We had spent the night at my cousins’ new home outside of Boston, MA the night before we went to February Vacation Week Camp at Camp Calumet in Freedom, NH this Monday (http://calumet.org/). The route looked simple – go back the way we came to I-95 and go north around Boston into New Hampshire. We plugged the address into the GPS and left the driveway. We turned out of the driveway the wrong direction. A moment later we heard the GPS’ judgment against us, “Recalculating.” What soon looked like a shortcut, became a longcut as we headed into Boston rather than around it.
Forty minutes later we found ourselves downtown and we were angry with our GPS. We did not look at the map prior to the drive, we thought that we knew enough to get by and we trusted the GPS would navigate us clearly. Our GPS does not make value judgments like trying to avoid congestion or going through the center of metropolitan areas. It simply looks for the shortest route and attempts to take us there. There are times when we intentionally ignore its counsel and go another way. This time, we listened. We followed the GPS’ suggested route blindly. The shortcut our GPS was so proud to present to us added another hour to the journey. Shortcuts can be like that – the corners they cut often add up at the end with a net loss of time, patience and distance.
The Exodus is a story of a shortcut gone wrong. The people didn’t have a GPS – they had a moral compass, and often the people got it wrong. They grumbled. They complained. They treated each other unfairly. They didn’t trust that God and Moses knew what they were doing. They didn’t have to wander through traffic in the city for forty minutes – they wandered through the wilderness for forty years! They wandered because they thought they knew better, they didn’t look at directions, and they failed to take warnings seriously and they ignored the promises God made with them in favor of following their own path. Instead of taking a clear path – they tried a shortcut that took them much further out-of-the-way and it took them much longer than anticipated…much, much longer. Every time we do exactly the same thing, we act surprised. Shortcuts become longcuts.
We live in a time and society that is always giving us shortcuts. Everything is convenient, technological, individualized, stylized, fast, and efficient. A GPS is a symptom of a wider problem – we no longer read the map to see where we are going. As a people it will only become a matter of time before we forget how to even read one. (We’ve tried to resist this as a family. Even though we blindly followed our GPS this time and didn’t locate our road atlas, often on long summer trips my wife makes a point to give the kids the atlas and teaches them how to navigate. Lent is a time to do the same for our faith lives. Without noticing it we may have gone off-road completely.) Shortcuts can become longcuts. Forty days can become forty years in the wilderness.
Lent is a time to pull out the map once again. Too often we follow our own instincts or a tool designed to find the shortest route, not the smartest one. Often we are left feeling silly, because we didn’t take the time to understand. Lent is a time to learn again the wider view and story where we understand our place in God’s world. These forty days remind us to harness once again the skills of the faith, not just taking the easiest road to get there. Doing things like opening our Bibles (do you remember where yours is?), taking time to pray on your own or with somebody else, doing something intentional to help others or give something away, gathering for worship with others, and re-focusing on the important things a time like Lent reminds us to rekindle. Utilizing your mind, your heart, and your strength to discern, explore, serve, and open yourself up to what God has accomplished through Jesus on the cross. Lent is a time where God looks at our lives in love and utters… “RECALCULATING!”
RECALCULATING YOUR LENT:
There are lots of ways to read scripture on a daily basis. Here are a few resources:
(Follows a lectionary format – with a Psalm, Old Testament Reading, New Testament Epistle and Gospel reading. Follows the Episcopal daily readings in the Book of Common Prayer.)
(Offers a through the Bible in a year format using a few different translations.)
(Daily reading from the American Bible society. You can sign up to have it emailed to you.)
(God Pause from Luther Seminary. A brief reflection from a current or former Luther Seminary student along with a scripture reading. Often the reading is one for the coming Sunday.)
(Vanderbilt library includes the readings for the coming Sunday [it is what I use to link to the readings above]. They also have art and prayer links.)
Study on your own
(A great way to get into your Bible is simply to open it on your own and explore. Try reading a psalm a day, or read through one of the gospels for starters. This year Luke is the gospel featured primarily on Sunday mornings, maybe you want to start there. Read a chapter a day, scribble down some notes or questions, use those discoveries as part of your daily prayers.)
Study with a group
(It is good to get insight and support from others. A Bible study group also builds community. Shameless plug – our evening Bible study is right after worship wed nights in Lent. Your church probably has a Bible study too. Come check it out…)
There are lots of ways to pray. One way is to say the Lord’s Prayer. Another way is to use the Lord’s prayer as an outline, and you can fill in the specifics. Another way is to use one line form the Lord’s prayer each day – so each day has a different emphasis. Prayer can also be just sitting in silence for a time. One can read daily prayers – there are lots of books available.
One suggestion would be to prayer your hand. Each finger is a different kind of prayer – A pray or praise for God, confession for your sins, thanksgiving for something in your life, prayers for help for yourself and prayers on behalf of others.
People have different ways of trying on prayer. It might be more helpful to try on your own, or find support from a friend to pray with you.
Lent is a good time to find an organization that could use some extra help and pitch in. Maybe it is someplace in your community, and you want to get your hands dirty. Maybe you’d rather make a financial contribution. Maybe you want to do both. There are many options, and you are probably connected to quite a few. Here are some “Lutheran” options for your consideration:
Lutheran Social Services New England
Lutheran World Relief
ELCA World Hunger Appeal
Lutheran Comfort Dogs
(from Illinois – Lutheran Church Charities – they have been out several times to Newtown, CT after the Sandy Hook shootings)
Participate in your community worship services. At St. Michael’s we worship on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and Wednesdays in Lent at 7:30 p.m. Check your church’s website or newsletter for your community’s worship schedule. The center of what we do together as a congregation is to gather together in order to hear God’s word, pray, sing and receive the sacraments. We are a stronger community when we are together. You can stand stronger during the week when we’ve been together.
Something that does not require lots of time but can make a real difference is to practice the FAITH-FIVE, researched and developed by Rich Melheim of Faith Inkubators. (http://www.faithink.com/Inkubators/f5.asp). Take a few minutes at the end of each day to do the following:
Your high points and low points of your day.
A brief passage of scripture.
About your high, lows, and the scripture passage.
About your highs, lows, scripture passage, and anything else.
A way to remind each other the God loves us, and we love each other too.
We don’t need any more shortcuts that only lead to longcuts. This Lent, may God RECALCULATE your faith as we see the road to the cross more clearly.
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:12-13a)