Rev. Estelle Margarones
Exodus 13:17-18 and 13:20-22 and Mark 9:2-9
This Wednesday is Ash Wednseday, a day marking the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. The question will likely be asked of you this week, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Will it be coffee, chocolate, or your credit card?
As Christians, we are given the opportunity this week to make changes in our lives. Change involves trust, faith, sacrifice and perserverence. The Bible is full of stories of change. One that comes quickly to mind is the story of Moses and the Exodus.
This is a story of listening to God and moving forward in faith. God spoke and Moses listened. The Israelites were living as slaves in Egypt. God instructed Moses to go to Pharoah to have them set free. Moses actually had a moment of doubt when said “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah?” He is then assured of God's presence in his life and God's role in this undertaking. At that time, Moses acted upon what he heard. Moses asked Pharoah to let the people, repeatedly. Pharoh refused repeatedly...until the plagues came and and Pharoah called Moses in the middle of the night and said, “Go!” Change can involve a lengthy process. Moses kept going back to Pharoah asking that the Israelites be set free. And when he finally got the go-ahead, it's not because he was asking Pharoah again, but because he'd already set the stage--more than once.
The Israelites left behind all they knew and moved forward in faith. The people started out excited and happy about their trip. Then they got to the Red Sea, didn't think they could cross it and said it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt. So they hit an obstacle and immediately they were sorry they started out. Change involves trust, faith, sacrifice and perserverence. Moses had faith. He perservered. He trusted God. Moses knew that even though he may encounter a troubled tribe and the loss of relationships with all that at one time was very familiar, he knew that they had to move forward and they did so, not alone, but with God.
On this Transfiguration Sunday, our Scripture tells us that Jesus revealed his true nature in front of three of his disciples. When he was up on the mountain, his clothes became a dazzling white and prophets from ancient times—including Moses--appeared with him and they engaged in dialogue. God's voice came from above, telling the disciples to listen to Jesus...and then, quick as a flash, everything is back to 'normal'. Or is it?
The disciples have been changed by this experience. You, too, can be 'changed' by experiencing a relationship with Jesus. God said, “Listen to Him”. What a gift we've been given in the collection of the life and times and lessons of Jesus in what we call the New Testament! In the Scripture, Peter offered to build Jesus a dwelling place fit for God, high on a mountain. But Jesus didn't stay up on the mountain, he came back down and walked with us. I believe that symbolic walk to go back to regular life teaches us that if we will listen to Jesus, we can change, we can continue Christ's work, thereby changing the world.
We have the Gospels as records of what Jesus said. Among many lessons he taught us, he encouraged us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit the sick, and to invite the stranger in. We can act upon these and any number of instructions Jesus gave us. God said, "Listen to Him".
After seeing homeless women disguising themselves as men in order to get meals at a male-only shelter, on Easter Sunday, 1974, Kip Tiernan opened the first women's only-shelter in the nation, just twenty minutes away in Boston. Started primarily as a center to hand out coffee and used clothes and to give a few needy women a place to sleep; Rosie’s Place, a sanctuary for poor and homeless women, now offers emergency and long-term assistance to women who have nowhere else to turn.
Rosie’s Place has 20 beds and provides an array of services, including a food pantry, a literacy program, and drug and alcohol counseling. You may think that starting and growing a women's shelter is an amazing legacy (and it is), but Kip didn't stop there. In 1979, she began distributing food out of the back of a station wagon. In 1981, The Boston Food Bank was incorporated and in 1990, they distributed 5 million pounds of food. In 2009, the Greater Boston Food Bank distributed 31.5 million pounds of food and grocery products.
No doubt that starting a women's shelter and food bank involved a time of change; a time that involved trust, faith, sacrifice, and perserverence. Kip Tiernan passed away last summer at the age of 85. You can read all about her work on the Rosie's Place website at RosiesPlace.org. Please take note, in the photo on the “About our Founder” page, Kip is wearing a cross.
When Jesus went to the mountain, he showed his true nature. God said to humanity, represented by the disciples, “Listen to Him”. These 40 days leading to Lent are the time to do just that. During Lent, we are invited to draw closer, to listen for that Divine presence, and to walk with Jesus. This week, we are given the opportunity to embark on a journey of 40 days that will lead us to Easter and to the ressurected Christ. On Ash Wednesday, people will gather in churches around the country and around the world to show their faith in Jesus. Celebrating Ash Wednesday is a sign to ourselves that we take that commitment seriously.
For Christians, Lent is a time of trust, faith, sacrifice and perserverence. It's a time of personal reflection, confession, repentenance and hope. And when I say 'confession', I don't mean that you have to come see me to tell me the things you've done of which you're less than proud, I mean opening your heart to Jesus and being made new in him. If you've done some things you're not happy with, or you have some habits that aren't healthy for you or others, this is a perfect time to make changes. This week, Christians all over the world will be consciously making changes.
Some people will be giving things up and others will be taking new things on, all in an effort to become closer to Jesus. But what on earth does giving up chewing gum, chocolate, or coffee have to do with Jesus anyway? It could be that the change you make, your personal sacrifice is a reminder of sacrifice that Jesus made for us. It could be reminiscent of the old tradition of fasting which could have been a method of purifying oneself in honor of Jesus or as a way of getting closer to God. It could simply be that when we don't do something like eating meat or going to the movies, we think of why we're not doing it and thus bring God to mind.
I encourage you to look beyond yourself and see how your sacrifice can have an impact on the greater good. Might you give up taking paper or plastic at the supermarket and instead bring your own re-usable bag? You'd be saving trees and cutting down on the pollution that is a side effect of the production of grocery bags. Might you even give up driving to the grocery store and instead take on walking, which could be healthier for you, could help you save money, and could cut down our dependence on foreign oil? Maybe this Lenten season, your sacrifice is of your time and talent. What can you share with others? Can you donate time at a shelter or food pantry or offer a ride to someone in need?
As followers, we're called to follow the examples Jesus set. Maybe this Lenten season, the change you make is in your attitude or mind-set. Could you give up road rage, annoyance with customer service reps, aggrevation with your boss? Maybe this year, you give up judgement. Change involves trust, faith, sacrifice and perserverence. Sometimes, like Moses, we wonder if we can do it. Sometimes we doubt our own ability. When you're doing something for God, you're doing something with God. Be assured of God's presence in your life! Do you listen for God's voice in your life? Do you follow even when you can't imagine how you'll be able to achieve the goal? Will you move forward in faith? Do you have the courage to start anew? Do you trust that God has it all under control and that all is in Divine Right Order even when you're far from where you want to be? When you walk with Jesus, you are not alone. You can draw on his strength, power, and love to sustain you.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednseday, a day marking the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. What are you giving up for Lent? Blessed Be and Amen.