1st Sunday in Lent
The Rev. Canon Jason Leo
We continue the Lenten journey that we began on Ash Wednesday. It is a very religious time of the year. I live in Cincinnati Ohio and one of the outward manifestations of this religious time of the year is Friday night fish fries. Interestingly enough, the fish sandwich was invented in Mumfort Heights on the west side of Cincinnati in the 1970s, seventeen years before the filet o’ fish went on the market. It was invented at the Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant in Mumfort Heights and it was the result of west side Catholics who represent about 90 percent of the population of the west side refusing to eat hamburgers on Friday.
The managers of the Frisch’s said we’re going out of business, we have to do something, Thus, the fish sandwich. I don’t know why that seems important other than my son goes to a Catholic school and I’m mandated to volunteer at the Friday night fish fry.
It is a religious season. A season when we tend to be more intentional about religious observations. Consequently it seems important to look a little bit more carefully at the word religion. Which takes its root from the Latin word, “legio.” In Latin a legio means a connector. For example, it’s the same word for a Roman legion. A Roman legion was a group of soldiers who were connected in one unit. It’s also the same word for ligament. A ligament (I was liberal arts) but I’m pretty sure a ligament connects a muscle to bone. Right? So a ligio is a connector. A re-ligion, a religion, is a re-connector. So religion serves the purpose of reconnecting people to God.
To claim religion, to claim a religious journey, one would have to say at some point there was a disconnect. Religion is kind of like ACL surgery for the soul. You tear your ACL you have surgery, you get it fixed. Religion reconnect us. So, a religious experience, which I hope you have throughout Lent and for the rest of your lives, is an opportunity for someone to become reconnected because of a disconnect.
In Christianity we say for many and various reasons that the disconnect resulted as a consequence of our own brokenness. Our disconnect from God was a part of our rebellious nature or lack of our inability to be perfect. No one’s perfect. The limitations of the human experience results in that disconnect.
Some would claim, “I don’t know if that’s really true. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape. I don’t know if I need to worry about that whole reconnection process that you’re discovering in religion. You all go have fun, I’m going to keep living my life.”
I would say that’s wrong thinking. I do believe in many and various ways that we all fall short. That no one measures up 100% and that’s okay. There was a book out in the 60s that I never read because I didn’t agree with the title. The title was I’m okay-You’re okay. I always thought the title should have been I’m Not Okay And You’re Not Okay But That’s Okay.
So anyway, I wanted to share with you a brief story about my grandmother who seemed to be able to embrace this not being okay, and also to engage herself as a religious person which was surprising to all of us. My grandmother has been dead for about 25 years now. She was quite a character. She was mischievous. She also smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish. I think she died at 89 and we all said she was smoked and pickled.
My grandparents lived in New York city. They had a summer house in Maine. Eventually they retired in Maine. We used to go up every summer to Maine to visit with them. That was fun. Part of it was we had to attend the local Episcopal church with my grandmother every Sunday because there she sat faithfully in her pew for how knows how many years. It was a little bit out of character with her behavior but grandma was grandma and we went to church with her every Sunday and that was that.
One day I said, “Grandma, what’s the deal with this church thing? Why every Sunday?” She shared with me a story. She was flying to Paris out of Kennedy airport in New York city. This was a long time ago. She checked in, checked her bags and then went to her gate. Before she got to her gate she got her soft drink and some peanuts. She waited for her seat to be called. A young gentleman sat down one seat away from her and he looked like a nice guy but immediately she was appalled to see that the man was reaching down onto the empty seat between them and eating her peanuts. She was relatively proper in public and decided the best course of action would be to reach down and eat some peanuts to let him know they were her peanuts. And she did. She reached down and ate a handful of peanuts and let him know that they were her peanuts. He saw her do that.
Unfortunately his response was to eat some more peanuts. So then it was game one. Back and forth. She ate some peanuts and he ate some peanuts. It was like a war over peanuts and eventually all the peanuts were gone. At that moment her seat was called and she got up and took her soft drink and her purse and got on the plane. She was so upset by this whole situation. She had a terrible headache. She immediately ordered a martini and opened her purse to pull out some aspirin. There in her purse she found her own unopened package of peanuts.
She was eating this guy’s peanuts. She told me this story and she looked at me and said, “I am part of church because I need to be reminded again and again that I’m not perfect. I make mistakes and it’s unavoidable. I attend worship on Sunday to be reminded that I’m not perfect but that I’m also perfectly loved. For me that reminder is a religious experience.”
Some say, “I’m okay, religion, I don’t need that reconnection. I’m good with God. You all go have fun, I’m going to move on.”
Perhaps a deeper response to that would be from St. Paul who said if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just will lead us once again into righteousness.
So, I think we all fall short and I think in Lent it is an opportunity to remember that is true for each and every one of us and that’s okay. In our efforts to be a religious people – a people that reconnect with God, I am confident that you will discover in that reconnection that you come a little closer to becoming the person that God had in mind when God came up with the idea for you in the first place. As we do it together, journey through Lent together, and reconnect with our creator, we’ll all become a little bit more like the world that God had in mind when God came up with the idea for the world in the first place. As that journey comes to an end at Easter I know that you will be surprised by joy and find yourself just a little bit closer to the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed for all people and promises to each and every one of us right here and right now. Amen.