sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Lent

Lent is About Discipleship: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

"Jesus in the French Quarter" © 2012 Todd Rossnagel

This past Sunday I had the great joy of baptizing three month old Jane. It is always an honor to gather people around these important times in their life. As she laid quietly in her mother’s arms I asked her mom to renew her own baptismal promises and to make a covenant to raise Jane into her baptism.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?

(The United Methodist Hymnal, p 34)

Living into these promises takes the community into which we have been initiated and it takes intentionality and a constant rehearsal of what these promises mean. After all renouncing, rejecting, and repenting takes the continued work of the Spirit in us, accepting, resisting and confessing requires the same.

So as I poured water upon her head I wondered if we ourselves recognized the magnitude of what was happening here? As we welcomed another into our community of the baptized, did we see it as an entrance into the community of those who have made covenant to the Lordship of Christ, to the way of sanctification?

Each time I begin ministry with a new congregation I am thankful for the season of Lent. Here in Louisiana it is common for many to give something up, chocolate, cokes, alcohol . . . As I enter these new spaces I remind the community of something that has transformed my own Lenten journey: Lent is not primarily about giving up instead, at its core, is about discipleship, about those who are preparing to make baptismal vows and our renewal of those vows in light of Easter.

This Lenten season I am thinking about Jane, about how we as a community of believers will model for her the meaning of what John Wesley called Christian perfection, our journey towards a fully sanctified life.  How do we help one another open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit in sanctification? How do we allow our worship, our devotional life, our service to the world shape our souls into reconciling love? How do we grow into justice seeking, forgiveness, and radical hospitality?

So it begins today, with our recognition of our humanity and our need for divine grace. It begins with God’s invitation to change our hearts and life, to turn from sin and death, and believe the good news. It begins with our gathering as God’s people and the mark of our baptism being made visible.

Here we go again Jane, your family is about to begin a journey we’ll take together for the rest of our lives. A journey into the promise of our constant conversion, our perfection in love, our sanctification, the Risen Lord made evident in us, for the life of the world!

Let us observe our Lent thus, giving our sufferings, our bloodshed, our sorrow the same value that Christ gave to his own condition of poverty, oppression, abandonment, and injustice. Let us change all that into the cross of salvation that redeems the world and our people. And with hatred for none, let us be converted and share both joys and material aids, in our poverty, with those who may be even needier.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

The Beginning of the End: A Palm Sunday Reflection

We have all welcomed Jesus with fanfare. Those amazing moments when he seems near, when life is going our way, when blessings overflow. It is easy to shout “Hosanna” then, it is easy to gather others like us to do the same. Rolling the red carpet we are ready for Jesus to take over, he is on our side, doing what we know is “right.” Our expectations are high, we can’t imagine Jesus failing us now.

Obviously not much has changed in 2,000 years. Jesus had to be the answer to prayer for the many who gather to welcome him. His miracles and his constant speaking with authority must have been refreshing to the many who struggled for a voice, who hungered for real leadership. I’m sure that they thought that this time their struggles would be over, if only Jesus would take over, overthrow the Romans and restore the kingdom of Judah to its rightful place, then all would be made well.

After these many weeks of Lent we too have experienced Jesus. Maybe a bad habit has been broken, maybe a new spiritual discipline has taken hold, or maybe our spiritual life seems “back on track.” Now we are really ready for Easter!

So we welcome Jesus into our lives, hearts, and community. “Hosanna to the king!”, we proclaim. Thankful, excited, and triumphant we gather to worship. We too carry palms and lift our voices in song. Although we rehearse this saga year after year the ending to this story still seems to surprise us.

Although we think we are ready for Easter, we are not. We now must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we now need to be reminded of what all this preparation has been about.

I pray that all of us embrace the rhythm of this week. Let us not miss the rest of this story, its twists and turns, its increasing drama, its transforming power.

May this week be the beginning of the end . . .

(To be continued . . .)

Reconciliation: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

The invitation to Lent in the United Methodist ritual reminds us that Lent “was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church.”

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Lent, like spring, is a time of new beginning, a time of blooming, a time of restoration. The winter season is past, the dryness, coldness, and darkness of winter is replaced by a new creation, beautiful, colorful, full of life.

It makes sense that we gather on Ash Wednesday to be reconciled. Maybe we do not consider any of our actions “serious sins,” maybe our doings were more mundane: a bad attitude, a strong word, a lack of understanding. Whatever it was if we are honest with ourselves we recognize that it placed us outside, it hindered relationship with God, others, or both.

The Christian tradition calls us constantly to be reconciled. At the core of our story of faith is the idea that God sent a savior so that we could be restored, we could be reconciled to God and to each other. A relationship was broken, something needed to be done so God provided the way. Those of us who have experienced reconciliation, are now called to be about the ministry of reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Reconciliation cannot be taken lightly. It requires more than an “I’m sorry,” or even an “I’ll never do it again,” it takes a changed heart, a transformed spirit, a gift of grace. Left to our own devices we would either never reconcile, too proud to acknowledge any wrongdoing, or jump to a superficial reconciliation, where no one does the difficult work, the soul work, required for a truly renewed relationship.

Because of its difficulties any attempt at reconciliation begins with self-examination. How have our actions or inaction broken our relationships? How have our attitudes and ways of life become hindrances to experiencing life as a gift, to experience others as gifts, to experience God as the source of all that is? What needs to change in us in order for reconciliation to take place? These are difficult questions that necessitate a community, a community of reconciliation, to help each of us lean into the answers that will restore us.

Reconciliation requires repentance. Before the Eucharist

“we confess that we have not loved [God] with our whole heart, have failed to be an obedient church, have not done [God’s] will, have broken [God’s] law, have rebelled against [God’s] love, have not loved our neighbors, and have not heard the cry of the needy.” (The United Methodist Hymnal)

We have proven time and time again to be self centered, have refused to live life for the common good as a community, and in our personal lives have behaved in ways that mirror our communal failings, both publicly and privately. In confessing we acknowledge our repentance and our desire to begin again.

Reconciliation requires penance. Although not very popular in the world today, penance is the activity of repentance. The penitent seeks to make things right that have been wrong. Penitential actions are much more than words said, or religious duty, but are the natural response to our recognition that our actions or inaction have caused brokenness in ourselves or others.

The means of grace provide for our continued ministry of reconciliation. It would be difficult for any of us to not seek reconciliation if we are immersed in the worship of God (with its call to make peace with our neighbor each Sunday), partaking of the Eucharist (with its continual telling of the story of our faith), studying and meditating on scripture, doing work of justice and peace in our community, and gathering with other believers to be accountable for our life of faith.

May the sign on our forehead become the visible sign of our desire to be reconciled again and again to God, to our neighbor, and to our true selves. May we be reconciled and become agents of reconciliation in the world. Let us repent! And believe the Gospel!

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