St. John's, Centreville
March 5, 2017
1 Lent A
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This past Thursday, I received what I consider a wonderful gift....a gift from God. It was a beautiful day - bright blue sky, white clouds - a bit windy and chilly but a beautiful day.
I had an appointment with my spiritual director at Roslyn Retreat Center in Richmond. I considered canceling it - too much to do, too busy...you know how that goes. But I didn't. A few years ago, Bishop Shannon encouraged all clergy to have a spiritual director and so he arranged for a few spiritual directors to come to Roslyn four times a year for a few days each time to meet with clergy and lay people. I signed up.
On my trip to and from Richmond, I did something I don't usually do. I turned off the radio - no news, no music, no books on tape. I had four hours of silence to think, to pray, to meditate, to be with God, to enjoy the journey.
My spiritual director, Linda, is good - gently prodding, asking questions like "Why do you think that is?" or "Where did you see God in that situation?"
This time we talked about Lent and the practice of giving up something or taking something on as a spiritual discipline. "Why do we do that?" she asked. I replied, "We give up whatever gets in the way of our relationship with God." But she replied, "It's more than that. It's also increasing our mindfulness of God.".....It's increasing our mindfulness of God. If we give up something, chocolate for example (my personal favorite), every time we have that craving or reach for it, we remind ourselves of why we have chosen to give it up...to be mindful of God - mindful of God's love for us, mindful of how God wants us to live, mindful of God's presence with us, mindful of our dependence on God alone mindful of Jesus' sacrifice for us.
When we take on something, like setting aside additional time for prayer, or reading the Bible, or reaching out to help others, we are more mindful of God and God's work in the world.
By increasing our daily mindfulness of God, our relationship with God is deepened and strengthened and we become more ready to journey with Jesus during his wilderness experience, during the dramatic events of Holy Week and to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Day.
Lent is not a season just to be endured - gritting our teeth as we are deprived of coffee or chocolate or some other enjoyment we have decided to give up for Lent. God does not want to see us miserable.
Lent is a spiritual pilgrimage to intentionally and with forethought deepen our relationship with God, to live a life of love, joy and peace. That's what God wants for us. But in this transitory life, we are often beset by hardships or temptations or disappointments - the effects of living in this natural and broken world. But with a deepened relationship with God, we can find strength and guidance.
Jesus went into the wilderness after his baptism and was tempted by Satan. Because of his relationship with God, he was able to withstand the temptations and turn his back on Satan. Even though Satan tempted Jesus when he was the most vulnerable - after 40 days in the wilderness when he was hungry, lonely and isolated - Satan had no power over him.
During Lent, we are encouraged to name and wrestle with our own demons and temptations that are unique to each one of us. We need to look inside and see what is separating us from God, what is keeping us from having a deeper relationship with God. If it is helpful to give something up for Lent to remind us of our dependence on God alone and not on earthly things, then do that. If it is helpful to sacrifice something to remind us of Jesus' self-sacrifice, then do that. If it is more helpful to take on a particular task for 40 days, then do that. There is no right and wrong way to observe the season of Lent. The important thing is that we prepare ourselves spiritually for Holy Week and then rejoice in the resurrection on Easter.
For me personally, giving up chocolate or sweets for Lent worked for me in my younger years. That doesn't work for me now. What works for me is reading additional daily devotions, additional prayer time - time just sitting in the presence of God. That is what deepens my relationship with God. But every person is different. Find out what works for you. Don't do the same old thing every year if it doesn't work for you.
As Linda and I continued to talk about Lent and what it means to serve God, I said to her that sometimes I feel that to really serve God, I should give up my comfortable life style and go to someplace like India to minister to the poor and dying, somewhat like Mother Teresa. But, she said, God doesn't call everyone to go to India or to do other dramatic acts of self sacrifice and service. Most of us have responsibilities of family and work here. Here is where God has put us for right now, until God calls us to go somewhere else, and we should look for ways to serve God here and now - by small acts of kindness. Lent is a good time to be mindful of small acts of kindness.
Linda then told a story about being in a WalMart and seeing a harried mother of a young child yelling at him not to do this or that, stop fussing, stop touching - in not so gentle tones. Rather than pointing fingers and silently (or not so silently) criticizing the mother for her less than perfect parenting skills, Linda approached the young mother and said, "I know how hard it is to shop with a young child. I raised three children and I know it's hard. If it's okay with you, I'll give your son a ride on my scooter (Linda has some kind of mobility issues so she uses a scooter to get around). We will stay right behind you and I'll entertain him while you shop." A bit reluctantly, the mother agreed. Thirty minutes later, the mother finished her shopping, her child was in sight the entire time, and he was happy. Linda said, "What if that mother had never been shown any kindness herself? How would she know how to show kindness to her son?" Her point was that we need to show kindness to others, as a people of faith, to mirror the love and kindness that God shows us every day.
I left that meeting with my spiritual director feeling like some burdens had been lifted and I could see things more clearly - connecting the dots, feeling God's love and peace more clearly. I drove home, again in silence, enjoying the beautiful day and living in the presence of God.
Lent doesn't have to be a time of dread and drudgery. It should be a time to look for ways to serve, seeing Christ's presence in the opportunities that are right in front of us. It should also be a time of self-searching - looking at our spiritual lives and our relationship with God and seeing how that relationship can be deepened and strengthened. God is always there, ready to draw us deeper, wanting to draw us closer. We are the ones who put obstacles in the way. With God's help, we can identify them and remove them. We can then journey with Jesus through his 40 days in the wilderness, the events of Holy Week and with joy, celebrate his resurrection on Easter Day. Amen.