Saturday Sermon: Lenten blessings, spiritual growth to all
"Love reached out to us first in a person named Jesus who served others, died on a cross, and rose from the dead to share new life with us. Now, we get to help each other live in Jesus' continuing hope and Spirit."
That is my 30-seconds-or-less elevator speech to introduce my faith in a time crunch to someone. Perhaps my next project will be to develop a similar speech to introduce Lent that does not scare everyone off. After all, Lent is associated with somber soul-searching and the tortured giving up of beloved things - even chocolate, coffee, beer and wine.
This year, Lent, which actually means "springtime," takes place during 40 days in March and April. The 40 days traditionally are used to prepare people for baptism and to reflect Jesus' 40 days of suffering and temptation by Satan in the wilderness.
The 40 days also are used to spiritually strengthen the already baptized in preparation for Jesus' Good Friday crucifixion and to remind ourselves that following Jesus means dying to ourselves and our desires for the sake of the greater good.
During Lent, then, especially, Christians of a variety of denominations and faith traditions explore and practice prayer, scripture study, almsgiving (giving to the poor) and fasting.
Worship writer John van de Laar describes these spiritual practices as gifts, not self-abuse, saying that prayer - and I would include here scripture study - is not to demonstrate faith but to connect in "divine conversation," that fasting is not a "display of extreme spiritual fitness" but a way to control our desires and put God first; and that almsgiving is not to win admiration but to "keep our possessions from possessing us, so that we are only possessed by God."
I see Lent as helping strengthen us to live in the same hope and trust that Jesus placed in the love that is God. Jesus stayed open and connected to God no matter how bad things got.
Jesus fasted from his need for safety to serve the outcast and anger the powerful. Jesus then gave his very life on the cross to put his hope and trust in love.
This love that we call God raised Jesus from the dead to show us that there is hope in dying to ourselves by remaining open and connected to God, fasting from fulfilling our needs first and giving of ourselves for the greater good. During Lent, we give up all of the self-hurtful things that get in the way of hope.
We also take on the spiritual practices that feed our hope to face Good Friday and life's sacrifices. We prepare to respond with joy and service to Jesus' Easter Sunday rising from the dead, His sharing of His continuing presence through the Holy Spirit and His promise to return.
Hopefully, we have the beginnings of a Lenten elevator speech here. I wish Lenten blessings and spiritual growth for us all.
Karl Biermann serves as pastor at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Cuero, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.