Lent: Living God's Grace
Today is Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is a holy day in the church calendar where many Christians around the world will fast and pray. It also marks the first day of Lent. Lent is the six and a half weeks before Easter which is a 40-day period for fasting and abstinence (Sundays are excluded). The 40 days is in imitation of Jesus Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. Christians around the world practice some sort of fasting during the season of Lent.
For Ash Wednesday, I would like to repost a piece I wrote for Huffington Post called, Lent: Living God’s Grace. I hope that on Ash Wednesday and every day, we can experience God’s grace and share that grace with others.
We live in an age where people fact check everything we say and do. If we exaggerate or embellish, people are quick to point it out and we are summarily kicked to the curb. We see this often among our friends and family who monitor everything we say to ensure that our actions and our words are correct. Such fact checking is easy with the quick access to the Internet and its wealth of information at our fingertips. When mistakes are discovered, people use social media to share the message as quickly as possible so they are given credit for "breaking the news."
Such fact checking has happened to high profile people such as journalist Brian Williams. He embellished and exaggerated his story of a helicopter ride during the Iraq war. Journalists went through archival media to find out where he started to change his helicopter story. As a result, he has been suspended from his job for 6 months without pay.
How can a much loved journalist and anchor of NBC's top-rated "Nightly News" program fall from such heights to depths of the possibility of losing his job? Our society is ruthless when it comes to attacking people and pointing their errors. We often appear thrilled at the idea of watching people fall from grace. This tendency may be due to the recent and frequent experiences of some prominent news commentators and politicians who systematically ignore the truth to gain political traction and distress their opposition. What we fail to appreciate is the difference between the facts and the intentions, or perhaps even the lack of intentions, behind the person who may be sharing the facts.
We all know people who have committed such mistakes or told a fib to exaggerate their own life experience. Sometimes it happens knowingly, other times unknowingly. We are also guilty of committing such mistakes as memory fades and our wishes begin to color our memories with shades missing at the time. This often happens with couples who have very different versions of how they first met. We saw this play out on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as Fallon and Nicole Kidman each recounted their own different versions of their failed "date night." Recounting and remembering past events differently at different moments in time happens to the best of us. When it does, we hope and pray that no one will catch us, or at least they will smile knowingly while they share an evening conversation.
But is this how life is supposed to be? To always be on guard that we are truthful and don't exaggerate or recall past events differently? Do we really want to live in a world where we catch everyone's mistakes and then throw the person to the dogs?
In Christian faith, we often talk about grace. Augustine explains that the Holy Spirit gives us grace. Grace is a gift from God: a gift we did not deserve, but a gift freely given to us. As we ponder the phenomena of monitoring others and pouncing on their mistakes, it is also wise for us to reread the Sermon on the Mount, at Matthew 5:22, for example, where we are instructed to forgive our brothers and sisters before we expect to get any satisfaction from the Lord. God's word to us is to get our own house in order before beseeching him for any kind of forgiveness. Remember that line in the Lord's Prayer "...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Grace is about giving others second chances.
Where would we be, where would life be without second chances? As a parent, what would happen to our children if we never extended second chances to them?
Yet in the church, where we are supposed to experience grace and extend grace to one another, we often do the opposite. Too often we judge and criticize our sisters and brothers and punish their failings. And too often, we experience harsh treatment from others. We struggle to accept grace for our own lives and for other people's lives.
This year, as every year, we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday -- February 18, 2015. Lent is the period of prayer, penance, repentance and atonement before Easter Sunday during which we prepare our hearts to understand the meaning of the cross. It is a time to reflect on our own lives and the life of Jesus and what Jesus has done for us. If Jesus understands our own evil and sinful nature and in spite of it, extends grace to us, aren't we supposed to do likewise? If God shows love and mercy over and over again to us, we should do likewise. Life is about getting second chances.
As we pray and repent during this season of Lent, we should practice, embody and extend grace. If we watch a co-worker, friend or family member make a mistake, rather than turning away in judgment, we should extend our heart and hand and live out grace.
Speaker at the Society of Pentecostal Studies.
Panelist: Draw the Circle Wide: A Panel Discussion on Racial Justice and Restorative Work at Drew Theological Seminary.
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