08 March 2007

No strength in flesh, no hope in anxiety

2nd Week of Lent (R): Jer 17.5-10 and Luke 16.19-31
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation (Alternative Spring Break Pilgrims’ Blessing)


What’s wrong with seeking and finding our strength in flesh? What could be more real, more immediate, more readily available than the helping hand or the generous heart? Seeking and finding our strength in the flesh—in our own hearts and minds and bodies, in our own humanity and communities—this seems more than just the obvious answer; it seems like the only answer to our weaknesses! We turn to one another in service, in generosity, trusting in compassion and endurance. And we often find in our most desperate moment of need, at that instant of near panic in the face of overwhelming hardship—what? Neglect, abuse, cruelty, cold criminal hearts, disdain for others’ needs, blaming those in need, a rationalization for inaction, and weak, weak flesh. Of course, we also find heroic generosity, self-sacrifice, zealous service, and compassion. And here we find the Lord and His hope.

Jeremiah says that comfortable flesh—the cold, stingy heart wallowing in abundance—is cursed. Why? Well, where is the hope of one who finds his strength in passing flesh? Where is his trust? What more can he hope for, long for, than more comfortable flesh and a smaller heart grown colder in meanness? Let me give you a simple analogy: you fall off the deck of a cruise ship. One sailor throws you a standard life jacket connected to a long nylon rope. Another sailor throws you a life jacket made of cardboard and connected to a long string of paper clips. Now. It is entirely possible that both could save you under near perfect conditions, but knowing the composition of both jackets, the effects of water on paper, the strength of paper clips hauling your wet weight, which jacket do you choose to save your life? The standard one, of course! But spiritually speaking, how many of us consistently choose the cardboard jacket b/c it’s more fashionable or the person tossing it to us is better looking or b/c we do not trust the one throwing the life jacket that will save us?

Do I really need to tell you that placing your trust in the flesh and your hope in the world is both foolish and vain? Look at the Rich Man in hell. Where is his hope? Easy answer: where was his treasure? Look at Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. Where is his hope? Easy, again: he had no treasure in the flesh but dies covered in lesions. Where does he die? And this is probably the most poignant moment in the gospel today…he dies lying at the rich man’s door! At the entrance to fleshy abundance, a door to comfortable safety, Lazarus dies wanting nothing more than table scraps. Having everything, the rich man dies wanting everything and now he pleads for a drop of water. From Lazarus. Who died at his door hungry.

Here’s a question for the ASB Pilgrims: where is your hope? Where is your trust? What is it that you think you’re taking to Peru? Shoes? Baseball caps? School supplies? Building skills? Do you think you’re taking Jesus to Peru? He’s there already! What are you taking? What will you leave? What will you bring back? Are you ready to see Christ revealed to you in a three year old orphan? A gangly teenaged boy? A middle-class Sunday school teacher? A grouchy airport clerk with a distaste for Americans? In one another?

We’re not going to Peru to save the Peruvians. We going to Peru to meet Christ. Our gift to the Peruvians is our love, our attention, our fellowship in Christ, our willingness to work side by side. They are letting us serve them. And that’s their gift to us.

Take Christ with you. Leave Christ there. And bring him back. No flesh—American or Peruvian—can be your hope for blessing. God alone is our help, our drop of water in a thirsty desert.

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