Lent III - You Can't Be Neutral
I. “Whoever is not with me is against me.”
At the start of World War II, Belgium declared itself a neutral country. They didn’t want to choose sides and preferred staying out of it. But nothing is fair in warfare. May 10th, 1940, German parachutes and armored units poured across the border. They called it Blitzkrieg, ‘lightning war,’ for they came and conquered while the country was just waking up. What we learn from Belgium is a very important lesson: you can’t stay neutral in battle.
II. In our Gospel reading today, Christ warns us about the reality of a spiritual war.
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Lk. 11:21-23).
It’s not hard to imagine this scene. A king is piddling around is his castle without a single worry. He’s tucked away in the hills with a set of bodyguards and a little armory. He’s so confident in himself that he spends his time playing cards and making merry. But completely unannounced, a stronger force of men break into the castle and take everything.
There’s a spiritual message here.
III. We can live pretty cozy lives in America. Most of us have food, money, and roofs above our heads. We consider ourselves decent people and we’re entitled to the good life. But the phone rings in the middle of the night and a voice tells you your loved one has passed away, your job is terminated, or your medical exam has revealed cancer. In a single moment your illusion of security vanishes.
When I was in seminary, I spent a lot of time ministering to people with dementia. I read through every book I could to find ways to help, and stumbled across a passage I’ll never forget. “The cruelest irony of contemporary culture may be that many who thought they had found their identities in the individualism, rationalism, romanticism, and materialism of western modernity…[when faced with dementia] now find these foundations crumbling beneath them” (Glen Weaver). What is the foundation of your life? Is it your health, relationships, or hobbies? Then what happens when you lose these? What makes your life meaningful? Will it stand the test of time?
I’ll never forget the difference between Jack and Angelica. Both were in the early stages of dementia. Jack was an agnostic. For him, this diagnosis was the end. Nothing remained; nothing mattered. Angelica also suffered, but she was a devout Christian. In the midst of her pain, her heart was anchored in the life to come. Jack was hopeless. Angelica had hope. Which one will you be?
Two homes were built, one on sand and the other on the rock. One was blown away. The other stood strong. What is the foundation of your life?
IV. Christ’s story about the king in the castle goes deeper.
He was confident in his own security, but when the enemy came the walls crumbled.
Could this happen to your soul? Is it nourished? Is it defended?
St. Paul urges, “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:13-16).
V. Lent, of all times, is the season to take inventory of the soul.
Is the Eucharist the center of your life? Christ told us that unless we eat and drink His body and blood we will have no life. St. Ignatius, in the first century, calls the Eucharist the “medicine of immortality.” As we clothe ourselves with the sacraments we clothe ourselves in a life of peace and security.
Is your heart pure? Are you carrying around the burden of anger, bitterness or selfishness? These are like rust on the armor eating away at every joint and crevice. St. Paul warns us that those who eat and drink from the Chalice with impure consciences are eating and drinking condemnation. So what can we do? The Church tells us to run to confession. Christ gave the power to absolve sins to His apostles. The Book of James tells us to turn to the priests for remission of sins and this was at the heart of the practice of the early Christians. In fact, it was common then and still today in many parts of the world to confess on a weekly basis. Our archdiocese asks us to go monthly but with haste and diligence.
Confession is one of the most liberating gifts of Christianity, and yet one of the most misunderstood and neglected. “Confession,” Metropolitan Joseph teaches, “is not merely the reading off of a list of sins, but delving deep into the heart to discover the passions and suffering that drive us to sin…Those who think they can go without Confession for long periods of time are setting a trap for themselves.” In reality, confession is the sacrament of freedom. It liberates us from the weight that we spend our lives dragging around us, and gives us freedom to be humble and joyful.
VI. Finally, we must guard our minds with Truth, so that we aren’t swept up with the cheap teachings of the world.
“Be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself how much time you’ve watched television? How many times have you seen the adds on coke cans or road signs? We hear a hundred sermons every day, at school, at work, in the news or in paperbacks. Everything everywhere is trying to convince you to endorse a message or support a cause. I imagine we’d all be shocked at how desensitized we’ve become or how our personal believes have been changed subtly by corporations and politicians.
Can we balance these influences with time in the Word of God?
VII. We really can’t be neutral can we?
It isn’t enough to try to love everybody. Whether in our lifestyles or convictions in Truth, we are all tugged in a hundred directions. If not anchored in Jesus Christ, we are no different than the blades of grass that bend in whichever direction the wind blows.
“Whoever is not with me is against me.”
“Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10). Amen.