As I described it in another article in this month’s Scribe, the season of Lent is a forty day period, not including Sundays, beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Easter Eve. The forty days of Lent were suggested by the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism. Traditionally, Lent has been a time for Christians to turn toward God anew and seek to deepen their faith and devotion.
But how exactly are we to do that? Well, one author has proposed that we follow the example of Jesus. He writes, “… Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.” So that is how: by taking a good look at ourselves.
Put another way, Lent is a time to ask what it means to be Christian, a follower of Christ, and take a good look at ourselves to see if we are, in fact, Christian in any way that makes a difference to God or anyone else for that matter. And one way to find out is to ask this question:
Each day, do we strive to be the best we have it in us to be as Christians?
Answering this question will tell us much about ourselves.
And the reason I think we must ask ourselves that question is because so much in our culture today appeals to the worst in people. Entertainment, the news media, political figures, even social media appeal to the fears that drive so many, the anger that consumes so many, the prejudice that lurks beneath the surface in everyone, the secret love of violence so many harbor, the disillusionment so many feel. And many have responded to this appeal to the worst in them by becoming their worst. There is a meanness, a nastiness, in the air and people actually revel in it; murder and mayhem lead off the news because that’s what sells, what many are addicted to; cruel, personal remarks bring glee to more than a few; the gorier the death in a television program the greater the enjoyment; prejudice is on the rise, compassion is on the decline, divisiveness is celebrated, cooperation is mocked, “selfies” proclaim the self is god. Given what is heard and seen day after day, it’s hard not to conclude that the worst in people is winning out over the best that is in people. And, frankly, Christians don’t seem to be an exceptionmany days.
But our communities and this nation of ours and this world of ours need Christians who are the exception, to be people who are the best they have it in them to be, because Christians at their best are brave and strong and glad and kind and holy -- brave enough to live with faith not fear, strong enough to resist the lure of the little gods of our culture, glad in the love of God and glad to live with love for God and others, kind to others because we are all fighting the same battles within and need kindness to survive, and holy, holy in the sense of being different, following the different and difficult way of Christ. And Christians at their best are reconcilers and healers, people who seek to bring people together not drive them apart, people who build up others not tear them down, people who can forget themselves enough to be there for others and are actually able to listen to others not just tell others about themselves, people who lift people in hope by showing a different way.
We need Christians to be at their best not their worst; we need to be at our best each and every day. And are we? That’s the question for Lent. Are we letting our fears drive us or faith guide us? Are we allowing anger to consume us and speaking and acting in ways that have nothing to do with Christ, or are we cooling our angers and allowing our thoughts and emotions and opinions and actions to be formed by the Gospel? In some little way each day do we seek to be a healing, reconciling presence wherever we are? Are we people who work to overcome the prejudices that are there in every last one of us and relate to others with new respect and understanding and create a oneness beyond difference? Are we striving to be God’s different, odd ball people who are to be a light for the world or are we just adding to the darkness?
Tough questions, perhaps, but then Lent is meant to be a tough time because it’s never easy to take a good look at ourselves and make the changes we must to be Christian in a way that makes a difference to God and in the lives of others. But in the power of the Spirit we can become people who follow the hard way of Christ and day after day be the best we have it in us to be and bring out the best in others so that we can lift us our hearts in hope.
God be with you,