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Pastor Blog - Union Grove UMC Blount

Reflections on Lent

February 17, 2015

         Since ancient times the forty days of Lent have been a period of fasting and self-denial recalling Christ’s forty-day sojourn in the wilderness following his baptism. It serves as a means of preparing us for the observation of Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. However, for most Christians it is not a mandatory observation. The Second Helvetic Confession points out, “The fast, of forty days (Lent) has the testimony of antiquity, but is not enjoined in the Scriptures, and ought not to be imposed upon the conscience of the faithful.” (From the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566)[1] Moreover, this confession reminds us that  “All fasts ought to proceed from a free and willing spirit, and such a one as is truly humbled, and not framed to win applause and the liking of men, much less to the end that a man might merit righteousness by them. But let everyone fast to this end: that… [they] may the more zealously serve God.”[2]

          Entering into this discipline voluntarily, how might we “the more zealously serve God” in the season of Lent? John Chrysostom (ca. 349-407), tells us that, “Lent is a special time for practicing kindness, forgiveness, and mercy”[3] In the same sense Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a devout Christian wrote that, “Nothing could make the period of Lent so much of a reality as to employ it in a systematic effort to fix the mind on Jesus.”[4] Just what does it mean to practice “kindness, forgiveness, and mercy” and to “fix the mind on Jesus?” Mike Slaughter gives us a practical view of how this might look when he writes that, “The Lenten journey is a forty- day, intensely focused period of personal reflection and repentance through prayer, Scripture reading, and fasting. We make a commitment sacrificially to lay aside things we ordinarily enjoy (such as sugar, alcohol, television, or social media) and to reevaluate our faith journey by asking some hard questions. Does my faith talk match my faith walk? Am I trying to live with a foot in two contradictory worlds? Am I putting off until tomorrow what God is calling me to do today? Am I offering myself to Jesus as a volunteer who serves when convenient or [as] a servant who acts sacrificially?”[5] The prophet Isaiah challenged Judah to confront the fact that their fasts were empty and vain because they were practiced in hypocrisy without relieving the poor or the homeless or the oppressed (Isaiah 58:1-12). Perhaps we are observing the Lenten fast in the same way in our day.

          To fix our minds on Jesus is to see him at work so that we might join him in what he is doing. He came to be the Great Reconciler and we are given the ministry of reconciliation as his ambassadors to the world (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). This is the focus of the Lenten Discipline as our fast reminds us of the frailty of our broken humanity while our increased attention to prayer and the word of the Lord points us to the Lord Jesus Christ and challenges us to become his servants in his works of mercy and grace.

          We prepare for Lent as a season of deep personal introspection and of even deeper spiritual reflection. If our fast is to be effective these next forty days of self-examination and self-denial must serve to prepare us for our mission just as Jesus’ forty-day sojourn in the wilderness served to prepare him for his mission.

 

[1] Philip Schaff and David S. Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "Chapter 7. The Creeds of the Evangelical Reformed Churches". 

[2] Ibid

[3] Erik M. Heen and Philip D. Krey, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture – New Testament X: Hebrews, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 83.

[4] Mary Wilder Tileston, Joy and Strength for the Pilgrim's Day, (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1901), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 56.

[5] Slaughter, Mike. The Renegade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus. Nashville. Abingdon Press. 2014. Kindle Edition. Chapter 5

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