12 March 2023 – Third Sunday In Lent
by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Come, let us sing to [our God]; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. Amen.
This was the weekend…
Three years ago this weekend the world shut down. In my family, one of the ways we mark time is through sports milestones. Three years ago yesterday, the first NBA player tested positive for COVID. This was two days after he had publicly mocked the NBA’s newly-instituted social distancing protocols by touching reporters’ microphones as he exited a pre-game press conference. His diagnosis two days later sent the press room into a panic and, within 24 hours, sent the league into shutdown. That was March 11th. By mid-day on March 12th, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer had all suspended play. The next day the upcoming date for the Boston marathon was postponed.
Sports is one of the ways we measure time in my family. Given my vocation, I also measure time liturgically. Today is Third Sunday of Lent. On this day, Lent 3, three years ago, Governor Baker announced limits on large gatherings. The next day, our bishops announced that all public worship services were suspended. Here at All Saints, one of the first events to be cancelled was City Reach. A group of All Saints young people had been preparing for weeks to participate in this overnight urban outreach experience (complete with sleeping on the floor of the cathedral), and you, the congregation, had contributed so generously to their clothing and supplies drive. Dozens of backpacks and rolling suitcases, piles of warm clothing, scores of packages of new socks and toiletries were collected. Ready to be loaded and delivered, they were left piled in the undercroft for the better part of a year. In this chaotic time our partners at the cathedral didn’t know – none of us knew – if it was safe for them to receive supplies from other people. And the intended recipients of these supplies, the displaced and unhoused in Boston, were hit the hardest.
Each of us could make our list. We could remember the yearning to connect with friends and loved ones and fellow parishioners. The scramble to deploy technology to stay connected in worship. We could remember the shock. We could remember the disorientation and disbelief. We could remember the fear.
It’s in times like what we’ve experienced these past three years that Walter Brueggemann, one of the most respected and prolific Hebrew Bible commentators of our time, would point us to the Psalms. Breuggemann argues that our solemn, polite use of the Psalms defangs them of their force. We dilute their power by spiritualizing them; abstracting them from their bodily, material context; or by selectively constructing our lectionary to exclude the most difficult parts. In contrast, Breuggemann asserts that the Psalms, “a collection over a long period of time of eloquent, passionate songs and prayers…can only be appropriately prayed by people who are living at the edge of their lives” [Source, 8, 9-10]. And when we pray with the Psalms, in Brueggemann’s words, we “enter into the midst of that voice of humanity” and “move into the open, frightening, healing world of speech with the Holy One” [2, 8]. Through the Psalms we find a voice that dares speak of our dislocation. And in so doing, we place our lament before God, inviting God into the chaos with us.
Brueggemann speaks of a threefold movement discernible in the Psalms:
- “Being securely oriented;
- Being painfully disoriented; and
- Being surprisingly reoriented” .
It is safe to say that three years ago, almost overnight, our lives were “painfully disoriented.” We were catapulted to Brueggemann’s “desperate edge” of life.
Here we are three years later. But where are we these three years later?
There are several things we can say about finding our way toward “reorientation.” First of all, it is not about going back to the way we were before. For each of us as individuals, and together as a community, reorientation means reaching a new equilibrium. We know that in resurrection Jesus still bore the wounds of his torture and death, even as he brought new life.
And, as Breuggeman puts it, sometimes aspects of our reorientation may surprise us. Maybe we do experience powerful moments of overflowing emotion – the birth of a lovingly anticipated grandchild, the celebration of a family wedding that couldn’t have happened three years ago – joyful events like these can suddenly remind us that we have moved toward being newly oriented. We can see this kind of surprising transformation in today’s gospel passage. When the woman at the well truly sees Jesus, her life is surprisingly transformed, she can’t contain it. She leaves her water jar behind and rushes back to share with her fellow villagers what she has seen and experienced in Jesus. So, yes, there can be these moments of “surprising reorientation,” as Breuggemann suggests.
In other ways, though, our movement toward orientation isn’t monolithic. It isn’t all achieved in a moment. It isn’t experienced the same way by each of us. Some among us do still need to exercise great caution to protect their health. And for some of us, our reorientation may be less sudden, more subtle. Perhaps it is the result of the slow work of a quiet daily practice that grounds us more and more, that gradually softens the heightened vigilance that has been with us through this time, that anxious energy that we may have even stopped noticing we carry. Reorientation comes in God’s time and in God’s way. But not only do the Psalms remind us that we are part of that work, the very act of boldly, courageously entering into that flow of voices crying out to the Divine from the extremes of human experience – that sacred speech is what moves us into a new, settled place.
So this was the weekend. It’s been three years. And today…today marks a new beginning. We have traveled a full circle. In the three-year cycle of our lectionary, today, the Third Week of Lent, we read the same texts that we read on that last Sunday before our world changed.
And this past Friday and Saturday – these last two days – our young people were at CityReach again. They reported their experience as “eye-opening,” and “inspiring.” As a “new experience.” They saw this city they’ve lived in their whole lives in a new way. We’ve traveled a full circle.
In Breuggemann’s threefold movement, fittingly, today’s Psalm is one of reorientation.
“Come, let us sing to the Lord;
Let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving
And raise a loud should to [God] with Psalms…”
For you are our God,
and we are the people of your pasture and the sheep of your hand.
Oh, that today we would hearken to your voice!” (Psa 95:1-2, 7)
God is in God’s heaven. We are in God’s care. The world is coming right again.
We have traveled a full circle. So let’s pause. Let’s take stock of where we have been. Of where we are now. As we move through these last weeks of Lent, I invite you to make a point of noticing, of seeing the ways in which we are settling into something new.
This was the weekend. We have traveled a full circle. Carrying the wounds of the past, may we begin anew. Amen.