Lenten Wednesday Noon Sermon – Mar. 26, 2014

Lent at St. John’s Montgomery

The Risk of Faith

A taxi driver picks up a nun. She gets into the cab, and the cab driver won’t stop staring at her. She asks him why is he staring and he replies, ”I have a question to ask you but I don’t want to offend you.

She answers, ‘My dear son, you cannot offend me. When you’re as old as I am and have been a nun a long as I have, you get a chance to see and hear just about everything. I’m sure that there’s nothing you could say or ask that I would find offensive.”

”Well, I’ve always had a fantasy to have a nun kiss me.”

She responds, ”Well, let’s see what we can do about that: #1, you have to be single and #2 you must be Catholic.”

The cab driver is very excited and says, ”Yes, I am single and I’m Catholic too!”

The nun says ”OK, pull off to the side of the road.”

He does and the nun fulfills his fantasy by giving him a quick peck on the cheek. But when they get back on the road, the cab driver starts crying. ”My dear child, said the nun, why are you crying?”

”Forgive me sister, but I have sinned. I lied, I must confess, I’m married and I’m Jewish.”

The nun says, ”That’s OK, my name is Kevin and I’m on my way to a Halloween party.”

Today, I would like to speak to you about THE RISK OF FAITH. The

risk I’ve just taken was to tell you that story. Now that’s all you will remember!

The risk I speak of today one cannot pretend. It’s for living in the real world. No masquerading here!


This Lenten season reminds us of our need to take risks in our life of faith. Many things can stand in the way of taking such necessary risks. Success and self-satisfaction top our list as they act to destroy the desire within to grow and develop in our sacred journey.

In Genesis, Abram has known success and yet God calls him into a new purpose for his life. Abram can only embrace this new journey if he is willing to risk all that he has.


In this Lenten season we encounter Nicodemus in the Gospel of John. He begins to search beyond his imprisoned present and to risk his position and his status, if only by night at first. Why? Because whatever he is and whatever he has; it isn’t enough, it isn’t working. As one commentator put it, Nicodemus has OD’d on his religion and in so doing he has lost his soul.


We can continue the masquerade in our lives that sometimes feigns ultimate contentment or we can risk finding renewed purpose in our lives, the purpose we have been created for in the first place.

Purposeful life always demands risk taking.

For the gift of children is preceded by the risk of pregnancy.

The gift of a good financial return is preceded by the risk of an initial investment.

The gift of athletic excellence is preceded by the risk of physical injury.

So is it all worth it? We are back to the age old question. Will ours be a life in pursuit of purpose or safety?


Two times before Good Friday’s ultimate risk Jesus reflects on the meaning and purpose for his life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he asks the Father to take this cup of suffering from him. Previously, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus questions,


˜Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ˜Father, save me from this hour’?  And what is his response?


˜No, FOR THIS PURPOSE I HAVE COME TO THIS HOUR. Father, glorify Thy name.’ (John 12:27-28a)


Yes, in both these examples purpose wins out over that very human desire for safety.


Safety¦.Safety, my friends, is usually the wrong choice. Why? Because it, like most of the other temptations in the wilderness, is a lie!  Who are we fooling? We can never really be safe. Safer? Yes. But never safe. Purpose alone will pay us dividends long after our safety has been compromised. And so with Christ in the garden we pray, ˜Father, Thy will be done.’


And so Abram, literally, ˜the father of a few’, risks what he has and in the end becomes Abraham, the father of a multitude.


Nicodemus, in the end will risk purpose over safety as he leaves the darkness and risks the light, as he defends the Great Teacher  before the Council  and as he steps forward  to care for the dead body of the Savior. At last, for him there is something more than the false sense of safety found in his fleeting status and his world of religiosity.


But safety is still a great temptation in this life. Like the temptations in the wilderness which we heard about earlier in this season safety is not bad, in itself. But it is a poor replacement for a meaningful life.

Safety, you see, keeps the world imprisoned in its smallness. Think about it.

If safety rules supreme, there is no new world to discover.

With safety in charge there is no Reformation of the Church and no Renaissance for our world.

There is no American Revolution. There is no one who dares to risk believing that, maybe, just maybe, ˜All men are created equal.’


Better to be safe than sorry, you say! I think not. ˜Tis a false choice. It may be better but best of all is God’s call to a life of meaning and purpose.

I never said it would be easy. But easy or not safety doesn’t trump purpose. Yes, sometime we may find ourselves in our purpose filled lives arriving in some pretty dark places. Don’t run away. Seek God’s purpose there in the dark. Jesus embraces the wilderness. He doesn’t run from it. Nor does Jesus say on Day 2 of his desert days, ˜1 down and 39 to go!’

I’ve always enjoyed the old adage,

˜When you find yourself in the cellar of life, look about for the wine!’


In our Gospel we have those creedal words that have echoed down through the ages.

˜God so loved the world¦’  John 3:16, 17 God is a risk taker from a way back. So should we risk to live a life of purpose.


Here we have it, the risk of incarnation and with it God’s ultimate modeling of his call to meaning and purpose for our lives. Choose safety and be haunted for ever in a recurring nightmare of ˜what ifs’. Choose purpose and ironically, we walk with the one who makes us safe for ever.


Seek to lose your life and you will save it. Save it and you will lose it. It’s beginning to make sense,

Do you recall the Devil’s first temptation in the desert? It was for Christ to satisfy his hunger. Not a bad thing. But then what? Once filled what comes next? More food.


The risk of faith is our calling this Lent and every day. Where might you journey from your present comfort zone and into that new place that God has planned for you? There your life of purpose will continue.


And let’s not forget that the great gift of these forty days is the gift of nothing. For if everything was going to work then our society would have been well satisfied by now. But like Nicodemus, it isn’t. And so the search continues. Nothing, that is, no thing will suffice. No thing, just a person and a relationship and a place with a purpose.

St. Paul speaks of

˜¦having nothing and yet possessing everything.’ 2 Corinthians 6:10c


  I love Lent it because it promises me NOTHING. That’s right, nothing. After all, the world tries to promise you everything and as we each strive to get it, it’s never enough. We always want more. I don’t need everything. I need nothing or at least, less of everything. Come to think of it, the less I have the closer I feel to Jesus. He had very little. The weaker I feel, the closer I feel to Jesus. Whenever I’m hurting, I feel closer to Jesus. For he knew our pains and sorrows; he lived with much affliction.  Needless to say, Lent pushes all of our assumptions and challenges all of our expectations.

  Lent pushes us into the wilderness. This it does not to present us with a strange place but rather a place where we can see ourselves more clearly. In the desert life is, necessarily, simplified.  

And so, Lent says, try the emptying approach. Since all those ˜things’ fail to satisfy our deepest desires maybe, just maybe, a good dose of nothing will do the trick. That’s why the wilderness works in our Lenten lives. There’s less of everything there. That’s why spring cleaning makes such wonderful sense. Clean up the clutter. Clear some space. Less is what we need. Nothing is what we should seek.

Maybe there is nothing new in Lent for you. Or perhaps, there is a new nothing, instead? Maybe that’s why this Lenten journey leads us where it does. For in less than forty days we shall arrive in a special place where new life and new possibilities for our lives are present.  Do you remember what and where that is? It is a tomb, and by the way, it’s empty! NO THING is there.

I’m reminded of the story that tells of a woman going on retreat at a monastery. She is escorted to her room by a monk. As the monk leaves her there in the room he says,

˜Let us know if there is something else that you need and we will show you how to live without it!’


St. Augustine reminds us that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Christ. Anxiety reigns. It is the natural result for those of us who opt for safety over purpose.  Can’t you just hear how today’s society, the safest people ever in history, fretting over the threat of losing the safety they believe they have.


Do you remember playing HIDE and SEEK as children. Where is the anxiety? It is found chiefly, if my memory serves me right, in the one trying to remain hidden. Where is the excitement? It is in the heart of the one doing the seeking. He has a cause that drives him! That’s far better than the one who sits and waits in fear of being caught!

So let me ask you some questions:

Are you hiding or seeking in this life?

Are you safe or sound?

 Are you waiting to be found or actively searching out the purpose implanted within you?

Abram risks making his journey.

Nicodemus begins to risk too. He remains a model for each and all. For Nicodemus, he is darkness moving towards the light. He is letting go of safety and daring to embrace a purpose beyond his shallow self, his false life and his pretend world.

The journey continues. Yes, it is long. Yes, it can be difficult. But it is purposeful. Yes, our cynical world laughs at it as useless and ultimately worthless. As if, not doing something makes life any better. Let the world keep on playing it safe. Do you recall many other religious authorities from first century Palestine? Most are long forgotten; but not Nicodemus. Maybe, the risk is worth taking after all.


 One raw, windy day in the spring, a small snail started to climb a cherry tree. Some birds in a nearby tree sniped their ridicule. ˜Hey, you dumb snail, squawked one of them, ˜where do you think you’re going?’ ˜Why are you climbing that tree’, others chimed in. ˜There are no cherries on it.’

To which the snail replied, ˜There will be some by the time I get there.’ (Brian Cavanaugh)