Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday in Lent
February 17, 2013
“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:8b-9
Lent is here again. Ashes have been smudged into foreheads accompanied by sobering words of our fleeting reality. The “alleluias” are buried until Easter. Lenten disciplines are well under way; denials of chocolate, adult beverages, desserts, meat, spending, and all manner of deprivations have been promised. Yet is that all there is to these 40 days?
Lent is supposed to be a time of formation, a time to reflect on one’s identity as a follower of Christ and to figure out exactly what that means. Discipleship, after all, is supposed to be a way of living and being rather than a label or “club membership.”
How best to keep this season is an important consideration for those of us who plan and lead worship, who have responsibility for Christian education, and who craft parish communications. How can we best experience this season of the Church year in a way that is fresh and enduring, reflective and renewing, and effective in supporting faith formation? What does it mean for people of faith to journey into the Lenten wilderness today?
The familiar lessons for this First Sunday in Lent offer some good entry points into a multi-week emphasis on our call to identity AND our call to action. We think, or maybe assume, we know who we are based on established models of mainline faith and good behavior. But, in a world of shifting sand and mainline upheaval, we dare not make assumptions or rely on comfortable, worn methods and programs.
The reading from Deuteronomy (26:1-11) reminds us that a good place to begin is counting one’s blessings and giving thanks. It is entirely too easy to see our little bowl of life as pitifully empty instead of full and overflowing. Of course we’re not alone; God’s chosen people have a seriously short memory when it came to appreciating all that the LORD has done. They see wilderness rather than redemption. They hanker for the “good ol’ days” in Egypt instead of anticipating life in the Promised Land. You just can’t please some folks–then or now. Still, we remind the people of God of the rich blessings we share, and we encourage one another to share all that God has entrusted to us and to give of our best, not the rest. If you’ve never considered beginning Lent with a stewardship sermon, well here’s your opportunity to call for some action to go with the identity.
Paul’s message to the Christians in Rome (Romans 10:8b-13) reminds us of the simple yet profound power of our identity that comes in the confession “Jesus is Lord.” All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is not some empty promise nor merely nice-sounding words. This is the confession of faith that identifies us as people of God. Lent calls us to examine this identity and to reflect on whether we are living into it.
Finally, in the Gospel story of Jesus being led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, we are challenged to turn familiar stones in search of new insight. Jesus, Son of God, stands firm in the face of three challenges to his identity and authority–human comfort, power and authority, and proof of divine identity. We encounter no temptation that our Lord has not faced and defeated.
Notice what happens next: Jesus “filled with the power of the Spirit,” begins his ministry. Identity confirmed, the Son of God takes action. So, too, may our Lenten examination of identity lead to renewed focus and action. These 40 days are about much more than denial or temporary disciplines. Each day invites us to live life in the Spirit, to grow in faith, and to be the presence of Christ in the wilderness of this world. Blessings on your journey!
Using the Old Testament Lesson (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), invite those present for worship to explore what it means to bring their best to God–to give in response to the amazing gifts of the Creator. A second related issue is how might we give our best to the least among us, and in what ways may we include those who are least likely to feel blessed? Invite individuals and groups to challenge each other to greater gratitude in Lent. If you have some extra money in the stewardship budget, consider randomly selecting a few people to take seed grants (small amounts of money ranging from $10 – $100) with no strings attached other than they will somehow use the money as “seed” to grow it into a gift that will benefit a ministry of the church, the community, or the world. Make sure to invite the recipients back after Lent to share their stories.
Youthful fans of classic rock will likely know the song “Who are You,” from The Who’s 1978 album of the same name. The lyrics offer a powerful reflection on identity. One might also ponder how these lyrics reflected the lives and situations of the band members at the time. The song is also the theme song for the television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Play a version of the song and then invite youth to explore their identity. What role does being a Christian play in who they are? How is their identity challenged? Does their identity shift based on who they are with?
Who are You?
Beforehand you will need to make necklaces for the children (I like the idea of either making a cross of nails or taking a masonry nail and wrapping wire around it to form a loop for a leather string necklace) You will also need a package of stick-on nametag labels .
Ask for a couple of volunteers from the congregation. Have the children help you label them by putting sticky labels on them to establish their identity (perhaps one person is a father, son, banker, council member, uncle, cousin, friend, golfer, etc.). Once you have labeled the volunteers, tell them that no matter how the world labels them or us, we are first and foremost children of God, Christians, marked in Baptism with the sign of the cross forever. Give each child a nail or cross necklace to wear during Lent. If you have time and enough volunteers, consider making a nail necklace for each person at worship.