For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
–Deuteronomy 7.6-9 (NIV)
During this season of Lent we are called to a season of self-denial, of prayer and fasting, and of confession of sin and repentance. Sounds like great fun, doesn’t it? But why would we do that? How we answer this question will make all the difference in the world for us because it will let us know if we really understand the human condition and God’s response to it.
When I was a teenager, my mother would regularly tell me to “remember who you are” before I would go out to hang around with my buddy. She was reminding me to be a Maney with all the responsibility that that entailed. In today’s passage, God reminds his people Israel through the prophet Moses who they are and what God has done for them.
God reminds Israel that they are his called out (holy) people, that he has chosen them to be his agents of redemption for his hurting and broken world. God reminds Israel that he chose them because of who he is, not because of who they are. God also reminds Israel that he loves them and has rescued them from the clutches of slavery so that they can get to work! Just as God has rescued Israel from its slavery, so Israel, as God’s called-out (holy) people, should become God’s light and salt to his hostile and rebellious world. Israel is to keep these two things in the front of their collective mind so that they always remember that God alone is their God and that he is faithful to them forever.
So what does any of that have to do with the Lenten disciplines of prayer and fasting, self-denial, and confession and repentance? Just this. These disciplines help us to take the focus off ourselves and put it on God. We remember that in Jesus, God has rescued us from the darkness of alienation and exile from God, the only Source and Author of life. As long as we are alienated toward God, we do not have life in us. Sure, our mortal bodies are functioning on a biological level, but one day those systems will shut down and then we will dead, alienated from the only One who can raise us from the dead and give us life.
Taking the season of Lent seriously means that we work hard, aided by the help of the Holy Spirit living in us, to get ourselves to the point where we can be Kingdom workers for God. We can follow the example of Jesus and deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him so that he will use us to bring healing and redemption to his world until he returns to finally sets things aright. Denying ourselves means that we are focusing on others. We seek to be agents of Jesus’ healing and reconciliation, not on the basis of our own merits but rather on the basis of his. For you see, like Israel, God calls those who would follow him to be agents of his healing love and redemption. And like God’s call to Israel, we are not to do this solely as individuals but rather together as Jesus’ body, the Church.
Is all this not way too cool? Imagine that. God calls us in all of our brokenness to be his Kingdom workers. Animated and empowered by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, we are to follow Jesus and become sin bearers to God’s broken and hurting world. We are to be Jesus’ light (a biblical term that refers to God’s Goodness and Presence) and salt (a preservative) to folks who desperately need to meet him (many of whom do not even realize they do!) through us. This means that we are to be peacemakers, even when we do not want to be. It means that we pursue forgiveness and reconciliation with everyone, even the most unlovable among us, even toward those who hate us. It means that we embody Jesus to others in all that we do during the course of our daily lives. All this gives our Lenten disciplines a whole new meaning and purpose!
Are you ready to respond to God’s gracious call to heal and redeem you? Are you willing to follow the One who hung on a cross and died a terrible death for you so that you can extend God’s great love and mercy to others who, like you, desperately need it? If you are–and I pray that you are–it all starts with denying your selfish and self-centered self, and engaging in the recognized disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and fasting to help you get there–the very focus of Lent. As you do, don’t forget to feed and nourish your soul and body by partaking in the sacraments of Christ’s body and blood so that you will not grow weary and faint along the way during this difficult journey.
And as you do all this, remember that while we all must engage in the Lenten disciplines as individuals, you do not do any of this alone. Remember that you have our Lord’s help as well as help from his body, the Church, your fellow believers in Christ, so that you are truly equipped to engage in the ride of your life.