Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
As Lent begins, we find ourselves moving in the Gospels from the flowing waters of the River Jordan at Jesus’ baptism to the barrenness of the desert, where Jesus fasted for forty days and nights. It was there, in that thin place, that Jesus was met with the first deep challenge to his calling.
Frederick Buechner, in Wishful Thinking, describes it like this:
“After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.”
Lent is indeed a deeply personal time for Christians to look inward and to ask ourselves piercing questions about the meaning of our faith for our daily lives. It’s an opportunity to examine our lives with clear-eyed honesty, and to seek God’s abundant grace when what we see in ourselves falls short of what God desires. It’s a time to confront the inevitable temptations that surround us, and draw strength from a God who calls us away from them to the fullness of life.
Lent should also be a time for us as churches to ask ourselves who we are and whether our communal life together is all that it is meant to be. What temptations are getting the best of us?
- Is your congregational behavior starting to mimic the vitriol and divisiveness so prevalent in the world around us, or is your congregation a counter-cultural community characterized by forgiveness, grace, joy, and persevering love?
- Are you a place of cynicism and despair, or are you a place infused with hope and possibility?
- Have your concerns about your congregation’s own challenges caused you to focus inward on your needs alone, or are you finding ways to be of service to your community and the world?
- Are you behaving like a church that doesn’t need anyone else and has it all figured out, or are you actively connecting to others in your community and in the Conference, reaching out to receive and offer support and to gain wisdom from others?
- Would others watching you from afar see the kind of community Christ calls us to be, the kind of community so many long for in this world? Or would they see a community that doesn’t practice what it preaches?
Lent is a time for us as individual Christians to ask ourselves what it means to be faithful. It is also an opportunity for us as congregations and as a Conference to ask equally hard and important questions about the meaning of our faith and the example we set as the gathered church community. The willingness to engage in such prayerful examination and to confront the temptations before us is a first and critical step to discovering who we are and who we can yet be as God’s created and beloved.
May your Lenten journey be blessed with the abiding grace and mercy of God. And may our collective reflection on how God calls us to be Christ’s disciples and Christ’s Church be faithful and deep.
With you on the journey,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister