Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
For a couple of weeks now I’ve been thinking a lot about the season of Lent, both for myself as well as within our community. As I was preparing for this homily and odd connection came to my mind. It is a quote from a book titled “The Art of War,” an ancient Chinese manual on war tactics. It says this:
“The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in this temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.” [Chapter 1, Section 26]
The point is that preparation ensures victory and the lack of it, defeat. This is in reference to military battle, but it is also especially applicable for us this weekend. Remember that St. Paul says in one of his letters that we are at battle – not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers. We are in a battle for our eternal destiny and to reign victoriously, we must prepare. The season of Lent is a blessed time in which abundant graces are poured out upon the world and extra effort is put forward, all so that we might draw closer to Christ. But before we can draw closer to Him, it is fitting that we first recognize where we stand in relationship to Him. One litmus test to determine our closeness to the Lord, as attested to in the Scriptures and history of the Church, is our awareness of our own sinfulness. The extent to which we are aware of our sins, our brokenness, and our unworthiness to stand before God, to that same extent are we truly in union with Him.
Maybe an example will help. We all know how light can drastically change how things appear. For instance, when I went to seminary, I found that my 12x16 room served many purposes. It was my bedroom, my office space, my study area, it was where I would eat meals and drink coffee, and it was where friends would come hang out. All of those activities in that little space meant that it had the tendency to get real dirty real quick. So I had to options: clean my room often or I could close the blinds and use the dim lights rather than the big bright ones. It didn’t change the cleanliness of my room, but it did change the appearance of the cleanliness of it. But when I would turn on the big light or open the blinds at midday, you could see all the junk that needed to be vacuumed and cleaned up. I think that we can do the same in our spiritual lives. So often we sit in the dim light because it’s comfortable and easy rather than clean up all the junk. But as we prepare to enter into Lent, we have the joy of having the Light of Christ come and shine upon us that we might uproot all of that stuff. To the extent that we are aware of our sinfulness, to that extent are we close to Christ. And it’s not just being aware of our sins for the sake of feeling bad about ourselves, moping around or anything of that nature. Quite the opposite! Awareness of our sins leads us to a deeper awareness of our absolute need for God, which compels us forward to relationship with Him and transformation of ourselves and those around us. Awareness of our sin is closeness to Christ. But don’t take my word for it – look to the scriptures.
Isaiah, the great prophet, is called forward to prophesy to the peoples and he holds back, aware of his own unworthiness and the uncleanness of his lips. He sees his sinfulness and because of that the angels comes, purifies him, and sends him on the mission. St. Paul in his letter speaks of his unworthiness to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He had persecuted the Church and consented to the killing of Christians. He describes himself as the least of the Apostles and not worthy to be such, and yet he is able to say “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” Aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness before God, he is received, converted and made the Apostle to the gentiles. And last we have the person of St. Peter, the Rock. I love St. Peter in the scriptures because he seems so relatable as a regular person. I hope it’s not unholy or impious, but I often wonder what St. Peter thought when Jesus the carpenter started telling Peter the fisherman how to fish. One could almost see a lack of faith in Christ and a desire to prove Him wrong when Peter consents to going out into the deep water. But he goes and behold the great catch that nearly sinks two boats. And his response? “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” On that confession of unworthiness and sinfulness Christ later builds His Church. Awareness of our sins leads us closer to Christ.
This Lenten season, as I said, is a special time and as a parish, we want to help everyone have as fruitful a Lent as we can. If you came in through the back doors you passed by a table full of books and information – books of Lenten reflections, books on renewing our faith, examinations of conscience, rice bowls to act charitably, and a number of other resources to aid you in making this Lent one of the most powerful and transformative our community has ever seen. Let us prepare well, then, that we might indeed claim victory at the end of Lent. My prayer is that when Easter Sunday comes and we announce joyful once more that He has Risen, the Lord won’t have to try to find people to go out and spread the message but will instead have our whole community there waiting and ready, making our own the words of Isaiah: Here I am, Lord. Send me!