Usually, Lent calms me. I realize that it’s okay, even necessary, to acknowledge my brokenness, my sharp edges, my weak places, and my overall need for God’s power and presence. It’s not working this year. Maybe because I have stopped trying to cover over or ignore those parts of me that aren’t so pretty or nice (the miraculous gift of having turned 50?)… Maybe it’s because I haven’t had a whole lot of time to tend my own spirit in these early weeks of Lent… The events of the world are chaotic and have many of us unsettled in mind and spirit. I think I’m missing the calmness of the wilderness encounters with brokenness made whole mostly because I have a huge sense of responsibility for the folks who are looking to me to lead them through this Lent.
The texts this week highlight community – both our need of it and our inability to maintain it on our own. We know the context of the Exodus passage in which Moses receives the Ten Commandments. We also know that he is going to bring these guidelines for living in healthy community back to a people who have already abandoned their God. Why? Because Moses, God’s representative among them, was nowhere to be seen for a while. Moses is up on the mountain listening to God and receiving the rules that will make living in community so much easier, and the community is falling apart. Sure, it turns out all right, but Moses must have felt the weariness of leadership in that moment. In his hands were the guidelines to holy living and before his eyes was the evidence of human living. God’s way builds community and human ways lead to conflict.
The Psalmist knew of the sweet life that comes from living in God’s presence. The perfection, the completeness of God’s law, which revives every soul, is what we all desire. Yet, we tend to be like the early Israelites; at the first sense of distance from the Holy One, we start building our own gods. Of course, we fail to notice that God has not created the distance; we have. When will we learn that Holy Ways are truly what we desire and that the keeping of God’s law is what will bind us together in sacred community? None of our foolish rules for membership or our instance on following our traditions will keep our community healthy and whole. Only seeking the sweet joy of God’s love and trying to live in the Realm of God will keep us truly alive.
If we still think it’s our human ways that keep faith communities going, then we would do well to hear Paul’s rebuke in the 1 Corinthians passage: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is greater than human strength.” In a time when so many people are desperate for a sense of connection, meaning, and purpose, how can we, as the Body of Christ, respond not with human wisdom but with God’s wisdom? One of the greatest unmet spiritual needs of western society really is community, a place of belonging where members feel known, valued, and loved. Can we allow the Holy Spirit to reshape Church into a community that genuinely meets this need?
It’s a question worth asking because if we don’t, we might end up on the wrong side of the tables being flipped over. We don’t want to be the money changers or the temple authorities who look on in horror as Jesus’ righteous anger cleans house. Lent is the perfect time for our congregations to examine their self-identity. Are we on the side of those who yearn for entrance into God’s house but cannot afford or find a way in? Or are we on the side of the Temple Authorities and the money changers who are sure their way is the only way, and the focus on money is how the bills are paid?
While I have encountered this truth before, I am once again understanding that this season of Lent might not be so much about me and my personal spiritual journey than it is about Church. Is the Body of Christ truly a faithful community where people find love and value, meaning and purpose while seeking to live into holy ways? Or are we lost in the wilderness, relying on human wisdom, not recognizing how much we yearn for the power and presence of God to transform our groping, stumbling ways into something far more beautiful and sweet than we can achieve on our own?
As always, these texts are rich. Where is the Spirit guiding you? What will you preach in the midst of this Lenten wilderness journey? Please join in the conversation below so that we can share the joys and the burdens of the season.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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