This second week of Lent finds America’s upper Midwest unseasonably warm and dry. Tulips are pushing their fingers prematurely into the sunlight; trees are budding as squirrels surrender their winter apartments; and students, dressed for June, are throwing Frisbees. It is March and it is Lent; yes, Lent as a harbinger of springtime. But the seasoned Midwesterner knows the last snow has not yet fallen! Spring is not yet! It is Lent and Easter is yet to come!
Over multiple Lents we all know the season is about fasting and prayer and alms giving. It is about discipline, generosity and patience. Today’s scripture passages suggest that Lent is also about listening. Listening for an invitation to grow, to renew, and to re-green one’s spiritual life just as the earth renews its natural beauty in the spring sunshine and the earth, however reluctantly, surrenders its captive seedlings.
Isaiah tells us to “Hear the word of God…listen to the instruction of our God…wash yourselves clean…put away misdeeds…cease doing evil…learn to do good…make justice your aim…redress the wronged…and set things right!” These are all invitations; invitations to action and to relationship. These are invitations to renewal and to a new springtime in the spirit!
The Psalm begins, “Listen, my people, I will speak.” And Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples.” These, too, are invitations to hear the Lord and by implication, to follow the Lord.
Yes, Lent is a season for listening, as it is a time of renewing and re-greening one’s interior life. Six weeks is a long time to have one’s ear cocked for the slightest whisper or the loudest sound which suggests that God is afoot in your life and in your relationships. One of the central challenges of Lent is discerning and identifying the voice of God in the cacophonous sounds and competing slogans that surround each of us.
Identifying the authentic voice of God is complicated. Jesus tells us that there is but “one teacher”, “one father”, and “one master.” But we are surrounded by competing teachings, slogans, diets, miracle drugs, would-be masters and ideologies. Lent is a time to discern and identify, to reject the voices of false teachers for the authentic teachings of the one teacher; to replace the dross of winter with the verdant colors of spring.
Listen carefully for God’s voice as you clear the underbrush of your spiritual garden; listen for God’s call as you prune the branches of self-confidence, self-doubt or self-sufficiency. Listen for God’s directive in the songs of the returning robins and the shower of spring rains. For as has been said: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Amidst that grandeur God speaks! Our creator God, our savior God, the spirit of God, speak to each of us in our own time and circumstance. God speaks gently in love and thunders fiercely in judgment. God comforts and secures those who are faithful.
Lent, as a forerunner of spring, has time left before spring is upon us, before Lent matures into the Easter mystery. Ours is the opportunity and the responsibility to live these days well. There is time to stir from the doldrums of sin and selfish involvements. There is time to rip-up and replant the weak places in one’s life. Ours is the opportunity for a renewal and a re-greening of our spiritual life in our own context and setting. For as Isaiah says in today’s first reading: “If you are willing and obey, good things will come your way…”
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