Sermon March 9: Packing Our Bags

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Faith United Methodist Church
March 9, 2014
First Sunday of Lent
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood

Scripture: Psalm 51:1-17

Prayer of Illumination:   

God of heart, God of steadfast love, as we embark on the journey of Lent make our spirits right, make our witness strong.  Amen.

Sermon: Packing our Bags

My least favorite part of going on a journey is packing.  I never know what to bring.  When it comes to packing I go to extremes.  Either I pack everything at the last minute or I draw it out for days, packing and repacking.  No matter, though, I always forget something or pack the wrong kind of clothes or pack way too much.  In my 38 years I haven’t mastered the art of packing.

One preacher, reflecting on Lent, said, “Every journey, even the Lenten Journey, requires time to pack your bags….” To me this means that, like any journey, the Lenten Journey requires thought and preparation.   Today is a chance to get ourselves ready ~ to pack our bags and map our course ~ for the Lenten Journey.   One thing that always helps with packing is familiarizing ourselves with where we are going.  To do that, I have a little Lenten Pop-Quiz.  I’ll just ask you a few questions (What is Lent?  Handout):

So those are some of the nuts and bolts of Lent.  We now know how long our journey will be and where we are headed.  It seems our destination will be Easter.  But there is still the question of “why”?  The journey is a choice.  Why go on this Lenten journey?

Lent is the season of preparation for Easter.  But, still, why do we need to prepare?  Easter will come along on April 20th whether we prepare or not.  Let’s look at our Scripture for a minute.  Psalm 51 is the Psalm most often associated with Lent.  It is thought that David wrote this Psalm during the later years of his life.  During his life David experienced great highs and great lows.  He was the celebrated King of Israel.  Yet he ~ at times ~ used his power to abuse and even kill.  At the end of his life David’s own son rebelled against him and was killed in battle.  David was familiar with despair.

And David, though close to God, had plenty to repent.  In this Psalm he cried, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” His sin was ever before him.  He could not get away from it.   He knew that God was the only one who could forgive his sins and restore him to right relationship.  Our sins may not be as high profile as David, but we are all sinners.  The journey of restoration begun by David is ours as well.  The Lenten Journey is a step in restoring our relationship ~ growing closer ~ with God.  As David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

I’ve heard it said that Lent is a depressing season and that it’s all about beating ourselves up over our sin.  I can see where that idea comes from but I don’t believe that’s the whole story of Lent.  Lent calls us to be honest with ourselves and with God.  Lent is the season of opening our eyes to who we really are ~ our motivations and our actions.  As one person described it, Lent is a reality check.  When our eyes are opened to our sins and short fallings, we may feel sadness. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition Lent is known as Bright Sadness.

To me, though, Lent is not depressing because the path of Lent leads to hope.  The word Lent means Spring.  Things are growing ~ in us and around us ~ during Lent.  We put our Alleluias away during Lent, but not forever.  At the end of the Lenten Journey, we arrive at Easter.  So even in Lent there is Good News.  Yes, we do sin.  We mess up.  We turn our backs on God and we have to own up to that.  But we can be delivered ~ we will be delivered ~ because God loves us.  There is a light at the end of Lent that leads us to the cross and, ultimately, to the empty tomb.

In your bulletins you will find an insert titled “My Preparation of Easter.”  On this are some possible ways you can observe the season of Lent.  There are two sections:  Inward and Personal Disciplines or Outward and Social Disciplines.  Both are important.  As it says at the top of the sheet, “The death and resurrection of Christ are true whether or not I prepare for Easter.  However, without my heart and life being ready, I may not experience the depth and power of Christ’s death and resurrection.”  I want to give you a few moments to look it over now and mark down the ones you feel prompted to do.  Think of it as part of your packing as you map out your Lenten Journey and get ready to set out.

We’ll close with these words from David’s Psalm:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. ….. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

O Lord, as we begin this year’s Lenten Journey, turn our attention to the things that matter most to you.  Amen.