Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Lent has begun. Traditionally a time of penitence and fasting as part of a spiritual discipline in preparation for Easter. Lent is a time for reflection and renewal of our commitment to Christ. There is the tradition of giving up luxuries in Lent as a form of fasting. Whilst this is not bad, it may not be ideal. Some might have noticed that this week we have one of the occasional repetition of readings in the lectionary.
Once again we have the reading from Isaiah 58 which we encountered in the first week of March. If we are giving up something, then perhaps it needs to be empty religion and turn back to the full way of God, lived by Jesus to and through the cross. If we are going to take up prayer, the giving of ‘alms,’ and fasting, then Jesus reminds us in the Matthew reading how to make it a true spiritual discipline, rather than a pretentious act of piety. Lent can be a time when faith and religion, through active spirituality, lead us closer on the way of Jesus, the way of the Cross if we follow Christ as he teaches us.
First Sunday in Lent 5 March:
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Rom and 5:12- 19, Matthew 4:1-11
Lent is a time when we can ‘take up our cross’ and better follow Jesus. This week takes us into reflection on temptation. When we seek to follow God’s call and instruction, then undoubtedly we will face temptation to fall short of what we have been called to be and do. Christ himself faced temptation, for temptation always comes when we hold power. With any power to affect change comes the power of choice. We always have to choose for ourselves, for God has gifted us with free will and cannot and will not choose for us.
However, the challenge of choice is whether to choose for our self and make a self-focused or selfish choice, or whether to choose to make a loving choice, which is other-focused and seeks to work for the best for all, which may or may not directly be the immediate best for us. The cross stands before us to help us remember the choice of God in Christ to love us and set before us the better way.
Second Sunday in Lent 12 March:
Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17: 1-9
God is with us. For some it may seem a long time ago that we celebrated Christ as Emmanuel–God with us, born as a vulnerable child and laid in a manger. This week we are reminded that God so loved the world that Christ was sent that all who believe may have eternal life. God did not enter the world as Jesus to condemn us, but to save us. Our help comes from the Lord, and through and by faith we are enriched to live the way Christ lived, on the way of the Cross, overcoming temptation and living by trying to embody love for others as Christ embodied God’s love for us.
Third Sunday in Lent 19 March:
Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42
Faith is simple and complicated. It is simply about accepting Jesus for who he is and what he offers, but the complication is that accepting who he is and what he offers brings a need for transformation. Conversion to the way of Christ is never a once-off occurrence. That is why we participate in Lent each year, because we need ongoing conversion. Abram accepted God in faith and that faith was accounted as righteousness, but it then sent him on a long journey of transformation. Jesus met a Samaritan woman by a well, and she accepted Jesus, the hard truths he presented and the transformation he offered.
How are we each being transformed or working for transformation this Lent? Who do we, like the Samaritan woman, need to share this with?
Fourth Sunday in Lent 26 March:
1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41
God sees not as we see. God chooses flawed vessels, like David and like us, to be a part of God’s work in the world. Jesus called real people to ministry as disciples, both then in the time of the Scriptures and now as he calls us. Perhaps, the lesson here from these readings is to be humble of opinion, for we do not really fully know how God works or why God works in the way God does through people we would not expect.
Perhaps as part of our giving up things in Lent, we need to give up judging others, for we inevitably get ourselves trapped in our own sin when we try to discern if someone is worthy or not to be a vessel of God’s work. Let us therefore commit to better discernment and trying to see what God has in store for us on the way of the cross, rather than looking to judge others and make pronouncements on their worthiness to God.