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Sunday Message for 6 March 2022: “Transforming Lent”

Welcome to Lent, a period of forty days historically practiced as a time of arduous examination leading up to Easter. Today’s lectionary reading (Luke 4: 1-13) provides a basis for Lent, reflecting Jesus’ forty days of suffering in the wilderness amid Satan’s testing. We’re not chasing Jesus in the desert and we’re certainly not provoking Satan to tempt us any more than what most of us face in daily living.

So, the big question is this: “How should Lent be spent?” Lent repeats ever year, and many people say that they look forward to this recurrent cycle because Lent provides predictable comfort. Other folks report that nothing seems to change, hence Lent becomes just another rehearsed routine leading nowhere. Still others avoid Lent because it is either irrelevant or it propagates dread and despair. What do you think of Lent and what do you want different for 2022? As always, the power of your choice determines where you will go and how you may get there.

For all its real and perceived importance, Lent isn’t magic. Whether your view of Lent is more positive or negative, whether you’re skeptical or believing in church holy days, Lent can be an invitation. As to what you’re invited to, that depends. Do you seek spiritual maturity as you grow closer to God or is it enough to simply utter liturgy and look somber? Your answer will determine Lent’s potential and if you choose wisely you may even help inspire those around you.

Lent is often cited as a way to produce a deeper faith, similar to the way Jesus not only endured temptation but emerged from testing stronger and more determined. Nonetheless, personal revitalization doesn’t occur without your hard work. Make choices to close the gap between who you are and what God is inviting you to become. The critical crisis is the present, the now moment when you decide what attitudes and behaviors make for a better life. If Lent helps you achieve this then that’s great. If, however, traditional ways of celebrating Lent aren’t meeting your needs then embrace change.

Church holy days such as Lent can become stimulating reminders that there’s more to life than just dates on a calendar. God invites spiritually awakened followers to expect more than passively sitting through yet another day, another month, another year.

As with much of religion, Lent can be sapped of its potential when reduced to a static, formal façade. Lent is a really big deal in some churches but the question remains whether staid Lent celebrations produce much beyond disconnected moments of solemnity.

Try not to be discouraged. Don’t let Lent’s potential escape you. God’s spirit energizes you for a spectacular progression from apathy to vitality. Take responsibility for your spiritual development, your unique journey. You can’t ride piggy-back as if some angelic being can whisk you to a promised land. The power of God transforms you deep from within, helping you achieve a life of holistic wellbeing (health in body, mind & spirit). To achieve this requires your constant management before, during and after Lent.

Rather than focusing on Lent as an exercise in deprivations and arbitrary dietary restrictions, consider it as an invitation to become a better you. Lent can be a catalyst that can advance life-enhancing attitudes and actions. You can own and adapt Lent, choosing to rejuvenate yourself rather than withdraw or brood. Are you partnering with God on your journey through life? Lent is a great time to launch a new you.

Lent need not have anything to do with Friday fish dinners. Thankfully, that model of participation is waning and for good reasons. Consider “Claire,” a pious follower of God in a church near you. Claire had been indoctrinated and confirmed by a church wherein a priest and a paternalistic hierarchy presumed to have access to God in a way not available to the rest of us. Claire was taught that she had to rely on these religious specialists who alone were privileged to engage a bizarre kabuki theater, swiping their hands and chanting magical incantations. Claire knew in her heart that these rascals were just moving air around and not accomplishing anything helpful in the real world. Rather than call it all out and expose the charade she quietly sought to transform herself, trusting that others might be inspired by her example

In the cathedral she attended Claire was immersed into a Lent that relegated the process to something like a prison sentence, a confining structure within which people were supposed to squirm as they contemplated their sins and awfulness in the wake of Christ’s distant holiness. Claire realized one day that a Lent propagated this way was harmful, and not at all what God intended for her or those she loved.

Claire had endured decades of vague but persistent dissatisfaction with the Church as Big Brother. But finally she broke from the herd and decided to savor truth. In her new spiritual quest, Lent became more than just another go-through-the-motions activity. Claire now felt God’s intimate presence from the inside/out. For the first time, Claire’s Lent transcended mere abstinence and deprivation and became instead a life-changing empowerment.

There are legions of people like Claire, perhaps even some sitting next to you at church or that special person staring at you in the mirror. The great news is that God invites everyone to set aside impoverished religion and embrace personal, spiritual transformation. The Almighty can liberate anyone once they desire escape from a dreary, despairing life. Seek God. Break free. Resist spiritual slavery. Many people simply don’t know any better while others choose to remain stuck through guilt, habit or social pressure.

Whatever you think about Lent or any other church holiday, pursue spiritual health every day. Live each moment as a holy, joyful and blessed encounter with the beauty of life. Resist seduction by the mechanistic repetition of church holidays and institutional traditions, none of which are magical shortcuts. Your faith journey is a partnership between you and God, beyond what priests and rituals combined can accomplish.

Should you give up something during Lent? Sure, especially if it’s a negative attitude or behavior standing in your way, holding you back. Along with beginning a new, healthier lifestyle, consider giving up the fear of stepping outside weak expectations of who and what you are.

Claim God’s promises and possibilities as you leverage spiritual power. Own Lent; make it yours. God calls you to manage Lent as your unique journey. Emerge from Lent stronger than ever knowing that God is your faith-building partner every step of the way.

–Reverend Hoxey

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