The Fourth Sunday of Lent B – March 18, 2012 – Laetare Sunday
2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23; Psalm 137:1-2,3,4-5,6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
What makes us happy? Our health, the chance to get an education, relationships, faith in God? How about cookies and ice cream? In the old liturgical calendar, today was called Laetare Sunday. The term was taken from the opening chant (introit) sung while the priest entered the church for mass. The word means “rejoice.” How does our church make us jump for joy today?
We’ve been around for over 2000 years. We’ve had our struggles, our intramural disagreements, our divorces from other Christians, our public embarrassments. However, we are still here doing good work.
Our schools, hospitals, missions, charities, counseling centers and parishes around the world create an impressive network. Our church helps people improve their lives through education, all facets of health care, and building programs.
These ministries give us something to be proud of. However, there is, as you might guess, plenty of unfinished business. Complete unity among Christian churches remains illusive even as we strive to understand and appreciate other faith traditions. Official church teachings about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer baptized members of the church contradict a gospel that has no boundaries.
The shortage of ordained priests plagues us at the same time indications that there are high level conversations about ordaining women to the diaconate are encouraging. Our moral teachings, which often engage in a complicated clash with federal policies, do not seem to resonate with the lives of good, conscientious Catholic people.
Today’s first reading lists some of the reasons why the Israelites were sent into exile: they did not listen to the prophets of their time; they mocked the messengers and despised their warnings. Today, many people in the church are eager to make their voices heard to advance the kingdom of God. Their pleas are often minimized or ignored.
Diana Butler Bass, whose new book is about the end of religion as we know it and the birth of a new spiritual awakening, writes: “Americans are searching for churches … that are not caught up in political intrigue, rigid rules and prohibitions … unresponsive authorities and inflexible dogmas. Instead, she continues, they want their religions to offer pathways of life-giving spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation and doing justice in the world.” 
Some will say if you do not like your religion, leave it. Others say don’t leave, try to improve it.
Todays gospel passage, written toward the end of the first century, was not a commercial to win over converts to Christianity. Scholars say it was written to inspire those who were already members of the church, encouraging them to hang in there, not to leave. The section we heard this morning is about eternal life and how Jesus came to save us from our own exiles. Was this a promise of life after death or was it a metaphor about the quality of life here and now? 
Today’s gospel reminds us not to worry about getting into heaven but to concentrate on making life more dignified here on earth.
In England, the 4th Sunday of Lent is known as Mothering Sunday marking a tradition when young daughters who worked as servants were given a day off to go home. It is also known as Refreshment Sunday because the Lenten fast was relaxed for a day. Special cakes were baked and enjoyed by all.
We continue our Lenten journey of reconciliation and rejuvenation pausing today to reflect on what makes us happy and why so many people in the world are not. While there is much for us to be thankful for, plenty of cookies and ice cream to bring us delight, there is so much more we are called to do.
2 Adams, James Rowe. The Essential Reference Book for Biblical Metaphors: From Literal to Literary. (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press) 2005, 92