Thoughts heading into Lent
Lent is a season of self-reflection. It’s a season of contemplation. It’s a season of examination. It’s a season of vulnerability and confession. It’s a season of repentance. It’s a season of preparation.
It is many things – a transition to Easter. A journey. And like all journey’s, there’s a starting point and a destination. And a path along the way. It’s not the destination that matters so much as what happens along the way that makes the journey worthwhile. It’s how you change that makes the journey memorable and meaningful.
That’s the story of every vacation, isn’t it? That’s the story of every training for a marathon, or every epic quest that we’ve ever heard, isn’t it? It’s the purpose for our education – to be changed and transformed by the process. It’s what life is all about after all. Lent is an analogy for life, in some ways.
And in Lent we hear a few distinct messages. We hear about our mortality. Oh how difficult that is for so many. Death. Far too many don’t even like the word. We prefer to spin it with other things – passing away, sleeping, going away, celebrating life (which is the complete opposite of death). What is our fear of death? Are we afraid of its power? I thought as Christians we claimed that death no longer has power or a sting? Sure, we’ll all feel death – that’s reality. Death is very much a part of life. But death does not get the final say. Yet how many people actually believe that? We talk about the resurrection, but I wonder how many actually, truly believe in resurrection. In practice, it seems that far more actually have faith that death is the final act. For many people, history started when they were born and it will end when they die. How sad.
Have you ever faced death? I mean really looked it in the face? This isn’t a morbid thing. I think it’s a blessing to have had experiences in life where you’ve had the opportunity to look at death in the face and know what it is – to know your own mortality. To know that you have a limited time and that you have to choose what to do with that time. That is a blessing.
Lent is a time in which we intentionally are forced to deal with our own mortality. Thanks be to God for that. If we dealt with our own mortality more often I wonder if we would actually take action in society for the benefit of others more often. If we were forced to look at our own mortality more often, would we deal with mass shootings? Would we deal with climate change? Would we deal with poverty and homelessness that kills? Would we deal with addictions? Would we deal with abuse in relationships? Would we deal with violence? Would we? Because I don’t know what it takes to actually get people to take action on these things. The complacency on all of this is beyond mind-numbing and disturbing. And I am so very sick of it all. I am so very tired of the cruelty, the intentional pain, and suffering that occurs without a response or without a seeming care from so many. What the hell is wrong with humanity? Where is our humanity? Where is our supposed faith? Quite literally, what does it take to get people to give a damn about others?
Which brings me to the second point of Lent.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” That’s Jesus’ message in Lent. Repent is a fancy theological term that means change or turn. So, Jesus is saying, quite literally – Change, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
And the far too often the church sits by, refusing to do just very thing. The seven famous words of the church are “But we’ve always done it this way.”
Jesus and the church. Lent is a good time for a come to Jesus conversation. The church needs to decide what it is. Is it a social club and that’s all? I’ll be blunt if that the case – it has no need to exist. It’s a waste of money and resources. In fact, if the church is just a social club, then it has done a great disservice to many people – asking pastors to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt to go to seminary for training that was unnecessary when all it could have had was a customer service manager.
But I don’t buy into the notion that the church is some giant social club. In fact, I fight against this idea, which probably ticks off a bunch of people – so be it. I didn’t change my whole life, take on that kind of debt, go back to school for multiple years in my thirties, and follow a calling for a social club. I did it to follow the Savior and his mission, which happens to have a church.
Jesus says, “Repent!” This means change. This is a call for individuals to change of course, but it is more than that. Here in America, we get far too caught up in individualism and individual salvation. We forget that we are tied together communally, and as a people.
“Repent!” is also a call to the church. And Lent is the time to examine what needs to change, what we need to confess as an institution, and the repair needs to be done. Because when the church refuses to change, to repent, it is refusing to do the very thing that its Savior is calling on it to do. Is it not then in rebellion when it refuses and goes against who it claims to serve?
Here’s why change can and should happen in the church – because the church is temporary. The church only exists as long as God has a mission for it and the church will no longer be needed once that mission is fulfilled. That means it is temporary. It’s holy, but only temporary. It’s not permanent. It’s not fixed. It’s not supposed to be unmovable. It’s a movement. Things that move change. That’s an essential part of their core characteristic. A church that is unchangeable is going against its core foundation of what it was created to be. And it is dead already.
So here’s the core question for Lent – do we Christians really want the implementation of the Kingdom of God? Do we want all the comes with it? All the implications of it? Do we want the changes that come with it? Because the Kingdom of God, fully implemented, does not look like what the world looks like right now. And, here’s the the best part, church – the fully implemented Kingdom of God has no need for a church to exist any longer. The mission of the church will be fulfilled, won’t it. As I wrote earlier, the church is temporary.
We’re all for the Kingdom of God when it remains an abstract idea, because abstract ideas don’t require any changes, they don’t really impact anyone’s lives, or communities, or economic systems, or policies, or politics, or any systems that we operate and live in and benefit from. So why are we so attached to doing thing certain ways in the church when the church is temporary?
Christians claim faith in Jesus and his Kingdom. We hear his call of “Repent!” I wonder though what that means in practice. What would it mean for this Lent – these 40 days – to “repent!” in our lives, and in our churches. To answer Jesus’ call to change. To live as fully as we could into implementing the Kingdom of God. Would would it look like in our lives and in our churches in relation to repent, to change, in terms of our politics, our money and use of it and profit, economic systems, our views and use of violence and force, our relationships, our stewardship. Do we willingly trade Jesus in for a cheap Savior – something less costly and something that requires less change from us.
In Lent, it’s easy to be part of the crowd on Palm Sunday cheering Jesus as he enters the Holy City and then exchanging him for Jesus Barabbas, because we actually believe in Jesus Barabbas’ methods – they are closer to what we see as reality and the means of power – violence, insurrection, rebellion, murder, etc.
“Repent!” Jesus the Christ says to those who would follow him. To those who would be his disciples. To those who would deny themselves, take up their cross, die to self, and follow him. “Change!” He says to them. Oh how hard that is for so many. Yet, is it? LOL. If we are truly honest with ourselves we make an idol of ourselves making ourselves into gods – thinking that we can do anything we want. And yet, somehow when Jesus says “Change” we think that’s impossible. LOL. How silly. What are we? Which is it? We can’t have it both ways.
This is why we need a Savior. We can’t fool God. We’re pretty bad at even fooling ourselves. Do we even really fool anyone else? Seriously? How delusional do we think we are?
“Repent!” “Change!” Yes, Jesus is saying that to you individually. Yes, Jesus is saying that to the church. Yes, he really means it. Yes, not just those people over there. All of us. It starts with me. It starts with you. Because Lord knows I need to be changed. And so do you. I need a Savior. And so do you! I need hope. And so do you!
I need Lent. And so do you!