I spent a lot of time in my younger years in churches where any sort of tradition of ritual was taboo. If we ever said a creed, which was very rare, the words “Holy catholic church” were replaced with “Holy Christian Church” because by no means were we associated with “Catholics”. In fact, saying the word Lent was almost as bad as saying other 4 letter words.
The first 30 years of my life were spent running away from the stogy, old, traditions of church and I tended to reject anything that had to do with “religion”, after all Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship…right?
Over the last eight years or so, I came to discover that the rhythm of tradition and liturgy and the commitment to spiritual disciplines were quite appealing. When I finally landed here, in the Episcopal Church it felt like home and not only that, it has provided for me a religious structure in which my relationship with God has grown at a rapid pace.
I first felt the draw to the more traditional religious life when I was participating in one of those read the bible in a year programs. Reading through the descriptions of how to build and decorate the temple, at first was quite tedious. But, as I read it – the second time – a whole new aspect of God broke through for me. This wasn’t useless information. This was the divine instruction that the Almighty God gave for the creation of His holy sanctuary and I
realized the way in which we worship is important, and in turn I came to understand that tradition and structure aren’t bad, in fact they guide us in our worship.
I think about it like the safety net under an acrobat in a circus. Having the safety of the liturgy and traditions beneath us allows us to experiment freely. We can confidently navigate the tightrope of new experiences in worship knowing full well that beneath us we find security, comfort and structure. For instance, knowing what liturgical season we are in guides us and sets a tone. As we plan for a service, the music, the semon, the scripture and prayers we have freedom to make it our own and follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit within the guidelines of liturgy. These traditions and disciplines are meant aid us in our search for a deeper relationship with God.
Wouldn’t you know that lent is once of the oldest spiritual disciplines in Christianity. Lent is a 40 day period for Christians to draw close to Jesus through prayer, reflection, fasting and repentance. This is all based on Jesus’ 40-day period in the wilderness that we read about in Luke’s gospel today. We spend this time drawing close to God, not to perform, not for the praise of others, but so that we can focus inwardly and build up our relationship with Christ as we approach Easter.
Recently Laynie and I started a physical discipline, Couch25K – maybe you’ve heard of it. It is an 8-week training plan and essentially the goal is to take someone from inactivity to the ability to run a 5K, which is just over 3 miles. The app, guides you along a path that gradually builds up your endurance and stamina. You alternate brisk walking with running and as each week goes on you increase the length of time you run and at the end, you have hopefully graduated to the place in which you could easily run a 5K.
Lent is a time to take on a discipline in order to get our spiritual selves off the couch and into a healthier relationship with Jesus.
One of the most common phrases you hear during this time is, “I gave _______ up for lent”. We give up chocolate, alcohol, Facebook, or maybe our favorite TV show. Sometimes, after a few days, we start to feel the effects, we get irritated, but we continue in this abstinence because it is our duty to do so and so we can show God we are repentant. With this type of attitude, by week in, we’ve grown so frustrated with the fact that we “can’t have” what we want that we’ve grown irritated with the practice and we make sure everyone knows about the sacrifice we are making. Unfortunately we’ve now we have come to a place where we have totally missed the point.
Fr. Porter Taylor an Anglican Priest says, “Lent is not a time to earn forgiveness of your sins. It is not a time to begrudgingly give up something temporarily only to greediy pick it up right after Easter. It is not a time for false humility or personal piety. Lent is a time for us to journey to the foot of the cross before we stumble upon the empty tomb.
The whole point of Lent is to prepare ourselves and to inwardly examine our spiritual life and our relationship with God. If giving up chocolate is going to make you do that, then by no means – give up chocolate. But we must look at the how? How will giving up chocolate bring me closer to God? How will not watching Jeopardy every evening at 7:30 bring me closer to God? Did I give up something I shouldn’t be indulging in any way? Am i resentful about giving up something, because I look at it as an obligation and not an opportunity?
I have to admit the first day Laynie and I started our Couch25K workout, about half way through I was wavering and wanting to give up. I haven’t run much since I was in college, and my body was in revolt. If it were not for the fact that I was focusing on a bigger picture, the temporary struggle I was feeling would have blinded me from my goal to get in shape and live a healthier life. In Lent, we need to keep the big picture in mind, and that will carry us through our disciplines when we start to face those temporary struggles and temptations.
Ah yes, temptation.
I did not set out to give you a sermon on temptation today, I think we all know that temptation is a very real thing. Jesus himself was tempted, so by no means are we exempt from the experience therefore it is important to touch on it for a moment.
Just be aware, especially in this season, that temptation exists and Satan is a tricky fellow he doesn’t like when we are in a good place with God and he uses our weaknesses to bring us down. Remember Eve, in the garden? She had everything she needed and had a perfect relationship with God and her husband. Satan, did not want those perfect unions to stand so he attacked her by triggering curiosity, doubt, lust, and eventually disobedience.
1 John tells us that we must not love the world, for the world consists of the desires of flesh, the desires of eyes, and pride of life. These were the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness and these are the temptations we come in to contact with all the time and we need to be careful of, especially during lent.
So, back to the big picture.
During Lent, our goal should be to draw closer to God. Our Psalm this morning encourages us to dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the shadow of the Almighty. We are to put our trust in Him and live in his habitation. Easy right?
I love the Psalms, they are beautifully written and give us great imagery like any good poems or songs should. But sometimes, they may lack a bit of practically. How do we dwell in God’s shelter or abide in His shadow? What does it mean to live in His Habitation?
Here is where the relationship aspect of our religion comes in.
God longs to be in a relationship with his creation. He loves us. He loves you. He wants us to live, really, fully live with Him now, and through eternity.
Lent is a season when we are encouraged to examine our relationship with God, repent of where we have fallen short, and find ways to press into his love by spiritual discipline. Abstaining from sweets, alcohol, or what have you is one of many ways we can do this.
We can commit to reading a Psalm each day in lent.
We can commit to waking up 10 minutes earlier each day so we have 10 minutes to pray for others.
We can commit to writing a card or note of encouragement each day to someone in our life.
We can commit to giving up an hour of TV each night to spend in study of a new devotional.
We can commit to giving $5 more per week in the offering plate, as a sacrifice of the blessings we have been given.
The possibilities are endless, and really should be between you and God. They should come out of your seeking to get closer to him, the big picture.
I know Lent started a few days ago and you may have already decided on your plans. If not, or if you want to change something, don’t worry. God is not going to reject your desire to get closer to him, because you started a few days late. This is a season, not a scoreboard. In a season we grow and develop through practice and dedication.
The Couch 25K app, does not begin with the instruction to go out and run a 5K. It starts off at a place where you are stretched a little and gradually increases your ability. The creators of the app want to see success and want to encourage growth.
God, wants you to try and he wants you to succeed during this season because to Him, it simply means you are making an effort to be close to Him. I guarantee that pleases Him.
There is a catch to the Couch25K app however. After 8 weeks of building up stamina through the workouts Laynie and I will graduate. At that point 5Ks should be within our ability. But the App doesn’t become obsolete. Actually, it prompts you to begin training for a 10K.
My prayer for all of us is that whatever we decide to do during the season of Lent doesn’t end on Easter. I pray for all of us that the work we do to grow closer to God during lent with serve as a launch pad for the rest of our lives.