CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Making the Sharp Turn
CAMINANDO WITH JESUS is a series of reflections on the Sunday Gospel by clergy and laity from across the Diocese.
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Jesus said, "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.
"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
- Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
New Orleans is one of my favorite places to be on Shrove Tuesday. The festivities are impressive. There are floats everywhere and beads can be collected by the hundreds along the parade route, if you are so inclined. Plenty of street vendors and beignets and pralines flow from almost every corner. In recent years, it has been difficult to get a dinner seat in the French Quarter that night because most of the restaurants are rented out for private parties by celebrities or other people of means. It is a city-wide festival, and life seems to be lived out loud with great joy.
By midnight however, the city takes a hard turn. Shops are closed. Music has stopped. Streets are pretty empty, and everything is clean. There is no longer a semblance that there had ever been a party. Clearly, a major change has occurred in the Crescent City. A new season has begun.
As daylight shines on Wednesday, the season of Lent begins and perhaps we should consider making a sharp turn. Jesus is calling us to prayer and relationship building. Jesus is inviting us to get to know God better.
For the next few weeks, we are called to reduce the number of social engagements and instead use the time to go deeper into relationship with God. We are called to practice our piety with great humility. Jesus lays out the rules for us and they are direct. It is a time for serious reflection.
As we walk through this season, there is no need to tell others what we are doing. Pray quietly, give your alms discreetly. Whatever your fast may be, which may be the thing that you give up for Lent, also do it without involving others. Jesus suggests such actions are more genuine than those we talk about out loud.
Often, people are not sure where or how to begin. One good way is to pick up your Bible and engage with scripture. You may elect to increase your prayer time. Remember that praying is a conversation that exists between you and God
The Book of Common Prayer is another great resource for Episcopalians. Daily Prayers and devotions are outlined in the BCP and are terrific as you work towards acquiring a steady discipline of prayer.
We are also invited to join with fellow Episcopalians in reading two very important and challenging books. As faithful members of the Diocese of North Carolina working towards becoming the beloved community, join in a conversation on Facebook as together we read either Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited or Debby Irving’s Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Both of these challenging pieces examine racism and how that affects our ability to strive for justice and peace among all people.
If you like nature, and who doesn’t, perhaps you can carve out time to take walks and commune with nature. Think of the number of times that Jesus goes up into the mountains to pray. God in human form struggled with the idea of imminent death and thus, he turned inward for strength and guidance. In those quiet moments he sought comfort and indeed, answers. It is the same for us. When we settle down and begin to pray in earnest, we will hear the voice of God speaking to us.
For the next few weeks, give all your cares to God. Famed author Max Lucado wrote, “Confession is the act of inviting God to walk the acreage of our hearts.” Invite God to walk along with you and healing can take place. God offers forgiveness to all. As you begin to feel the presence of God in your life, perhaps, you will be present for someone else. Many people need someone to listen to them or hold a hand. As your relationship deepens, you will have greater appreciation for helping others along the way. Remember, it is not necessary to share your work with others. What matters is that you are a great Christ representative in the world. God will provide the impetus that you need to be a witness for others.
It is also important in this season that you take time to rest. God speaks of the sabbath because it is necessary that we take time for restoration. If we are in constant motion, we never take time to reflect on where we are or where we have been. We are always moving onto the next thing and something gets lost in those moments. We need reflective periods in order to appreciate what we have and to acknowledge God’s presence in all facets of our lives.
As we begin this season of Lent, let us with great humility commit ourselves to implementing practices for a Jesus-centered life. Let us slow down and truly focus on our relationship with God. By the time Lent has concluded, I pray that all of us will feel refreshed and that we will be restored, replenished and re-energized for the road ahead.
The Rev. Kathy Walker is the missioner for black ministries in the Diocese of North Carolina.
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