Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Doing Lent Well

I don't do Lent well.

I'm a professional Christian - one who gets paid to tell others about Lent. I've written newsletter articles about Lent and suggested a million different ways for others to observe this sacred season of fasting, repentance and reflection. But I don't do Lent well.

Give up caffeine? I love my early morning coffee and afternoon Diet Coke.

Give up alcohol? I don't drink that much, and red wine is good for my heart. Right?

What about chocolate? Are you kidding me? It's one of my favorite things.

Cursing? I only curse in the car. Well, I try to only curse in the car.

When people ask me about my Lenten disciplines, I have an uncanny ability to turn the conversation around so I can hear all about another person's sacrifices. But oftentimes people keep prodding. "So, what are you doing for Lent, pastor?"

I told someone last week that I was trying to write more notes to people, expressing my gratitude. She commented on how I do this anyway. Her response was enough for me to see that maybe it was not a Lenten discipline, but a regular practice I seek to embody.

I'll return to Holy Cross Abbey for five days of silence, reflection, prayer, reading and walking the week after next. But can anyone say that a week in a thin place where heaven and earth collide for me is really a Lenten discipline? I don't fast at the abbey but rather have my fill of the creamed honey slathered on toast that the monks produce as a fundraiser.

I just proofed a bulletin for the Third Sunday of Lent. The season is marching on at a rapid pace. Ready or not, Holy Week is on the horizon at the end of next month - a month that starts this Friday.

I don't do Lent well.

But maybe, just maybe, God does Lent for me - getting me right where God wants me so that God can change my heart.

I completely overreacted one day last week when I came back from lunch and realized all of the trash from the morning shower ministry was just outside one of our church entrances. It had been there since 8:00 in the morning which means that hundreds of people had passed by a church that did not seem to care enough to even get its trash to the dumpster. It was an honest mistake - but one that made me steam for a while and then be obnoxious towards a hardworking, dedicated volunteer.

I've been praying since last Thursday that I would not react that way again - ever. I've been asking God to give me a better understanding and awareness of church members who pour their heart and soul into a ministry that is the equivalent of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I've been begging for more patience or an attitude that takes care of things that get left behind without making a big deal out of it. God's working on me. God's got me right where I need to be.

I went to bed last night tossing and turning over what my role is as a pastor. It was a rough day of pastoral care needs, and I had no idea where to start. Too often I'm caught between competing demands - some of which have little to do with why I responded to God's call on my life. As I wrestle with administration and pastoral care, the needs of a building and the needs of people, I hear my heart crying out for guidance on how to be a more faithful pastor. I don't want to be the CEO of a small non-profit downtown. I'm a pastor - a person called to journey alongside of people in joy and pain. Maybe God is in the center of this searching, pushing me back to what's important in small and subtle ways.

I don't do Lent well if Lent is defined as giving up chocolate, Diet Coke or a glass of merlot. I don't do Lent well if Lent means praying an hour a day or spending more time with the lonely and forgotten. But if Lent means allowing God to take hold of me once more, like a potter gently applying moisture to a bit of clay in order to smooth out the rough places, then maybe, just maybe, God's got me doing Lent just the way God wants me to.

What about you? How well do you do Lent?

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Sewing Fig Leaves

I spent yesterday with ten clergywomen who gathered to learn more about preaching from Anna Carter Florence. It was a remarkable day in every way and one that was centered on a well-known text, Genesis 3.

We know the story well enough to have pictures in our head of an apple tree, a man, a woman and a serpent. But yesterday the story came to life on a variety of levels as we used this text to testify about who God really is - and how God worked in this one dysfunctional family.

My mind and heart are returning to a million different places in the text. But as we approach the season of Lent, the one verse that keeps coming back to me is verse 7, "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves."

Have you ever sewed fig leaves? I'm not much into sewing with fabric let alone using a material that could crumble at the touch with a surface that is far from smooth.

We are tempted to think that somehow Adam and Eve covered themselves in the garden with whatever was close by. But the text says they sewed fig leaves together. They had to go and get a bunch of leaves, some string and a needle. They sewed together things that don't easily hold together. The process would not have been quick. It could have taken them hours - or even a full day.

Later, with their underwear made of fig leaves hiding parts of their body, they also hide from God. When they hear God walking in the garden, they hide. Adam says in verse 10, "'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.'"

What are the efforts we go to in order to hide from God?

Why do we work so hard to hide our shortcomings, our failures, our mistakes from those who love us most?

What ridiculous things do we do in hopes of covering our mistakes from God?

Where have we taken time to sew together fig leaves instead of presenting the naked truth to God who sees us, searches us and knows everything about us?

One of the gifts of the season of Lent is that we get to spend time practicing repentance - rehearsing our return to God. For forty days our focus becomes letting go of our sin - those things that separate us from God - and coming clean - baring it all to God.

We will gather in sanctuaries on Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent with smudges on our forehead in the shape of the cross as we hear the words "from dust you came and from dust you shall return." When you hear these words, I invite you to embrace them. Allow the words to be an invitation to stop your futile efforts of trying to sew fig leaves together against all odds and instead embrace the one who loves you, adores you and longs for you to come clean. Stop hiding. Come out. Accept the gift of forgiveness, redemption and new life.

Holy God, as the season of Lent stands on the horizon, I pray you would start searching my heart and examining my life. Enable me to see the places where all is not well, where sin has crept in like a thief in the night - in large ways that are abundantly known to me and in subtle ways that I tend to forget or ignore. Show me where I need to realign my life around you and your ways. Help me to get back on track. Encourage me to stop hiding from you but instead to come before you with my naked truth, knowing that you love me far too much to leave me where I am. Allow this season to be one of letting go so new life can come. Amen.