How long does it take to change? There is a popular wellness book that proposes that within 10 days, if you follow the nutritional guidelines, you will see a noticeable difference in your body and well being. In just 10 days! But how long does it take to change our souls?
Within the Christian tradition, the season of Lent is 6 weeks long, a season where personal change is desired and expected. Lent is linked to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert wilderness where he considered the path of his life. He wrestled there with how he should live out his calling. The book Meditations on the Sand emphasizes Jesus' struggle and our struggle. Listen to this portion from the book:
“One goes to the desert to see more and to see better. One goes to the desert especially to take a closer look at the things and people one would rather not see, to face situations one would rather avoid, to answer questions one would rather forget.”
We come together on this Ash Wednesday to take a look at the condition of our hearts. We look inside and see that there are things not quite right, things that need restoring. If we were houses, we would be described as “fixer-uppers.”
Lent is an annual invitation to come closer to God, to look at ourselves honestly and believe that change is possible through Jesus. We grieve over what could have been, for what should have been done and wasn't. Lent gives us the chance to go in a different direction. If we have closed the doors of our hearts, now is the time to let life in again.
We come and receive the ashes which starts us out on our journey. We have six weeks not to continually berate ourselves over our sins or to be overwhelmed by guilt, but to be hopeful. Even though we are still weeks away from signs of spring, we believe that this is a season of new spiritual growth, of starting over, of being refreshed. On this journey are destination is the new life of Easter morning.
Whatever concerns you today - whatever weighs heavy on your hearts - look forward to how God will help you with your problems, how God will help you to see what you need to do differently, what needs to end and what needs to begin. We are on a pilgrimage even though we are not leaving home.
A young couple walked the 500 mile trail which stretches across northern Spain and is called the Camino de Santiago. This is an ancient road which pilgrims have followed for centuries with the goal of arriving at the Cathedral which honors the Apostle James.
The couple wrote an article for a travel site with advice for other walkers. I'd like to share with you some of their thoughts with some thoughts from me also:
Keep a notebook. Invite you to answer this question on paper: “What needs to be changed within me?” Everyday, write down some conversation with God, your own personal prayer. And be open to where this holy conversation might lead you.
Get a stick. They were speaking of a hiking staff that is used for balance and stability.
What could keep us anchored, keep us from falling? Scripture reading, prayer, fasting, silent reflection are just some examples of the things we will need for balance and stability along our pilgrimage.
Take ear plugs. They discovered how important this was after sleeping in a hostel with 60 other tired people lying on their backs - bunks close together. Noise level was pretty loud!
How can you enjoy more quiet? How can you listen to God, and hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit? How can you listen to your own heart? What needs to be turned down, turned off?
Pack light. In college, a friend of mine worked at a camp where she back-packed for 5 day trips.. They had to carry everything that they needed and so they were very careful to have nothing but the bare essentials.
In checking, a young boy's pack seemed stuffed. He had his pillow, robe, slippers, books, candy. They had to convince him that all those things would just weigh him down.
Is there anything that prevents you from loving God? Would you be spiritually better off if something was gone or reduced in your life?
Talk and listen and ask for advice from other walkers. They discovered how much they could help one another . Do you have a friend that you can talk with during Lent? A friend to pray with and share your fears/hopes?
Join us for Sunday worship beginning this Lent as we join together in our study of the twelve disciples based on “The Last Supper” painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. The sermon discussion questions in our small groups will focus on each of these disciples following each week’s sermon.
We will also gather together during Holy Week for our Maundy Thursday service and we will experience a reenactment of the Last Supper. That famous Last Supper painting will come alive for us on that holy night.
Remember to join the other hikers so that we can learn from each other during our pilgrimage of faith.
And also keep in mind, that this walk is not a race. Dr. Ellsworth Kalas says that he flunks Lent every year because his good intentions don't last for 6 weeks. He still looks forward to Lent. “Heaven continues to call him to a higher life,”he says. He keeps stretching his soul for all that God promises even though it is not all accomplished in one season.
On Ash Wednesday several years ago, two Episcopal priests stood outside Duke University Hospital and offered ashes to those who were entering. Some people walked by, and some stopped to receive the sooty mark.
As a cross was put on their foreheads and a prayer was said, the pastor and stranger reflected together on their sins and God's needed grace. In this busy hospital where life and death are often side by side, there was a recognition that Jesus was also present and he offers hope. A few moments in an ordinary day can be the beginning for new life.
During Lent we have a chance to rewrite our stories with the power of God's spirit. I hope that I am not the same person tonight as I will be by Easter morning. I want to be restored. I want my faith to be stronger. I want to see others as God sees them. I want to be courageous in my sharing of God's love.
What is your hope for this Lent? As you receive the ashes, you are accepting God's invitation to come home. You are on your way to being made whole.