At first glance, today’s readings all seem to focus on negatives: Israel stiffening its neck and turning its back on God, warnings to not harden our hearts, Jesus talking about “divided houses” and either being against him or with him. Certainly, it is easy to see how these readings fit with Lent right? Then again, maybe there is more here than warnings to follow God or else (spoken with the Charlton Heston kind of emphasis!)
The main line that stood out for me from these readings was God speaking at the beginning of the reading from Jeremiah. “Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people” (Jer 7:23). This is not past tense, with God saying “I once offered to be your God, but now it is too late because you X, Y, and Z instead.” This whole first reading is about God telling Jeremiah to go and tell Israel now, again, that all they have to do is to listen to God’s voice to be his people. God is telling Jeremiah what to expect, that they will not listen to him. But, it is a new day, and God is still inviting us and so Jeremiah should go and tell the people again that God said “Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.”
What a comfort! Here God knows that Israel does not obey, does not pay heed, turns their back on Him, does not listen, does not answer, has no faith. (Gosh, it seems like I have done one or two of those things myself!) Yet, he STILL wants Jeremiah to simply go and tell the people that all they have to do is to listen. Listen. And, that’s it. Listen, and then we will be His people.
This is what I think Lent is about. It is not so much about me being overwhelmed with scruples, focusing on my human faults and limitations. Lent is about God’s invitation. Like Israel, God knows that I am weak and yet, He does not care about that. God wants me to be His, regardless of anything I have done to turn my back from Him. God wants me to not let anything I have done in the past get in my way of listening to Him today, this very day!
This message is particularly relevant for me as we are about half-way through Lent. This Lent, I have a particularly erratic schedule, including a large deadline at work, a vacation, and the change of pace that goes with Spring Break at a university. I have not had much of a schedule to follow lately, let alone a schedule to break so I can be more attentive to my habits not formed enough or other habits that are too fully formed and need breaking. Half-way through Lent and it does not seem like I have really gotten started yet. I think - maybe it is too late now and I should wait to “do it up right” next year. But, then I remember: God is asking me TODAY to listen to his voice. It is not too late. I can listen today – God still wants me to be His.
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