Historically, Lent is a time of personal examination of who God is in our lives, and who we are in the life of God. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? The answer lies within each of us. We all have the freedom to make choices, whether it is a choice of how we practice our faith, or being a spouse, or being a parent, or being a neighbor. Every day we make choices.
I once heard about a pastor who told this story: In the cereal section of the grocery store, I saw a couple who had visited our church a time or two. I greeted them and asked if they had found a church. They said yes. They worship now at a new church in what used to be a Borders store. They said, “We liked your church, but after a while we realized that everybody there seemed to be involved in lots of service ministries. At our new church we feel free to do what we want, and leave the rest alone.” That couple made a choice.
Once we choose to follow Jesus, then we have to make another choice. What community of disciples will we choose to live out our faith? For most people that means choosing some kind of denominational label; i.e., Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Catholic, or United Methodist. Which brings up even another question, “Why are you a Methodist?”
This year our Lenten study is entitled, “A Disciple’s Path,” written by Jim Harnish and Justin LaRosa. Jim is senior pastor of the Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida, a church where Susan and I worship when we are visiting our Florida daughter and family. The idea for this study came to Jim as he was reading a Time magazine article, “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”
Number three on the list was “The New Calvinism.” The article stated, “Calvinism is back…complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination…It offers a rock-steady deity who orchestrates absolutely everything…by a logic we may not understand but don’t have to second-guess.”
As that article was published, Jim was writing a review of the novel, The Shack, for the Tampa Tribune newspaper. He wrote that the novel was in the flow of the Wesleyan tradition when “Papa,” the African-American woman who represented God in the story, says, “Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it…Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace.”
Some people want choices, especially faith choices to be made for them. Other people want to make every choice. They want to exercise their freedom to choose. But, how does freedom and responsibility co-exist? How do we follow Jesus without surrendering some of our freedom? If the freedom of choice is the brass-ring which we try to attain, then don’t we run the risk of making Jesus follow us?
That’s why Lent is important to us. We take this season and place within it all of the tensions between who we are and who God is. Perhaps we can make a choice, a choice to embrace our covenant with God as not the opposite of personal liberty, but as a time-tested method of extending it.