The Gift of Lent

February 26, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
The Last Sunday after Epiphany
Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

(Gospel Text provided below)

Today is the last Sunday before Lent… so live it up!

It reminds me of a t-shirt I saw on one of our family road-trips. By this time, we were in our teens, and headed to Idaho for a 6-day raft trip. One gift shop along the way had a t-shirt that read “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, for tomorrow you may be in Utah.” If you’ll allow me Episcopal license, today that shirt might read: “Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for on Wednesday we begin Lent.”

eclectic-artwork

This presumes that Lent is a time of austerity and self-denial. Yet, as a teenager, I learned that Lent can also be a time to take things on. To make a commitment to do something you’ve been putting off, or to improve your well-being, or perhaps, to serve others in a more tangible way. This approach to Lent has been helpful for me, and was especially so during my first few months in Atlanta.

I came to Atlanta from Houston seven years ago to embark on a vocational transformation. I arrived in January with snow on the ground – did I mention I came from Houston? I’d left behind all that was familiar – my family, my friends, and a budding romance. So, while I was living into this new purpose for my life, it came with some losses, some sacrifices.

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I didn’t have a job, and wasn’t planning to get one before the start of seminary in August. I moved in January to get settled-in, and start getting to know the diocese I’d call home. As an introvert, though, it would’ve been easy to stay in the warmth of my house, with my dog and cat as constant companions. And as easy as that would’ve been, I knew it wouldn’t move me toward my purpose – to get to know the diocese that had welcomed me.

Fortunately, I received a gift just a few weeks after my move – the gift of Lent. That Lent became a season of taking things on. 

  • I committed to going to Morning Prayer at St. Bartholomew’s, which was near my house. This got me out of bed each day, and gave me a place to be.
  • I committed to meeting at least one new person each week. Friends and family had given me names, and made online introductions, but nothing was going to happen if I didn’t take the initiative.
  • I committed to getting involved with something beyond myself, and began helping at the Emmaus House food pantry. img_6410This opened the door to the Emmaus House Chapel, which became my worshipping community and sponsoring parish.

The gift of Lent provided the structure I needed to keep moving toward my purpose.

Even so, this was still a time of grieving. There were times of loneliness. Times I wanted to just stay inside and feel sorry for myself. Times I’d be angry for what I had to give up to pursue this next chapter in my life. One night I was especially upset. I was sitting in the dark, and like a bolt of lightning it struck me – I’m not in this alone. God is with me. I can call on God to strengthen me.

I realize this may seem like a strange revelation by someone preparing to become a priest, but in that moment, I realized I’d been trying to make this transformation all by myself. I wasn’t drawing on God for strength and comfort. img_0008-2I wasn’t remembering that there were so many who loved me, even if they weren’t physically with me. What’s more, I had the underpinning of my faith tradition to keep me grounded. And I had the teaching and example of Jesus to show me the way to live into my purpose.

Today’s gospel shows a similar illuminating moment in Jesus’ life.

Just before this passage, Jesus told the disciples that he was headed to Jerusalem. That he’d endure suffering and death, and then be resurrected on the third day. Jesus’ purpose was divulged, and he didn’t sugar-coat it. This wasn’t going to be easy. And knowing this, he went up the mountain for some strengthening, some support. We are told that appearing with him were Elijah and Moses, pillars of the Hebrew tradition, and both integral to Jesus’ own message and mission.

moses-and-elijahJesus is being fortified for what is to come. Elijah was the prophet that delivered the difficult message to the Israelites when they wandered away from God’s commandments, and he brought them back into relationship with God. Jesus would rely on Elijah’s voice when he is tempted to step away from his purpose. And Moses was the ultimate teacher, leader, advocate, and protector of the ancient Israelites. He partnered with God, and provided guidelines for the people to follow so they could reach their destination safely and together. With Elijah and Moses by his side, I’d say Jesus had strong advisors to help prepare him, to keep him on track, and to fortify him for the difficult journey ahead.

This story not only shows Jesus’ “go-to team,” it shows the importance of having both voices in our lives – a teacher and a prophet. We’re usually open to teachers and helpers, like Moses, but we aren’t as excited to hear the prophet’s voice. I invite you to think about who in your life fills the role of Elijah. Who do you trust to help redirect you when you go astray? Perhaps a trusted mentor, a friend, a family member, an inspirational leader of old.

For me, it’s a virtual stranger. My prophetic voice comes from an encounter I had 2 ½ years ago when I was at Iona with the Youth Pilgrimage. At dinner one night, the assistant director of the Abbey was lamenting that she had never protested in such a way that she got arrested. She was admiring a guest speaker, Helen, who had been arrested many times in her activism against nuclear weapons – even manning a small boat in the ocean to prevent a nuclear submarine from surfacing.

Photo by Jody

In response to her lament, I commented that being arrested wasn’t on my list of things to do as a mark of achievement. She then asked bluntly, “What would you be willing to be arrested for?” The question took me by surprise, and it got me thinking. While a familiar mantra in my life has been “That’s not the hill I’m gonna die on” she had now framed the opposite side, causing me to wonder: “What hill am I willing to die on?”

With her question, this woman, this one conversation, continues to be a prophetic voice that challenges me. That question points to PURPOSE. In my journal, the day after that conversation, reflecting on my purpose I wrote:

Is it enough to teach people to love one another just as they are, as made in God’s image, regardless of race, economic-status, religion, political party, etc.?

victims-pulse-orlando-shooting

I believe that this is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings. We are to love one another. Seek fairness and embrace the dignity of every person. Jesus came to reveal that God’s love is no longer reserved for a sub-set of people, but is big enough for all people.

In Matthew’s gospel, we see Jesus upping-the-ante on the Ten Commandments. He asserts that it isn’t only murder that brings judgment, but anger, insults, and name-calling. Jesus instructs his followers to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile. If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt, too. I believe that at the heart of these new standards, these higher standards, is relationship. Jesus specifically says that we are to be reconciled with one another.

But what does being reconciled really mean? What does it look like?

balancing-a-checkbookAs a former accountant, I have a particular way of understanding the act of reconciling. When we reconcile an account – say your bank account – you have two balances – the amount on your bank statement, and the amount in your checkbook. [I realize I just lost everyone under a certain age who although they may have heard of this thing called a checkbook, using one is a foreign concept. But, please, stay with me.]

The work of reconciling isn’t to make these two numbers the same, it is to understand what makes up the difference. Let me say that again: The work of reconciling isn’t to make these two numbers the same, it is to understand what makes up the difference.

So, money you’ve spent or deposited since the bank statement was created will be differences. If the bank charged you an unexpected fee, it will be a difference – and you’ll probably be making a phone call later! So, the act of reconciling is understanding what the differences are, and accepting them. Having differences is the nature of how bank accounts work – and we can live with them.

With this in mind, when Jesus calls us to be reconciled with others – those people in our lives with whom we are at odds – this same kind of intentional work is involved. We must open ourselves up to share with one another the things that are causing a disconnect, or separation. cropped-reconciliationWe can share why we feel a certain way about something and allow the other person to explain why they feel or believe the way they do. Then we can talk through how we got there, that is, where are the points of difference.

Differences are natural. We are diverse and complex beings. In the work of reconciliation, naming and acknowledging these differences is essential. Not out of anger. Not with insults or name-calling. Not with shaming, but instead, undergirded by the love Paul illustrates in his letter to the Christian community in Corinth. Although this scripture is often used at weddings, making it seem like it’s about individual love, it actually describes what community love looks like:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4-7)

On this last Sunday after Epiphany, I give you the gift of Lent. If there’s a person you’ve become disconnected from, I hope you will use this as a time to live into the purpose of reconciliation. I invite you to call on the Elijah and Moses in your life for strength and fortification. Then, use this gift of Lent as an intentional time for making changes that guide you to restoring at least one relationship.

As you embark on this journey, I ask that you be gentle with yourself and with one another.

Know that God is with you.

Be illumined by Christ’s light within you.

Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you.

And may you have a Lent that’s transformational.

reconciliation-2-jpg

 

Gospel Text:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:1-9)

One Response to “The Gift of Lent”

  1. jg3potomac said

    Another homerun! Excellent coaching with some ideas for Lent, as well. Bless you. Love. Dad P.S. Blessings to Alice on her impending birthday.

    Jim Greenwood

    >

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