Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Focus, People!

Lent begins with ashes....
Ashes pushed upon our foreheads with words meant to rattle us to our core.
"Repent, and believe in the Gospel."
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Those ashes mark us with truth we either try to hide or avoid and deny.
It's there, for all to see. It's my truth. It's your truth.

And while our liturgy points us toward intentionality in our discipleship, the reality of our mortality, and the essential need for God through the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth...
in the end, what we typically come away with at the beginning of Lent is that we've given up something....that we are "sacrificing" during this season something that would otherwise be part and parcel of our every day.
We're not going to eat chocolate (as much).
We're not going to cuss (as much).
We're not going to watch TV (as much).

Or, we may have gained the notion that this season asks as not to give up, but to take on something. As much as we give up things that do not need to define the normalcy of our lives, conversely, it is with those things we take on. These are things that identify a healthier, clearer understanding of what we're being asked during Lent.
We're going to exercises every day of Lent. (should every day).
We're going to give of ourselves in some measure of servanthood (should everyday).
We're going to advocate for causes of justice for those left behind (should everyday).
We're going to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with someone where pride and ego has prevented peace making (should every day).

But like New Year's resolutions, will-powered passion that launches "a new life" fades all to quickly. Left with feelings of guilt for failure, or rationalizations that such pursuits does not a better Christian make...we let ourselves off the hook with relative ease.

Another Lent will have come and gone, and we will have missed the point, again.

Now in the homestretch of this particular Lent, maybe it's not too late to recast our energies toward that which matters most: Jesus of Nazareth.

Historically, Lent has served two purposes. First, it was a time of preparation and examination for candidates who would, come Easter morning, die to themselves and rise in the power of God through Jesus Christ through initiation in baptism. In effect, this season took any who would be bold enough to say they wanted to be "Christian," and push them to the limit by asking, "are you sure you know what you're saying 'yes' to?" Because the Christian life is counter intuitive to every impulse and passion the drives most every minute of every day.

"Those who would be my disciples, must take up their cross and follow me," Jesus said. Which is to say, to take up that which would do you in and go wherever that leads you.

"Victory in Jesus" doesn't mean so much unless we know exactly what it is that we've gained victory over.

The second historic purpose for this season finds resonance with where most of us live. We've said our "yes" at some point in the past. And we live with the reality of life in Christ that is, well, ordinary. We can't be on the mountain all the time. Truth is, Jesus calls us to live this life in the valleys of our being where the drudgery of every day seduces us into a relentless pursuit of mediocrity as it relates to our discipleship.

Lent reminds Jesus' companions to wake up, focus - and claim again the relentless pursuit of faithfulness even and especially in the ordinary.

In Luke 9, there's a pivotal text the momentum of which drives everything that comes after.
"When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem."

However, whatever this Lent has been for you (and God knows I know how easily it has been to be distracted this year), it is time to focus on Jesus' road toward Jerusalem and what that means, not trapped in history, but guiding this moment.

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