“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9 NRSV
Slow. It’s not exactly one of society’s favorite words. Wait for even a moment after a stoplight turns green and, more likely than not, you will hear someone blow his or her car horn. Let the drive-thru at a fast-food establishment take more than a couple of minutes and we find ourselves bumping on the steering wheel. Discover someone has yet to receive a letter you mailed more than a week ago and it’s not long before frustration builds with the postal service. Yes, we like things in a timely manner. Often now, if not sooner! The key to our impatience though is that it is related to something WE desire. Reverse roles and it is easy for our tune to change. We wish for people to be patient with us, to give us more time, and to be understanding if we are running a bit behind schedule. Translate this understanding of patience, slowness, etc. to God and, well, we can often find ourselves “in a fix with God.” We want answers, we seek results, and we need proof of the divine presence. We try to “keep God accountable” and moving on our timetable, only to discover God’s “ways are not the same as our own.” Now, what if God treated us in a similar manner? What if God wanted answers from us “right now” or responded to our disobedience “in an instant?” Most likely, we would feel uneasy and request a little more time to get things in order.
Fortunately, this is not how God relates to us as human beings. This is not to suggest that God does not wish to hold us accountable in the present, but that God is more patient with us than we are with others. God’s grace grants humanity a window of time in order to change things, to set our lives back on course. This is the task of repentance in the lives of all human beings. Yes, even those of us who are in Christ, who have a tendency to continue to miss the mark. We may consider repentance in conversation of those who are “lost and living in sin,” but the reality is that we all have shortcomings. We all have certain sinful attitudes, habits, behaviors, etc. that can be reminiscent of our old nature prior to Christ. Being in Christ by no means guarantees our perfection in this life, but rather indicates we are a people in the process of becoming like Christ. Of course, this involves plenty of highs and lows, moments of getting it right and others not as much. Confession and repentance are the response to the times and places in this journey in which we fall short. This is the case not just at the point of our conversion, but daily, even multiple times during a given day.
My choice of subjects is by no means random or in an effort to be a downer at an already challenging time. In just a few weeks, February 17 to be exact, we will celebrate in the Christian tradition what is known as “Ash Wednesday.” Of course, our Ash Wednesday celebration for 2021 will be a bit different from previous years in that it will be a drive-thru experience similar to our Communion last Holy Week. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a forty-day journey (not counting Sundays), which gives the Christian faithful the opportunity to prepare our hearts, minds, and living for the events of Holy Week and the Resurrection. While Easter may seem like a long way off, it will be here before too long and we must be ready. This process of readiness involves purging our lives of those things which hinder our relationship with God. It is a season of fasting from various indulgences and substituting certain practices with others that are aimed at helping us to refocus spiritually.
Fasting is a bit of a foreign concept in some Christian traditions in that it calls for renunciation of self and the reordering of priorities. For much of our lives, we focus upon how much we can do or that additional “something” we can add to our already busy routine. The journey of Lent invites us to let go of or simplify our normal routine in order that God might make more room for the divine presence in our lives. It is hard, no impossible, for us to “force” more of God into our already full lives. As with trying to fit something else in a suitcase which is filled to the point of not zipping, our lives become so congested that there is no where left for God. It is as we say at Advent/Christmas, “There is no room in the inn.” Beginning with Ash Wednesday, we are encouraged to give our lives a close examination through the disciplines of prayer, Scripture, and reflection in order that God might reveal to us what changes are necessary for us. These changes are not easy, but are necessary in order that we might become the people God longs for each of us to be. Ash Wednesday and the weeks of Lent invite us to consider our need for confession and forgiveness, the place of regular repentance, and the renewing work of grace on a consistent basis. This approaching season is more than giving up chocolate or soft drinks for a few weeks, only to pick them back up, but rather an opportunity for God to deal with our lives at the deepest levels so that we might become a new people. Lent should have ongoing implications for where we are moving next in the process of faith. Renunciation and repentance are good for the soul!
Together in the Process,
The Reverend Kelley Smart