Monthly Archives: March 2019

The Season of Lent

artprint77The Wilderness Experience

The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and prayer for the Church. It corresponds to the time of preparation that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry. Scripture tells us Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit for forty days of fasting and prayer. Thus, Lent begins with the service of Ash Wednesday and runs through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This time period is actually forty six days, because the six Sundays in between the beginning and end of the Lenten Season are not really part the days of fasting. Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.

Historically, in the Easter Church, Lent has provided a time in which new converts were prepared for Holy Baptism. This practice is still observed in many liturgical churches.

Why should we observe this time of preparation and what does it mean to each of us and the Church today? Clearly this observance is not required for salvation. The saving act of Jesus on the cross and our response to His loving sacrifice is required, followed by our endurance in the Faith with His help. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that life does present us with wilderness experiences.

What is false is a church that suggests that Christians should not have them. We do have them. Job stood head and shoulders above his peers as a righteous man in his day, yet he experienced a terrible wilderness experience. The false triumphalism found in some of today’s churches would have us believe that such experiences should not occur, bringing condemnation on those who go through them because they do not have enough faith.

If we have wilderness experiences as a matter of course then why designate an appointed time to go through one within the Church Year? Is not this appointed time artificial? It is my belief that the Season of Lent in the early church was very much influenced by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is better to observe a wilderness experience appointed by the Holy Spirit than the one that is unscheduled and catches us by surprise. We may still endure unscheduled ones but we might be better prepared for them, having benefited from the teachings and disciplines of Lent. Jesus required preparation in the wilderness through the Holy Spirit in order to begin His ministry on earth. He experienced other wildernesses as well, Gethsemane being one of them.

Our purpose for Lent should be the same purpose that Jesus had for entering the wilderness: to prepare for ministry. We all have a ministry if we are Christian believers. Lent should be a time of fasting and prayer, self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. It should be a time of setting aside the things of this world that so easily creep in and devote ourselves more to God and His Word.

What should Lent not be? It should not be about our attempt to impress God by what we are giving up for Him or ny what spiritual gymnastics we are putting ourselves through. The “giving-up” notion is fundamentally flawed. It makes us dread Lent. We then cannot wait for Lent to be over. That is why Mardi Gras or Carnival has such an appeal for many people.

Too often Lenten promises are like New Years resolutions. We make them but we don’t keep them and then we are under condemnation. Satan has a field day with us. He loves our false humility and piety. God does not want us to prove who we are. He wants to prove who we are, if we will allow him to do so. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We just need to submit ourselves to him.

It is said that we often grow through our struggles and trials. This may be true, but it is not necessarily true. A greater truth is that our struggles do teach us that we cannot get through life on our own strength alone. The struggles often drive us to God. It is God who then changes us and not our struggles. Why should we wait for a crisis to go to God? Why not go to Him early and often?

Perhaps the best observance of Lent would be to approach God with faith in the saving blood of Jesus, asking Him what He would have us discover about ourselves and about Him. Let Lent be a time of intentional fellowship with God in prayer, seeking His will and wisdom for our lives so that we might be better disciples of Jesus Christ and living examples of God’s love for the world.

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Filed under Ash Wednesday, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy

Fat Tuesday Teaching

Breaking the Yoke

Let us look at several translations of Isaiah 10:27, which has to do with breaking a burdensome yoke. We will start with the King James Version (KJV):

And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

The KJV a wonderful translation. It has a certain beauty, power, and authority. True, some of the language is archaic. However, the translation on the whole is a fairly accurate one, except for the verse we are exploring.

What does the original Hebrew say? The text reads, “The yoke shall be destroyed because of shamen” (pronounced SHA-MEN). The KJV translators understood shamen to be the equivalent of shemen, oil, which apparently led them to think of oil for anointing.

What is the text actually saying? It’s best to understand shamen here as “fatness” (pronounced SHA-MEYN), which would produce a literal translation of, “The yoke will be destroyed because of the fat.”

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a very literal translation.

So it will be in that day, that his burden will be removed from your shoulders and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be broken because of fatness.

It is accurate, but is not the most readable. What does fatness mean?

The New International Version (NIV) expresses it well:

In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat.

The NIV is somewhat of a paraphrase, but its meaning is not obscure. It gets right to the point.

What about our “modern” New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)?

On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.

The NRSV bypassed the whole discussion of fatness altogether.

Let us look at fatness. We have an ox with a yoke on its neck, enslaving it to the will of its master. But eventually, it gets so healthy and fat that the yoke simply bursts from off its neck. That ox is now free!

Today is Fat Tuesday. It refers to the day when people might fatten themselves up with food and drink in order to prepare for the day of fasting that follows on Ash Wednesday.

Perhaps we need to fatten ourselves up in a different fashion. When we find ourselves bound or oppressed or beaten into submission by the enemy. We simply feed our spirits the living Word day and night, we continue in worship and praise and prayer and communion, and little by little, we get so healthy and strong—so “fat”—that suddenly the yoke of oppression has to burst. The fatness destroys the yoke!

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Filed under Lenten study, Revised Common Lectionary

Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

The Veil Was Torn Apart

During this Season of Epiphany we have been looking at various examples of how God manifested his presence and power. Today, we look at the Mount of Transfiguration experience of Peter, James, and John. These disciples had been taught directly by Jesus. They knew him as a great teacher of the Law of Moses. They had witnessed his healings and miracles first hand. They were starting to realize that Jesus was the promised Messiah. But they were not prepared for what was about to take place on the mountain. Reading from Luke:

About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”   (Luke 9:28-35)

The disciples saw Jesus in his glorious state, standing with Moses and Elijah. They were overwhelmed.

Moses had gone up to the mountain to talk with God. When he came down the Israelites were not prepared for what they saw:

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.   (Exodus 34:29-35)

The Israelites saw the reflected glory 0n the face of Moses. Just a hint of God’s glory could overwhelm the onlooker. Again, from Exodus:

Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.   (Exodus 34:29-35)

God is a holy God and we are sinners. God has had to veil himself so that anyone who has contact with him would not be destroyed. He established a temple arrangement in which the Ark of the Covenant would remain behind a curtain or veil in a room called the “most holy place.” Only the high priest could enter this place. He did it only once a year to offer the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.

How do we approach God today? Do we look to God through a veil? The Apostle Paul tells us that is unnecessary:

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.   (2 Corinthians 3:12-14)

Even today, preachers and teachers speak about going behind a veil to get in touch with God. There is no veil. The veil has been torn apart. From the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.   (Matthew 27:50-52)

We are allowed to look upon the glory of God. We are called to look upon the glory of God. The Apostle Paul has written:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

We become who or what we worship. Do we look upon glory or do we celebrate the flesh? But what about the high priest idea? We are not high priests. No we are not, but we have a high priest standing in for us. From the Book of Hebrews:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Are we ready to approach the throne of grace without any restrictions? Again, from Hebrews:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, et us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.   (Hebrews 10:19-23)

God is calling us. How will we respond? In fear or in joy?

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, The Transfiguration, Year C