Originally delivered as a sermon on March 09, 2018.
Many of you don’t know this, and it’s a fact that I’ve attempted to keep well hidden since I got here, but I play the drums… badly. I play the drums badly. I rush, I get tripped on on fills, I compete with the bassist for the pacing and back when I was single, I competed with the lead singer for the attention of the ladies!. You would think that after all these years, I would have gotten better at playing; but no, I think I’ve gotten worse! It’s because I have an almost uncanny knack for completely missing the rhythm of a song. It’s not just restricted to drums, when I go to weddings and am expected to dance, Marcia has to wear steel-toed boots!
Now, admit it, we’ve all been there. How many of us have, when singing a worship song, come in a half measure on the chorus before everyone else. Anyone here done that? Just me? Well, I can tell you it can be a little bit jarring. One second, our attention is focused on God (or on what we’re going to eat for lunch), and the next we’re snapped out of the song and we begin wondering how many people around us heard that slip up. It can be confusing and embarrassing, as we stumble to get back on track with everyone else in the song.
You know, life is like that. We feel most comfortable when we are in a rhythm. We get up, brush our teeth, maybe quickly eat breakfast, rush out the door, work, come home, plop in front of the TV for a bit, and then go to bed. Or maybe instead of work, it’s school. And instead of TV it’s social media. And instead of breakfast, it’s a quick cup of coffee because we woke up ten minutes late. But just like when singing that song, something jars us out of our routine. Maybe it’s a bad diagnosis from the doc, maybe it’s a new baby, or it might be news that we just got accepted into the college that we want, or that we got a promotion, but we have to move to a new town. Or maybe it’s a personal or family tragedy. All of a sudden, we are reeling with the changes and trying to figure out how we could possibly get our rhythm back.
Or something entirely different might happen. Often, it isn’t just one jarring experience which throws us and leaves us reeling that causes us to lose our bearings. Sometimes, we just find ourselves swamped with work, chores, our schedules, or our own goal-driven and individualistic tendencies that we soon find we have drifted from those we consider to be close friends and families. This is very common and I would say almost endemic to our culture. We, as a society, paradoxically prize our independence and yet collectively tend to feel more alone than ever. Just a few years ago, for the first time in American history, more adults were living alone than with others in a family unit. The majority of marriages end in divorce. And social media, while technologically connecting us to thousands of people in ways not dreamed of in a previous generation, increases the alienation as relationships lack the face-to-face element we all crave. I actually think that the rising suicide rates over the past decades and the current opioid crisis are devastating reminders that our people carry deep, often hidden wounds of loneliness.
All of these worries, pressures, and feelings of isolation or alienation can make us feel like we have no rhythm. We are just trying to jump from one task to another, or from one crisis to the next. And this is why the Lenten Season is perhaps more important today than at any other time in our cultural history. Lent reminds us that we need rhythm. We were made for it and it is counter-cultural. Rhythms of life and of seasons.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 says,
“1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”(1)
Notice that this passage contains 14 pairs of opposites which is twice the number seven, and is often interpreted as signifying completion or perfection.(2) This tells us that Qohelet intends to speak to the wide range of human experiences and frame them within the natural rhythms of life. Additionally, no value statements are attached to the pairs.(3) When reading this, we may be tempted to insert a dualistic meaning into the passage, but as verse 11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” In its time, mourning is as beautiful as dancing, weeping is as important as laughing, being torn up by the roots as inevitable as being planted in soft, rich soil.
This is the first purpose of Lent: to get us to carve out space and time to perceive and reflect on the rhythms of life, and to see how God is working through them to transform the way we see the world. To see that God is perfect even when our word and our circumstances are not. When we meet these rhythms with the understanding that there can be beauty even in the midst of suffering, and that God walks with us through it all, we can find comfort by reflecting on the eternal promise which God has placed within our hearts. Though our next moments are never guaranteed, we are drawn to a bright, beautiful hope beyond all this suffering.
But not only does Lent provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the rhythms of life, it calls us to do so together as a community. No matter how busy we are, the Lenten Season is a time when we are reminded that we were not created to handle it all alone. We need each other. And just as each individual is called to carve out space and time for repentance and reflection; we are also called to do so together. As Psalm 133:1-3 says,
“1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
In a world that struggles to find meaning and connection, we have each other. We don’t have to do it all alone! Life is always more bearable when we have someone to share our burdens with; and it’s always more beautiful when we have someone to share our joys with. So tonight as we eat together, and in the coming weeks as we continue to incorporate the rhythms of prayerful reflection into our life, I encourage you to reach out to those around you, share the love of Christ and share the weight of each other’s burdens. Because when we share the fruits of the loving transformation God is working in us, those around us cannot help but be touched and transformed in some way too.
And this is the third purpose of Lent: to encourage us to carve out the space and time, not only for personal reflection, fasting and repentance, or mutual care and fellowship, but also for taking the love of Christ to the nations and those in our community who feel forgotten or abandoned by the rest of the world. For as Isaiah 58:6-7 says,
“6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[a] go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”(5)
While internal reflection and confession are essential to the Lenten experience, if our actions do not reflect the change we are experiencing inside, then it might mean we are holding something back from God. However if you act on your faith, and allow service to others to become as much an expression of prayer and fasting as your thoughts or words, then I think you will find God can transform us just as much through acts of love as he can during quiet reflection and prayer.
This might mean volunteering with a program at your church, or helping with a non-profit in the area. Or it could simply mean bringing a pan of brownies to neighbors you haven’t met, or helping run errands for the elderly in your neighborhood. Or it may mean comforting someone in your life who has experienced loss or is hurting, offering them not platitudes, but presence. It’s often not the grand gestures that mark the depth our faith, but the little daily actions that demonstrate just how much Christ’s love is transforming our lives and the lives of those around. us.
Now, before we go see what great soups our gracious volunteers have made for us, I’d ask that you please rise for a brief benediction.
May Christ’s transforming love shine through you and forever change your life and the lives of those around you. Never forget the fact that God loves you deeply and walks with you wherever you go. Amen.
(2) Shepherd, Jerry E. “Ecclesiastes,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs – Isaiah, Vol. 6. 3rd Ed. Edited by Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 288.