As a spoiled and somewhat pampered American, I have struggled with the whole idea of Lent. With its call to fasting and self-denial, Lent runs counter to my culture and the media messages that surround me. And I am probably not an outlier in this. Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini observed in his book Ciao, America! An Italian Discovers the U.S. that people in the United States are obsessed with comfort, control, and competition. But Lent calls us to surrender control of our impulses to the Spirit and to deny ourselves—to choose to make ourselves uncomfortable.
Lent makes me uncomfortable. I experience this liturgical season as a theological riddle that puzzles me every year. Lent leads us into the most amazing expression of grace we have, to what God has done for us in Christ. We talk about grace as God’s unmerited favor; but simultaneously, Lent asks us to do something to show our commitment to God. When I consider performance, inevitably I fall into the trap of measurement: Is my Lenten discipline substantial enough? Am I doing it better this year than last? And so on—all the opposite of grace.
This week’s scripture passages focus on the tension between grace and performance. They show us the absolute one-sidedness of God’s covenant with humanity, alongside the New Testament call to give up everything to follow Christ. I have long believed that the Spirit works in us at the point of our discomfort with people, situations, and ideas. If we turn toward the things that bother us, our unease can become a window to places we need God’s grace. Then we choose whether to allow that grace to shape and reshape us. Lent offers us this choice.
What is making me uncomfortable today? What may God be saying to me through my unease?
We cannot earn God’s love. Going back to the time of Abraham, God’s blessing has been based on faith. God chose Abraham for a covenant not because Abraham was perfect but because he believed God. The psalmist reminds his audience of their ancient relationship with God and expresses the hope that it will continue through future generations. Paul reinforces the centrality of faith in Romans. Following the law was not bad, but no one should believe that following the law could earn God’s favor. In Mark 8, Jesus pushes his disciples in their understanding of faith. Trusting God means surrendering everything, including position and reputation. If we value those things more than God, then we are not displaying the faith of Abraham.
• Read Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. No rules, just relationship. How comfortable are you in your relationship with God? Upon what does it rest?
• Read Psalm 22. Which verses are most familiar to you? In what ways does your faith journey live in the interplay of shadow and light?
• Read Romans 4:13-25. How easily do you live in God’s grace? In what areas do you find yourself “reckoning” your righteousness?
• Read Mark 8:31-38. When the world asks you who you are, what is your reply?
Respond by posting a prayer.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.