February 27, 2008 – Community Lenten Service
Let me ask you this. What is beyond Lent? That’s what I want us to think about this evening. Because sometimes I think when we’re in the season of Lent, it’s too easy for us to forget why we’re observing Lent! Sometimes we get into the spirit of Lent and Lent becomes an end, in and of itself.
Now that may seem strange. It may seem like I’m asking you here in a Lenten service to think about something other than Lent. But not really. What I want you to do is to think about how Lenten kinds of things impact the rest of the year. I want you to think about how Lenten kinds of things come to bear on the rest of your faith. And I hope you’ll do that this evening.
When we started Lent here at Eddington, we had an Ash Wednesday service. And as part of that service I read the following. This is called, “An invitation to observe a Lenten discipline.” Here’s how it went.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, every year at Easter we celebrate with joy our redemption and renewal through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The season of Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to make room in our lives for the Spirit of God to renew us in this mystery. We begin this holy season by acknowledging our need for repentance and our need for the love and forgiveness shown to us in Jesus Christ. I invite you, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a Holy Lent, by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, by practicing works of love, and by reading and reflecting on God’s Holy Word. Let us begin our Lenten journey by together confessing our sins and seeking the forgiveness and new life that is promised to us in Christ Jesus.
I like that sentiment. I think it’s important at this time of year to “change gears.” It is important that we take this time to think about our lives, and to do some serious examination on how well – or how not so well – we’ve been following the example of Christ our Lord. For it is the goal of every Christian – or it should be the goal of every Christian – to be conformed to the image of Christ! It should be the goal of all of us that we strive to be like him. That’s part of the reason he came to this earth! And I hope you’ve all been thinking about that. I hope you’ve all been doing that. However, as I said, all that “introspection” is not the main focus of what we do at this time of year. It’s not an end in and of itself!
Sometimes I think we forget that. Sometimes I think some Christians feel as though that’s all there is. If they are solemn enough, if they’re introspective enough at this one time of year, that’s all they need do in their faith. If only they are able to keep that attitude of solemnity and humility, if only they can stay in that serious, even dour state of mind, then they will be “ok” spiritually. (It’s almost as though they can impose spirituality on themselves by disciplining themselves enough!)
Does that not seem to be the case with some people? For some Christians, it seems as though the most important thing is to keep an attitude of contrition and remorse. Some Christians seem to feel that, if they are sorry enough, if they can “beat themselves up enough,” then that makes them “ok” spiritually. And then of course the other side of the coin is that there are some Christians who feel that, if they “beat others up” enough, if they point out the shortcomings of everyone else, then that makes them ok!!
My friends of various faiths, I don’t believe that any of that is what God wants for us! Now certainly God wants obedience and spiritual discipline for his people. There’s no doubt about that! But the end goal of that process of obedience and spiritual discipline is not simply to have us become obedient and spiritually disciplined people! God wants his people to know the Glory of his kingdom! That’s the desired goal of our obedience and spiritual discipline! Listen to the elation in the words of the Apostle John in this wonderful prologue to his Gospel. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of Grace and Truth. And we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only son from the father!”
That’s what God wants for us! He wants us to behold the glory!! That’s the point of all this. That’s why we observe Lent. Not so that we can see how bad we’ve been, but so that we can see how we have fallen short of God’s glory – so that we can strive to approach more closely that to behold that Glory! That’s the point of all this!
Yes, I think God does want us to know the spiritual discipline that his people have devised over all these many, many years. But I also have come to know that he wants us to observe that discipline so that it draws us closer to him! Because that is what he truly wants for us.
The reality is that some Christians – and maybe you’re one of them – but some Christians think that if they do the spiritual discipline, then that’s a good enough. And frankly, many would rather have that as a substitute for having a close relationship with God. Because when it comes down to it, some of us do not really want that close relationship! Because that calls for too much change in our lives. That calls us to new understandings of how to love and serve each other. And there are those who would rather just sit back in their own “comfortable understanding of things” and not have anything to do with the changed life that happens when we share that every day, “walking around” relationship with the creator of the universe!
That’s what it comes down to! And some people don’t want that. To many people in too many churches are flat out afraid that God is going to call them to do something they don’t want to do! He might even call them to do difficult things. They’re afraid God is going to want them to change, and I don’t know about you Methodists and Lutherans, but we Presbyterians are not very good at change! Yet it is change that is at the heart of the Gospel! But, it’s always much easier simply to do the spiritual discipline. “Getting involved with God” is always much scarier.
So, ask yourself this Lenten season, what does God really want you to do? If you ask nothing else of yourself during Lent, ask that one! Does he really only want you to look at your life during the Lenten season, to see where you have failed and where you need to improve? Is that good enough? Does he really only want you to be an obedient person or a spiritually disciplined person? Or does he want all of that in your life so that you can better see the glory of his kingdom!?
“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us – full of Grace and truth! And we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father!”
Lord, throughout this Lenten season, as we look seriously at our lives and our faith and our relationship with you, help us to see your glory. We need to know the joy of that “everyday relationship” we have with you. We need to know beyond any doubt that you are with us every day. We need to draw closer to you, to feel your spirit, to know your glory. Help us, we ask. Point us every day to your kingdom. Conform us more every day to the image of your son, in whose name we pray, Amen.