In my entire ministry I have never had a start to Lent like this one. First of all, Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine's Day for the first time since 1945. That alone made it unique, but then I went to the gym for a quick exercise before the evening service and learned about the shooting in Florida. Lent began in agony. (My friend Jim Harnish wrote a great blog about the tragedy at Parkland High School. You can get it here.)
We are focusing on climbing this season. I love to climb. My adrenaline increases as I go higher. But the few times I have been on legitimate mountain climbing excursions I found the effort just to get to the climbing part was exhausting. Often, with packs weighing 60-70lbs., we hiked for miles, one time for an entire day, just to arrive at the point where we started ascending.
Perhaps that is a relevant analogy to this Lent. We are moving through some tough terrain. Another school shooting. Story after story of sexual scandal and abusive behavior. Continued racial discord. It just feels too exhausting to try to rise above it. But this is the world we live in. Our discussions in Lent, about climbing and the spiritual life, are not an escape from dealing with our realities. Focusing for a season on deepening our discipleship equips us to better face these realities and develops the courage to do something about them. If nothing else, we will understand that faith takes courage and effort. Climbing is not for couch potatoes. A faith that is exercised will be a faith that positively changes the world, and that is what we are here to do.
I am about to complete a book for Abingdon Press about the life of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Luther revolutionized Christianity in a time when the Church emphasized the need for people to get ready for heaven. Most of those in authority in the church were invested in the social structures of the time. If people worried about the next world, they didn't focus on changing this one.
Luther said we are saved by grace, not our works. That seems harmless enough, but if you start changing the way things "work," you're in for a challenge. The Protestant Reformation was as much, if not more so, a political revolution as a theological one. You can't change the way things are without ruffling some feathers.
This is our history, to be reformers of the things that don't work right! That don't conform to the ways and will of God. The journey is a long one. It gets tiring at times, but we keep moving. We keep climbing toward that vision of heaven on earth, when students and teachers aren't killed because they went to class, where people aren't abused or degraded, where races of people are all treated fairly. In the meantime we take a season to draw close to the One whose will and way will eventually win out in this world. In a little over 40 days we will close the Easter service again with the rousing Hallelujah Chorus and hear again the words, "the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ!" And we will be ready to lead the charge.