The Lenten Journey

The Lenten Journey

Tomorrow, we will enter the season of Lent which is the forty-day period leading up to Easter (not including Sundays). Easter comes early, on March 31 this year. Some of you are familiar with Lent, others of you may not be depending on the tradition from which you come, but Lent is a time of spiritual growth, a time of soul searching, a time of introspection – looking within our own hearts. Lent reminds us of the time that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness where he fasted and prayed for 40 days and overcame temptation. Many will give something up for Lent, others will take something on, but I said on Sunday morning that there is something else that I think should happen during Lent.

We would all admit that as human beings, we are very good at identifying what is wrong with other people. We are good at naming the character flaws and shortcomings of others and saying what’s wrong with the way others live their lives. But Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Why do see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but fail to recognize the log in your own eye? First, remove the log from your own eye, and then you can see clearly the speck in your neighbor’s eye.”

The problem is that we are typically not very good at identifying and owning up to the log in our own eye. Sometimes we need some help identifying or naming our own shortcomings. I think Lent is a good time for us to take a long look in the mirror. We should not beat ourselves up but honestly identify one or two things that we need to work on in our own lives between now and Easter and then focus on it. Maybe it’s anger; maybe it’s worry; maybe it’s stress; maybe it’s eating too much or drinking too much; maybe it’s our marriage; maybe it’s a need to spend more quality time with our children; maybe it’s being too judgmental; maybe it’s being overly addicted to technology or social media; maybe it’s setting aside more quiet time for prayer and reflection. Every single one of us has something that we can work on during Lent and I think we should identify it and then do our best to work on it.

Lent is also a time for us to focus on Christ – who he is in our lives, what he taught, how he lived, and how he died. The sermons during this season will come from Matthew’s gospel and focus on “The Life of Jesus.” The formal study of Jesus’ nature and character is known as “Christology,” and there are many different Christologies present in our culture. Hans Kung once said that “There are so many different Christs – the Christs of piety and secularity, of ancient dogma and modern ideology, of dominant culture and counter culture, of political reaction and social revolution, of classical and popular literature, of religious art and kitsch – and the question, “Which Christ is the True Christ?” becomes unavoidable and urgent. (Kung, On Being Christian).

We must all wrestle with Jesus’ identity in our own lives. One of my former theology professors from Princeton, Daniel Migliore, provides five helpful principles for this task that may be useful this Lenten season:

1) Knowledge of Jesus Christ is not simply “academic” or historical knowledge; it is faith knowledge. Faith in Jesus is not just knowing about him but trusting in him and being ready to follow him.

2) Jesus Christ cannot be properly understood in a vacuum; he can be rightly identified only within the context of God’s purpose and activity in the history of the people of Israel and throughout the cosmos.

3) The doctrine of the person and work of Christ are inseparable. It is in the telling of the story of Jesus, in the narration of the whole gospel – his message, ministry, passion, and resurrection – that we hold together the person and word of Jesus.

4) Every understanding and confession of Jesus Christ grows out of a particular situation and both reflects and speaks to particular needs and aspirations.

5) The living Jesus Christ is greater than all our confessions and creeds and surpasses all of our theological reflection on him. Our faith is in God revealed in Christ and not in a particular theological system of Christological formulation. (Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding)

May we all continue to be inspired and challenged by the words of Jesus this Lenten Season.