A very concerned member here at St. John was conversing with me on the phone a couple of days after we tightened Covid protocols in mid-November. I know this person and her family to be what I occasionally refer to as “freedom fighters.” They have been concerned about the loss of freedoms due to the advent of Covid and the events of last year’s “summer of anger.” These are thoughts and concerns I generally share as the Christian Church depends on freedom of speech–the First Amendment–to proclaim the better message of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ without impediment. I am cautious, however, not to turn Constitutional freedoms into an idol. Yes. They can become an idol, a false god.
She expressed a particular concern that did not hide the intent possibly to quit coming to church or, at the very least, disrespect the new protocols. The particular concern was a concern about judgmental-ism. Would she and her family be judged negatively by the congregation?
It’s a good question, even if some of what she was saying to me struck me as a willingness to forego Christ’s gifts for a time, which is not faithful at all. There the Lord’s judgment is her bigger problem. Still, as it has played out in most Christian congregations including St. John, this judgmental-ism cuts both ways. While this woman was afraid of pro-maskers disrespecting her positions, most of my anti-masking contingent has been equally judgmental of the pro-maskers (fearful, “germophobes,” etc). She was right to be concerned about vain and unnecessary judgment coming back to her. My suspicion is that she probably had not countenanced the judgmental-ism of her own positions. I love her in Christ and this love “always rejoices in the truth” [1 Cor. 13:6], difficult though the truth often is.
As the whole world has staked out hardened positions on practically every subject under the sun–fueled by the utter failure of a news media to report facts without bias and politicians who use this bias to further their own agendas–this judgmental-ism is on steroids. You see it in the hideous practice of “cancel culture,” (an absolutely shameless violation of the 8th Commandment). You see it in the arguments re masking and vaccines and politics and, if you listen carefully enough, you hear it sometimes in the pure befuddlement many people express as they simply cannot understand how the world “out there” has gone so crazy. Even if I can relate to these sentiments as a sinner, I have to say as a pastor that none of it is righteous. As I stated last night in our Ash Wednesday service, you will not be saved for all your right-ness or even all your concern despite not being sure what is right..
YOU, dear reader, need Lent. No matter where you are on any of the stupidly binary spectra of issues out there, YOU… need… Lent. YOU need to return to the Lord. YOU need the Christ whose sacrifice for YOUR sins is the main theme of this Lenten season. YOU need to take your eyes off the news, off the people you don’t agree with, off the ones you refuse to forgive, off the difficulties of this life, etc. etc. etc.
Instead, as the Gradual for Lent states so powerfully, Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2). YOU need Lent because YOU need Christ. You don’t need anything else.
I joked last night in the sermon that I was eager for Lent to begin this year, indeed I would have had it begin 40 days ago. Personally, I suspect Lent did begin for me shortly after Christmas. I have turned off the news. I am daily meditating on the Scriptures again. I am focusing hard on my prayer life. And in my spare time I am listening to audiobooks on history and classics of literature.
Not that I am so much better a person than anyone else. I only share this to tell you that I feel so much better than I did after Christmas. Yes. I had Covid around then, even as I was physically doing fine. Nevertheless, after the silly season of our national life from summer through Christmas, I was in a spiritual hole. All of it had worn me out. At an emotional and spiritual level, I was struggling. I too am a sinner who needs Lent.
So I deleted all of my news apps (3 in total), turned off nearly all of my phone notifications, picked up John Kleinig’s marvelous, Grace Upon Grace and reviewed what he writes about meditation (ch.2) and prayer (ch.3). I set out on a journey, a journey that looks a lot like Lent, only it was for about 40 days prior to the actual Lent.
Now Lent is here and I am very glad for it. I will be happy to stay in these disciplines and be refreshed by them. We often forget that the word Lent means “Spring.” Lent often suffers from a negative reputation by those who do not properly understand it. Lent is a little spring. It is a time of personal reflection and renewal. It is a time where Christ does His thing, renewing our daily lives in repentance and forgiveness. Whether your Lent began yesterday or it began when mine did back in January, all of this wonderful stuff is the daily life of the genuine Christian. The genuine Christian is not better than others just because they are Christians. They are sinners who have gone to the Font, gone to the Altar, heard the Word, tasted God’s grace, and have been renewed by Him. In Lent, we don’t renew ourselves. In Lent, Christ renews us.
I remain so very weak in these disciplines. Part of my renewed prayer is that God may strengthen me in them. He has…and He offers the same strength to you. One of the reasons I know YOU need Lent is because I need Lent. The disciplines of Lent are always going to be what we need the most.
God grant that you have a genuine Lent and that it be just the beginning of every day of the rest of your lives being a day of renewal and refreshment until this old earth passes away and we stand together in the new heavens and the new earth.