Today is the second Sunday in Lent: a special season in which we often find ourselves trying to live differently; to adopt new habits or positive behaviours that can change our lives for ever.
When I was growing up, in the 1960’s, the focus of Lent seemed to be about denying oneself of any extravagance in life. Keeping things plain and simple with the focus on: prayer, worship, penitence, and reflecting on God’s word.
I can remember, as a small child, receiving the Sunday school Lenten boxes. We were expected to save all our pennies, our allowance – if you were lucky enough to have one – in order to fill up our box by Easter Sunday. All I knew was that it went towards feeding poor and hungry children in far off lands I’d never heard of (likely a PWRDF initiative – but I had no idea of that, at such a tender age)!
As a kid, I can remember canvassing my parents guests – much to my Mother’s horror – at social occasions – rattling my box in front of them and lamenting: money for the poor! money for the poor!…and so hands would dutiful dig, deep into their pockets to produce copper or silver of - all sorts - and, of course, that put a beaming smile on my face as they went ‘kerplunk, plunk’ into my box!
As a teenager I can remember ‘giving up chocolate’ and getting all miserable by going on impossibly strict diets as Mom dutifully replaced her mouth-watering desserts with plain apples and oranges. The talk was about fasting before Sunday communion, tightening their belts through the weeks and losing weight for that lavish Easter dress and stylish spring bonnet… But honestly, thinking back, I’m not sure most of us had really made the connection …as what we were ‘giving up’ certainly wasn’t enhancing our relationship with God. Instead it was seeing if you could ‘hold out’ until the glorious Easter feast….and the delight of sinking my teeth into the Easter ham, those golden scalloped potatoes and the long-awaited chocolate bunny, on Easter morning. I think I’ve learned, a lot, since then!
Today, Lent is more commonly viewed as a journey, with God, of self evaluation, that can lead to inner growth. Small steps taken, over a 40 day Lenten period, with positive shifts in behaviour - can lead to personal transformation.
Archbishop Melissa, in her Lenten address, describes Lent as a time for seeking what is lacking in our life, and rejoicing after finding it. She tell us that God seeks after the wandering, the lost, the careless, the less-than-dutiful…in other words… God seeks after us… and not surprisingly, ties nicely into this morning’s gospel reading from Luke.
This morning’s gospel reflects on Jesus making his journey to Jerusalem. It’s for a very specific, powerful and deep reason. He goes to announce God's love for God's people. Jesus' journey and action, of going to Jerusalem, reflects the action of God throughout the ages. A God who has come to God's people; continuously seeking them, searching for them over and over again. God calls human beings to God's own self, because he wants them to enter into the saving embrace of divine love and mercy.
This is the message that we are reminded of, today, when Jesus tells us: Jerusalem, Jerusalem!….How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing? This passage tells us that Jesus comes to the people to invite them to God's embrace, to God's love. Jesus renews and reflects this divine action by going to the Holy City to call, to love, to embrace the people of Jerusalem.
Jesus took this action, modelling it after God's way of doing things, over and over again, in the history of God's people in the Old Testament. God would seek and search them out, making a covenant with God's people, calling them to keep their side of the bargain and promising to be always be with them. God would come to them through words spoken by prophets and the worship in the Holy Temple. God would enter their lives through the teaching of the Holy Torah and through their experiences of daily living.
In so many ways, nothing has changed. God tirelessly seeks to be in union with us. Sometimes we accept, make time to be with God, and receive. Sometimes we resist and reject that opportunity to be drawn into this divine relationship. And still God invites us, weeps for us, longs for us to come home. So, it is no wonder that this is the common thread that runs through all this morning’s biblical readings. It’s a theme that is also reflected in our worship as Christians and throughout Christ’s life’s teachings and ministry. It is simply the nature of God to do these things. … to gather her brood of chicks, under her wings, as a mother holds her own beloved children.
So as we move forward in Lent, journeying with Christ, we are encouraged to take time to reflect on our own lives, as Christians; to be open to God’s invitation, to take steps to strengthen our relationship with the divine. We are encouraged to follow Jesus’ example; to step off the beaten path of our routine lives and ‘journey a little into the wilderness’ and the unknown. To make time to sit, to rest, to feed on holy scripture; to pray, to let go and to ask questions of God in the silence of our heart, as we abide in the peace…and await for God’s answers, to be reflected, in our lives.
By accepting God’s invitation, we give ourselves the freedom and the opportunity to hear, in a new and fresh way, the promises of God and to experience God's love for us. To move beyond our fear, our feelings of guilt or inadequacies; to trust in God . In doing so, we open ourselves up to the love, the grace, the forgiveness, the mercy of God which awaits us, as God calls us home.
So, where are you on your Lenten journey? Have you shared with God the things that are weighing on your mind? Have you told God about your hopes, your fears, your joys, your disappointments? If not, I strongly encourage it. Because God is patiently waiting for you…to ponder, in your heart, what sort of things in your life might be weighing you down, the questions your have for God about your future, and to offer them up, to God, in prayer.
It’s because God loves us that God is, forever calling, out to us to let go of our own falseness: the clutter, the noise, the distractions in our lives that keeps us from finding out our own truth …that keeps us from accomplishing what is really important in our lives… answers that can only be found by taking time to speak to God, in prayer. In our busy world, there are few opportunities to slow down and rest in God’s love. By making space in our lives, Lent can provide the opportunity to catch our breath and be still in God’s presence.
For me, this Lent is a time for reading and reflection. I have also felt called to let go of an excess of materiel things that have emotional attachments that have been cluttering up my life and dragging me down. This purging is long overdue. This letting go is allowing me to be more open to new possibilities, to be more focused on my life in Christ, and be more welcoming of the unexpected. To free myself, trusting that God will show me a better way forward. … much better than holding out for a chocolate Easter bunny, don’t you think (well, most of the time – I am human, after all) !
I offer this prayer, in closing: Most gracious and Holy One: Thank you, for loving us, longing for us, seeking us out. I pray that you will help us to receive your love and enter into your compassionate embrace. I pray that you will break down the walls of resistance and rejection that keep us from you. Enter the center of our souls and our hearts. Keep us in your mercy and let us come home to you, for your tender mercies' sake. Amen!
The Rev. Juanita Clark