Experiencing The Journey

Sorry my sermon-posting was delayed – it was trapped on my office computer again! :)

Psalm 25:1-10
Mark 1:9-15

Experiencing The Journey

It is the first week of Lent. The children and the choir helped me to put a certain word of praise ‘away’ last week, about 40 of us worshipped together and received ashes on Wednesday night, my Facebook newsfeed is now full of people talking about what they are ‘giving up’, rehearsals for the Easter Cantata started last night (there is still time to join, by the way!) and the Music Committee is thinking about music for our Easter Sunday worship services. Easter is coming – but first we must experience the journey of Lent.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I did not really observe Lent growing up – it was a season that seemed to be reserved for my Catholic friends. I hopped onto the Easter train when it was time to wave palms and shout ‘Hosanna!’, but we never talked about ‘giving something up’ or observing Lent in any way. The color of the paraments in the sanctuary and the pastors’ stoles changed to purple for the season, but other than that it was business as usual.

So why here? Why now? Why do I think it is important for us both individually and us as a church community to observe Lent?

On a very basic level, I think that observing Lent gives more meaning to Easter. Last week I said in my sermon, “Lent is a time when we prepare ourselves for Easter. After all, we cannot fully experience the power of the resurrection without first experiencing the vulnerability of the crucifixion.”

On a deeper level, I would argue that Easter is where the Christian faith started. The women found an empty tomb and ran from it proclaiming that Christ had rose from the dead; that is where it all began. Obviously organized Christian religion came along later, but faith in a risen Christ started on that first Easter morning.

So if experiencing Lent gives more meaning to Easter, and Easter is where the Christian faith started, then wouldn’t experiencing Lent give more meaning to our faith as a whole?

Wouldn’t experiencing Lent give more meaning to our faith as a whole?

Here is what I said in my Epistle letter this week about how I am experiencing Lent on a personal level this year:

I have never really liked the notion of ‘giving things up’. It is not the tradition itself that I do not like, per say, rather the execution. I like traditions with meaning, ones that teach you something. I think that whatever discipline we take on during Lent should help us grow as a person and get closer to God. For some people that might involve giving something up – for others it might involve taking something on.

This year I have decided to give myself a Lenten project. There are days (most of them, in fact) when I feel completely disorganized (most of you have seen my desk ☺). When I can’t find something or am tripping over something I keep thinking about the following Psalm …

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
– Psalm 51:10

But how can God create a clean heart within me when I feel so disheveled in my earthly life?

My Lenten project could be simply seen as a quest to get a little bit more organized. But in reality I just want to have a simpler, cleaner and calmer life so that I create the space to grow spiritually.

So I wrote that on Tuesday morning. And by Wednesday afternoon I was completely tearing my office apart looking for an important piece of paper that seemed to have gone missing. I was getting more and more worked up about the fact that it was gone for good and eventually came to the conclusion that I would probably get fired for being so disorganized.

As I was digging through the piles and piles of papers on my desk, coming no closer to finding what I was looking for, I kind of said to myself, “See this is what I’m talking about!” I probably spent a good hour frustrated, stressed and worried. By the time I had found the missing paper, I had lost time that I could have spent with God or growing as a person or exploring my faith. And the time that I still had was compromised because I had gotten myself so worked up.

In the middle of all of this, I felt God speak to me; not in a clouds clearing, voice booming from heaven kind of way, but in a nudging, phrase repeating in my head over and over again kind of way. I felt God said to me, “Slow down.”

Slow down.

Slow down so I can be a calmer person. Slow down so I can grow in my faith. Slow down so I can help others to grow in their faith. Slow down so that I am giving more attention to the ministries and activities that I am a part of. Slow down so that I feel more in control. Slow down so that I feel more balanced. Slow down so that I am focusing on quality, not quantity. Slow down so that I am paying attention to and appreciating the world around me. Slow down so that when Easter finally gets here I can appreciate what it really means.

Slow down so I can experience the journey of Lent.

And do you know what? Old Catholic tradition aside, I think it is a journey worth experiencing.

‘Giving something up’ for Lent or observing it in another way is not a rite of passage to pass through or a badge of honor to be worn. It is a journey to experience, one that makes our Easter mornings more meaningful, our faiths more rich. It is something that we do on a quest to be better people, better Christians. It gives us the opportunity to think about our lives and the choices that we make; to think about why we do the things that we do. It gives us the opportunity to carve out time to talk to God, to listen to God speak to and through us. It allows us to restrict ourselves in a world where anything and everything is so readily available. It lets us think about how the changes we are making during this 40-day period might affect who we are long after the trumpets have been put away and the Easter Lilies have left the sanctuary.

In the end, Easter lasts one day; experiencing the 40-day Lenten journey gives us the opportunity to make more meaning out of that one day.

Brian Erickson, who is a University Chaplain at the University of Evansville in Indiana, looked at this morning’s Psalm – Psalm 25 – and said the following about what it means to experience this Lenten Journey. (He was speaking specifically about verses 4-5, ‘Make me to know your way, O Lord; teach me your path. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.’)

Verses 4-5 echo the Lenten call to choose God’s way despite the many easier paths available. As Frederick Buechner writes, “If you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.” Lent is a time to choose who we will be and whose we will be. Our identity will not be defined by what we claim to believe, but by the road we take. We would rather bypass the cross for the empty tomb, but the wisdom of Lent proclaims that Easter Sunday will not make much sense unless we are able to stay the course to and through Golgotha.

The call for patient trust, for keeping to the road, is a powerful judgment on all forms of Christianity that promise comfort and quick results, and is especially appropriate in the context of Lent. Patience is more than mere virtue when dealing with an elusive God. In a culture that lusts after quick fixes, patience is one of the most difficult things that can be asked of us. It can also be a message of grace, however, because it validates dry spells within the Christian life. Faith is more than mountaintop moments; it also encompasses times of solitude and struggle. The right road will not always look like the right road.

This portion of the psalm ends with, of all things, a sermon. It sounds almost like an answer to the earlier prayer: “God’s goodness will be shown to the sinners and the humble, and it will be shown with a road—a way through—a path that leads to love and faithfulness, for those who are willing to walk it.”

Lent asks us each to choose our path to make a decision about who we are and whose we are. Here at the beginning of this strange season, we answer God’s call not with words, but with our steps. Watch your feet. {Feasting On The Word Year B, Vol. 2 pg. 35}

Who are we? Who do we want to be? Whose are we? Whose do we want to be? Where will our feet take us on this year’s Lenten journey? Mine might take me towards a less cluttered and simpler lifestyle that allows me to grow in my faith and ministry. Yours can take you anywhere; the possibilities are endless.

I pray that you are all able to experience the journey of Lent this year. May it be enlightening; may it be nurturing; and may it be inspiring.

Amen.

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