How do you do Lent?
2nd Sunday in Lent, 2017 12 March 2017 What is it that makes Lent unique for you? Why is it different than the rest of the church year? Or for that matter your life outside the church? Do we actually have a life outside the church, a secular life? I like to go back to my own experience as a child. After all we are all shaped by our own experiences, be they for good or ill. All I know are those things I have seen or done or heard. Now as much as I can trust my memories, I think I believed Lent was something for Catholics and had to do with eating fish on Fridays. It ended in Easter when everyone dressed up and went to church. There were Easter eggs and lilies. When I was older I associated Lent with a time to give up something; that was my first go at a spiritual discipline even if I did not know that is what it was called. Even as a somewhat mature adult, when I came back to the church in my 30’s, I did not spend a lot of time dwelling on Lent and the spiritual disciplines that often come to the forefront during these forty days. But somewhere there was an “ah ha” for me when it all started to come together and I perceived a rhythm in the church year as saw Lent as a time to cultivate a variety of things that would help make me a better Christian and a better person. Or if not better, at least different. Back to my question: what makes Lent unique? Why do you “do” Lent? One of the things I do is ask myself how well I am communicating with God. By that I mean not so much to I pray every day, for that could mean no more that talking and hoping God is listening, but am I listening for and to God. Poor Moses had to deal with a bunch of self-centered folks who only listened to God when God spoke really loudly and spent the rest of the time complaining. Abram, on the other side, asked not questions when God told him to leave his home and go. I find it interesting that often it is the one least likely to succeed who takes the time to listen and hear what God is saying. Today it is Nicodemus, who does not quite get it, but who senses that with Jesus (and later the cross) is the way to be in the world. He sees the world the way it is, with the empire in charge, but starts to realize that that is not the way of God. And as we learn to listen, do we not hear from God a message that seems counter cultural? Do we not hear that we are to desire that everyone experience well being? Do you know how hard it is for me to pray for the well being of some people? You likely do because you have the same problem. In our fractured nation and world, how easy is it to pray for leaders of the political party you oppose, or someone who is involved in activities that are wrong? It is NOT easy at all. But that is part of why we do Lent. Yes DO Lent. We do Lent by practicing the kind of piety that helps make it easier to pray for those who will us harm. We look at our own lives. St. Ignatius, at the end of the day, would look at what he had said and done that day and try to see how it fit with God’s will. We can do Lent by what were once called acts of purgation. Unfortunately, I associated the word with something that intentionally causes vomiting and/or diarrhea. Or I think of the political meaning of getting rid of all your political enemies one way or another, frequently in a ruthless manner. But there is a softer and more meaningful use of the word. When we engage in self-denial, like fasting on Fridays during Lent, or choosing not to do something, or when we try to make our lives simpler, giving up an incessant desire for things we neither need nor want, we find a clarity comes over us. If I fast and become hungry, I feel more joy and appreciation for food and a hopefully greater resolve to reduce hunger in the world. If I have less stuff, I have more time to appreciate God’s glorious world. I can devote more resources to those who truly do not have enough. Beware the danger when the fast or the giving up becomes an object in and of itself; we lose sight of God. I think it is good to take things to another level. Have you ever considered what you do as a sacrifice? Maybe we have given up our own plans or goals to help our kids through college, or changed career plans because it would be better for our spouse. But have you ever thought of what you as you work or enjoy a hobby or volunteer as a sacrifice? I love how the prophets say that a true sacrifice as not the blood of an animal, but a life lived in relation to God and to one another. We will not bring the reign of God any closer by our labors, but we will bring ourselves in closer relation to God by these simple acts. Sacrifice does not mean to kill; it means to make holy and that is what we do by those acts of kindness, mercy and justice we do. Comforting a friend who has just suffered a loss is one of those sacred acts; even something as simple as acknowledging someone is a sacred act. Economic justice was the byword of Amos. Our time spent together in worship should, in part, be a time to acknowledge those very acts. We come together in prayer and hearing the Word and in Eucharist. In this season of Lent we would do very well to remind ourselves of the need for these practices of faith. Maybe this week you could ask yourself how you could better experience, or go deeper into, your faith. Your mind, your body, and your whole self belong to God. Intellect, discipline, and service are all the stuff of Lent. We are heading where we have never been nor dared to go, yet we sense that this is the Way. God will be with you in that journey. You will be born anew!!
Loving God, you have given me the gift of this new day, and you send me out to live it fully and well. Help me to be attentive to your direction and leading. If you should call me to go in some direction, give me courage to try this new thing. If you present me with a mysterious truth or grace, help me to understand, or to seek understanding, with a sense of wonder and faith. Whatever this day may hold, I trust that you will keep me in all my comings and goings. In your Son’s name, I pray. Amen