(Note: Apologies, friends. We did not get the sermon recorded this Sunday. So instead, here is Pastor Colby's manuscript of his sermon which kicks off our Lent Series, "The Journey.") ...
TITLE: The Journey: Into the Brokenness of Our Inner Selves
BIG IDEA: Lent is the time of year to intentionally be mindful about our humanity and return to a place of humility before God as we release control.
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HISTORY OF LENT
Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. The church has been officially honoring the season of Lent since the fourth Century, but even before that there is evidence that churches would observe different lengths of time prior to easter as a time to fast and prepare.
But after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD it became an official part of the church calendar.
The actual duration of Lent, and how it is specifically observed, varies between different religions traditions. But it’s widely held that Lent is the span of time from Ash Wednesday up to Easter, which is 46 days.
But according to some traditions, the Sundays during Lent are viewed as “mini easters,” and since there are six Sundays, that leaves Lent to be 40 days long.
The significance of that is tied to the 40 days that jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and preparing for his launch in to public ministry.
Soon, the early church came to utilize Lent as the time each year that new converts would undergo preparation for entrance in to the Christian Faith, and it would culminate with Baptism on Easter Sunday.
Not only that, but it became the season when people who had fallen away from the church, or had been excommunicated from the church, went through a process of 40 days of reconciliation to be brought back IN to the church community.
So if you tie all that together, perhaps you could put it like this:
Lent is the annual reenactment of Jesus’ journey in to the wilderness. It is a season of introspection and preparation. It is a time for repentance and reflection. And it is, ultimately, a journey that leads us towards Holy Week, preparing us for the death and resurrection of our Lord.
WAYS TO PARTICIPATE IN LENT
If we view Lent as a time to reenact the drama Jesus’ time in the wilderness, then it raises the question: what does that look like? How do we participate in that drama?
Traditionally the church has done a few things during Lent as a way to help Christians lean in and be intentional about things like repentance and introspection and preparation.
One way of thinking about what it might look like to participate in Lent is to consider it as Renewed Vigor for Justice toward God, toward self, and toward neighbor.
Which should sound familiar around here, since the heartbeat of Sojourn Grace is what Jesus called the Greatest Commandments: Love God with our whole being, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
The three primary spiritual disciplines, or practices, that the church has engaged with during lent are Prayer (which emphasizes justice towards God), Fasting (which emphasizes justice toward self) and Almsgiving (which emphasizes justice towards our neighbor).
Over the next six weeks I am going to challenge us, as a faith community, to engage with these three areas of spiritual practice.
One reason why I love the Christian Calendar because it provides a rhythm, an annual rhythm, that gives voice to the different aspects of the human experience.
For instance, the season of Advent is about waiting, and expecting, and hoping. It is a time for peace and joy and love.
Which is totally apropos for some seasons of life.
But Lent… lent gives space for the parts of life that are broken. The parts that weep, that hurt.
The fragile seasons.
Where we hold space for pain and doubt and tension.
It’s about walking through the darkness of the shadows of death. It’s a journey towards the cross, but the cross is not the destination.
The destination is the new life found in resurrection. But you can’t get to resurrection without death.
Lent is preparation and awareness and practicing this death.
That’s why I’m calling this series, “The Journey.”
It will be six weeks of moving toward the cross and the empty tomb, embracing along the way the different ways in which we experience a sort of brokenness in ourselves and the world around us.
For instance, one week we’ll talk about the Journey into the Brokenness of Hunger, or the brokenness of Creation, or into the brokenness of God’s Family.
This morning I want to talk about the Journey into the Brokenness of Our Inner Selves.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirt within in me” the Psalmist cries out.
It has become rather popular, especially amongst the more progressive crowd, and I am certainly guilty of this myself, to want to distance ourselves from any sort of theology or ideology that supports the idea that we are broken sinners.
Many of us grew up, perhaps, in religious environments where that was the starting point of what was true about you: you are a sinner.
We have doctrines like Total Depravity, which is a way to say that you and I are totally and completely depraved. There isn’t any thing about us that isn’t corrupted by sin.
This sort of mentality I think has been very damaging to a great number of people, and I also find it theologically suspect.
But the point is, the reaction to this has sometimes been to swing to the other side of the pendulum (as reactions often do) and flood ourselves with messages about how good we are, and how we are not broken people in need of being fixed, we are not sick humans in need of a physician.
And while I can understand this impetus to focus on what is good and true about us, and while I believe that God’s fundamental posture towards us is one of love that speaks a word, “you are good,” if I’m being honest with myself I cannot deny the reality of sin in my own life.
Guys, truth be told, I AM a broken person.
I AM, as the hymn says, prone to wander… prone to leave the God I love.
I am naturally a self serving and greedy and lustful person.
Those may not be the truest things about me, but it doesn’t make them less true.
I am, in short, human.
DUST TO DUST
IN that light, Lent is an annual invitation to REMEMBER our humanity.
On ash wednesday the custom is to have an ash cross drawn on your forehead, and the one administering the ashes says, “From Dust you came, and to Dust you shall return.”
An invitation to remember our humanity.
So we pray, along with the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart,”
Why? Because my heart needs cleansed.
Daily, if I”m being honest.
And I’m at my best when I’m being honest.
Which means I’m at my best when I remember my humanity.
Not in a self-deprecating way, but in a humble and gracious way.
Last week I said a couple times that the truest thing about you is that you are a beloved child of God. That is your true self. Your true identity. No one can give that to you or take that away. And if we could live in to our true self every second of every day, then we would know in totality what it’s like to be fully human and fully alive.
But we don’t. And, realistically we can’t. (And, though this is for another day, we probably wouldn’t even want to, really).
But what happens is that we get mixed up and entangled with all sorts of things that pull us away from our true self, and Lent is a season to focus on the Journey back towards our identity as God’s child,” hidden in Christ” as Paul put it.
And this is where the three traditional practices come in. They are each designed to aid us in getting back on track.
I imagine that a large part of why Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness prior to starting his public ministry as Israel’s long awaited Redeemer was so that he could shed the trappings of those things that sought to pull him away from who he really is.
Those 40 days were a time to refocus, and prepare, and allow the parts of him that weren’t real or true to be put to death.
These 40 days then, for us, give us that same space.
The first traditional Lenten Practice is Prayer. Through Daily Prayer we renew our vigor for Justice, for connection, with God.
Confession time: I don’t set aside time every day to pray.
I wish I did. I’d like it if I did. But the truth is I don’t.
But over these next six weeks I am committing to daily prayer.
To help with this I ordered this book this week by Phyllis Tickle. It has daily prayers for the Season of Lent.
Also, on our Facebook Sanctuary Page Mathew is going to curate a daily reading or meditative moment, to help us in Sojo to engage with a daily practice of prayer.
The second Practice is Fasting. This is probably the most commonly spiritual practice associated with Lent. You hear about people giving up things for lent: chocolate, meat, alcohol, Facebook.
I think of Fasting like this: we deprive ourselves of something that we normally partake in, in an effort to be reawakened to what is most important.
In many ways it’s about control, isn’t it?
We develop these little habits, these attachments to things or to activities, that, before long, exercise exceptional control over us.
We may not THINK they do. In fact, we may convince ourselves (successfully, too, most likely) that those things don’t own us, or control us, and we could stop whenever we wanted, or abstain at any time.
But in many cases we don’t.
And so fasting becomes this intentional time to choose something that maybe we’ve had this thought before, “I probably SHOULDN’T do this right now… and I know I don’t have to… but I’m going to.” That thing, whatever it is, might have more control over us than we realize.
Sometimes fasting is literally and actually about the abstaining from a certain thing. But other times fasting can be more like a practice that represents something else.
For instance, if you fast from eating Meat, it may not be MEAT specifically that exercises control over you.
But each time you mindfully choose NOT to eat Meat, you are consciously made aware of your capacity live in to freedom.
Fasting can become the key to unlock us from the ways in which desires keep us chained.
We sing this song here, “I am set free / and it’s for freedom that I am set free”
In Christ we are free. Like, totally and truly free.
But in our brokenness we often live completely chained to things, to actions, to people, to behaviors, to desires.
Our true selves are suffocating in the dark caves where we’ve buried them underneath all these desires, devices, and distractions.
Fasting is a way to regain our freedom. To be reminded that we are not slaves to anything or anyone.
The third traditional Lenten Practice is Almsgiving. This is a way to renew our vigor for Justice for our neighboor.
During Lent we not only look inward to identify the brokenness inside us, but we look outward and see how our collective brokenness leads to tragic realities where people are hurting, hungry, and in need.
If Fasting is abstaining from something that we normally partake in, then the act of Almsgiving might symbolize adding something that we might normally not make time for.
Several weeks during Lent I’m going to invite us to specific ways of practicing Almsgiving, and I hope you’ll engage them with me.
WHY DO THE PRACTICES
Now, the truth is, It would be easy to NOT engage in Lent, to NOT add some things to our lives and take away other things. It would be easy to not participate in some of the upcoming challenges I have for our community.
In other words, it would be easy to just cruise control it. Be typical. Go with the status quo.
The harder path is to intentionally choose some disruptions. And that’s what I love about Lent. Sure, I could do these things anytime of the year, and maybe I should.
But here is this annual invitation, and I know that millions of people around the world are also doing it.
And I don’t want Status Quo. I don’t want cruise control. I’m a pilgrim on the move, dangit!
God is all about transformation, and I want in on that action.
Anyways, so why do I plan to do these practices during Lent?
Well, because I think it’s a special time to partake in unique disciplines that create a boundary where we can acknowledge and respond to God. It creates intentional time and space for God to show up… or, actually, for us to be aware of God’s already-showed-up-ness.
It’s a little like baking, I guess.
There isn’t anything particularly magical about the act of measuring out flour, pinching salt, scooping baking soda, or beating eggs.
But you do those things and then it creates this space where the real magic can happen. Chemistry takes over and bread begins to rise where once there was but a pile of dry ingredients.
So these practices, by themselves, perhaps aren’t all that magical. But they create space to engage with and be present with the God who is very, very magical.
JESUS WAS LED BY THE SPIRIT
Here’s an interesting observation about the story of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness: Matthew 4:1 “Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him”
According to Matthew, this wasn’t Jesus thinking, “you know what, I just got baptized by John who sort of started telling people that I just might be the one they’ve been waiting for… I think now’s a good time to get away for a bit. Clear my head. And get ready for this next season.”
No, Matthew says, “Then the Spirit led Jesus”
So I wonder, this morning, if we had ears to hear, would we accept that perhaps the Spirit is also inviting US to the wilderness? Inviting us to the Journey? Inviting us to 40 days of clearing the way towards discovering our true identity in Jesus?
My best guess?
The Spirit is absolutely inviting you out… leading you out.
Why do I think this with such certainty?
Because my hunch is that the Spirit is ALWAYS inviting us to the wilderness.
My hunch is that God is ALWAYS wanting to lead us past the obstacles that keep us from an intimate life with God. A true connectedness to the Divine DNA that resides in the Dust of our very bones.
Paul told the Philippian church this,
“carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.” -Philippians 2:12-13 (CEB)
And he, Paul, was also convinced, (and this is how he started his letter to the Philippians), that the one who started a good work in you (which is to say God, who breathed the breath of life into your being) will stay with you to complete the job. The Job of reconnecting to our Creator. The Job of discovering and finding and living the Abundant Life that Jesus came to show and model and call us to.
So yeah, I’m pretty confident that the Spirit is, this morning, right now, ready to lead you to the wilderness. To lead on you on a journey.
Lent is just that special time of year when we might have a heightened awareness to it, and a collective energy to all do it together.
CONCLUSION: Commit to Pray and to Fast
So here’s my final challenge for us this morning. (back to title slide
Let’s start Lent, together, by committing to renew our vigor Justice with God through daily Prayer, and to renew our vigor for justice for ourselves, for finding and living in to freedom, by choosing to Fast from something.
The other practice, Almsgiving, we’ll get to some specific challenges in the weeks ahead. But if you already feel motivated to add something positive to your life, then I encourage you to start that today, too.
But my challenge to you, and to me, is to make a decision TODAY to accept the Spirit’s invitation to The Journey.
Set aside time, every day, to engage in some sort of prayer. That could be following along on the FB page. Maybe you have a resource like The Divine Hours to aid you. Perhaps you have a Book of Common Prayer at home, or you might find another resource online to follow.
Or maybe you’re more of a free-form sort of prayer. And you just want to set aside time to converse with God. Make lists of all the things you can be praying for. People in your life. This church.
(By the way, I encourage all of us to leverage the Sanctuary page more with our prayer requests. Whatever you might need some prayer for, put it on there. And we got you.)
Or maybe your preferred method of prayer is mediation. Yoga. Stillness. Lighting incense and playing music. Listening. Will you commit to doing that daily for the next 40 days?
ANd then, if you haven’t started already, what is something in your life that you would consider abstaining from?
For me I’ve made the decision to give up alcohol for Lent.
Because, if I’m being totally honest with you and with myself, there are some days when I think, “okay, I’m not going to have a beer tonight, or a cocktail at home, or whatever.” And that’s my plan. But then the evening wears on and I end up drinking something anyways.
And I’ve just been wondering lately, have I given alcohol too large a space in my life? Is it possible it has some degree of control over me?
I never drink to the point of being drunk, so I know it’s not about being an alcoholic. But the reality is, things don’t have to have TOTAL control over us in order to still have SOME control over us.
And even just SOME control is way in which we are not living in to total freedom. Even SOME control is a way in which I’m held captive by desire or device.
So each time over the next six weeks that I choose not to have a drink is a choice for freedom.
And again, what’s the point? Of the daily prayer and the fasting?
It’s to do the little things, the small practices that I know I can do, to make space for engaging with and becoming aware to God.
What’s the point? It’s to engage in spiritual practices that Christians have been doing for hundreds of years during this time of year as a way to prepare our hearts and look inside, confronting our own brokenness.
What’s the point? Because the Spirit is leading me into the wilderness, where I just might discover my true self, the Divine part of me that is hidden in Christ.