Lent

On the Outskirts of Heaven

THE LAST SUNDAY IN FEBRUARY is the first Sunday of Lent. We are asked to prepare for Lent by searching our souls and repenting of our misdeeds in order to walk with Jesus on his road to the cross. After writing the final reflections below, I felt unfinished. Repentance is easy to talk about but exceedingly hard to do. We justify and excuse our actions when we’ve hurt a friend or made a bad choice. It’s usually someone else’s fault anyhow—they started it!

The most striking example of human resistance to repentance I’ve ever read was in C.S. Lewis’ little book The Great Divorce. The “divorce” is the huge gap between heaven and hell. Hell is not fiery but filled with people who can’t get along with each other and keep moving further apart in the darkness. Eventually, a few make their way to a bus stop where they get a ride to the outskirts of heaven. There everyone is met by someone from their past they’d rather not meet, and who begs them to repent, make restitution, or whatever is necessary to enjoy a joyful eternity of loving relationships. For almost all of them, it’s not worth it. They fear losing the bit of ego they have left. They’d rather go back to hell than repent and be reconciled with someone they love to hate.

No wonder repenting is the first step to entering the kingdom of God!

Reta Halteman Finger, co-author of Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, taught Bible at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and writes a Bible study blog at www.eewc.com/RetasReflections.

[February 1]

Meeting God in Prophets 
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

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An Easter Sermon: Immigration’s Winter and Spring

Photo licensed by SEIU / © 2010 Shell Photographics

SB1070 protest in 2010 in Phoenix. Photo licensed by SEIU / © 2010 Shell Photographics / Flickr.com

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11

Harsh winters make us more deeply appreciative of spring. Last week, after a particularly intense winter, it finally reached 60 degrees in New York. I, for one, celebrated heartily. Spring is a reminder that winter is not interminable and flowers will bloom again. Almost exactly one year ago, the Senate released a bipartisan bill on immigration reform. Many Christian leaders celebrated the possibility that finally the nearly 11 million men, women, and children would be afforded the opportunity to integrate into this great country. In addition, in January the GOP released a set of principles that set the tone for the genuine possibility for immigration reform. There was a growing consensus that this is the year for immigration reform. Then the news started to change and many prognosticators said, “Immigration reform is dead.”

It is into this public eulogy of immigration reform that the Christian message of Lent and Easter can breathe new life.

Immigration Reform: No More Excuses

Eliseo Medina at the Fast4Families tent on the National Mall in December. via Fast for Families/ Flickr.com

As an immigrant who made the long journey from Zacatecas, Mexico, to the farmlands of California many times as a child, the Lenten story of Jesus’s wandering for 40 days in the desert has always resonated with me very deeply. And the Easter celebration that follows sustains my hope and resolve that the faith community’s long movement to reform our broken immigration system will succeed.

Late last year, I, along with several other immigration advocates and inspiring faith leaders, camped out in a tent on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to call attention to the moral crisis and human suffering caused by our broken immigration system. We asked ourselves: What are our faith, our words, and our history worth if not translated into action, sacrifice, and redemption?

So, for 30 days we fasted and prayed that leadership in the House of Representatives would follow the Senate’s lead and pass a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill. The power of prayer surrounded us as we were led in reflection on a daily basis by pastors who serve undocumented families, by immigrants who suffer under our unjust system, and by public officials who came to see our commitment as days without food turned into weeks.

Even though the House refused to act in 2013, we believe that our fast, and the support of thousands of solidarity fasters around the world, helped change the discussion about reform from one of dollars and cents to one about people and families. Our sacrifice and the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters will end in victory and redemption.

Hope Springs Eternal

Comerica Field in Detroit, Steve Pepple / Shutterstock.com

Comerica Field in Detroit, Steve Pepple / Shutterstock.com

Oh my, did I need Opening Day this year. Opening Day, of course, is the first day of the baseball season. For baseball fans, it is a time when hope comes alive again, after a long winter of waiting.

On Opening Day, every team starts with a clean slate, all the win/loss records are 0-0 , and, as they say, “hope springs eternal.” There is talk in every baseball town and among all baseball fans of how we really could win this year if only this or that goes right, if our players could live up to their real potential, if we could finally “gel” as a team, and if all the things we can’t control could go well for us and not so well for the other teams. “Have you seen that new rookie?” And “that trade we just made could make all the difference now!” Everybody is a believer on opening day.

The Boston Red Sox need to throw off the long-lasting “curse” of the Bambino, which still lurks around Fenway Park despite their recent successes. The hated New York Yankees still stand in the way of another World Series ring. The Cubs fans in Chicago, with a record that would cause mere mortals to despair, have actually learned to nurse an almost eschatological hope of victory that might require the second coming of Christ to fulfill — but nonetheless, you hear chatter all over the north side of the Windy City about how it could happen “this year.” Just think of what finally going all the way “this year” could mean to my suffering hometown of Detroit, which we could do if Miguel Cabrera stays healthy. And, just so you know, the starting pitching rotations of both the Washington Nationals (the adopted team of everyone who lives in D.C.) and the Tigers are simply the best in baseball. But, I may be a bit biased.

Opening Day always comes, and I believe not accidentally, during the end of the holy season of Lent (marked by waiting in disciplined reflection, sacrifice, and even suffering), and always close to Easter and Passover — when hope comes alive again.

Gluttony: A Manifestation of Discontent

Gluttony illustration, wildfloweret / Shutterstock.com

Gluttony illustration, wildfloweret / Shutterstock.com

Small.

If my name had a synonym, that'd be it. At least if we're going by the most-commonly-used word to describe me by both friends and strangers, Asians and non-Asians.

At five-one-and-three-quarters and just a little over 100 pounds, I will be the first to agree: I am small. No matter how much I eat or how little I exercise, I have still been able to get away with jeans and form-fitting dresses from high school. It's great — but the problem is, it makes it all the easier to hide my struggles with food.

A few weeks ago, some of my fellow interns and I decided to celebrate "Fries"-day (Friday) with an Amazon Local deal for Z-Burger. $22 worth of food for just $11. It was an intern's dream come true. It was also two days after Ash Wednesday.

After finishing my last fry, I texted a friend about how greasy my insides felt but how good the splurge was. He shared what he'd had for lunch, and despite my bursting stomach, I responded with "Ooh that sounds so yummy." That's when I realized I had a problem.

Pride: It's All About Who You Know

Close up of peacock, CoolR / Shutterstock.com

Close up of peacock, CoolR / Shutterstock.com

Let those who boast, boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24, NRSV) 

Pride has taken many forms in my life, but most dangerously in this: I have taken myself far too seriously. You wouldn’t think that a neurotic worrier who spent eight years in therapy would be full of pride. But for years I was utterly consumed with anxiety over what would happen in my life, because I believed that it should go a certain way and that I had both the responsibility and ability to bring that about.

So there’s nothing like having your worst fear come true — 19 months* of unemployment in a bad economy — to show you how small you really are, especially compared to God.

It was kind of amazing.

Chris Thompson: Look Deeper Into Lent Than Just 'Give-Ups'

Renowned theologian Walter Brueggemann observed in a Sojourners article, "Lent is 'Come to Jesus' Time": "Lent is a time for fresh decision-making about reliance upon the God of the gospel. Such decision-making in Lent is commonly called "repentance." It's a time to reflect on the way in which God gives new life that is welcome when we recognize how our old way of life mostly leaves us weary and unsatisfied. Lent is a time to face the reality that there is no easy or "convenient" passage from our previous life to a new, joyous life in the gospel. The move is by the pattern and sequence of Jesus' own life, an embrace of suffering that comes with obedience, a suffering which comes inevitably when our lives are at odds with dominant social values."

The Hope of Glory Amidst 'Bondage and Decay' of Environmental Injustice

kwest/Shutterstock.com

Even in the environment, despite the bondage and decay, glory is coming. kwest/Shutterstock.com

Last week during my Sunday school class, one of my second graders asked, “How can we go to heaven, if we continue to sin?” 

As usual, I am often stunned and quieted by the striking questions that come from the mouths of young people.

I usually respond to the inquisitive questions from my Sunday School students by reiterating what I have been told by many a Sunday School teacher: “Even though we break our promises, God doesn’t; God promised us if we believe in God and that God’s Son Jesus died for our Sins, we will go to heaven — even when we mess up.” 

While that seems like a really ‘simple’ explanation of one of many biblical truths, it is still striking and amazing that even though we continue to ‘mess up,’ God has not retracted on God’s promise of offering us a beautiful ending to the troubled world we live in today.

As I think about Romans 8:21 and how it speaks to the fact that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God,” I get excited. Not only because we all will see the glory of God one day, but that the bondage and decay we are experiencing in our physical world will end in Glory!

Lent Isn't Just a Second Chance at New Year's Resolutions

Shannon Craig Straw photo courtesy of Shannon Craig Straw/RNS

So here we go again. It’s that time of year — Lent, when many Christians give something up. Often it’s food, although my mom told me when I was a kid that giving up vegetables doesn’t count.

A few years ago, as we approached Lent, a few of my friends (who during the rest of the year rejected religion), announced they, too, were giving something up. What, exactly, they were relinquishing, I don’t remember — and it doesn’t matter.

At the time, it was a joke — “Don’t want to upset Baby Jesus …”

While I still chuckle at the memory, it has lost some of the humor. As the Facebook statuses appeared in my newsfeed leading up to Lent, with my friends announcing what people are giving up or crowd-sourcing ideas, I found myself getting frustrated.

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