We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Feb. 18, the Rev. Tom Hughes – The Symbols of Lent


It’s nice to be here together as we begin Lent. These lessons that we have last Sunday and this Sunday are monumentally important because of what they teach us about the coming of the Kingdom, which is here, about the Messianic age which has now begun and how we are to live in it. The way I think to begin is to understand the importance of knowing symbols and what they mean because you can’t have a spiritual understanding of scripture if you don’t understand symbols and so that’s how we’re going to spend some time on this morning.

But I want to say to you first about Lent. I think sometimes we miss the point because I know people who are intent upon giving things up. I’m not going to have any popcorn or I’m going to give up wine. Some people take on things. I think both of those approaches are not quite what lent’s about and particularly the idea of giving up things. It’s not that you give up things that bring you pleasure or are good for you or make you happy, the idea is to give up things that are bad for you. The focus of what you give up is not the things that are lifegiving and happy that help you get along in this life and that you enjoy. You don’t give those things up. It’s not the idea for us to suffer. The idea is for us to grow spiritually and the way you grow spiritually is to make an intentional effort to give up those things that are not good for us

The lessons of last Sunday and this are just chocked full of powerful symbols for us to understand. The first one is that water – Jesus being baptized in the water. Remember the way to read scripture is to always look for the spiritual meaning in it. Don’t read it for what’s on the surface, read it for the spiritual meaning that is in it.

What the Bible is talking about in reference to water is the spirit so Jesus came up out of the water out of the Holy Spirit. He came up into the world and so water then becomes a very powerful symbol. We have it in the story of the Ark and the creation of the world that the ark floated upon the water of God, the spirit of God.

The idea then is that we understand these things for the way that God would have intended for us to grow with them and become more in our understanding of God’s calling to us so in today’s lesson we have we have water. We have the dove. The dove is a powerful symbol the power and love of God that goes before us into the world. The Wilderness into which Jesus went would be the world. When we leave here, this Ark that we’re in, we leave here this place where we are called together to be refreshed and restored by the power and presence of God. We leave here we go out into the Wilderness out into the world where we are confronted by the things that would overcome the power and presence of God if we let them. We’re all in the same boat and that boat is the ark, the ark that God has created for us to live in in this world so but we’re not left to our own devices

In a symbol, the intention is to take what is revealed to us to something that is much more ethereal that we may not quite understand. I mean take something as powerful and common as the cross. Now if you look at it, is a method of execution. I remember one time being a part of a retreat where this person had a had an electric chair around a chain around his neck you know he say well it’s just another method of execution like the cross. If you look at it that way then that’s right but of course that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about the execution it’s about eternal life it’s about the gift of God. I trust when you see the cross it is the love of God, the power of God, the presence of God, and the uplifting of God to us always to a holy life. That’s understanding the symbolism of the Cross

Behind me here is the baptismal font which is in itself an important and powerful symbol as we read about in the gospel, the baptism of Jesus he came up out of the water and coming up out of the water things were somehow different with him. We don’t know exa ctly what that means but for us what it means is that it is a symbol in the spirit of God and so if you have been fully immersed in the spirit of God you’re going to be different. What happened to Jesus is he saw this Dove of peace of Love, of the love of God and so that it becomes another symbol. The Dove is going before us into the world with the grace of God the love of God the presence of God. We’ve not come to understand that the power and presence of God goes before us as God’s people out into the world, out into the Wilderness.

When we read that in the scripture or if we sing it in a hymn when it talks about overcoming our enemies it’s not talking about people. It’s talking about the things within us that keep us from God. Those are our enemies that must be overcome. It’s not talking about the world out there as much as the world in here that must be overcome that’s where the enemies lie for us.

I’m sure you realize that’s true if you think about it. So the idea that we are people who have God revealed to us through understanding how God speaks to us is really important and as I said before, you cannot understand the spiritual life, you cannot understand the way the spirit of God moves in the world and in us if you don’t understand the symbols. It’s like trying to tell somebody about a dream you had. You know it’s hard to do. You try but you never can quite express it. It’s impossible to communicate about the things of the spirit if you don’t grasp the way God speaks to us in the world of the spirit and in the world of the spirit. Since we don’t have a way of describing that as Spirit, we use symbols

If you read the morning paper or paper, you’ve got the latest Wilderness report where Jesus went out encountered all of these things. You can’t find something in the morning paper that’s not already covered in what Jesus encountered in the wilderness. What he did each time he was confronted by things that are not spiritual that are not of the kingdom of God but rather are of the earth he fell back upon the presence of God the father and the Holy Spirit and that way he survived all of that.

Now that is also available to us in that kind of that kind of encounter with the world with the difficulties of life with our own shortcomings and my own my own failures that we all experience.

We are overcomers because not because of our own strength or our virtue but because we’re God’s people because we belong to the Lord . That’s what makes the difference in the way you encounter the world because the world will, if you don’t have that fortification, overcome you, You will fall victim to things that are destructive, that are self-destructive. We know plenty of people who have that experience in life well because they’ve not fully embraced the gift that is already given to us, this presence of God, this wholeness that that we don’t deserve that comes upon us, this oneness with creation.

Let this be a time of reflection that we have for the next few weeks. Let it be a time of examining the way we encounter the world, not in order to bring blame upon ourselves or anyone else, but just to figure out how is it we can encounter the world in a more positive and loving way which is what Jesus did, of course. It’s a way of reflecting on how it is that being the person I am, how to do the best I can with this gift that God has given me of having these few days here on this Earth in this Ark, in this world, with the people that I walk with you and other people in this world whom I love. I want to be the best I can in all those circumstances

I can remember as a young man having this fear that eventually I would disappoint everybody who ever counted on me. I no longer believe that but the only reason that I know that’s not true is because the spirit of God dwells in me and that’s what changes me the spirit of God is all over me. What it comes down to is opening yourself to the spirit of God and trying to clear away all the things that prevent that.

Maybe the way we need to experience all of life is being reflective like that and looking at the realities of who we are and what we’re about as God’s people so don’t do silly things like well I’m giving up pizza for Lent . What you want to do is give up things that are bad for you, the things that separate you from the people that you love ,things that separate you from the power and presence of God. That’s worthwhile doing and that’s what we’re all challenge to be about
in this Lenten season. When Jesus came up out of the water it was a whole new ball game for him in his life and so it will be so it is for us as well we got to claim it and that’s the good news of the Gospel this day. Amen.