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People of the Next Step

Posted on 25 Feb 2024

February 25, 2024

Luke 10:38-42

Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman


Fast for forty days – or is it 46?  Eat fish on Fridays.  Give up chocolate, sweets, caffeine.  Refrain from a luxury.  Abstain from a need.  Or just forget the season of Lent altogether because we have no idea why we would do any of these things in the first place.

There are a lot of confusing instructions about the season of Lent.  Very simply though, Lent is a time to prepare ourselves for Easter, to prepare ourselves for the transformation, for the good news of Easter, that nothing can separate us from God’s love, that every day we have the opportunity for a new life, to start over and live better, do better.

Modeled on the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing himself for ministry, in the early days of the Christian Church, new believers were invited to take forty days to prepare for the new life that comes with baptism and deciding to follow Jesus.

What started as a faith practice for new believers, over time became a practice for the whole church because deciding to follow Jesus is not a one and done decision.  There are days when we feel completely renewed by our relationship with the God of love we know through Jesus Christ.  When we are totally in that zone of peace, trust, and gratitude.  And there are other days when we are worn out, dried out by life and are seeking that new life promised through Christ’s resurrection.

Fasting has long been a spiritual practice through which people of all faiths have sought to connect with the holy.  From the earliest moments of the Christian Church, fasting has been a practice individuals have used to grow closer to God.  By 300 AD, though, the Church, with a capital C, declared fasting as the way all Christians should prepare for Easter.  Fasting every day for forty days, with the exceptions of Sunday, which is why Lent is actually 46 days long.

Spiritual practices, like fasting, are intended to draw us closer to God.  Spiritual practices help us open our hearts and lives to God’s guidance in a new way, walking the way of Jesus Christ ever more faithfully.  Spiritual practices literally refresh and ground us in this crazy world so we can be strengthened to continue moving forward with God, creating more love and peace in our world.

Sometimes, though, spiritual practices can distract us from God.  Sometimes, we can get so caught up in the doing of a spiritual practice that we forget its purpose- to connect us to God and the Way of Jesus Christ.

Fasting is one of those spiritual practices that distracts me from God.  I know I am not alone because each subsequent century after the Church declared fasting to be the Lenten way, each subsequent century brought a reduction in the requirements for fasting until most churches were only requiring two days or had given up the practice altogether.

By the 1400’s, instead of fasting from food, most churches were inviting Christians to “fast” or give up some luxury or need for the season of Lent.

Many of the Protestant reformers were questioning even that.  They thought it was just showy to go around pointing out how you were giving up this or that for Lent.  They wondered if people even understood why they were giving things up, and instead of explaining the tradition, they just stopped practicing the season of Lent completely.

As people of the Way, as people who are called to not just believe in Jesus Christ, but to literally follow him, the season of Lent can be a powerful tool as we seek to have Jesus’ ways of peace and love be a part of our daily lives.

If the season of Epiphany is a time to show, to shine with the light of Jesus, and to share the good news.  If the season of Epiphany encourages us to “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79) as it says in the first chapter of Luke.

If the season of Epiphany is a time focus on how and why we have decided to follow Jesus, then the season of Lent is a time to focus on what our relationship with God and Jesus Christ looks like.  A time to deepen that relationship.  Lent is a time to take the next step in our Christian faith journeys, letting go of distractions so we can do something different and can grow ever closer to God.

In our passage from Luke today, we hear the story of two sisters – Mary and Martha.  When Martha complains that Mary is not helping her with their many tasks, with the many to do’s that a first century woman likely needed to do to welcome guests into their home, Jesus speaks very strongly to her.  His response of “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, 42 but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) that response has led Christians throughout the centuries to focus on contemplation and quiet spiritual practices as the “better way” to God.

For some Christians, quiet prayer, meditation, silence, walking the labyrinth or walking in general, for some Christians, these contemplative spiritual practices are just the right thing to bring God’s light into their lives so they can shine that light into the world.

Being quiet and contemplative might not be the right spiritual practice for you though – or for you at this moment in your journey.  Instead, being spiritually active might the very thing that renews your spirit and helps you create the life with God you want.

The Lenten spiritual practice you might most need right now might be community: a partner or a group to pray or read scripture with; a podcast gathering or a book group to invite you to wonder about God and your calling in the world.

During Lent, you might want to let something go, as has been the Lenten tradition of many churches, or you may want to take up something – like sharing your gifts by volunteering with this church community or one of our ministry partners.  Your Lenten spiritual practice might take less time and yet a lot more dedication – such as praying a silent blessing for someone every time they depart from you.

For some Christians as we follow Jesus, we need quiet moments alone to connect with God, and for others, we need moments in community, to connect with God.

Last week, when I was on vacation, I fulfilled my birthday goal of running a 10k.  I did it with my spouse and two friends.  We agreed as we walked to the starting line that even as we were doing it together, we would all run our own race.

Each one of them then put in their tunes and began to run, but I had not even thought about having music and that turned out to be perfect for me because I turned my run into a spiritual practice of mindfulness.  I paid attention to the flowers and plants.  I listened to the birds.  I enjoyed the sun and the shade.  I was contemplative; I was active; and I was connected, talking with others who were out walking or riding bikes.  I even stopped to take a photo for a family.  My family laughed when I told them that; however it felt like the right thing to do – to be of service.  It’s another way I connect with God.

As we walk or even run this journey of Lent, I invite you every day to very intentionally think about what is your next step.  What is the next step in your faith life that will help you grow closer to God?  Is it active? Is it contemplative?  Is it both?

What will help you sit at the feet of Jesus, like Mary, and soak up Jesus’ spirit, refreshing your soul?  What will help you walk forward with Jesus, like Martha, being made ever new?  What will help you be transformed by God’s Spirit so that your life will be filled with the new life, the hope, the peace, the love Jesus promises to all of us?