Lent 2 Year C, February 21, 2016
The Rev. Greg Foraker
Today we observe the Second Sunday in Lent, and so with one third of Lent behind us, this is a good time to check in and reflect on how Lent is going for you at this point. What practices or activities have helped you to go deeper in your journey with God this Lent? Have you tried something new? What practice is opening up new possibilities for you?
One practice that proved helpful to me was our ministry of “Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday. I joined a group of 10 lay ministers from St. Luke’s to offer prayers and ashes to people we met in the morning at the South Transit Center and at noontime on Old Town Square. Afterwards as we reflected on the experience, we shared many inspiring stories of our encounters that day. One person stands out in my memory. I met a young woman, probably in her mid-twenties with two small children who asked what we were doing in Old Town in black cassocks. I explained we were from St. Luke’s and were offering prayers and ashes to anyone who wished to do this as a way to mark the beginning of Lent. She did not grow up in a church or have a religious tradition, and so she asked me, “What is Lent?”
I began to say that Lent is a penitential season… and her eyes glazed over. I had lost her at the outset. I took a deep breath tried to imagine how to explain it in plain language and offered this take: Have you ever known someone, worked with someone or been in relationship with someone who is not facing their stuff, seems stuck, and is not doing their work? She immediately said yes. It is hard to be with those people. It’s hard to be productive, it’s hard to be in relationship with them when they won’t face their stuff and aren’t doing their work. Even worse, it’s really hard when we realize we are the one who is not facing our stuff and doing our work, when we aren’t facing the stuff that has us stuck and not open to growing. When we aren’t doing the work to reflect, heal and grow through our stuff and move to new places in our lives. She lit up and asked for prayers and to receive ashes.
This is really the core of what Lent is about. As a church community, we decide as a group to set aside six weeks to be intentional and encouraging of one another to face our stuff and do our work. We seek to face the stuff that hinders us in our relationships, in our growth, and in our closeness to God. We consider what we have to give up and take on to do this work. We know these are not easy tasks, so it helps to know we are all trying to do this in support of each other, especially during this special time of reflection.
This is the same work we witness in the community at Philippi in our epistle reading today. Paul wrote that beloved and vital community a letter of encouragement. They were growing and doing great things in the name of Christ, but they were still in need of a time of reflection and encouragement to stay the course. If we had read one more verse today, we would have heard of the conflict between two in the community: Euodia and Syntyche. These two pillars of the community were caught in a disagreement that was getting in the way of their growth and mission of the church. Paul called everyone to support these two as they looked at their stuff and did the work to heal the rift between them. Only then, could they feel the love of God and hear how God was still calling them.
Euodia and Syntyche were called to face their stuff and could do so with their supportive community at Philippi. And so it can be for us. What is the stuff you need to face this Lent? What is hindering you in your life and journey with God? A grudge, a past hurt, or perhaps not enough time spent in conversation with God? What work are you call to do this Lent to grow through your stuff? A new spiritual practice, more intentional time with your friends and family or perhaps a new way of service to people in need? We don’t need to be in each other’s stuff, but we can care for each other, encourage each other and call each other keep looking at our stuff and doing our work. And so today we pray for courage, to face the stuff that holds us back from a deeper life with God and we pray for faithfulness to do the work to which each of us are called in our journey with God. Amen.