Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Return of the Lenten Challenge (Dialogue Column 2.12.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Oftentimes, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.


Last year, as your fresh new minister, I issued a challenge to First Christian Church. I challenged every church member to be present in worship every Sunday in Lent, provided they were in town and physically able to attend. I was shocked last year to see so many of you taking my challenge seriously and showing up. Perhaps you were just trying to humor your new minister. Now that I’ve been here a year, we’ll see whether or not my challenge to you carries any weight. I am issuing the same challenge this year, so I hope to see you in worship during Lent.

I know, I know, I should have issued this challenge last week before Lent actually started, but…well…I forgot.

So, those of you who didn’t show up for one reason or another get a pass for this past Sunday. We did have a very good crowd, however, and a good number of guests—some who have been visiting for a while and others who just showed up this week to check out First Christian. When you’re in the pews this Lenten season, take a look around and see if you need to welcome anyone who is new. It seems more and more new folks are coming in to take a look these days.
Why should you show up during Lent? The reasons for showing up in large part are not very different than the reasons for showing up at church on any other Sunday. Chief among such reasons is that gathering for worship as a community matters. We experience God in one another, as well as through the songs and message we share. The creative imprint of God is in each of us, so we understand God better as we experience God through each other. We are cared for just as we care for others, therefore through God’s grace we get to be the hands and voices of God to one another. God makes God’s self known through a loving community, which is what a church is supposed to be.

Just like on any other Sunday, our times together for worship during Lent allow us the opportunity to share our joys and concerns with each other. We are known by others, just as we know them in return. It seems like an obvious thing, but being known matters. Too many people lead lives of loneliness and despair, because they do not have the joy of others simply caring about their welfare—the good and the bad. When we gather and share our concerns with one another, we are making sure that all who are present who need to be recognized in their joy and
their sorrow get the attention they need.

Yet, although the Sundays in Lent do not differ all that much from the Sundays throughout the rest of the year, they do differ in at least one significant way. Historically, Lent has been about sacrifice—hence the tradition of giving up something for Lent. As we experience an inconvenience, we recall the deprivations that Jesus underwent to demonstrate God’s love to us. In an age and a culture that stresses convenience and self-satisfaction to the extreme, it is a good and necessary thing for us to recall that we are not the center of the universe. Lent calls us back to our senses and reminds us that we are not gods. It gives us the opportunity to return our life to its intended order—with God at the center of our existence.

Making it to church on Sundays in Lent when we are in town and physically able to do so may not be doing any more than we should be doing all year round, but it is something. Given all the demands that are on our lives—some self-imposed and others not—is it really too much to ask that we carve out some time to connect with others and connect with God? I hope for my sake, your sake and all of our sakes that it is not too much to ask.

Grace and Peace,


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