Call to Worship
S.- Lent calls us to journey, this and every day, following Jesus
wherever he leads us.
P. - Lent calls us to journey: to the place where God covenants with
us, to receive the new names we are given.
S. - Lent calls us to worship together, to tell future generations the
P. - Lent calls us to practice justice, to bring God's hope to all people.
S.- Lent calls us to faithful living, to trust the One who gives us life.
P.- Lent calls each of us to take up our cross, to trust the One who
bears it with us.
S.- Lent calls us to journey with God.
P. - Let us worship God, who walks with us, this and every day.
We've come again to the beginning of the season of Lent. It
began a few days ago with Ash Wednesday, and we'll walk this
sombre and sometimes lonely road all the way to Easter.
And, as Lent begins, we are reminded of Christ's call to deny
ourselves, to take up our own cross, and to follow in the steps
of Jesus. It's a difficult thing, this call to discipleship, and it
comes as we find Jesus and his disciples on their way to
Jerusalem and his inevitable death.
Lent is the quiet time of preparation leading up to the passion
and joy of Easter. It's a time when we followers of Christ reflect
upon our own shortcomings and find ways to grow in our
relationships with God. It's a time when we make decisions to
put life's distractions aside so that we can direct our focus to
our relationship with Christ.
So today we begin our Lenten journey, along the roads that
Christ traveled towards Jerusalem. We will pause with him as
he preaches. We'll wait with him while he teaches. We'll watch
as he heals, and as he performs miracles. We will focus our
energies on this journey that we walk with him, as we deny
ourselves and take up our own crosses, all the while
remembering that Easter is coming, and that the promise of
Easter makes this a journey of hope.
But, here we are at the beginning of the road, and our first stop
is in Judea. We stop here for a moment to watch Jesus teach,
and then lift some children into his arms.
And there, friends, is a great opportunity for a nice neat
segue.... For whenever a road trip and children are mentioned
in the same breath, the inevitable question pops into our brain:
"Are we there yet?"
As absolutely ANNOYING that question can be when you're
cooped up in a car for hours and hours and it's hot, and the kids
are fighting, and the radio's too loud, and every little thing is
driving you CRAZY and Wait What was I talking about?
Are we there yet? It's a good question to ask, in this very
specific circumstance. Unlike the disciples accompanying Jesus
on his journey, we have the benefit of perspective. We know
how the journey is going to turn out. We know that the tomb
will wind up empty. And that's wonderful. And we'll welcome
that day with Hosannas and Alleluias and rejoicing. But,
because we happen to know how the journey ends, we tend to
forget about the hard road we walked to get there. To look at it
another way: We focus on eternal life with God, and sometimes
we tend to forget how we are called to live now. It's easy to
feel like we've arrived at the destination, that we are "there". A
wise person once remarked: "You're never THERE. You're
always HERE. And HERE is at the beginning of a long road. HERE
is where we are called to deny ourselves, to pick up our own
cross, and to follow Christ.
So let's take a little time today to think about some of the
things that hinder us from doing these things, and from
developing our relationship with God. What are some of the
things that get in our way of our relationship with Christ.
When the little children in today's reading started making their
way towards Jesus, who exactly tried to keep them away? It
was his own disciples, wasn't it?
We have to keep something in mind here: Jesus was on his way
to the cross, and HE knew it. That shadow must have always
been close to his mind. But, even though he knew the hardships
he was bound to face, he still took time to teach, and to spend
a few moments with these children. He had time to take them
in his arms, and he had the heart to share a smile with them,
and perhaps play for a while.
But his disciples wanted to keep these kids away. Not because
they were mean, or anything, but they felt it was their job to
protect Jesus. Jesus had not shared the exact knowledge of
what was coming with them, but they knew quite clearly that
tragedy did lie ahead, and they knew that he carried a heavy
burden. They simply didn't want Jesus to feel bothered. They
couldn't imaging that he actually wanted all these kids around
him. But Jesus said: "Let the children come to me."
And the lesson that followed, about Children and the Kingdom
of God, is a great way to answer our Question: What are the
things that hinder us from journeying with Christ?
esus is ALWAYS ready to receive us into his presence, but
sometimes things get in the way... Sometimes our good
intentions get in the way, like the Disciples who tried to stop
Think about those children; about children in general: Children
possess many traits that make them an ideal example of people
worthy of the Kingdom.
First, think about a child's humility. With few exceptions, most
kids are embarrassed to be the centre of attention. Young
children generally don't strive for pride or prestige; they
haven't yet learned self-importance.
Children are also obedient. Ok, wait, wait I'm just now
thinking about my own kids and how that's patently not true.
Ok, kids are not always obedient, but I like to think that a kid's
NATURAL instinct is to obey their elders, at least for the first
few years. Let's put this one aside for now.
Children are trusting. This one is easier. Young kids recognize
that they need guidance and help, and they trust people who
they believe know better. A child's trust can be seen in the
child's confidence in other people. It's almost unique to young
children that they do not naturally expect any person to be bad.
I enjoy watching the TV show, "Big Bang Theory." There's one
episode where the main character, Sheldon, a brilliant
theoretical physicist with absolutely no social skills, is trying to
learn how to make friends. His efforts land him in a bookstore
where he has gone to find a book about how to make friends.
The salesperson in the bookstore directs Sheldon to the
children's section, where Sheldon picks out an appropriate
book, "Stew the Cockatoo is New at the Zoo," sits down in one
of the child-sized chairs, and proceeds to pick up a conversation
with a young girl sitting across the table. The girl talks openly
with Sheldon, clearly thinking nothing about the fact that this
adult is sitting here reading a child's book, nor about the fact
that Sheldon wants to be the girl's friend. The child has not yet
learned to suspect the world. She still believes the best about
Children also have short memories. I KNOW this one is true,
because every time I ask Quinn to do the dishes or clean his
room, it takes him exactly NO TIME AT ALL to forget
completely. But what I actually mean here is that kids haven't
yet learned to bear grudges or to nourish bitterness. Even when
they're subjected to unjust treatment, the kid can forget, and
forget so completely that forgiveness is unnecessary.
All these traits.... Humility, obedience, trust. These are the traits
of people who take the journey with Christ and grow as his
disciples. When we find our relationship with Christ strained or
distant, when we find it's hard to walk along that road, it's
usually because we have lost some of these traits. Instead of
being humble, we are egotistical. Instead of being obedient, we
are stubborn. We hold grudges. We blame. When called down a
path towards forgiveness, we hold onto hatred and we cast
Friends, we cannot know the Kingdom if we do not live by the
ideals of the Kingdom. We cannot walk with Christ if we are not
willing to follow his ways. Christ told his disciples, told all of us,
that we must deny ourselves, we must take up the cross. He
knows the way won't be easy. He knows the road is going to be
hard. He has seen what's coming. But he also knows that it's
the only way into the Kingdom.
And it's the path that we need to follow. The journey beside
Christ follows a different path, a road that requires us to
sometimes make the hard choice to put aside flaws in our
characters that keep us from Him. It's a path that sometimes
may lead us in a different direction from some of our friends,
family or others in our lives. A family member might get in the
way if they are skeptical about religion. A friend who doesn't
believe in church might encourage us towards other uses of our
time. Maybe our colleagues might think we should work all the
time, at the expense of family and worship. The list could go on
and on. We normally think of peer pressure as a problem for
teens, but let me tell you friends, it's a perpetual problem for
each and every one of us. The influences of people that we
know and see every day can very easily block our road to hope.
Now, I'm going out on the proverbial limb here, there being so
many apple experts here today, but I learned something
interesting this week about fruit trees. Sometimes, fruit trees
put so much energy into growing up that little or no energy is
invested in bearing fruit. Do you know the solution to this
problem? It's called scoring. The farmers will take a knife, and
they make a deep cut in the trunk of the tree near the ground.
While severe, this wound always produces change, and
depending on the time of year that the tree is scored, positive
change results. And to you experts out there, even if I'm
completely wrong, just go with me for now, would you?
I don't think any of us would deny the fact that when it comes
to our relationship with Christ, we could all bear more fruit.
None of us are "there" yet. There are all places where we could
make a few good cuts in our own lives so that we might grow in
our life with Christ. It can be an act of denial, it requires a
change of life, and it is sometimes even painful. But it is the call
of Christ to all people, "deny yourself, take up your cross, and
I know some of this seems sombre and sad, but what do you
want... It's Lent! But seriously, we NEED to remember that the
call to follow Christ is a call to a life of abundance. The Lenten
road we're starting this morning is ultimately a journey of
hope! Though all these trials we are to walk, through the
denials, and beneath the weight of the cross, we have before us
not only hope, but also the promise of eternal life with God.
This Lenten season we, as Christians, are tasked to examine our
lives. We need to find the roadblocks that keep us from walking
alongside Christ. We need to humbly acknowledge our
shortcomings and our weaknesses.
Like children, we need to be less egotistical, more humble. Less
stubborn, more obedient. Less doubtful, more trusting. Bit by
bit, piece by piece, step by step. And we can always trust that,
like those children, Christ is always waiting to welcome us into