The Fifth Sunday of Lent by The Rev. Dick Toll

April 3, 2022

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8
Psalm 126

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We all live within a mystery. We live…that is a mystery. We live within a creation that is so vast we cannot even get our minds around its vastness. That is a mystery. We live in a mystery that places us within the vastness of a universe that causes us to wonder if we are the only ones with our human gifts to live within this vastness or if there are others like us or different that live beyond our own universe. Mysteries abound as we gaze and explore the universe.

What makes us human? Who are we? Why are we here? What is God doing? If we were God, we would do things differently. So many within history have presumed that they are God and know the answers to move forward. Disasters in history have followed.

What makes us human? A book I read 60 years ago had a profound effect on me. A Roman Catholic Jesuit priest wrote it. He was also a paleontologist and philosopher. He was silenced by the Church in the 1930’s for his views on evolution and the development of human consciousness. His name was Pierre Teilhard Chardin. The book was called The Phenomenon of Man. He was loyal to his church so his books were not published until after his death in 1955.

What makes us human? And God breathed the Spirit into Adam and Eve and gave them life. Chardin writes that at a moment in time men and women were evolving over many millions of years. When God breathed the Spirit into them, they were able to look into a stream of water and see themselves for the first time. Their faces were reflected back to them as they had received the gift of reflection. They began to realize they were different from other animals. They could look out upon the land and decide for themselves to make decisions, to travel, to communicate, to play, to imagine, to make a difference in the world they found themselves to live in.

They had been given the gift of humanity. They learned how to choose and some found that choice to be good at times and evil at other times. They reflected upon life. They would know that they would die. They had the gift of reflection with insights as their brains evolved with their understandings of being human and different from other animals.

We look back on the human record and we are amazed at how our humanity developed…for better or for worst. It took millions of years but out of our reflections we learned how to speak, to write, to keep records, to wonder about our place in the universe. We worshiped nature, searched for Gods, we learned how to make fire and cook food, we formed communities…and all of this came about because of our unique ability to reflect.

The Bible represents to us a reflection of the beginnings of our understanding of the magnificence of creation and our place within it. It tells us the good and the bad of

our relationship with God and each other. It is our primary tool for reflection and the Bible can be used in many constructive as well as destructive ways.

We have the person of Jesus, who we believe to be the reflection of the living God, as well as to be fully human. Jesus, in his humanity, authenticates our humanity in his life, death and resurrection. He becomes for us the reflection of what God intends for humanity. To love, to love God, to love our neighbor, to love ourselves.

The story we just heard from John’s gospel is one that I often wonder about in the way that Jesus reflected our humanity. Among his followers was Judas, apparently a thief and one who was to betray Jesus. What must have been Jesus reflection on his person in his inner circle? How did Jesus feel about Judas and his remarks about being anointed and what about Lazarus sitting at the table eating after having been raised from the dead. We aren’t allowed to hear about Lazarus in his death in later years but it certainly became a reflection of the early church.

And so we gather here today to remind ourselves that we belong to God and for God’s purposes and for God’s purposes alone have we been created.

I have a personal reflection that has kept me alive spiritually throughout my life and I am grateful for it. I spent my early life being raised on the desert of West Texas. Those of you that have not experienced the desert may have difficulty realizing its silence, its power, its desolation, the feelings of being alone, vulnerable…and it is important to realize in our own reflections of the beginnings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam…three major religions…were all given to us by those who lived and died in the desert…a place of wonder and magnificence.

My reflection of the desert comes out of a moment in time when I was in the Big Bend of Texas. A desolate, gorgeous, lonely place where there is little civilization and harsh rules of survival.

I was with a group of 12 explorer scouts and we had brought along a dozen horses to camp out in the Big Bend for a week. Wondering what life had to offer me, self-assured, ready to learn, eager to explore. We rode across the Rio Grande and went to Mexico.

During this week I experienced the beauty of a full moon while I was alone on night on a walk in the desert. I can say only that I had what some would call a spiritual bath. I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the desert, the vastness of the universe and here I was, “little ole me” somehow a part of it. How did I come to be here? What was ahead for me? How was I committed to the vastness I felt within and surrounded me? I can remember putting my foot into the sand and seeing it’s imprint in the sand. Somehow that simple gesture connected me to the universe, to God, to creation that I have never forgotten. I did not have answers but knew at the time I was to seek answers to my questions and so I began my quest that led me 10

years to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. I did not know at the time but I was acting upon a reflection and defined my humanity.

One of the gifts the Church has to offer is the gift of community. And, within that community we have ways and means of how to reflect our lives and faiths. Sharing our personal story becomes the most meaningful way we have to reflect.

For 10 years I had a group at St. John’s in Milwaukie called “Education for Ministry”. It was developed by our seminary in Sewanee, Tennessee. We spent weekly studies for 4 years in the Old Testament, the New Testament, Church History and Modern Theology. Over 60 people took the program over 10 years, 7 completed all 4 years.

Why do I speak of this program? For a 15-minute segment of the program, one person would bring a personal reflection to share. It might be a past issue or a current issue. It could be as simple as a conversation with a stranger on an elevator. We would discuss it and share our various thoughts about how it gave meaning to our own life or similar moments we shared. My point is that we reflected our life story and would enjoy the input of others in sharing.

And, here we are today, each with our separate stories, our reflections waiting to be shared, sharing a common humanity, sharing a journey of life and death. So here we are the Fifth Sunday of Lent reflecting on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and looking forward to Easter.


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