Lent is a time for us to rethink our relationship with Christ. In some traditions, a great deal is made about what you are to give up, but in our tradition the emphasis is always more on what our relationship is with God. Sometimes that is giving something up, especially if it is inhibiting your relationship with God but when we think of Lent, fundamentally we are asking ourselves, how prepared for Easter are we? In reality, it is more than an individual quest or journey; rather, it is a corporate struggle to ask how we resemble Christ’s body in this world.
To meet that journey, every year we take a theme; this year, I am picking up on the theme of the Awakening of Hope, also the title of the Wednesday night class. I liked this because within this series it asks the question “why is it important?” Many in the church have this question, but so do our neighbors. Take the people in my demographic 35-50 “confirmed” urban-loving single folks (That is the largest single group around the church at 18.6%).
Many in my group when approached about church give various reasons for going, but often when pushed, the answer, or rather the question they asked back when they are approached is “why? What do I get out of going to church?” For many, the stock answers that we give to those questions are received poorly and simply do not connect with the real needs that are going on in the lives of the people. Moreover, often when churchgoers are asked why it is important to go to church, even those who are incredibly in love with their congregations, have a difficult time articulating why it is important.
Not so surprisingly, this is one of the biggest reasons why people all over the western world are leaving churches; there just seems to be something missing. My theory is that like much of western society, the church has bought into the idea of rugged individualism. In other words, church is about what I want, or like, or need. The problem is that while that may work for some “spiritual centers” and mystic communities, it is antithetical to the Christian faith. In fact, one of the constants throughout the whole Bible is the need for community, and the greatest exhibition of the kingdom of heaven in the world is when the community gathers together to celebrate God.
We often forget that for communities to work there has to be some intentionality. This intentionality comes firstly with understanding why we do what we do. This is why in the bulletin there are headers for each section of worship, so we know why it flows the way it does. In the reformed tradition, all worship, no matter what type, follows a basic principle that the community that is dispersed gathers together, hears the Word, responds to the Word, and is sent into the world. That intentionality gives us a basis for how we move forward and are made whole.
The second part of intentionality and the community is accepting people where they are. This is hard for most people because our biases get in the way. Whether rich or poor or various races and backgrounds, as people we often struggle to see where the people are in life. As a Pastor, I know that even in the best of situations we still do this; heck, I know that even though I hate it, even I do it at times. However, in order to make community work, we have to recognize that first, we are imperfect, and second, so is everyone else. This means that when we, or other people make mistakes, we need to give grace. Moreover, when we welcome someone, we cannot place conditions on our acceptance, because in doing so we may very well be rejecting something that God needs for our community.
So as we enter Lent we ask ourselves how are we preparing to be a stronger body for Christ; well, I would recommend coming to the Wednesday study! But even more than that, have conversations with Nancy or me and find out why it is we do what we do, and ask yourself when something frustrates you about someone else “am I accepting them for the child of God they are?” I hope that over Lent you take the time to look at these questions, and you might just find that your faith has been strengthened and you may come to see God even more fully!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen