Worship notes: making room for Lent...

NOTE: Here are my worship notes for Sunday, March 2, 2014. It is the Sunday before Lent - a time when we will have our children in worship for the whole liturgy - and we'll be welcoming in new members AND burying the "alleluia" until Easter. My emphasis, in these notes, is to try and talk about Lent in a way that makes some sense to children and those adults who have not practiced it before.  We'll see how it goes.


Introduction
When I was a child growing up in Connecticut and Massachusetts in the
Congregational Church, I didn’t know anything at all about Lent:  we didn’t talk about it at home, I don’t remember any special Lenten emphasis in Sunday School and my recollection about Lent in worship has to do with Palm Sunday – but not a whole lot more.

I do remember wondering why all of a sudden in the middle of winter, some of my friends came to school with a black mark on the foreheads  I didn’t know that it was supposed to be a sign of the Cross.  And I had no notion of what Ash Wednesday had to do with the Christian faith.

For a young Protestant kid from the suburbs, this was all somewhat mysterious and weird:  what was going on?  Later I heard some of my friends talking about giving up chocolate for Lent, but I still didn’t know what Lent was all about and how come my church didn’t participate in it?  So when I asked them “Why are you giving up chocolate for Lent?” they looked at me like I was a moron and said, “Because Father told us that is what we had to do.”  End of story, quit behaving like and idiot!

And this really made me curious:  who was Father?  My neighbor, Lee Bonner’s father who worked at the Sikorski Plant with my uncle Phil?  Patty O’Connell’s father, Gene, who liked to go out drinking with my father or play bridge with my parents on Friday nights? Some other father – some mystical father – who was somehow related to all these kids with black marks on their foreheads?  I had no idea…

I don’t think it was until I was well into my 20s that I began to read about Lent – where it came from and why it mattered – and it was only after my babies were born that we tried to figure out how to observe a Holy Lent as a family.  And as the decades have rolled by, I find that many in our tradition not only don’t know a lot about the origins and intentions of Lent, but think the best we can do is the exact opposite of the Roman Catholics, right?  If THEY do THIS, then WE must do THAT!

But I don’t think we construct a healthy and life-giving spirituality by keeping score or simply doing the opposite so that we can be different.  That strikes me as foolish and childish – that’s what adolescents do in reaction to their parents – YOU don’t smoke, so I WILL smoke?  YOU go to church, so I WON’T go to church.  YOU dress modestly, so I’ll dress WEIRD.  We’ve all seen it, we’ve all done it and in time most of us grow out of it, too.  No, I have come to believe that a healthy and life-giving spirituality cuts deeper than adolescent rebellion.

So I want to offer a few thoughts and suggestions this morning about how we might construct a holy and life-giving Lent for ourselves this year – for children and families as well as those who are single or empty-nesters or live in some other type of family or community – what are some of the ingredients for making Lent matter?  That’s the challenge for today.

Insights
Now there are two background realities that I need to tell you right out of the gate:

+  First, the season of Lent is NOT about simply giving up chocolate – or TV or computer games – because Lent is mostly not about giving up anything. It is more about making room than giving up.  Making room for more faith, making room for more hope, making room for more love.  Do you grasp the difference?

+  Have you ever cleaned out your closet or your dresser in order to make room for something new?  What have you done with your old clothes? Most of us pass them on to Goodwill or friends and relatives who can get some more use out of them, right?  It’s not that the old things are bad, but before we can get something new, we have to make more room.

That’s the first thing about Lent:  it is about making more room in our hearts and lives for God.  And I don’t mean just thinking about God or your favorite Bible story – that’s ok and there is nothing wrong with that – because Lent is not just about ideas.  It is about practicing new ways of living that make us more like Jesus.

+  And that’s the second truth about Lent:  there are three practices that help us become more like Jesus if we find ways to do them.  They are fasting, prayer and caring for the poor.  And they are actions – disciplines – spiritual practices that require something more than thought from us.

+  They ask us to make room so that as we put some things aside – or give them away – we practice living in the image of God.  We practice choosing to act more like the image of God than the image of Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber or Jay-Z or anyone else.

Lent is about choosing to live more like the image of God than anything else – and that takes practice.  Is that clear?  Before I say anything more, do you understand what I’m saying about making room in our lives to practice the image of God? For that’s the only reason we DO Lent:  it helps us practice becoming more like Jesus. So if you have ANY questions, ask me right now…

There are three practices we’ve been asked to try during Lent – three ways of making more room in our lives for God – that will make us more like Jesus.  And in our tradition, we believe that Jesus shows us what God is truly like – Jesus shows us as much of God’s truth and beauty and love as we can comprehend – so if we want to become more like the Lord, then Jesus is our guide or model.

There are three practices to work on during the 40 days of Lent.  They aren’t the ONLY things to work on, but they are important. And because life is busy and hard, we only work on three during Lent so that we’re not worn out and overwhelmed.   And the three practices for making room for God are:  prayer, fasting and caring for the poor.  And let’s talk about each one for just a moment.

+  What is prayer all about?  We say all kinds of prayers in church – the Lord’s Prayer, the Lamb of God prayer, the prayer of confession, prayers for other people – all types of prayer. 

+  But what is most important during our prayers?  I think it is being quiet and silent long enough to hear something of God’s love coming back to us.  Our words are not as important in prayer as our listening; our words mostly help us get ready to listen. That’s why in just a minute we’re going to put away the word ALLELUIA from our songs and prayers during Lent – we’re going to put it away so that we can make more room for listening – we’re going to put it away so that we can feel how much we miss it.  And when we bring it back on Easter, it will be like a party or a feast!

So how might you practice listening for God more during the 40 days of Lent in your life – or family – or house?  What can you do to make more room for quiet and listening for the Lord?

The second making room practice is fasting:  traditionally fasting meant giving up something up like food so that the money we ordinarily spent on food could be used to care for those who were poor. It was a way of making room in our bodies for more love.  But it doesn’t have to be about food: sometimes you can fast from TV – or computer games – or complaining – or gossiping.  

+  When my daughters were young they went through a phase where when they got angry, they slapped one another.  And then one girl would run to me and tattle and complain and cry.

+  So one year during Lent we tried a fast from slapping – and whenever a slap did happen – they had to come to me and slap me as hard as they had just slapped their sister!  Let me tell you, slapping ended abruptly that year!

+  So how could you make more room in your life this Lent so that some money or food or energy could be used to help others? How might you practice a Lenten fast?

And last there is caring for the poor:  Jesus said that the poor will always be with us – not because they are bad or lazy or cursed – but because others will always be selfish and cruel and unfair.  During Lent, we are asked to pay attention to the poor in our world – not to look the other way when we see something that disturbs us – but to connect with the pain.  Offer some help or compassion. Make some room in our hearts for someone besides those we love.

·   Often during Lent we write letters to our leaders in Congress asking them to make certain they don’t cut off money for food stamps and other resources that help the poor.  Last year we asked Congress not to cut back on foreign aid so that we might help the hungry throughout the world.

·   Later this month, our church and some people from South Church are going to actually make a meal at the Christian Center on a Saturday to feed about 90 people who would go hungry if it wasn’t for this meal.

·   So how could you make more room in your life this Lent to care for the poor?  Any thoughts…?

Conclusion
We prepare ourselves for a holy Lent by making room.  The more we practice making room for God, the more loving we become – not all at once – but over a life time.  We put away the alleluia so that we have more room for silence.  We come to worship in the middle of the week for Ash Wednesday to say we have room for prayer and worship in the middle of all our other responsibilities. We take upon our forehead the sign of the Cross to remind ourselves that we are not the center of the universe:  God is.

My hope and prayer is that this Lent will be a joyous time of making more room for the Lord.  Today, we commit ourselves to making more room for a few new members, who are now ready to be a part of our community.  So let me invite them to come forward at this time…

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