon human reality sets in, and the psalmist is hit with uncertainty. The feeling of safety is gone, and instead the psalmist recognizes that protection is needed. “For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter” says verse 7. Shelter. Shelter from war is like an oasis in the wilderness. As the psalm continues its lament, it is clear that this shelter, this oasis, is indeed sorely needed. The situation described is so desperate, the psalmist is even forsaken by their own mother and father. We all instinctively trust our parents, being abandoned by them is unbearable. The psalms lamentations intentionally paint a picture so stark and desperate, so filled with darkness that the reader might wonder: has God abandoned them as well? The seeming absence of God can make us fearful of abandonment. And it’s just so easy to lose sight of God’s presence. We all experience the wilderness at times. A time in our life that like the barren wilderness is a struggle to survive. During those times, searching for God can feel like trying to find the light switch in a dark room you’ve never been in before. After a while, you might even wonder if there even is a light switch? That darkness, that wilderness, that seeming absence of God, that fear, it can overwhelm us into worrying that God has abandoned us. And the reality is, that life without the wilderness, without that fear is simply impossible. Whether it is a personal crisis, a community plight, or a global upheaval, fear is part of our lives. Therefore, we need shelter, we need an oasis to get us through those times in our lives. But how can we find it when we are blinded with fear? Are we even looking for shelter then?
The theme of an oasis, a shelter, a safe place, is continued in the gospel today. Jesus speaks of how he desires to gather us together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings for protection. But we are not willing, he says.
Our fear can blind us so badly, we become unwilling to risk reaching out for protection. Without the willingness to seek, to look and search even while in darkness, how can we find shelter? Where can we possibly find respite in the wilderness if we are not even looking for an oasis?
The psalmist has the answer as he returns from his lamentations to praise. “What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?” Continued belief, continued faith, especially in the absence of light, in the midst of fear is how we practice our awareness of God’s presence. That stubborn faith, can help us to “tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; [to] be strong and he shall comfort (y)our heart; wait patiently for the Lord.” Wait patiently for the Lord. That is easier said than done and definitely takes practice.
It is that kind of practice that we are called to engage in during Lent. This is the perfect time to start a practice of prayer, to design a Rule of Life that will serve as a guiding light during the times of darkness. A Rule of Life is an intentional way to create moments during your day you spent pursuing a closer relationship with God, pursuing your faith. This may take many shapes. You may choose to give something up, like social media for example. Every time you reach for your phone to click on the app, you are reminded instead to spend this moment with God. You may also add something, like lectio divina maybe. One woman shared with me that she and her sisters have decided to spend more time together each week for Lent. I love that! Over the years I picked up a few new rules of life in Lent and kept them with me. The practice of them guides me. It is my light. However small that light might seem in your darkness, it can lead you to a shelter. When life is painful and overwhelms us, and it does, faith guides us out of our crisis, and into God’s will for our life. It won’t be a smooth ride, there are bumps in the road and we can’t even see them. But along the way, we can find respite in a shelter, in an oasis, under wings of protection guided by the light of our practiced faith.
Maybe this Lent, we can even go one step further. You see, to my mind, St Andrew’s is such an oasis. This congregation is a safe place for all and everyone who comes through our doors is made to feel welcome. St Andrews is a place of inclusive hospitality, a shelter for all in need. Here, we can all feel like we are under the wings of our Lord. So, what do I mean by going one step further then?
It is a sad fact, that not all have the luxury of faith. Some have been spiritually abused so badly, their eyes are closed by pain. Some are struggling through such an intense crisis they cannot even begin to look. Some lives are so consumed by fear, that faith is a hollow echo at best. And here is where I think we can come in. We can make our oasis, our shelter, our beloved St Andrews a beacon. A beacon bright enough to reach eyes closed in pain. A beacon so bright you don’t have to look for it, you can see it from a distance. For those in the wilderness that have lost their faith, we can be the visible sign that faith can be restored. That brings us back to that scary word: Evangelism. Like my sisters in the Daughters of the King, I have wrestled with the concept of evangelism. I’m very thankful for St Francis’ wisdom, that we can do this, by “preaching the gospel always, [and only] when necessary use words.” To me this means to treat every person I meet with kindness and the dignity and respect they deserve. Small acts of service and reminders to my friends and family that I love them. It means being open and honest about my faith and how it informs and forms me. It means to advocate for the victims of injustice. It means the guiding compass is love. This has become clear through following a Rule of Life.
And that, is why Lent is exciting to me, because in Lent all of us can explore a Rule of Life. All of us can explore how this forms your version of evangelism.
And just as a shameless pluck and example of evangelism, I want to leave you with the motto of the Order of the Daughters of the King:
For His Sake… I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do. Lord, what will you have me do?