Rector's Rhetoric - February 2014
A couple of weeks ago, the Sunday lectionary included a reading from Isaiah that was a little unsettling. Isaiah proclaimed his message to Judah and Jerusalem during a very uneasy time. The Assyrians had just annexed the Northern Kingdom and Judah's future remained uncertain. In the part that we read (from chapter 58), the author known as Second Isaiah knows even more about the outcome of the events in question. God declares to his people that their empty rituals are displeasing - their prayers, their fasting, their sacrifices - are meaningless without the inspiration to do acts of justice and mercy for those in need. That would seem an appropriate reading as we prepare ourselves for a forty day season marked by fasting, prayer, and self-denial.
What is the purpose of a Lenten discipline? Some have used the forty-day fast as a means of dropping the five or ten pounds thathave failed to come off with a New Year’s resolution, using Lent as something of a backup diet plan. Losing weight may be an admirable project, but it is not the purpose of a Lenten discipline. Nor is praying or Scripture reading every day for the sake of saying that we reserved some time to pray or read, and now that it’s Easter Sunday, thank God we don’t have to do that anymore! The purpose of Lent is transformation. If, in whatever we choose to do during those forty days, we are not changed into more compassionate, thoughtful, loving and generous people, what could possibly be the point?
In my Confirmation Class for our teenagers, I talked quite a bit about knowing the person that they have chosen to follow. What did he do? What is he like? What were his priorities? It would be a foolish thing to call oneself a Christian and know virtually nothing about Jesus. His life, his death, and his Resurrection show us how much we are loved and what Jesus was willing to endure to convince us that abundant life for now and all eternity is God’s desire for the whole world. It is indeed a saving event when we are moved to love more and to give more for the sake of those who have so little.
A good old-fashioned mite box (to be given to a charity of some sort), a commitment to reading and meditating on one or more accounts of Jesus’ life, setting aside a time for daily prayer for the sake of yourself and others, is a good strategy for changing the spiritual landscape both within you and around you. And that’s a discipline that doesn’t have to end anytime soon. Think about the motivation and implications of what you’re going to “take on” or “give up” during Lent, and then stick to it. Whatever you choose to do, may God bless you, and may you be changed more and more into the image of our dear Savior and Lord.