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Valentine’s Day starts Lent – Do we still give out hearts

Dr. R.B. McFe



10 And straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the Heavens opened, and the Spirit like a Dove descending upon Him: 11 And there came a Voice from Heaven, saying, “Thou art my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”12 And immediately the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness.”

Mark 1: 10 – 12

 

Jesus entered the wilderness without food or friends. It was a time of obedience, sacrifice, reflection. It was a time of transformation for Jesus – perhaps the final lessons in how to manage being fully human and fully Divine before He embarked on His ministry.

 

And every year we as Christians are driven to the entrance of a wilderness, with choices to make. Do we obey and follow Jesus on a journey of sacrifice and reflection, the way He did in His wilderness time?

This year Lent offers us an additional challenge. Ash Wednesday is Valentine’s Day.  Do we still hand out candy hearts, or????

 

Valentine’s Day….The second most chocolate engorged day of the year, right behind Halloween, and it is on the day that starts our sacred journey with Christ in the wilderness of sacrifice and discernment, preparation and service.

 

Now here’s where it gets tricky for me.  Unlike normal folks, I am one of a handful of people from an unusual genetic tree where my blood type isn’t A, B, AB or O; our family bleeds dark, nib, white, or milk chocolate.  I certainly had a dilemma….I didn’t want to disrespect the Lord or shirk my responsibilities as a Christian on a journey to get closer to Christ. But genetics are genetics, right?

 

So I asked Pastor John if Lent started officially before or after I got the ashes…in the hope I would legitimately and theologically have the opportunity to finish some fabulous chocolate from a boutique chocolatier on the Cape.

 

We both laughed; he thought I was joking. I’m 70% cacao bean extract….I was serious.

 

OK, I was joking (well not about eating the last bite of the chocolate). As an aside, did you know the word chocolate is not mentioned in the Bible? So maybe we get a pass on giving it up?

 

Moving on to spiritual matters….

 

Do we ever step back and wonder why we do certain theological practices and where did they come from?

 

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday; the night of the Last Supper, and Jesus’ betrayal completed.

 

Lent is one of those moments in time when we step back before we move forward.

Lent is a time to reflect upon the events leading up to Jesus’ Passion, and a time in our faith journey when we try to experience the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness.

 

The purpose of these almost 6 weeks is to use this sacred time of the year to experience Jesus in a more profound way, to allow the Holy Spirit to inform and transform us in preparation for Holy Week, and for our spiritual lives henceforth.

 

Lent is a time of sacrifice and service, obedience, and learning – events emblematic of Jesus’ life.

 

Consider the moments surrounding Jesus’ time in the wilderness….

 

Jesus went from being surrounded by a community of believers, most of whom were trying to get closer to God, in a place where food and friends were nearby. He was just baptized by John.  At which time Jesus experienced the Presence of the Almighty through His Spirit, even getting the ultimate compliment from the Creator of the Universe – having God tell Him how pleased He was with His Son.

 

Imagine hearing the Voice of God say to you “I’m well pleased with you!” Seriously? Does it get any better?

 

Think Mardi Gras of kudos.

 

But as often happens in our journey of faith, we are often led from celebrations to face challenges. We face times when life is full of lack where once there was abundance. We face times when scary events seem to block out memories of happy times. We face times when illness has intruded upon a life of good health. We face times where once we had family, loved ones, friends nearby, to times when we feel all alone.

 

It is during these times we can pray, we can phone Home and ask God to strengthen us even in the midst of great testing.

 

These are times when our faith is either a battery that powers us, or something that seems to taunt us during periods of loss, as we try to make sense of God, belief, and sacrifice, if not outright suffering.

 

Such was the journey of Jesus.

 

He was led to a wilderness where prayer and preparation for His ministry would occur over 40 days. Food was not part of that experience. I imagine Jesus slept in a cave or on the ground with the most meager of clothes or bedding, if any beyond what was on His back. And even if He was going to break the fast every few days, pizza delivery wasn’t an option. In fact the only food options crawled, slithered, flew or ran pretty fast. He would have had to hunt or forage. Not exactly Michelin.

 

And if you have ever been off the beaten track of the Middle East, it is not a visitor friendly environment; unpleasant creatures, cold nights, hot days, and few resources are readily available for miles in any direction.

 

But Jesus – as fully human – had to align with God and the Holy Spirit. Those 40 days were needed to ready Himself as One Who could utilize His Divinity but by all accounts but would have to learn to handle trials under the same conditions as we mere mortals.

 

Lent in many ways not only prepares us for Jesus’ Passion, but was preparing Him for times of suffering, including His crucifixion.

 

And we can relate to our Savior throughout the Gospels. Which was the point.

 

Jesus demonstrated His vulnerabilities as one of us multiple times in the Gospels. And Lent is one of those times that remind us even in the most abject, isolated, raw times in our life, like Jesus, we can get through as mere mortals if we stay focused on God, letting the desert winds blow us into our Heavenly Father’s Arms instead of like a directionless piece of sand.

 

As Christians we have traveled from Christmas to Lent. From celebration of God entering our world as One of us, to a time where we reflect upon the journey Jesus traveled on our behalf; the hardships and the times of joy He experienced.

 

Lent is a reminder that God’s strength is available to us, even in our darkest, weakest, loneliest times, and we are always in His comforting Presence.

 

And while Lent is often associated with sacrifice and giving up stuff, it is really a time of triumph, and togetherness through and with God.

 

Think back to the times when you worked really hard for a goal. You sacrificed, and struggled, giving up long hours, pushing yourself to rise above your circumstances. You came out of that wilderness better, stronger, more successful.

 

Lent can be that time of triumph for us as we push ourselves to get closer to God and find ways to reflect Him more in the world.  

 

It is a time when we commit ourselves as the sacrifice, being intentional about giving time, sharing moments with the Lord – whether in a quiet room, or dedicating regular moments on walks.  And in the process we get stronger in faith, and better able to share that joy of Christ with others.

 

God has never been about our ability, but always about our availability.

 

God wants more from us than sacrificing stuff, He wants more of us. Let’s make our Lenten wilderness journey a time we spend more time to be with Abba.

 

This Lent, I think God would be happy with us giving more of ourselves, our resources, our best  to Him, and to others.

 

So while God leaves it to us whether we give up coffee or chocolate or whatever, and I’m sure if we took the funds we would have spent on those items, using them as an investment in the Lord’s work, He’d be cool with that, I think we’d make Abba happy, and honor Jesus if we make our Lent, if we make Lent a time of investment in our relationship with God.

 

Jesus had to face a harsh environment, and likely examine some harsh realities about His future during the time He spent in the wilderness. Lent invites us to examine our life, where we are, where we want to go in the Counsel and Company of God.

 

And, by using our wilderness journey a time of self sacrifice- starting or increasing our volunteer activities at church, or with other outreach organizations – all in His Name, and His Presence.

 

So perhaps this Lent, with a renewed sense of purpose, we can make each of the 40 days something new and special for God, with God, and in His name for others.

 

If we spend this Lent trying to reveal His heart for the world, and being the human image of His love, our Lenten journey will be a blessing for God, for us, and for others.  Now that’s a powerful Valentine’s sentiment! So who needs the chocolate when we can share God’s love!

 

Valentine’s Day starts Lent – Do we still give out hearts, or simply give of our heart?

 

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him”

2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV

 

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