2023-03-05 Lent 2
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the craziest thing in the modern world is YouTube. I’m sure you’ve heard about it before. It’s the second most visited and searched website in the world, next to Google. You can find so much useful content on YouTube posted by other people. Need to fix your truck, there’s a video for that. Need to make a recipe for East Indian Curried Mushrooms, there’s a video for that. You get the idea. The platform has also made it possible for people to make money through Google’s advertising platform. There are people who make millions of dollars a year by recording themselves playing video games for crying out loud! I wish I had 10 of those people at our church and I wish they all tithed! But this add revenue thing is truly amazing. It has made it possible for people to travel full time and record their amazing adventures and then share them with the world. What an age to be alive!
Who doesn’t want to go on epic adventures and have interesting outings and exciting opportunities!? J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous book The Hobbit begins with Gandalf the Wizard coming to Biblo Baggins and saying “I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” Sharing an adventure! What a slogan for life! But it could also be the theme for the season of Lent. I talk about Lent being a “Bright Sadness” which it certainly is as we mourn our sins and the sacrifice that Jesus gave on the cross for us. However, Lent also has this beautiful theme of travel, of journeying. Lent is very much a journey to the cross. It is an adventure, if we allow it to be. Unfortunately, we’ve lost this sense about our Christian faith in general. Mainly, it’s because we have become a sedentary people. We’re city slickers! We seldom leave the city limits - unless we have to go to Costco in Regina. But we’re not nomads, travelling around the world on a daily basis, shepherding livestock, going from hither to thither. But the earliest followers of God were.
We encounter Abraham today in our Genesis reading. The first thing that God says to Abraham is “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Go. Get up. Leave what you know. Go and experience something and someplace that is completely new. Most of us would hesitate, I think. “Give up everything? Leave all that we know and love? All that is safe and secure and familiar?!” Most of us would think twice. We’d have doubts. We’d worry about the details. Who’s gonna mow the lawn? Who’s gonna PVR the Rider games? We have jobs, the kids have school, I can’t just leave! And yet God calls Abraham to do exactly this. Go from this place, from all you know, and go to a different land. Leave it all behind. Don’t worry, I am with you.
Now God does not necessarily call us today to physically leave where we live. But He certainly does call us to move to Him. To journey with Him. To walk with Him in His ways. The Christian life is 100% a journey. Abraham was told to go. The Israelites had to get up and leave Egypt quickly. Jesus told the disciples to drop everything and follow Him. There has always been movement involved in the Christian faith. This is why “Lutheran Aerobics” are part and parcel of the Liturgy! Stand up! Sit down! Similarly, there is a great Russian spiritual classic story called “The Way of the Pilgrim.” It’s anonymous but has been translated by a couple of different people over the years. The book starts out with a similar theme to the Hobbit. “By the grace of God I am a Christian man, by my actions a great sinner, and by calling, a homeless wanderer of the humblest birth who roams from place to place. My worldly goods are a knapsack with some dried bread in it on my back, and in my chest pocket a Bible. And that is all.” In these wise words written by a very spiritual pilgrim, we see the essence of life here on earth. It is a journey. It is an adventure. It is moving from where I am to where I will be going by the grace of God.
The journey that the Russian pilgrim was on was a journey of prayer. He struggled with the words of the Scriptures that say “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17. Also 1Tim 2:8, Eph 6:18). ‘How can anyone pray all the time?’, the pilgrim thought. There’s stuff to do! There’s business to attend to! And yet, this pilgrim begins his journey to pray without ceasing. It’s a sharp contrast for us. We might pray before meals or before we go to sleep at night. But that might be about it. Our monthly prayer group here at Emmanuel has been exceedingly not attended. The pilgrim in the story though began to make his entire life a life of prayer and communion with God. He started to pray what has come to be known as “The Jesus Prayer.” It is simply “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And he repeats this prayer, quietly to himself, over and over and over. At first he finds that it is exceedingly difficult. His mind continues to bombard his prayer with thoughts and cares and concerns. But with practice and diligence, his prayers begin to conquer his thoughts. His mind becomes quieted. He prays the Jesus Prayer 3000 times a day. Then 6000 times a day. Then 12,000 times a day! He has to get up earlier and go to bed later, but he does it. Ultimately, prayer becomes second nature to him. He begins to experience life with God first hand as his prayers have led him on a journey closer to His Saviour.
One of the Lenten focuses, along with fasting and alms giving, is prayer. Prayer becomes for us a means of journeying with our Lord. When we honestly look at our prayers, it’s most of the time praying for material stuff. I need a new car Lord, I need money to do this or that, I need healing from this or that affliction. And there is nothing wrong with that. God wants us and expects us to ask Him for things. And moreover, He knows what we need before we even ask for it. But if we look at the Lord’s Prayer, and all of its 7 petitions, we quickly see that only one of them has to do with earthly stuff. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The rest of everything we ask for are heavenly spiritual blessings. When we look at this, we quickly realize that prayer is so much more than treating God like a 7-11 convenience store. “I need this and this and this and this…” Instead, prayer becomes more of a journey, a conversation with Jesus.
Prayer itself becomes the means of our journeying; our response to God’s commands of “go” and “follow.” Lent reminds us of this and calls us to focus more intently on our journey from being poor, miserable sinners into forgiven sinners; from a life of material cares and worry to a life of heavenly blessings and trust in the Giver of all things; from a life of mortality to life of immortality. Through prayer and repentance, we begin to embody the season Lent. We begin to make the journey to the cross and the journey to eternity more alive and at the forefronts of our minds as God’s people.
Without Lent, we can become a very sedentary people. A non-journeying, non-moving folk. Instead, let the season of Lent encourage you to pray; not only in asking God for things, but also by being in His presence, moving towards Him by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The slow, quiet, contemplative journey of prayer leads us to our Lord’s peace that surpasses all human understanding. Through this kind of prayer, the Lord helps us push the world from our minds with all of our earthly cares and concerns. It helps us confess our sins, subdue our worldly passions, our thoughts and temptations. There, in the quietness of the Lenten journey, we receive Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for us and for the whole world. We receive the heavenly perspective that we lack so much in the chaotic world that we live in. Through prayer we can lay aside all of those earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all. Thanks and praise be to our Triune God who calls us to journey with Him to the cross. Amen!