Posts Tagged ‘lent’

What Twitter users gave up for Lent recently…

Me and Lent have a checkered relationship to say the least. Here are some of the things that define my history with this season of reflection and self-denial:
  • I grew up going to a Roman Catholic elementary school. Perhaps that in itself is enough.
  • I don’t like eating fish. On Friday or any other day of the week.
  • In my mid-20s I decided to observe a fast during Lent in which the only beverage I drank was water.  It was going fine until I wound up in the hospital with a kidney stone.
  • I LOVE Cadbury Creme Eggs.  Avoiding chocolate at this time of year is not an option.
There was a time when I may have gone on a rant about Lent being unnecessary. 

If I’m honest, though, it probably comes down to the fact that, more than any other part of the church calendar, Lent expects something of us. That’s a hard pill to swallow, and I chafe at the notion as much as anyone else. We human beings do a good job of resisting the power of Lent. Often we reduce it to something that we do (either enduring the misery of no Starbucks or adding a spiritual façade to whatever self-help endeavor we decide to take on). Sometimes we look at such practices and use them as an excuse to ignore it altogether.

A few years ago, I read a reflection written by a friend who tried something different and intriguing.  She decided to give something away every day during Lent. Each day she found an item and gave it to somebody.  She challenged herself to make sure it was more than the clearing out of junk that inspires yard sales and trips to the thrift store. While some of her exercise did focus on simplifying and living with less, she made sure that some of the items she gave away were items that were important to her.  Some items were also chosen specifically for the persons they were given to. In addition to letting go of possessions and simplifying, the Lenten practice enriched her relationships with 40 people through the conversations and interaction—some simple and some quite involved—that resulted from her giving things away.


Such an idea would surely enrich each of our lives during the Lenten season that begins this week.  In this digital age, perhaps we might even add a twist that would engage the social media-driven world that we all live in.  As I invite you to observe a holy Lent, I invite you to observe a Craigslent by giving away items, most likely to people that you would otherwise never have contact with, over Craigslist. You can take the idea and approach it in your own way, but here’s an example:

  1. Identify items to give away.  Perhaps 40, perhaps 20, 10 or 1 per week.  Taking the opportunity to downsize or de-clutter is welcome, but will hopefully invite you to reflect on your level of materialism.  Choosing some items that are meaningful to you would add a level of investment to this project that I am certain would lead to more profound reflection.
  2. List the items on Craigslist or some other online outlet where people can find them.  As you list the items, include a few sentences about what you are doing (for example: “I am observing the Christian season of Lent this year by giving away 40 items to 40 different people.  My hope is that doing this will provide me with the opportunity to pray and reflect as I give things away.”).
  3. If you want to focus on selecting the people you give items to, you could do this over Facebook, Twitter or any other social network that you participate in.
  4. Pay attention to the interactions that are made possible.  Some will be small, some may be surprising!  Allow the moments of relationship that occur to enrich you Lenten experience.
  5. Spread the word!  Tell me and others about your experience.  Share your comments below.  Share them over your own social networks.  On Twitter, use #CRAIGSLENT.
  6. Have fun…and have a blessed and holy Lent!


Sermon for April 3, 2011 at Temple Lutheran Church.
Scripture text: Ephesians 5:8–14 and John 9:1-11.
“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Jesus speaks those words as he encounters a man blind from birth.

Everyone else, including even Jesus’ disciples, are concerned with determining how sin created the man’s blindness: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus didn’t seem much concerned with the question. He said the answer was “neither” and made it clear that he was more interested in God’s works being revealed. And then Jesus spat on the ground, made some mud, rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes, and sent him off to wash. When the man came back, he could see. The others were concerned about how the man came to be blind. They were concerned with understanding the way things came to be this way. Jesus is more interested in making something new. The others looked at the present as the result of the past while Jesus looked at the present as the key to the future. And in the middle of all of that, right before he spits on the ground, Jesus says,”As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Light is a significant theme in the gospel of John. The opening paragraphs in chapter 1 are all about light coming into the world. As the story of Jesus unfolds, It’s about Jesus bringing light into the world and the resulting struggle of the light coming into the world, but people still loving darkness. In this passage, Jesus comes right out and makes light his mission: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus came to be light—to bring light into the world.

In other places in scripture, Jesus makes it clear that we are a part of that mission. Jesus not only says “I am the Light of the world,” but “You are the light of the world” followed by the words spoken to each of us as we are baptized: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus makes us a part of that mission—Jesus calls us to be light. That invitation is reflected in our reading from Ephesians: “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” Because of Jesus, we are light!

“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

We are invited—called by Jesus—to be light; To live as children of light. As we gather together as a community of people following Jesus, the question I invite us to wrestle with is are we going to be headlights or taillights? I can’t take credit for the distinction—I came across it this week as I was reading. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that first talked about headlights and taillights in this manner. It got me thinking about headlights and taillights on a car and how they are both lights that shine in the darkness, but that they shine in different ways and in different directions.

Taillights are there to communicate what the car is doing. They send the message “here is where the car is at.” They shine brightest when the brakes are engaged; they light up when forward motion is slowed down. Taillights shine backwards.

Headlights, however, shine forward. Placed at the very front of the vehicle, they shine forward into the darkness.

Headlights do not simply indicate where the car is at, but illuminate the road ahead to determine where the car can go. Headlights expose things that are hidden by darkness so that the car can be moved in a direction that is good, right and true. Headlights don’t light up when forward motion is slowed down, headlights shine in order to make forward motion possible.

Dr. King lamented that Christians and churches were too often merely being a taillight for our society instead of a headlight shining at the forefront and illuminating the way forward toward God’s promised land. He described “a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo standing as a taillight behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading [people] to higher levels of justice.”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be light. The words that Dr. King wrote from a jail cell in Alabama are not too far removed from the words that define baptism for us. Every baptized person is claimed not only by God, but also by a community—by followers of Jesus called to be light. The community promises to include that person “so that they may learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.”

In Jesus, God comes into our world. God comes into your own reality—your very own life—and brings light into darkness. Jesus steps in and makes a new life possible for you. It is no less dramatic than if you were blind since the moment you were born sitting in darkness listening once again listen to voices judging you as they asked each other what sin created you blindness.

And then you hear the sound of someone spitting on the ground.

And then you feel a hand rubbing mud on your blind eyes and sending you to the water—and as you wash you receive your sight. You receive a new life.

Others may be concerned about how you came to be blind, but Jesus is more interested in making something new. Others might look at the present as the result of your past, but Jesus looks at the present as the key to your future.

Jesus brings you light so that you can be light. Not a taillight that shines backwards, but a headlight that shines forward for the purpose of finding what is good and right and true. A headlight that “proclaims Christ through word and deed, cares for others and the world God made, and works for justice and peace.”

Jesus brings you light so that you can be light—so that you can shine forward with the good news of the gospel. (amen)