The Fruit of Lent (week 4): Faithfulness

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace
Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
FAITHFULNESS

You are a faithful God, and you desire your people to be faithful to you.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have been unfaithful far too often. Forgive us for allowing ourselves to be blinded to the truth, pursuing money, or approval, or success for their own sake, without reference to you. Forgive us for allowing our circumstances to negatively affect our understanding of you. Spirit, teach us how to strengthen each other’s’ faith. Help us to hold on to you when we experience blessing, and to hold all the more tightly when we experience pain.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (week 3): Goodness

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace
Week 2: Forbearance
GOODNESS

You are a God of enduring goodness, and you desire your people to act out that goodness in the world.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have failed, so often, to do good. Forgive us for extending kindness only to those we feel deserve it. Forgive us for allowing excuses—of business, of resources, of capacity—to erode the simple command to follow your example. Spirit, teach us how to extend your goodness to those around us, even when it costs us something. Help us do good to all, without expecting good in return.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (week 2): Forbearance

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace

 
FORBEARANCE
You are a God of deep forbearance, and you desire your people to be a people of forbearance.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have been impatient and unkind. Forgive us for our thoughtless busyness that allows us to push others aside in favour of our own agenda. Forgive us for simply dismissing those who have stood in opposition to us, rather than taking the time to know them. Spirit, teach us how to bear with each other, especially when it hurts. Help us to refuse retaliation in favour of kindness.

Sung Response:      Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Amen.

The Fruit of Lent (week 1): Peace

Ash Wednesday. Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, Flickr Creative Commons

Ash Wednesday. Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, Flickr Creative Commons

Today is Ash Wednesday. Christians all over the world will bow their heads today, and receive a smudged sign of the cross on their foreheads – will be reminded of their own mortality. That death comes to all. That death dwells in all of us. That this world is still, in many ways, captive to sin and darkness. And they will each decide to forgo some pleasure during this time: limiting consumption of meat or sweets; forgoing screen time; eschewing social media. Other Christians, all over the world, find these practices strange and stiff. They wonder what it’s all about. But they, too, although they will not walk through their day with ash marking their foreheads, will feel the pull, the heaviness of Lent in their limbs, in their days, as we begin the long march with Christ toward the cross.

Lent is a time of confession and fasting and waiting in darkness. But this year I want to acknowledge something else – it is also a time of fruiting. Even as we recognize our mortality, as we confess our sin, as we realize anew how difficult it is to control our desires, hope is born afresh in each of us. Because we know how this story ends. We know that our recognition of our mortality will become a celebration of our resurrection. We know that we have received help for our difficult desires, and that one day they will be conquered in full. We know that even as we confess our sin, we are forgiven.

So this year, our church is walking through the fruit of the Spirit during Lent (Galatians 5). We will confess our failure. But we will also embrace forgiveness, and recognize the fruit that Lent is bearing in each of us, and in us as a community.

I invite you to join us. Below is the reading for our first Sunday of Lent – I will post a new prayer every Wednesday. The sung portion is the chorus of Steve Merkel’s “Lord Have Mercy” – a version of which I have posted below. The bold print is to be read/sung by the congregation, and we will also be lighting a Lent candle each week (with the candles lined up in cruciform) as we receive forgiveness. I was helped, in writing these liturgies, by Gordon D. Fee’s excellent work Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Feel free to use these prayers in your your own congregation or in your personal devotions – if you do the latter, simply change the language to first person singular, and I would suggest praying the prayer morning and evening as a kind of bookend to each day.

What will you give up this Lent? And what will you harvest?

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

The Fruit of Lent, Week 1: PEACE

You are the God of Peace, and you desire your people to dwell in that peace.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have caused divisions, knowingly and unknowingly, seeking our own good rather than the good of our community. Forgive us for any hurtful words we have spoken. Forgive us for our thoughtless gossip, and for the grudges we have held on to. Spirit, teach us to willingly forgive, to value relationship over being right, and to actively seek your peace with each other, and in all of our relationships.

Sung Response:      Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Amen.

This Lent, I’m Not Complaining (Except When I Am)

Complain, httpwww.flickr.comphotos20918261@N002053243383

Photo credit: Britta Frahm, (b.frahm on flickr)

This Lent, I’ve been thinking about the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of this particular time in Israel’s history, I mostly hear the whining. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Ex. 14:11). “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex.16:3).When reading passages in Exodus, I often want to grab Israel with both hands and shake. They have been led, miraculously, by the hand of God, out of slavery and into freedom. So why are they, as God himself names them in what almost reads as a fit of pique, a “stiff-necked people”?

The Nile basin is a fertile strip that travels (for much of its journey) through arid and un-productive land—desert. On satellite maps it shows up a vivid strip of green amidst sand and rock. Leaving this fertile strip, especially as a large group, meant certain struggle and possible death through dehydration and starvation. Perhaps Israel could have trusted God more—but was it really that unreasonable for them to complain?

When I considered what I would give up this Lent, I read through parts of the Exodus story, and through Jesus’ temptation, and I wondered what it would look like to not complain for 40 days. I’m still wondering. My husband seems to rather enjoy drawing my attention to a facial expression, or a snort, or a bald-faced whine. The thing is, I do have some reason to complain—a body still healing from a major surgery, the pain and grief that comes with infertility, a career that has once again taken a sharp left-turn—and my research and experience of biblical lament tells me that it is right and good to direct these complaints to God.

Complaining in itself is not an evil.

Yet these larger, legitimate complaints are not the ones that are difficult to hold back. No, what I can’t seem to stem are the

  Photo credit: kaibara87 on flikr.

This cat is me whining.
Photo credit: Umberto Salvagnin (kaibara87 on flikr).

little sighs and comments when a board game (that’s right, a board game) doesn’t go my way; the groans of an unusually early morning; the whine that develops when one more “roll up the rim” cup (if you’re not Canadian, this will make no sense) tells me politely to “please play again.”

What I have discovered thus far into Lent is that I am a whiney and annoying person. Because—although I have not managed to stop complaining—I am, for the first time, hearing all my complaints. And I have to say, I am at least 200 times more annoying than Israel in the desert. Of course, the main difficulty with these thousands of minor whine-sessions is that they mask an equal number of blessings that I simply stop seeing. When I complain that my numbers aren’t rolling in a board game, I fixate on that and lose sight of the fact that I am able to spend an evening in comfort, with good food, in the company of good friends. That I have the time to play. When I roll myself, groaning, out of bed I forget to be grateful for a job that puts money in the bank and gives me the flexibility to continue to pursue other things. When I whine about not having a winning Tim’s cup, I lose any joy I might experience in drinking the coffee it contains.

Stop Complaining, httpwww.flickr.comphotos1c114230175179

Photo Credit: Alan Turkus (aturkus on flickr).

Maybe, when God called Israel (and us) a stiff-necked people, he meant that we turn our heads and focus in one direction only. We have a tendency to fixate on all the little things we have to complain about and, in doing so, our necks become stiff, and we can no longer turn and see the many millions of blessings—big and small—we experience each day. We lost the ability to be grateful.

So: I am thankful for a husband who points out my complaints (even when I don’t want him to), and who enriches my life with wisdom and a slightly strange sense of humour. I am thankful to be greeted, every time I return home, by Finn the Wonderdoodle, with his painful, whip-like tail wagging and grinning, shaggy face. I am thankful for our home and deck and garden. Although it is March, I am thankful for the beauty of snow piled up in our back yard. I am so grateful for the warm and generous church in which my husband and I serve. I am eternally thankful for an army of close and far friends and family that care for us in every possible way. And for the little things: for popcorn and tea; for a bathtub and hot showers; for a couch that serves as a playground for visiting children; for sudoku and logic puzzles; for my long-underwear that lets me go for walks in the cold; for good books; for chocolate; for so many, many things.

The Weight of Good Friday: Chapter 23 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

by Stacey Gleddiesmith

Good Friday.

The day when hope falters and darkness seems to triumph.

Joan Chittister describes the pain of second-century Israel: “the grief was still raw. After all, they were still waiting for His return, then and there. And in the midst of the wait, the desolation inspired a fast that tapped into the profound heartache of a people. For years, the Christian community fasted not only on Good Friday but on Holy Saturday as well…. For years, the fast was a complete one. Early Christians took no food or water at all. They fasted for forty straight hours without either eating or drinking” (p. 148).

Now, she says, Good Friday gatherings are often mere pageantry:  “something to watch, something to realize with a pang… But nothing really serious” (p. 151).

So how do we push past our momentary sympathy with Christ, and take up our cross to follow him? How do we inspire our congregations to do so? How do we preach crucifixion to a culture that shrinks from unpleasantness?

We can use darkness and silence. We can bring newness to history through creative tellings. We can hold back the celebration and take time to sit in the dark. To wait. We can add weight to our words, laying the burden of Christ, for once, heavily on the shoulders of our congregation. Allowing ourselves to feel our backs bowed and our knees trembling – Friday, Saturday.

More than that, we can fast. Having read this chapter, I feel a fresh urgency to observe Good Friday by taking in nothing but the death of Christ. I need the gnawing in my belly that will, in Chittister’s words “whet the need for the return of Jesus to our own lives.” The fast of Good Friday, she says, “means to concentrate us on the moment, to be there nagging at us in the midst of our distractions, to keep us keenly aware of what the spiritual life is meant to be about” (p. 151). I need that. Desperately.

So I invite you to fast with me. Or, if not to fast, to solemnize this day in another way. I invite you to share, here, your experience of Good Friday – the weight that was laid upon you – that we may fully experience together the lightening of Easter morning.

Suffering: Chapter 19 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

by Ian Walden

“With or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the only question is how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.”

How, indeed? Chittister helps by laying bare our more usual, rather less Christ-like, responses to the pain, the disappointment, the anxiety, the rejection and emptiness life throws at us.

Suffering anticipated leaves us paralysed in fear – content to settle for stasis, for comfort, for the illusion of control – rather than attempt anything worthwhile or important or spiritually necessary, for fear of the pain that will (make no mistake) accompany it.

Suffering experienced leaves us crushed in despair – content to survive and endure, to switch off from the life of the world beyond our pain, to allow darkness to fill our horizons and hide our hope – rather than continue to love our (equally hurting) friends and world in whatever ways are left to us.

Coptic Icon“Lent is the season that teaches us that darkness may overtake us but will not overcome good as long as we doggedly refuse to give in to our lesser selves…” Chittister is clear that following Jesus through Lent is about imitating his choice of the worthwhile over the easy, imitating his missional drive (that accepts pain and death as its corollary), and imitating his forgiving, inspiring love for his Father’s world – even from within his own various agonies.

Because as Stacey said last week, until He comes again, we’re it. We are the only presence of Christ on earth that many will ever know. Even if we hurt so much, or fear so much, that that’s barely possible to believe.

Have you recently witnessed anyone’s choices to live, to risk, to step into a new and difficult arena? Have you found strength to love while in pain yourself? If so, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to hear your story. We all need to know pain isn’t the end; that it does not always, cannot always, must not always, have the last word.

Amen. Lord have mercy.