Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blocks To Beginning the Lenten Journey

This week's scriptures are Exodus 5:1-6:9 and Luke 4:1-13.

As I promised in my last blog, the scriptures for the entire Lenten season are listed at the end of this blog.

I'm going to be writing and preaching from the perspective that we're all engaging in some, or all, of the Lenten Spiritual Disciplines outlined in the last blog. That we're trying to practice the Fasting, Scripture, Pray, and Charity in the way described.

If we have chosen some thing or some behavior that we find we have come to use in an unhealthy fashion; something that soothes us in a way that narrows our abilities to deal with the issues in our life that need addressing; something that focuses us away from growth and maturity as God's people....then the Exodus story of Pharaoh's response to Moses and Aaron will feel very familiar to us.

Let's say, for example, that I know that when I've had a difficult day at that makes me question my competence and my heart for doing ministry and therapy...that I am prone to stop at the local pizza place and order a LARGE pizza. Notice that I don't order one slice. Oh no! I will order a large pizza, and on the drive home (about 45 minutes) I will consume 6 of the 8 slices. I become focused on my eating. I don't really enjoy it. I'm eating too fast for that. But I'm cramming food into my mouth to ease my pain at what the day has brought-pain that I don't want to deal with. Frankly, the eating becomes almost unpleasant. But I create a situation in which if God tried to say to me, "hey Stephen, let's talk about why you're feeling this way. Let's look at what happened today and your expectations of yourself and others. Let's maybe even talk some about where and how you came to believe that you needed to be able to fix everybody's pain-and if you couldn't, you were a failure.".....If God came to me with that kind of invitation, I probably wouldn't hear it; and if I did, my response would probably be, "I'd love to maybe do that later, but right now, I'm busy eating this pizza." And I'd drive on home to my heartburn.

The truth is that the minute you and I make a decision to step away from our Pharaohs, to fast from our pain killing behaviors....they turn up the heat. When scripture tells us that after forty days of fasting 'Jesus was hungry' it's a major understatement. When we make the decision to take the journey away from the things that enslave us, you can bet that breaking free enough to even begin the journey will not be easy.

I do not say this to pronounce Doom and Gloom on your day. I say it, actually, to be some comfort. This struggle to begin the journey is part of the territory. It is not a judgement on our desire, or our love for God. We we can see it as a given part of the process...we can deal with ourselves, and each other, with a compassion that makes this difficult journey more understandable. There are enough real difficulties on the journey without creating them out of our unreasonable expectations of ourselves.

So, instead of stopping for pizza, let's imagine that I listen. That I see the urge to cover my pain with pizza sauce for what it is...and I listen. In my prayer and meditation on the way home perhaps I will experience God touching my need to be perfect. Perhaps I will hear God reminding me that my desire to 'fix' things is often my way of escaping how painful it can be to just sit with someone else's painful story. And finally, I may be reminded that the Incarnation was more about God coming to be with us where we are and taking on our pain in that 'being with' than it was about 'fixing it'.

I don't know. I do know that I can expect the heat to get turned up. And I know that I can expect the temptation to reach for that large pizza instead of listening to how God might use my day will be very strong. This is how I find my story in this particular Biblical story. And in that finding, I become more charitable (see how this works?) to others that I know, love, or work with who reach for their own "large pizza" when they feel overwhelmed.

And so we begin our journey together. Including the scriptures above, those for the remainder of Lent are:

2/21 Exodus 5:1-6:9 and Luke 4:1-13 (the Luke passage will be used for 3 weeks)

2/28 Exodus 15:22-16:3 Luke 4:1-13

3/7 Exodus 16:4-36 Luke 4:1-13

3/14 Exodus 31 Luke 4:1-13

3/21 Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:1-17

3/28 Numbers 13:17-14:4 Luke 19:28-40

Please pray for me and for all the others who will make this Lenten journey with us; in whatever fashion they will make it. May this time be one in which our hearts are opened and we find God waiting for us with the healing, restoring presence that Christ brings to us.

Hope to see you Sunday.

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