Lent and Spiritual Disciplines Day 2

Last week Pastor Thomas Chittick came to preach at St. Paul. He’s a former pastor, having served at St. Paul from 1967-1970. It was Transfiguration Sunday, and Pastor Chittick reminded us to look for the shining, shimmering signs of God’s glory in the world, in the midst of the “madness” of what actually happens. That being said, Lent is a time of “turning” toward God, a rough translation of the Greek for complete transformation of one’s mind. Last week, the word for us was “transfiguration,” metamorphosis, from the Greek. And Jesus, shining from within, is the sign of God’s transfiguring power at work on us, within us, and in the cosmos. This week, as Lent begins, the word is “transformation” or metanoia, and means far more then simply turning toward God. It’s a radical reorientation, a turning of the mind so profound, that our ways of being and doing are transformed.

Transfigured and Tranformed. Go after those things for Lent.

We had two children in the service last night. I’m always delighted to have the opportunity to translate loaded theological terms like “confession” into phrases small children can understand — like “I’m sorry.” And to talk about reconciliation as a way of coming back to each other, of being in connection again, like climbing back into your parent’s lap, after an argument, or feeling friendly again towards your brother or sister. Confession isn’t rocket science, at least in the technical aspects of science. Sometimes, though, for some of us, it’s the hardest thing we learn to do. Even for rocket scientists.

It’s always a spiritual discipline for me to drop what I was planning to do, and try to speak to the “least among us” whoever that may be–in our case, last night, the two visiting children, who had never been to a Lutheran church. Instead of saying “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” when they came forward, I said, “this is a sign that God loves you.”

This Lent, we’re using the Luther’s commentary on the Small Catechism to focus our evening worship services We planned this in response to a request from adults in the congregation who were wishing they had a “confirmation class” for grown-ups. Some of our members are fairly new to the Lutheran tradition, and would like to explore Lutheran catechesis.

Each week, based on a plan we received from Sundays and Seasons, we’ll do one of the topics from the Catechism. Last night, since it was Ash Wednesday, we talked about confession and penitence. Next week will be the Ten Commandments. Remember, the Catechism is based on the dynamic between Law and Gospel. That’s why the Ten Commandments come first. Luther revised the materials of the prayer books available in his time, cutting away all that he deemed inessential. The idea was to create a handbook, that any one could use to learn the core content of Christian faith. In the front matter to the new pocket version of the Small Catechism published by Augsburg, the Rev.Dr. Timothy Wengert explains Luther’s context, the considerations he took, and the structure of the book. Dr. Wengert believes that Luther’s experience of parenting played a part in the way the text is structured. Luther’s first born son would have been about the age when children begin asking questions all the time. The “What is this” of the Catechism may have been directly quoting his son.

I’ve decided to write something in this blog every day for forty days based on what is happening for us at St.Paul in Lent, perhaps my experiences or others’ experiences, our readings, for example, or memorable moments. And each day, to recommend a “spiritual exercise” derived from the three basic practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and works of mercy. (See Ash Wednesday’s lessons–Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Psalm 51, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. ) It is a penance for me to use technology–it brings me to my knees, in helplessness and frustration.

So, for today’s spiritual exercise: notice the children among you, the very “least of these” dependent upon adults for all their needs, for kindness, for food, for medical care, for education, for shelter, for love. Jesus came as a child among us first. Spend the day noticing what your world is like from the perspective of a child. What needs to change so that a child would have what he or she needs? We have such responsibility for them, often poorly discharged. For what it’s worth, because of their littleness, their dependence, and frailty, a child is always going to be the most important person in the room, because a child has the least power.

What is it to honor your children, Luther asked in his commentary on the 4th commandment. Reversing the direction of the commandment, he argues if children are to honor their parents, parents need to be worthy of that honor, and to care for their children with respect, with dignity. Our church tries to be child-friendly. How would standing in the world with the perspective of one of our children change how we see and do things? What else can we do in our community to foster our children, to give them better lives than they have now? How does worship need to change so children have more access to it? What would we need to change to really preach the inclusive love of God for them?

If you have children, and you are not praying with them, try it. It’s a wonderful experience. Show them how to bring their needs to God in prayer. Invent a small ritual to use with them. Make a special prayer corner in a room. Some small children enjoy lighting a candle together before prayer.

Be trustworthy for children in the things of faith. Christian adults made promises for the children in our midst when we brought them for baptism, whether they are our own children or not. We promised to put the scriptures into their hands, to bring them to church for Word and Sacrament, to teach them about justice and peace. All of us promised those things. The whole congregation takes part in baptising a child. Take a look at those promises and see whether you are doing them. How can we better support the spiritual lives of the children among us?

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