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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 2/28

Every year I hear from at least a few people that they like Lent, and it’s not always the same people either.  I think it’s kind of interesting and I suppose one could do a study on why that is.  I hear people complain about Christmas sometimes, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone complain about Lent (apart from the lack of sandwiches and bars at the Wednesday soup suppers). 

What is it about this time that people find appealing because after all, Lent is kind of a somber time, a time when, more than at any other time of the year, we acknowledge our sinfulness, we acknowledge our failure to be who we should be, we acknowledge our mortality.  Yet, while it may not happen so much around here, in big cities people line up outside Catholic churches on Ash Wednesday, waiting to get in to have a cross of ashes smeared on their forehead and to have the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return” spoken to them and they find that the long lines include lots of people who are not at all active in any community of faith, Catholic or otherwise, not even Christian in some cases.

There seems to be something in our human make up that needs the honesty of a season like Lent.  There’s a need to celebrate too and the church year does provide those opportunities, but if that’s all there was, a very basic need would be left unaddressed because we need and I think we want times of honest reflection.  For each of us, that honesty can have a very personal nature about it regarding all manner of things, but particularly, I think Lent provides us with an opportunity to honestly look at our faith and our relationship with God without thinking that we have to have it all figured out. 

There can be a tendency to think that, “I don’t belong in church because I’m not sure about some of this stuff,” or even to think, “Maybe I’m not even a Christian because some of the doctrine bothers me.”  I think Lent though, highlighting as it does our imperfection, allows us to be wherever we are in the faith continuum, and if wherever we are includes questions and uncertainty, that’s OK, because it’s honest.

The Psalms of course are a great way to get at the honesty of Lent, addressing as they do the many dimensions of an honest conversation with God.  If you have trouble coming up with words of your own for this conversation, the Psalms can provide them for you and today’s psalm, Psalm 27 is a classic example of a prayerful conversation.

In some ways, at least in the opening verses, I think it reflects what you could call “a conversation with myself,” more than it’s a conversation with God.  In the opening verses I hear the psalmist trying to convince him or herself that it’s all true, that the Lord is my light and my salvation and that there is no one to fear, that no matter what happens, even when evildoers and enemies and armies close in, everything will be OK, the Lord will provide refuge.  Have you ever had that conversation with yourself?  You tell yourself it’s true because you want it to be true and you convince yourself it is true because the thought of it not being true is too much.  You believe it and it feels good, it feels reassuring; you want it to stay that way, but then there’s the fear that you are talking to yourself and only talking to yourself, and questions creep back in because you find that your confidence in God still hasn’t eliminated trouble from life.

That seems to be what happens in this psalm.  In verse 7 there’s a shift and the Lord becomes the conversation partner but now the psalmist is not quite so confident, not quite so certain. “Hear my voice when I call,” is the plea; “Answer me! Don’t hide your face from me!”  Fear enters into things and what the fear is mostly about is that maybe the Lord isn’t listening, maybe there won’t be an answer, maybe there’s even reason for the Lord to be angry.  In this psalm we are privy to the psalmist’s effort to sort out feelings of confidence and trust that are threatened by feelings of fear and uncertainty; but who of us hasn’t been there.  The beauty of a psalm like this is that there’s no hiding, no pretending.  When the words we speak to ourselves about trust aren’t convincing anymore, other words, less certain words take their place.  But what this psalmist is able to do is to take this internal anxiety and turmoil and turn it into prayer to God.

That is an important move.  It’s an important move for us to pay attention to not so much because that’s what we should do, it’s important  because that’s what we can do, that’s what we’re invited to do, because…real fear lives alongside honest faith; because…uncertainty and trust often go hand in hand.

One of the things that’s interesting about this psalm, maybe a little troubling, is the sequence of the verses.  We might like the sections to be reversed so that it starts with questioning, wavering faith, a psalmist racked with uncertainty and longing but then have it move to a strong statement of confidence like, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”  Wouldn’t that feel better, a move from doubt to certainty, dark to light; a happy ending?

But Lent is about honesty, and unfortunately, looking at life honestly, it’s often not so neat and tidy; it doesn’t always happen the way we want it to.  Often it’s more like two steps forward, one step back if we’re lucky, one step forward two steps back if we’re not so lucky; that’s life.  There are psalms that follow that more optimistic trajectory, but not this one. 

This one does end though, with a somewhat tentative move back toward trust.  It ends in waiting; “This I believe—that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!  Wait for the Lord and be strong.  Take heart and wait for the Lord!”  The waiting implied here though, is hopeful waiting, expectant waiting; that’s the sense of the Hebrew word so there is the hint of another move here, a move into a different kind of prayer.

The kind of prayer we think of most often is the prayer in which we offer our petitions to God, in which we tell God what we want.  It’s the most common kind of prayer found in the psalms too and the plea of the middle part of today’s psalm is an example.  It’s calling on God to act because we believe God can change things; “This I believe, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” 

But then there is the prayer of waiting.  To be sure, it is expectant waiting, but it may also be waiting when there is no clear sign that the prayer will be answered.  It’s waiting though that slows us down; it’s slows our anxiety down and calls us to listen, to be quiet and to pay attention which is another way to pray.    It’s all very Lenten.  The sorting between fear and trust continues but there is that quiet belief, that waiting belief that despite the lack of clear signs, God’s alternative will emerge.

Of course we know that God’s alternative did emerge and was present in Jesus; demons were cast out and cures were performed as Jesus moved toward Jerusalem and the cross.  It was logical that people like that fox, King Herod would be afraid of the alternative Jesus represented even if Herod didn’t really understand it.

Like the psalmist, we know and quietly believe in the alternative, but with Lenten honesty, we also keep sorting out times of trust and times of fear; that’s what Lent is all about.  We wait.  We wait in quiet trust, because we have seen the alternative future of Jesus, and we know that that future also belongs to us.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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welcomes me, and whoever
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