Monday, February 23rd

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 6:1

 

Lent begins this week.

 

Long ago, at least it appears to us as we peer into what remains of the records of long ago, Lent was seen as a season to prepare adult candidates for baptism.  There was a time when the unbaptized were allowed to participate in Christian worship through the prayers and the message but then were expected to leave before Holy Communion was celebrated.  I’ve read about that.  I guess it was, for a moment in history anyway, how things were.

 

And I can understand how, given such practices, adult preparation for baptism would be a pretty big deal.  There are still Christians who make a very big deal out of such preparation – often called the “catechumenate” – the process can take up to a couple of years.  As we walk now into Lent, I’m not going to throw any stones at anything we cook up that helps people grow in their faith…but I’ll admit that I’m suspicious.

 

At the end of the day, after all of the preparation, do people emerge from the water any less saint/sinner than they were before being dunked?  Are they less prone to dishonesty, more immune to lust, less interested in gluttony or more free from pride?  Do their families recognize them when they go home?  Are they suddenly less fearful of the dark?  Is their heart now turned more toward the broken communities out of which they have come or toward their new community of faith?

 

It all makes me ask a pretty good question for Lent – what is the Christian faith?

 

Is it a club that we join through invitation, preparation, orientation and activation?  Is it a club with rules of behavior and expectations of decorum?  Doesn’t it, at least sometimes, look like a club?  We have clubhouses, constitutions, uniforms, mottos, membership lists, minimum expectations, leadership structures, codes of group behaviors.  Are we a club?

 

A long arduous preparation for baptism would make sense if we were a club.  But then I keep thinking about the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized in the desert by Philip after a brief conversation in the Ethiopian’s chariot about a passage from Isaiah.  Something other than growing the membership roster is going on there if God can make those kind of connections happen.

 

Jesus warns us against “practicing our piety before others in order to be seen by them.”  Clearly, that sounds like club-like behavior.  And that warning tells us that Jesus is interested in something far deeper, far more real, far more powerful, than outward displays of religiosity.  Are we?

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, guide us on our path into Lent.  May this next season of our lives be one of true discernment.  Free us to look closely at ourselves through your eyes, to look at our place in our broken world, to look at the brokenness which resides within and around us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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