St. John’s 2018 Lenten Discipline
February 18, 2018

St. John’s 2018 Lenten Discipline

Series:
Passage: Genesis 9:8-17

It’s easy in Lent to be distracted by all the little rules and customs that have grown up around it. Here at St. John’s we shroud our crosses. In the liturgical tradition we refrain from saying, “Alleluia.” Many people will choose to give up something for Lent – some small sacrifice that we trust God is somehow translating into an act of faith, even if we have no idea what we mean or expect by that.

But so long as the crosses get shrouded and we don’t say, “Alleluia” by rote at some point in the service and we manage more or less not to eat or drink or watch what we said we wouldn’t eat or drink or watch, then we’ve paid our dues for another year to this murky season of the church.

But of course, putting it like that makes it seem ridiculous, which (if that’s all it were about) it would be!

Lent is a season of sobriety, you might say, a season of deliberate mindfulness about what this life is all about. So we adopt some disciplines as a way of helping us focus – to see clearly what matters and what doesn’t matter; what is true and what is merely a distraction to truth; who God is and who God is not. When we do it with this intention, any manner of things can assist us: denying certain pleasures, studying some worthwhile writing, taking up a good habit, choosing a heightened pattern of charity or praying in a new way. They’re meant to help us – to help us have a clear mind and a right heart.

So at St. John’s we came up with a phrase this year as a way of keeping this intention before us. What are we doing at Lent? We’re “seeking to make right.”

  • To make right our relationship with God.
  • To make right our relationships with one another.
  • To make right our relationship with nature.
  • To make right our relationship with our own soul.

 

This is what the spiritual life is all about. It’s joining God in making right what is broken all around us and within us.

And lives are fractured all over the place: families that can’t get along, neighbors who have nothing to do with one another; pollution destroying the environment. It’s maddening, because we weren’t made for that! We were made for love. We were made for peace. We were made for God. But our species is continually drawn towards enmity. Whether that’s in an extreme form – like bringing a gun to a school and slaughtering people – or in a more subtle, mundane form – like taking pleasure in complaining about an in-law and feeling no remorse. These fault lines between us run rampant.

Miraculously though, we’re still held together. The fractures are there, but we still functioning. Is that just our denial at work? Or is there a ubiquitous grace from God that’s holding this whole fractured world together, despite our complacency? I hardly know.

But this I do know – that the call of God is that we seek to make right, that we seek to join God in healing our fractured world – both the world within us and the world around us. This is the heart of God.

How do we know this?

Well – at some level it’s all faith, right? Who am I to speak for God? But so long as we accept the Bible as a reliable guidepost to the nature of God, then we can say with certainty that God’s ultimate intent is to heal what is broken. The most defining theme in the entire Bible is found in a series of covenants God makes with us and all creation. Beginning with Noah (the story we heard this morning), God goes on to establish covenants with Abraham, then Israel, then King David, and – ultimately – the new covenant foretold by the prophet Jeremiah and fulfilled through Jesus of Nazareth. God, seeing our brokenness, initiates each of these covenants as a remedy to our sinfulness. And in each case, God is seeking our partnership in living out the redeemed life.

And it is this series of covenants that we’ll recount in each of the Sundays in Lent. It’s a way of helping us to see and believe that the heart of God is – and always has been – to make right what is broken. Unfortunately, if you study the history of the people of God, you’ll also observe that we’re absolutely horrible at keeping up our end of the covenants. We start our sincere and earnest, then sooner or later we fall apart. But God never does. God always upholds the promise and is clearly driven by an intense desire for our wholeness.

And so this Lent our job – our role, our desire – is to set our faces afresh towards the “Making Right” intention of God and God’s people.

So we’ve come up with something new. It’s this little booklet we handed out with the bulletins. It’s a prayer guide, of sorts, that starts tomorrow and lasts for the duration of Lent.

On the first couple of pages there’s a letter from me that explains what this is all about and why we’re doing it.

You turn the page and there’s a structure provided for daily prayer – that walks you through the basic steps of praying each day.

Then, you turn the page again, and you start to see a bunch of pages with purple boxes on them. There’s one page for each week of Lent. And you’ll see that each week has its own theme, focusing on a different aspect of our personhood. The first week is “The Self;” (our distinctive uniqueness). Then all the subsequent weeks deal with the more corporate aspects of our nature: who we are within our families, within our church, within our shared humanity, within all creation, and – ultimately – within God.

But then, on each day of the week, we look at a particular aspect of that theme. For example, on Week 1, where we focus on ourselves, on Monday we look at our gifts and talents. Tuesday is our jobs. Friday is our physical bodies. And so on.

And here’s where it starts to get tricky. As you’re considering that day’s topic, we’re asking you to have five conversations with it:

I love you.

I’m sorry; please forgive me.

I forgive you.

Thank you.

Good-bye.

Now, obviously it’s fairly easy to imagine having these prayerful conversations if the topic of the day is focusing on a person – like someone in your family. If, in prayer, you’re holding your brother in your heart, you can imagine what it be like to say, “I love you” or “I’m sorry.” But what about the days where the topic is, shall we say, “non-human?” How are we supposed to have conversations with something like our own physical bodies?

I know this is a little weird, but t I think it’s important. The thing is, everything comes from God and God cares passionately about every aspect of this entire creation he made. And there is a sense in which we do have a real relationship with all these things, whether they’re human or not. So if the topic of the day is our physical bodies, what would it mean if we were actually to have these honest conversations?

Can we say, “I love you” to our bodies? My hunch is, that’s going to be very difficult for many of us. We’ve been at war with our bodies for a long time. But God loves our bodies. God made them and called them good. And if we want to be where God is, if we want to do what God is doing, then it becomes a legitimately spiritual exercise and discipline to get in line with God, to be able to tell God’s blessed creation, “I love you.”

Can we tell our bodies, “I’m sorry”? Think of all the ways we’ve abused our bodies, despised our bodies, been ashamed of our bodies. “I’m sorry; please forgive me.”

Can we tell our bodies, “I forgive you”? Have you had cancer? Do you live with chronic pain? Is there some sense in which your body has let you down? What it would it be like to say, “I forgive you”? Again, this is absolutely spiritual work. Forgiveness is Jesus’ solution to everything. What would it look like for us if we began to implement heartfelt forgiveness through every aspect of our lives?

And then, “Thank you.” Think of all the ways your body has cared for you – the heart that has beat, day in and day out. The brain that keeps on functioning (more or less!), the legs that have carried you – for years! Thank you. Thank you.

And then, finally, the last one is “Good-bye.” It may be that there’s part of your physicality that has already ended: a womb that will never bear another child; your days of running comfortably and freely may be over; you may be bald. What would it be like to say, “Good-bye” to that part of you that is no longer? Or perhaps the “good-bye” will be like Ash Wednesday – a meditation on the certainty of this body’s eventual end.

The point of all this is to explore the vast array of relationships – human and non-human alike – that comprise our lives, and to engage them with honesty and respect and a heart that yearns for reconciliation and wholeness. Where once there was enmity or dis-ease or simply ambivalence, we want to go where God is, and to do what God is doing, which is loving and healing and forgiving every aspect of this broken world.

We are joining God this Lent, seeking to make right what is fractured.

We are stepping in line with the long heritage of covenants between God and God’s creation – not merely as beneficiaries of God’s grace, but as participants, as God’s yolk-fellows making shalom (peace) with everything!

Is that a lot to ask? Sure. Of course it is. But what else are we doing as the children of God, other than following Jesus and learning to live with God and like God?

As you make your way through this Lenten exercise, we’re also providing these index cards for you to fill out. On any given day when you have some break through – either of a sorrow in your life, or conversely, a deep yearning to join God in God’s healing work, jot it down on this card. Don’t put your name on it. After 40 days you might have a lot of them. Just keep writing them down. And when you come to church on Good Friday, bring them with you. There’s a way we’re going to use them in that service and then again at the Easter Vigil.

So there it is. That’s our plan for Lent.

Join us each Sunday, both for worship and Sunday School – where the class will be discussing this prayer exercise. Join us on Wednesdays at the Soup Suppers when we explore these five conversations from another perspective. And by all means, set out to meet God afresh this Lent, with honesty and desire to be a part of God’s redeeming.