During this season of Lent, we should all be reminded that all of us need a little help from time to time. We tend to be such rugged individualists that we prefer NOT to allow others the chance to help us when we need it. “How are you?” someone will ask after I’ve had major surgery or after the death of someone close to me. “Oh, fine. I’m doing just fine.” Maybe I am—and maybe I’m really not. But I and many like me prefer not to open the door for another to help.
I have a dear old friend who lives in Atlanta. He and I played tennis together in college and he is a splendid guy. He also has had a very interesting and successful career—a career that has brought him into close contact with lots of very high-profile athletes.
Among the athletes with whom he has been connected is the Olympic Cycling Team. Now my friend has always been a very good athlete in his own right and in his more “mature” years, he became a cyclist—and a very good one.
Long story short, several members of that Olympic Cycling Team made their way into Atlanta and my friend suggested they all ride up Stone Mountain. This would be a strenuous ride even for cycling professionals, much less the average Joe.
So off they went. They made their way to the foot of that large, domed piece of granite and began their ascent. My friend told me that at first he was holding his own with these highly-trained pros. Then at about the two-thirds mark, he told me that he could feel himself starting to fade and was worried that he would hold the others up. Trying to summon the fortitude to keep up, he said the strangest thing happened—“I found myself with a sudden burst of energy and much more comfortable at that stage of the ride.” Feeling very proud of himself, he then said, “I glanced back over my shoulder to find that one of these pros had slipped in behind me, placed his hand on the back of my saddle, and was helping to actually push me up the mountain.”
He had a good laugh about it as they all did.
Sometimes we all can use a little push.
Maybe that’s one of the functions of prayer and fasting. The notion of getting just a little push with our spiritual lives to help us reach the mountain top. Maybe.
I heard of a minister in England who gave out a bar of chocolate to every person in his congregation on the First Sunday of Lent. Unconventional, yes? Isn’t Lent when ministers tell you to give up stuff like chocolate?
As you may have guessed by now, there was a twist: the chocolate was “Fair Trade,” and his sermon focused on the ethics of trade and giving up injustice toward the world’s poorest producers. “This Lent,” he said, “find out where your chocolate, your coffee, and your jeans come from. Find out what kind of shopping habits depend on poverty wages, sweat shops, and ecological nightmares. And then support traders who are trading ethically.”
It was a bold message, but it also involved eating chocolate. Not quite what you’d expect at Lent.
Many churches have, in recent years, turned to taking something ON rather than giving something UP for Lent. And there are plenty of critics to that kind of thinking. Those critics sometimes complain that the church has gone “soft.” But if you look back at history you’ll find that Lent was traditionally a time for taking up charitable giving and service—the discipline of “almsgiving”—as well as giving up things that might not be good for us.
So during Lent does that make it OK to eat chocolate so long as it is “fair trade” chocolate? That is a matter of personal judgment. Just remember that the same Jesus who endured temptations in the wilderness also led his disciples in a fair amount of “Sabbath-breaking.” He reminded us that Sabbath was made for us—not the other way around. I think the same can be said for Lent. Lent should be a positive spiritual experience—whether that involves a giving up or a taking on. It shouldn’t be seen as a pointless endurance test.
The book my Sunday School class is reading suggests that the purpose of prayer is to make us alert to what God is doing around us. I say Lent offers us the same opportunity. By prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms, let these 40 days be a time of being “hyper-vigilant” to God’s presence among us.
The season of Lent begins this week as we celebrate Ash Wednesday at 7:00. I wanted to offer a brief reminder about the season, where it originated and what it’s for in the life of the Christian Church.
Lent is 40 days in length—the length of time from the beginning was actually closer to 36 days and was considered a “tithe” of the calendar year. Even now as we celebrate Lent in the church it is still offering a tithe of our year to God for the purpose of prayer and reflection.
In the beginning, Lent was the season for preparing converts to enter into the life of the faith. These converts would be sequestered in a private place where they would be taught the “secrets” of the Christian faith. You say you didn’t know there WERE any secrets to the faith? Well, once upon a time there were. For instance the Lord’s Prayer was considered a secret of the faith. So was the Apostle’s Creed. The converts—all adults—would be taught the scriptures and the doctrines of the church in preparation for their baptisms. (We do a similar thing today with our confirmation class.)
In the beginning, baptisms happened ONLY on Easter Sundays. Some of the great churches of Europe still have beautiful, free-standing structures dedicated to doing only baptisms. They are still utilized for that purpose. These converts would then be allowed to join in with the church’s other sacrament, Holy Communion.
The word “Lent” is derived from the Latin word “lencten” which literally means “springtime.”
Today, the season is dedicated as a time of penance and serious soul-searching among the faithful as a way of preparing for the week of Passion—the death and resurrection of Jesus. Ash Wednesday is a fitting beginning as we all make our way to the altar, to go to our knees in confession, and to have ashes placed on our foreheads with the words, “from ashes you have come and to ashes you will return.”
The season culminates with Holy Week. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. That same week, we will celebrate Maundy Thursday (from the Latin, “mandatum” or mandatory as the institution of the Last Supper), then a Good Friday “Tenebrae” service (commemorating the crucifixion in a service featuring light and shadow).
For many believers, the season of Lent has popularly become a time of sacrifice—specifically the “giving up” of something one likes as a way of engaging in a spiritual discipline. For some it might be giving up cokes or chocolate or some other kind of food. Others that I know not only give those kinds of things up, but they also calculate the cost of those items they are giving up and then donating that money to the church or to a worthy cause of their choice.
Whatever you do over the 40 days of Lent beginning Wednesday, be sure to do something that will help you connect or re-connect with God. If you are struggling with how to do that, let us help.
Allow me to have a little fun today and share with you some of the latest church bulletin “bloopers.” Some of you have seen some of these—but enjoy them again, anyway. We need to have a good supply of self-deprecating humor.
This Saturday’s Workshop on fasting will include meals.
The sermon this morning: “Jesus Walks On The Water.” Tonight’s sermon: “Searching For Jesus.”
Miss Charlene Mason sang “I Will Not Pass This Way Again” which gave obvious pleasure to all.
For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need help.
A bean supper will be held on Tuesday in the fellowship hall. Music to follow.
The sermon for tonight’s service, “What Is Hell?” Come early and listen to the choir.
Low Self-Esteem Support Group meets Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. Please use the back door.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. at the church. Please use large, double-doors at side entrance.
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and the deterioration of some older ones.
The eight-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in the church basement on Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24th in the church. So ends a friendship that started in their school days.
The scouts are collecting bottles and cans to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
Don’t let worry kill you off—let the Church help.
And finally this gem: The Pastor unveiled the church’s new stewardship campaign slogan last Sunday: “I Upped My Pledge—Up Yours!”
You can’t make this stuff up—so laugh at these and laugh some more this week. It’s good for the soul.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.