Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection March 1, 2017
Something for Us to Consider for Lent
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Wednesday, March 1, we began the sacred season of Lent. I mentioned a few things in last Sunday’s sermon that might help us all have a Lent of good and godly growth. I will place some of these thoughts in this week’s Advance.
According to Jurgen Moltmann, the kingdom of God is nothing other than God’s joy at finding again those who are lost. Repentance, then, is the experience of being “found” - the joining in God’s joy.
In the New Testament, Paul labels us as “sinners.” In the Gospels, Jesus labels us as “sick.“ We are both, to be sure. We are sick sinners.
And one of the major “sins” or sickness we encounter is when we become indifferent to the massive suffering we see around us. We need to prepare ourselves for suffering. We need to prepare our young for suffering. We cannot not suffer.
One of the reasons we celebrate Black History month is to recall the long history of oppression and slavery of our African-American brothers and sisters. I come out of a long history of poverty and suffering endured by my very poor ancestors (including my parents) in Ireland. We must never forget the suffering that has been the unfortunate legacy of so many.
In the Bible, it is God who carries all sins and all suffering. God carries the world’s long history of human wrong, human injustice, human depravity, human degradation. And by carrying this history, God transforms it into his own suffering. We see this most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ.
In my many years of pastoral service, I have heard and been witness to a very long list of human suffering and woe. It would be nigh unto impossible for me to keep at ministry if I was not certain that it is God who intimately and ultimately carries it all - transforms it all - redeems it all.
The victimizers, those who oppress us in so many ways, the bullies and despots among us, have short memories. It is the victims who have long memories. This is one of the main reasons we celebrate Black History month. We celebrate to remember both the horrors and the heroes of the past and present.
We are called to stand in solidarity with all who suffer injustice, with all who are crushed by the unending array of illnesses and misery, with all who are crippled by poverty, with all who are plagued by violence and our never-ending wars.
By remembering, by standing in solidarity, we stand up for God because it is God who ultimately bears all the pain and all the problems of this deeply flawed, as-yet unredeemed, unwell world. We come together in this church to stand with God - in his sufferings, in his pain and his passion.
There has not been a day in the last nine months - since my beloved Beth fell ill and suffered so - that I have not wept. But that’s all right because in our long Christian tradition there is something called “the gift of tears.”
We often can’t do a whole lot about what ails and assails us, as a congregation, as a city, as a country, as a world, but there is one thing we can do. We can bring our tears. We can shed tears in solidarity with the One who carries all the pain, all the injustice, all the suffering of all creation: Almighty God, Father of All.
Christ did not die for sin. He died for sinners. There is a great difference to be found in this important distinction.
Here is good advice from the Letter of James: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep …” (James 4:8-9)
Lent is the perfect time to lament - to weep - over our sins. If you don’t have enough of your own sins to weep over, then feel free to weep over my sins, or the sins of your family, or the sins of our beloved congregation. If you are feeling particularly strong, weep over the sins of our city, the sins of our country, the sins of our world.
As a child, I gave up candy for Lent. Now, as an adult, I don’t give things up. I bring something else to bear. I bring my tears. So I challenge us as a congregation to bring our tears to Lent. I challenge us to bring our tears to every day of Lent.
I promise - if you do so - that at the end of these sacred 40 days - you will be transformed. You will be standing faithfully and firmly with the One who was transformed on the Mountain of Transfiguration. After 40 days, you will be standing faithfully and firmly with the One who was crucified for us and all creation.
If you do this, when Easter dawns, you will find yourself bathed in a joyful light that knows no bounds, a joyful light that surpasses all understanding.
So let us join our hearts and our souls with our dear brother, Jesus Christ. Let us walk these 40 days with him as a trail of tears - a trial of tears. Let us do this because of who Jesus is. Let us do this because of who God is. Let us do this because it’s what we are truly called to as disciples of the crucified Christ.