Monday, February 16, 2015

Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Preparing for Lent

Today we see the transfiguration of Jesus.  Jesus is revealed to Peter, James and John in dazzling white clothes.  He appears with Elijah and Moses.  When Peter offers to make three dwellings, the disciples are overshadowed by a cloud and then the voice comes down from heaven,  This is my Son, the Beloved;  listen to him!”

The glimpse of Jesus in dazzling white is a glimpse of the risen Christ.   Jesus explains to his disciples that they will see the Son of Man again in this form after he has risen from the dead. 

And so in this story, we are given a time frame.   The story reminds us of the coming of Easter.   The story can be seen as a reminder, that we are today preparing for Lent, the period of preparation for Easter.  Those disciples, Peter, James and John, know in the transfiguration that they will see Jesus again when he rises.  And we, as disciples can understand this story as the beginning of our preparation for Easter.

Traditionally, Lent has been understood as both a period of penance and a period of preparation.   The three images of fasting, prayer and almsgiving mark our Lenten spiritual practices.  I’d like us to think together today about those three aspects of our Lenten preparation.  We’ll take some time today to anticipate Lent.  I’m going to talk briefly about our practices today and then I’ve put a notebook on the back table.  I’d like to suggest that we share Lenten practices with one another.  So iafter the service today you’ could share a note about Lenten practices that have been meaningful to you in the past, or a note about a Lenten practice that you have heard about and are considering, or about a Lenten practice that you are curious about.  I’m also going to post my sermon on the website and I invite you to comment there, sharing your Lenten practices in the comments at the end of the sermon. 

During Lent, we are walking with Christ as his disciples walked with him.    We are travelling towards his death--Jesus’ complete obedience to the will of God.  Walking in solidarity with Jesus means walking in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the weak, the children, the widows, the disabled, the mentally ill. 

Lent is often understood as a time of penance, a time when we seek forgiveness for the ways in which we have acted or failed to act in accordance with God’s will.  For me, it is very important to seek forgiveness for the ways that we have participated in human suffering.  I seek forgiveness for the ways that our world economic systems leave some people without health care or some without housing.  I seek forgiveness for the wars which devastate families, communities and I pray for peace.  I seek forgiveness for the ways in which humans have hurt our environment, polluting our streams, rivers and oceans, wasting our natural resources and participating in global warming.  I seek forgiveness for all the ways that I have not lived up to God’s expectations for the world.

During Lent, many Christians act in penance by making a sacrifice.  They fast or give up something—meat or entertainments, some abstain from food, or sweets or drink for periods of the day.  We make a sacrifice in solidarity with Jesus and with the poor, as Jesus sacrificed himself—acting selflessly and overcoming death for all of us.   When we think about this sacrifice, it is not about giving up something because God wants to punish us.  We need to hold our sacrifice as Jesus did—it is a self-less act that prepares us to be joined with Christ in the resurrection.    So our sacrifice is really about preparation, we are moving towards Easter, the celebration of freedom and new life, the life that God wants for all people. 

One way to think about the sacrifices that we make during Lent is to ask,  “How does my Lenten practice prepare me for new life, for the experience of freedom that is ours through resurrection?  If I give up meat, I can feel that change as a way of being in solidarity with so many people all over the world who cannot afford to eat meat every day.  Fasting from meat is also a move towards  a more sustainable way of eating.  Meat takes a lot of natural resources to produce.  If we all gave up eating meat one day a week, we would be cutting down on agricultural land that has to be devoted to animal feed, we would be reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and many doctors believe, we would living healthier. 

Many Christians do not fast, or make a sacrifice during Lent, but instead take on a new spiritual or prayer practice in preparation for Easter.  Lent has always been a period of preparation for Baptism.  The catechumenate are the people receiving instruction.  During Lent, we can all become catechumenate.  Here at Nativity, we are trying to find a way to use the period of Lent to prepare some of our young people for Confirmation.  

If you decide that your Lenten practice will be an affirmative preparation for Easter, then there are many wonderful Lenten prayer programs.  Forward Day by Day is a wonderful resource.  Or you might decide to commit yourself to Bible Study that focuses on preparation for Easter and a deeper commitment to discipleship during Lent.   Lenten Bible Study from Anglican Church of Canada  is a good resource.   Prayers focused on the renewal of our Baptismal covenant give us that deeper spiritual engagement in Christ’s life, work, sacrifice and resurrection. Lenten Resources from Church Publishing

And then there is the Lenten practice of almsgiving.  The alms that you give might be money—saying your change for the United Thanks Offering, or making a commitment to Episcopal Relief and Development ERD Lent or Episcopal Charities or another good cause.  Or it might be a different type of almsgiving, committing yourself to tutoring for the next four weeks at a local school, or committing yourself to putting a can of food in the bin every week during Lent.  You might decide to give up your coffee at Starbucks for Lent and give the money that you save by having coffee at home to the Marin County Foodback so that more people in our community might be fed.  But if the almsgiving is to be a meaningful Lenten practice, then it’s not just giving because we are Christians who believe in giving to the poor.    As we make a commitment  to giving money or time or food to the poor, we are preparing ourselves to participate in the new freedom that is offered by Christ’s resurrection. 

Whatever practice we choose, the key is that we focus our intentions.  This glimpse that we had today of the transfigured Jesus is a glimpse of what we are moving towards.  We are walking with Jesus towards Golgotha, but we know that God has promised us resurrection.  So I hope that as we worship together, we will not be fixated on this is a somber season, or a season fixated on sin.  Instead, I hope we will focus on Lent as a season of preparation—preparation for new life.

When we choose a Lenten practice, we must ask why we’re engaged in a practice for it to be meaningful.  I am hoping that this Lent we will deepen our understanding of our faith—getting beyond just giving up chocolate because that’s what we’ve always done and committing ourselves instead to walking with Jesus.  I hope that we will enter this Lenten season seeking forgiveness for the brokenness of the world that we have participated in; offering a sacrifice of ourselves as Jesus offered himself on the cross; uniting ourselves with the poor and working towards the freedom that is promised by our Baptism into Christ’s resurrection.  I hope that each of us will find a meaningful way to fast, pray and give alms.

Together, we will begin our Lenten season on Ash Wednesday with services at 7 and 10.  Every Wednesday during Lent, we will walk the Stations of the Cross at 6 p.m. and then we’ll share a simple soup supper together from 6:30-7:30.  Join us as we walk together. 

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