Last week, while attempting to do a little Lenten sermon series outlining, I had an epiphany...a Lenten epiphany. Given that this block of time between Christmas and Lent is in fact known as the Season of Epiphany, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, `tis the season, right?
Anyway, let me tell you about my Lenten epiphany. Lent has always been a hard season for me to get my arms around; maybe it has been for you too. As I was contemplating this reality, that’s when it hit me…that’s when I had my Lenten epiphany.
So here goes: The reason this season is such a struggle is because I’m a Methodist. Think about it. We Methodists are by nature a very social, outgoing, relationship oriented people. Granted, that’s a good thing, and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way. But, here’s the thing: Lent is not a social, outgoing season. Rather, Lent is a season of personal reflection and introspection. I can only speak for myself, but for this Methodist, that’s what makes Lent such a challenge.
Like it or not, though, this season that begins in ashes is meant to be a personal journey…a spiritual pilgrimage that leads us to the spiritual renewal of Easter morn. Bottom line: it’s not a social season. Perhaps that’s why for us Methodists Lent feels so awkward…like a 40 day hike with your shoes on the wrong feet.
With that in mind, I found a Bible passage that might help us. It doesn’t make Lent easier (sorry), but may help us put it into perspective. The inspired writer of 2 Chronicles says “. . .if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (7:14). We Methodists, being the outward and social people that we naturally are, might at first glance think this verse is referring to folks who’ve strayed from their faith; an intercessory prayer prayed on behalf of other people. But, in the spirit of Lent, I think this prayer should be turned inward rather than aimed outward. In fact, it’s a penitential prayer for the faith community, for us. It’s not a call for “other people” to repent; it’s a call for us, God’s people, to repent. It’s our land that needs healed. It’s our wicked ways from
which we need to turn. We’re the ones who need to seek God’s face.
Look at it this way: Albert Outler, a renowned Wesleyan scholar, summarized the Methodist perspective by saying that “the essence of our faith is inward and personal, and the evidence of our faith is outward and social.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, perhaps these 40 days of Lent are the prime time, as awkward as it may be for us Methodists, to focus on and renew the “inward and personal.” After all, if the inward and personal aspects of our faith are lacking, it will soon become evident in our outward and social relationships. So, there you have it…my Lenten epiphany.
Your brother in Christ,