Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C.
About two and a half years ago, I spent a week in the desert at Joshua Tree National Park in California. It was technically a vacation, but it ended up being more like a retreat. Each day I went for a long hike by myself, which gave me a lot of time to think and pray. At the end of the day, I would jot down my thoughts in a journal. The final entry is this: “Did you find what you were looking for? This is the question that came to me from the Lord. Did you find what you were looking for? I could answer this question on so many levels. Yes, I found the rest, solitude, and natural beauty that I was looking for. But no, I did not find a sense of inner peace. I wasn’t looking for that until I came here, and a restlessness emerged. Did you find what you were looking for? When this question came to me today, and a great loneliness filled my heart, I finished my hike early and came back to the house. I had the sense that I would not find what I was looking for on the hike. When I came back, I realized what I was looking for, or at least what the Lord wanted me to look for: the sanctuary lamp and Him whose presence it signifies. Did the Lord bring me all the way out here, to the desert of Joshua Tree National Park, just to remind me of this? That all I could possibly be looking for can be found in the tabernacle?”
G.K. Chesterton once said that “There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” I didn’t have to walk around the whole world to come to this realization. I just had to travel to California. But sometimes we need to leave a place to realize that what we were looking for all along can be found at the place we left. Sometimes the only way to come home is to leave by the backdoor and walk in a straight line until we’ve arrived at the front door.
If we spend any significant amount of time in silence, away from the noise and distractions of the world, we often discover an inner restlessness in our hearts. We realize that, despite all our searching, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for. We might not know what we’re looking for, but whatever it is, we haven’t found it. We’ve been trying to find it, whatever it is, in the things of this world, but the things of this world have left us empty. And more than empty, they’ve left us feeling burned: scammed, swindled, shortchanged, as if they didn’t live up to their promises, as if we didn’t get our money’s worth out of them. If we try to satisfy our heart’s deepest desire with the things of this world, we will end up feeling burned. The things of this world might promise us happiness, but they never live up to their promise. They burn us.
Our heart’s deepest desire is for God. And although God will set us afire if we approach Him, He will not burn us. “Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, ‘I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.’”
God does not want to burn us, but to burnish us. He does not want to scam us, but to save us. A great deal of suffering in life is caused by our attachment, or rather enslavement, to the things of the world. God knows that and He wants to save us from that slavery, even as He saved the Israelites. “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
This Lent is an opportunity for us to discover that what we’ve been looking for in the things of the world can be found here in the church, in the tabernacle. This Lent is an opportunity to be detached, to be set free from the things that enslave us: that burn us and leave us feeling restless and dissatisfied. This Lent is an opportunity to approach the fire of God’s love, a fire that will not consume or burn us, but will save us and restore us to His friendship. “There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” If we’ve been wandering far from home in search of what will satisfy us, it’s time to come home. It’s time to come home this Lent and realize that what—or rather, whom—we’ve been looking for all along has been waiting for us here: here in this church, here in this tabernacle. Amen.