Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, 
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
  [Joel 2:12-13a]
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted 
by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, 
and afterwards he was famished.
[Matthew 4:1-2]
The Temptation of Jesus
by Jesus Mafa, Cameroon
I've never fasted longer than one day. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to fast for 40. Each first Sunday in Lent we hear a version of Jesus' time in the wilderness. These words from the
Gospel according to Matthew always give me pause.
The idea of fasting is as old as the human existence. It is an effective medical procedure for emptying the body of what may be damaging it and restoring it to a healthier, more natural state.
All religions utilize some form of ritual that involves fasting, whether for purification, spiritual vision, penance, mourning or sacrifice. For Christians, Lent is the time that emphasizes fasting as a spiritual discipline.
I liken Lent to "spring cleaning for the soul."
It is a time to get rid of the clutter, the junk, the debris that we have stored up in our minds and our hearts; a time to do an honest assessment of our lives and turn away from those habits or practices, or other things that get in the way of our relationship with God. It is a time "renew a right spirit within us," as the psalmist says.
All the readings for Ash Wednesday stress this in one form or another. Sunday's Gospel sends that message as well.
The overview in the Sundays and Seasons resource for the First Sunday in Lent points out that, "This Lent we are called to expunge the fantastical images of the devil from our minds and think seriously about the real presence of evil in our world."
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we can use a huge dose of civility in our relationships with one another. But it is important to stress that we cannot do this on our own. We need God's help and guidance. I encourage you to make this Lenten season a time to develop the discipline of daily prayer. If nothing more, say to yourself each morning, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."
Lent would also be a good time to rediscover our church's teachings. Reading
Luther's Small Catechism again is a wonderful step in that direction. As an added convenience, it's available as an app which you can read on your phone or electronic device. There's a wealth of devotional material that is easy enough to lay hands on either in hard copy or electronic form. One that we will be using as part of our daily prayer at the Lutheran Center (Synod Office) is entitled Free Indeed , which uses daily readings from Martin Luther.
I wish you all God's blessings, and I pray that the Holy Spirit empower you, deepen your faith, and strengthen you this Lent, to begin to renew your relationship with God and with your neighbor.
Once again, I remind you that we will celebrate an Ash Wednesday Eucharist with the imposition of ashes, at the Lutheran Center, 1890 Bailey Road, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, beginning at noon. If you are in the area, or are looking for a place to worship, we invite you to join us.
We have published our annual Lenten prayer calendar for 2017 , listing all rostered ministers and congregations. I encourage you to make prayer for pastors, deacons and congregations a part of your Lenten discipline. At the Lutheran Center during Lent, we gather daily promptly at noon in the chapel for a brief period of prayer. The time will include a hymn, a reading from Scripture, a brief reflection, as well as intentions (or petitions) for specific persons and congregations taken from the prayer calendar. You are also invited to join us for that brief interlude, which takes no more than fifteen minutes.
I will be away at the Conference of Bishops in Chicago from March 2 until March 7. One of the highlights of that Conference will be a Lutheran-Catholic service of common prayer on Thursday. The service is a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Our ELCA Bishops will worship with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee at the Lutheran Center in Chicago. That service will be live streamed , beginning at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Also on Thursday, we will be "drafting" graduating seminarians to serve as pastors in our congregations. This is a joyful time for those men and women who have responded to God's call to ministry. However, the seminarians available will be nowhere near the number needed to fill our pulpits. As Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few."
Pray for these new laborers in God's Kingdom; pray for the congregations who will call these pastors, as well as those that continue seeking pastors. And pray that God will move the hearts of those who are discerning a sense a call, that they may respond boldly and in the affirmative, "Here I am, Lord, send me!"
+Bishop Abraham Allende