Called to RenewalA sermon for Ash Wednesday February 23, 2023 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
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- Pr. Sebastian
During Lent this year, we will be using a Preaching Theme Series entitled “Unfinished, discovering God’s call in the not yet”.
Charlene Cox gives a good overview of the series:
“Honor the space between no longer and not yet,” so writes author and life coach, Nancy Levin.We can probably all think of a host of experiences from our own lives in which we occupy the space between no longer and not yet.
The space between no longer pre-pandemic life and not yet what will settle into post-pandemic life.
The space between before and after a medical diagnosis,
before and after living with a loss,
before and after navigating a relationship change, a job change, a move.
The space between childhood and adulthood, young adulthood and midlife, midlife and the autumn years.
The space between yesterday and tomorrow, your comfort zone and uncharted territory.
The space between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
The church by its very nature, and we as people of faith,
live our whole lives in the space between no longer and not yet.
Cross-marked and Spirit-sealed, we dwell in the space between the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the final fulfillment
of God’s hope-filled promises.
In this space between, we dwell in the unfinished as unfinished people.
As John reminds us, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”
But we are not left alone in this space between no longer and not yet.
We are not left alone to navigate this unfinished life by ourselves.
God is here - present-tense, each and every day - calling to us, accompanying us, renewing and recreating us - over and over again.
The Ash Wednesday Gospel reading from Matthew, the same every year, outlines the three classic lenten practices,
with instructions on how to do them in a God-pleasing, holy way.
Jesus reminds us that when we pray,
we shouldn’t make long, loud public prayers,
Making a show of ourselves.
Rather we should pray in our room, and close the door.
At the end of the day, prayer is for God, not for an audience.
Now as Lutherans, this is a relatively easy guideline to follow,
as we aren’t in the habit of praying in front of others anyway…
probably most of us would feel uncomfortable praying out loud even in front of close friends or family.
But it’s good to remind ourselves that it’s easier to listen for God’s call
when we are quiet,
It’s easier to renew our lives when our communication with God is in a space where we can be flexible to the promptings of the Spirit.
Likewise, when we give alms, when we share what we have
with those in need,
and if we fast, we shouldn’t make a big show about it.
Just do it…God will notice it wherever and however we do it.
Now the temptation to make our acts of piety public and conspicuous
is probably less of a temptation now
when our religion is not a dominant force in society.
Likely in the 50s and 60s where Christianity was the norm,
you might get kudos in society for acting particularly quote “holy”.
But these days, nobody cares,
and so showing off your piety brings no rewards.
But today’s problem is likely a different one…
because society doesn’t demand it to conform,
it’s maybe a little harder to remember about these Lenten practices in the first place.
Nobody is going to frown at you if you go dancing during Lent, eat meat on Fridays,
and nobody is going to scold you if you are absent during worship during this season.
At the end of the day, your choice to heed God’s call to renewal during Lent is about prioritizing your own faith life and your love for God.
It can be hard to remember that we are called by God
through water and the word.
So much competes for our time and energy, and most of us are tired…
the pandemic has worn us down.
This Lent might be a more difficult time than other years to hear God’s call in our daily life, and it might be harder to dedicate some extra time for worship, prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
Yet during this Lent 2023, we need to hold fast to God’s love,
which has brought us through these past few years,
trust that God is with us.
This might well give us the energy to refocus, reset, recharge
and revive our faith life.
As we listen for this call to renewal,
it’s encouraging to hear of a big renewal happening right now,
called the “Asbury Revival”
which “is an ongoing Christian revival at Asbury University” near Lexington, Kentucky and has spread to other colleges and groups first around the States and then around the world.
It started with continuous worship on February 8th of this year,
focussing on repentance and openness to the movings of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, the revival is led by “Generation Z”,
those under 25, who are considered the most non-religious generation ever.
There is a thirst for God’s power and presence these days…
it’s been a hard few years,
and many in the church are feeling parched and dry.
There has been a decline of energy in Christianity
which has accelerated over the past while,
so it is promising to hear of an “abundant event” (Orsi) happening,
of a special spiritual renewal that cannot be explained by scientific means,
that goes beyond our rational mind.
With this ongoing revival in Asbury, we must point to the awe-inspiring power of the Holy Spirit, to occasionally light fires of enthusiasm that recharge and revive people’s faith lives.
We remember that periods of spiritual dryness have always alternated with outpourings of God’s power which have re-energized God’s people.
We cannot control it, and as we say: “God moves in mysterious ways”.
We simply point to this event and give thanks and keep those young people in our prayers,
and pray that their spark may encourage others to turn their lives to God in new ways as well.
During this season of Lent, let us listen to God’s call to renew our lives in any small way we can,
trusting that God who sees in secret, will reward us.
Let us pray.
Turn us toward you, O God, to Lenten practices that call us from death to life. In the name of +Jesus, Amen.
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