Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday in Lent, March 3, 2024

The message about the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“There is nothing that you could ever, ever do, that would make God stop loving you.”  That’s the message that I brought to our all-school chapel a few weeks ago.  It was in direct response to a story about a young child at our school, who did not know God’s boundless love and mercy for himself.

We need to know this for ourselves.  It is the very heart of the Gospel.  Because Jesus lived and died and rose again: “There is nothing that we could ever do that would make God stop loving us.”

In today’s Epistle, Paul teaches that the Cross, which seems to us to be foolishness and weakness, is in fact the wisdom and the power of God.  This is Good News in a fallen world, filled as it is, with self-centered behavior, indifference to suffering, and deliberate, violent cruelty.  By living and dying for all people everywhere, Jesus shows us God’s new and better way of love.

Recently, I shared something Robert Farrar Capon wrote.  He was an Episcopal priest and spiritual writer who lived from 1925 to 2013:

There is therefore now no condemnation (he says) for two reasons: you are dead now; and God, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has been dead all along. The blame game was over before it started (he continues). It really was. All Jesus did was announce that truth and tell you it would make you free. It was admittedly a dangerous thing to do. You are a menace. Be he did it; and therefore, menace or not, here you stand: uncondemned, forever, now. What are you going to do with your freedom?

What are we going to do with our freedom?  This is the question that faces us, now that Christ has died for us all.  What are we going to do with our freedom, given that he will never, ever stop loving us—no matter what?

Frankly, remembering this is the only way that I am able to face the news these days.  Just last week, the death toll in Gaza passed thirty thousand human beings. More than a hundred people were killed when the Israeli Army opened fire on a group of starving people waiting in line for food.  There are conflicting reports about exactly what happened.  But more than a hundred starving people are dead.

Vladimir Putin openly threatened the United States and our NATO allies with nuclear war.  On top of this, the Financial Times reported about Russia’s nuclear doctrine, which apparently includes “first use” of tactical nuclear weapons.  By a narrow vote, Congress managed to avoid shutting down the government for now.  But there are no guarantees going forward.

Back in Oklahoma, a priest I know hosted a prayer vigil for Nex Benedict, the nonbinary high school sophomore, who died after a violent altercation at their school.  I read an open letter from another priest I know, a friend of mine, to a State Senator, who described this dead child (someone’s dead child) as “filth.”  My friend had to remind the Senator, who professes to be a Christian, of our Lord’s commandment to love all people without exception–loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Here in Texas, the Attorney General took Annunciation House to court.  It’s a Roman Catholic ministry in El Paso that feeds and houses refugees and other vulnerable children of God.  Their Executive Director noted that they have been doing so for more than fifty  years, and that they cooperate with the United States Border Patrol and all the other relevant authorities.  But that doesn’t seem to matter.  The local Roman Catholic Bishop wrote that:  “We will not be intimidated in our work to serve Jesus Christ in our sisters and brothers fleeing disaster and seeking to keep their families together.”  Our own Bishop, Andy Doyle, also issued a statement in defense of this ministry, which some Texas Episcopalians actively support.  

Now I’m convinced that none of us will be able to solve the many problems we face, at least not acting alone.  Moreover, it is true that we don’t always agree, not even in the Church.  But what we can do is participate in our democracy and in the life of this community that we call our home.  We can collaborate with our fellow Americans, even and especially when we don’t agree.  We can seek the mind of Christ together.  We can confront each other when we have to–when we find someone ignoring the teaching and example of Jesus.  That’s how the many become one–when we “speak the truth in love” to one another.  We can seek justice and the common good–striving to eliminate our many biases, oversights, and personal limitations–always giving pride of place to “the least of these,” whom Jesus called “members of my family.” 

With God as our helper, we can bear witness to the love of Jesus in those parts of the world where we can make a difference. More than fifty years ago, Bernard Lonergan, the Canadian Jesuit theologian, identified a pattern of civilizational decline.  I think he was right.  He said the way to reverse the decline is embracing Jesus and the way of the Cross.  Deeper conversion is always the answer.  This means falling in love with God. 

Today, God is calling us to decide what to do with our freedom.  God is always calling us to love Jesus more and more–and to follow him more closely.  That means loving the neighbors he gives us to love.  God is calling us to cleanse the temple of our hearts, so that the Spirit of love might find a home there.  God is calling us to drive out all the false gods that demand our obedience–to make a place that belongs to God alone.

This means driving out every self-centered priority and unruly desire we have.  It means driving out every uncharitable thought and violent impulse.  It means driving out our contempt for each other and all our illusions of control.  It means driving out all bigotry and every form of privilege.  It means laying aside every obstacle to loving other people–just like Jesus does, so that God might come among us and reign.  

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.