We are in the midst of Lent. We model our observance of Lent after the 40 day time period that Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his ministry. No one knows for certain what Jesus did during this time, but we are told that Jesus was tested and tempted during that time, that he fasted and prayed during his time in the wilderness. We know that Jesus was preparing for something. But what was he preparing for? And why did he go out into the desert for such a long time?
Some scholars say he went out into the wilderness to prepare for his time of ministry. Some say he went to spend time in close communication with God. Some say he went to take care of himself and cleanse his soul with a lengthy fast.
We journey through Lent just as Jesus made the journey to Jerusalem. During Lent, some folks give something up as our equivalent to Jesus’ fasting and some people add things, like reading a devotional or extra time in prayer, to our day during Lent. We do these things because ideally Lent is a time of re-focusing, a time of re-orienting ourselves.
Just pause for a moment and check in with yourself- How is your Lent going? What are the temptations you are facing this Lenten season? How are you refocusing or reorienting yourself during this time?
Lent is a period of time that asks something different of us-it challenges us- it asks us to take some intentional time with God. You may have noticed that our worship services during Lent have more silence added into them, also more music. These changes are intentional ways of slowing us down and opening us up to how God is working in our lives.
In order to re-focus, re-orient ourselves, many churches use the Lenten season as a time of study. Pilgrim Church has been studying the book, “A Bigger Table,” by John Pavlovitz. This book is a study on how we expand the ministry of our church. We are using this book to help us figure out what time it is for Pilgrim Church. Whether you are able to make it to the discussion groups on Thursday evenings, or not, you are invited to pray about the mission and ministry of Pilgrim Church.
As the author of Ecclesiastes writes, there is a time for everything under heaven. Throughout our Lenten journey at Pilgrim Church, we are considering the notion of “time” in a variety of ways; we have considered topics such as a “time to listen”, “the acceptable time is now” and “A time to act.” Today we will look at “Time to Care,” and next week we will consider a “Time to Love.”
You may be aware that there is a new movie out right now that is based on Madeleine L’Engle’s book from 1962 called a “Wrinkle in Time.” Now, I am not suggesting that going to the movies is a Lenten practice that you necessarily want to adopt, but if it will help you prepare for Holy Week and Easter- go for it! I have not yet seen the film, but the topic of the book/movie is something to consider as we are journeying through Lent considering the notion of time. I well remember being caught up in reading the book and its successors, “A Wind in the Door” and “A Swiftly Tilting Planet” when I was in 4th or 5th grade.
“A Wrinkle in Time” focuses on Meg Murray a young girl whose father has disappeared. He is an astrophysicist who has discovered another universe and is being held captive by a dark force on a planet in that other place and time. Meg and her younger brother, Charles Wallace, along with Meg’s friend Calvin, need to travel through time and space to find Meg’s father and bring him home. The story is an incredibly wild ride through L’Engle’s imagination and it is also a powerful coming of age story focused on Meg and her journey to find her father. The classic juxtaposition of a good-hearted, yet self-doubting young woman battling forces of evil and corruption are prominent themes in this tale.
Madeleine L’Engle, who died in 2007 at age 88, is well known for her strong faith in Christianity. In fact, she is quoted as writing in her journal, “If I’ve ever written a book that says what I feel about God and the universe, this is it. This is my psalm of praise to life, my stand for life against death” (http://www.thisisinsider.com/wrinkle-in-time-movie-changes-book-religion-christianity-ending-2018-3).
Like the psalms, this book wrestles with our most basic emotions. It takes on the notion of time and time travel, but it also wrestles with the forces that are alive in the universe- love, hate, life, death, fear, and the overarching theme of caring for each other through it all.
In the scripture that Rebecca and Jason shared with us this morning, we hear Jesus clearly teaching the disciples about the need to care for one another as he says, “Come, you that are blessed by God, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
The disciples do not understand this teaching and question Jesus, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
He answers, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Lutheran pastor, Janet Hunt offers the following on this morning’s text, “The images offered in today’s Gospel lesson speak of a final judgment where ‘goats’ and ‘sheep’ are separated one from another. I know this. And yet, I find it most helpful to hear this [text] as encouragement even now to see and experience and respond to this world in new ways. Indeed, I hear Jesus’ words today reminding me that I simply don’t know when I will encounter the face of Christ next: thus making nearly all ground holy ground” (http://dancingwiththeword.com/seeing-the-face-of-jesus/).
“Just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.”
Friends, who are the least of these who are members of our family?
Seriously, when you hear that phrase, who or what comes to your mind?
Certainly, we do not need to travel through time to find members of the human family who are in need of something to eat or drink. Most assuredly, we do not need to go to another planet to find a stranger to welcome or someone who needs clothing. Honestly, we might be sitting next to someone right now who is in need.
Here in lies the rub, how are we reaching out to each other? How are we walking with folks that are in these circumstances? Where are we meeting them?
Yes, we are collecting coins in the banks to reach out to folks through the Heifer Project. Yes, we donate canned goods and provide the Food Pantry for folks in the area who need some support. Yes, we take offerings for organizations like One Great Hour of Sharing and Neighbors in Need. Yes, we walk to end hunger in the Crop Walk. These are indeed ways of reaching out to folks who are in need. Often times though, we think of these offerings and services as going to someone far away, someone we do not know personally. And, if we are truthful about it, it is easier to give to a charity or an organization that services a certain group of people than it is to serve someone face to face.
Are there ways which we journey with each other face to face? Yes!
One way we journey with folks experiencing homelessness is by working with Seacoast Family Promise. If you have not yet had the opportunity to volunteer for a shift when these families are staying with us, I encourage you to do so. This is a wonderful chance to build relationship face to face. Another way we journey with folks is by opening up the food pantry when there is a need. If you have the chance, talk with Linda McLeod to see if you can help out when the opportunity arises. It is an amazing ministry.
The book we are reading, “A Bigger Table” asks us to push ourselves and consider how we can authentically walk with members of our community that are hungry, thirsty, scared, addicted, experiencing homelessness, living with mental illness, etc. We are challenged to meet these folks where they are and walk next to them on their journey.
But how, how do we do this?
Last Sunday, some of us met with two gentlemen from Narcotics Anonymous to hear their stories and to see what we can do as a community of faith to journey with folks caught in the opioid epidemic. They had several suggestions for what we might do to support addicts and their families. We need to engage in serious conversation and decide if it feels like this is where God is calling us.
We can expand our welcome, our outreach, our community of faith by reaching outside of these walls- out into the world. We have an opportunity right down the road to walk with folks who are struggling by spending time with the inmates at the Rockingham County Jail. Is this something that we feel called to do?
The young people of our country are asking us to walk with them and stand up for gun reform. Some of us will be marching on the 24th of this month in Portsmouth to say enough is enough- no more. Is this something you feel called to do?
Scripture tells us we will encounter Jesus in the ‘least of these’ — in the hungry and the thirsty, in the stranger and the naked and the sick and those in prison… We live out our faith in what we do and we do it in places that aren’t always pretty” (http://dancingwiththeword.com/seeing-the-face-of-jesus/) but they are always holy.
Our faith calls us to care for each other- to care for the least of these- it may not call us to the most glamorous of places, but I dare say it will call us to the most meaningful, the most difficult, the most beautiful, the messiest, the fullest, most full of love life that we can imagine!