Faith Works 3-8-14
As Lent begins
Regular readers know that "Faith Works" as a feature on the "Your Faith" page here is aimed at a wide audience, that large percentage of Americans (not to mention Ohioans and Licking Countians) who believe in God (93%), who believe God hears and responds in some way to our prayers (82%), but who don't necessarily regularly attend a church fellowship (in our area, around 20% do, leaving some 60-70% of you who are still working on how you want to live out your beliefs).
But I've never made any secret out of the fact that your faithful scrivener is not only a believing and practicing Christian (and gonna keep practicing until I get it right), but a preacher and parson. I was raised and baptized and trained for ministry in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and serve a congregation of that tradition, Newark Central Christian.
Each year, when the preparatory and penitential season of Lent comes up, I ask my wider readership's forebearance and understanding as I get just a bit more explicitly, well, Christian. Because that's who I am, and how I best understand God's working in the world. If you read for the more ecumenical, more interfaith content, please forgive me for a few weeks, and please come back after April 20th (or come to church during Holy Week and see what it is we're talking about).
So, with that brief "Apologia Pro Vita Sua", to commence:
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
~ Romans 6:6-11, (ESV)
There are ashes, and there is glory. We just marked the Transfiguration in the church calendar, but we also head into a long slog up the road to Jerusalem, where (as Jesus himself reminds us grimly) the people of God tend to stone, strip, and even slaughter the prophets sent them by God.
Lent begins with a mark of grey ashy charred remnant palm fronds, traced onto mostly clean foreheads, and making a very unpretty cross. We know in advance we will sing praises and make beautiful ourselves and our worship come Easter day (April 20, mark your calendars now!), but the journey begins in ashes.
Paul reminds us, in the passage from his letter to the Roman church above, that to get to the life in Christ, eternal and abundant, which he promised us, we have to pass through death. And not just the dying in the body we are all somewhat familiar with, but our LIVES have to die to sin. Our choices, our paths, need to make a wrenching and often initially disturbing shift to get on the way that leads to life.
It sounds painful, and often is. The glory, and the beauty, all come when we find ourselves wanting the life in and of Christ's promise to be our own lives so much so that we start finding we're not even tempted by the things of this world. That's the last step of the dying Paul's talking about, when you move beyond even wanting that which does not satisfy, and you hunger only for what refreshes and feeds us forever.
We start by acknowledging that this world is, in itself and no more than itself, nothing more than ashes. Ashes that can be arranged in lovely and alluring ways, but from the finest meal in the grandest restaurant, to the Eiffel Tower itself, it's all made of carbon and dust. That which points us in any earthly thing to something grander, something greater: that's the breath of God, the life eternal, the dance everlasting, and to join in requires that we start to let go of our stuff and dust and ashes and simply join the parade. Let's go!