Dr. Bob Hawkins
On many occasions one can better understand what God is accomplishing
through Jesus Christ’s ministry and mission by first checking the Old Testament
passages folks often dismiss as “pre-Good News.” This coming Sunday’s readings are a
case in point. We will first hear Micah 6:1-8, a reading whose poignancy should hit us
between the eyes. God asks us a hard question: O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me! We, in fact, are being held accountable for
our disgruntled, sometimes rebellious ways, our lax behavior, our indifference to the
injustices and violence around us, our ready acceptance of unacceptable behavior:
jealousy, suspicion, rumormongering, greed, self-gratification, arrogance, and prejudice.
Not such good news for a Sunday morning? These are questions only someone who
loves us beyond imagining could possibly ask. The questions God poses have been
echoed in the Good Friday liturgy since the ninth century. As the Church confronts the
reality of Christ’s suffering and death in the stillness of Good Friday, we struggle to find
answers to these questions the liturgy calls the Solemn Reproaches.
Nearing the end of the post-Epiphany season, we’ve learned a lot about Jesus, his
life, ministry, and mission, and the extent he is willing to go to save us from the collision
course we’ve embarked on with sin, death, and the grave. Ash Wednesday is a few
weeks away, the most blatantly honest day on the calendar: You are dust, and to dust
you shall return. Yet St. Paul also poses an important question for us: Consider your
own call, brothers and sisters… [I Corinthians 1:26a]. Yes, we are fragile, dusty
mortals, clearly capable of perpetrating and culpable for God’s most solemn and sincere
reproaches. Our failings and wrongdoings notwithstanding, the Almighty God dares to
ask us beloved children to be holy ambassadors on a mission for God in Christ by the
Spirit’s gifts and power. We are not wise by human standards, without reason to be
puffed up, foolish in fact, lowly and despised by the in-groups, cliques, and the “right-
sorts” of the world. A sad lot though we may well be, God calls, empowers, and sends us
into the world to be outposts of the peaceable kingdom with good reason. We have
things to do, people to meet and greet, and blessedly important things to accomplish. A
right busy future for us is beginning. Given the way we’ve been shaped by the world and
sadly, the church at times, it will take Lent and its “disciplines” to help unfold why it is a
very important and grace-filled season to look forward to.
Lent, as we’ve heard on occasion from the pulpit of Mt. Horeb and elsewhere,
means “springtime,” the season of growth and promise. That is a far cry from how Lent
seems to play out for many. We flip coins to decide what we’ll give up, stop doing, and
spend five weeks regretting we ever did. Understanding Lent as “the give it up season”
skews our understanding of what God in Christ is doing. Jesus, in a fit of impatience at
the scribes and pharisees among us, replies, …you tithe mint, dill, and cumin and have
neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you
ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out
a gnat but swallow a camel [Matthew 23:23-24]!
The Lenten Disciplines originally were intended to help set the course for us as
Disciples of the Lord, folks who have been called and who have pondered how we best
utilize the gifts ALL have been granted in the waters of Baptism. Yet it is easy to
squander our Lenten pilgrimage by fixating on the insignificant “mint, dill, and cumin”that we’ll offer up like a friend of mine does. For years she has given up Diet Coke for
Lent, knowing that there’s a cold one in the refrigerator waiting for her on Easter
afternoon’s return to normalcy. Her Lenten journey is spent in part dreaming of getting
back to the “Coke Side of Life” as the 2006 advertising slogan burbled.
Sunday’s Gospel [Matthew 5:1-12] is the collection of holy promises delivered
during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We call them Beatitudes, literally “a state of
utmost blessedness.” They are the motivation address we need for the purple season.
The Beatitudes recognize the difficulties of the life upon which Christians embark. The
life of faith is not the fast track to success as the world sees it. Folks struggle to succeed
at the cost of so many who get left in the dust, chewed up, spit out, trod upon, and left to
fend for themselves. Yet the Beatitudes reveal that God knows about and walks with us
through these trials and tribulations. God’s presence strengthens us for the journey
with the gifts of Baptism, the sustenance of Holy Communion, the encouragement of the
Word as we read it, hear it preached, sing and pray it, and the people of faith who are
our companions. All these are blessings, God’s way of restoring, healing, protecting, and
transforming us as we face life’s slings and arrows.
So, Lent’s real advice to us is “Take it or leave it.” Take on anything that helps
you utilize the many gifts God has granted you as a beloved child in faith. Choose what
you can reasonably do and have at it. Welcome the blessed presence of Jesus through
the companionship and encouragement of fellow travelers on this journey, and be a
good companion, too. (Remember, where two or more are gathered together…!) Leave
anything that can hold you back, whether it is your tendency to overschedule,
multitasking yourself into turmoil, making difficult your focusing on anything, or
obsessing on that which you cannot fix. Do you overlook the unpleasant, hide from the
challenges, or fear you can’t handle the hard stuff of life because pride and fear of
admitting need hamper you to be whom God has called you to be? Leave those thoughts
in the dust!
Lent is not simply the “give it up season” but the “take it on” time to discover who
God has prepared us to be. Whatever projects, things, and actions we choose to do or
not to do, let them be for the kingdom’s sake which will continue to pattern our lives
thereafter by these good things and habits. Jesus does not expect us to make promises
we can’t keep or aren’t worth keeping in the first place. Jesus just wants us to be clearer
thinking disciples who are aware of the gifts each of us has been given to serve, to
witness, and to be a blessing for others. As God’s prophet Micah recounts, [God] has
told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do
justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:8]?