WELCOME to my most beloved church season… Lent.
It is not beloved because of its sober tone or the gloom and doom, but despite it. It is beloved because of its authenticity.
Generation X and younger have especially demanded that those identifying as Christin, their faith communities and denominations, as well as the church universal be authentic and transparent. Their participation or lack thereof is often rooted in these demands.
It is not about ever-changing, energy-charged, entertaining worship.
It is not about the music, sound system, or multi-media.
It is not about coffee bars or accommodations.
Again, it is about authenticity.
But, it is challenging because it requires vulnerability and self-reflection.
Thus, Lent is our annual emphasis on removing the masks that hide our self-centeredness, insecurities, flaws, failures, and less than Christ-like thoughts, words, and deeds which harm our relationship with God, neighbor, and self.
This focus includes NOT practicing our piety and presumed righteousness before others. These pieties, according to our gospel, might be:
- reciting long prayers before a crowd (Opps!);
- announcing our fasting; and
- publicizing our giving of time, talents, and treasures.
But, it might also be:
- displaying our Ash Crosses for all to witness (soon to be awkward);
- posting a selfie with our Ash Crosses on social media
with #AshTag or #GetYourAshInChurch; and
- communicating about our Lenten fasting or practice.
Lent encourages us to explore ourselves, as individuals and church, including the darkest, hidden corners. It might not be pleasant, but with honesty and compassion, it will lead to self-awareness, growth, and authenticity. But, it must be practiced, lived, and embodied within and outside of these walls.
Lent is a vulnerable process, but it points us to repentance.
Repentance is not a “Sorry, Not Sorry”.
Repentance is not a simple “sorry” without changed behavior.
Repentance is an acknowledging of our thoughts, words, and deeds that do not honor God, our neighbor, and/or self. This acknowledgment turns our direction away from the ‘old self’ and towards God and the kingdom to come. This change in action, in our course, reconciles us with God and neighbor, as well as the person God has, is, and will continue to call us to be.
In essence, actions speak louder than words.
So, instead of self-discipline that challenges your self-control, such as fasting from adult beverages, soda, chocolate, or otherwise, I encourage you…
I encourage you to fast from empty prayer, but instead seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, and love and serve all people, especially the vulnerable. As Pope Francis said: “Pray for the hungry. Then feed them that is how prayer works”.
I encourage you to fast from expecting to be recognized, thanked, and praised for the giving of your time, talents, or treasures for the sake of the kingdom to come, but instead offer it freely and as able anonymously.
I encourage you to fast from displaying your ash cross, fasting, and the gestures of piety, but instead allow your life in word and deed to embody Christ and shine forth the divine light. As Saint Francis said, “preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary.”
Thus, I encourage you to repent.
- I encourage you to turn from partaking in injustice.
- I encourage you to turn from benefiting from injustice as able.
- I encourage you to turn from a lack of compassion and mercy afforded others.
- I encourage you to turn from self-serving indulgence that does not serve God or neighbor.
This vulnerability, self-awareness, fasting, and repentance will lead to authenticity in mind, body, and soul. Although it is emphasized in Lent, it should be our daily practice.
I now invite you all to join this Lenten Journey.
Invitation to Lent:
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today with the whole church we enter the time of remembering Jesus’ passover from death into life, and our life in Christ is renewed.
We begin this holy season acknowledging our need for repentance and for God’s mercy.
We are created to experience joy in communion with God, to love one another, and to live in harmony with creation. But, our sinful rebellion separates us from God, our neighbors, and creation, so that we do not enjoy the life our creator intended.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to the discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from the love of God and neighbor. I invite you, therefore, to the discipline of Lent – self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love – strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament.
Let us continue our journey through these forty days to the great Three Days of Jesus’ death and resurrection.