upper room daily devotions

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent Theme: Unclutter ______

A "Season of Sabbath" is what I unwisely decided to name our theme for Lent at the church I serve. While it gets to the point that I want to make, the word "Sabbath" isn't a compelling word for a lot of people. Moreover, people aren't going to cease from their labor for a whole season.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend's house and saw a television commercial (I don't have broadcast TV, so I see very few commercials) from publicstorage.com. It is called "Accumulator." This ad made me gasp (you may watch it after the jump).

I know that the idea of uncluttering our lives is not a new one for Lent, but I have always found the thought of uncluttering *my* life to be a rather individualistic approach to the season. It's also pretty person-centered and not particularly God-centered. Sabbath, on the other, hand is really about God. God ceased from labor, and so do we. God rejoiced in creation, and so do we. God delivered us from slavery, and so we care about the labor of others. Sabbath begins with God; we are invited into God's rest, God's joy, God's justice. And, we are invited all together. Not individually. What does this have to do with accumulation, you might wonder. Well, at the heart of the Sabbath ethic is the idea that we take only what we need and leave the rest for others. In Exodus, before the people have been given the Law by Moses, they are told to gather manna. They are instructed only to take enough for one day and to take only enough for their household. On the sixth day, they may gather enough for two days and no more, that they may rest from their labor as God rested on the seventh day. This manna rule - this story about accumulation - is about clutter and rapaciousness. It is also about fear.

We often gather things into our lives out of fear. Fear drives us to look upon other people as wholly different from ourselves, and their "otherness" allows us to treat them as we could never bear to be treated. Fear tells us to hoard - food, clothes, things that need casting away. Fear compels us to upgrade, upsize, and get the next big thing. Fear whispers to us that there may not be enough food, so eat! Fear tells us that others want what we want, so build fences, install alarms, and post cameras. Fear can be found at the root of much of American anxiety. And, it is at work in our emotional lives as much as it is at work in our physical lives.

Because of fear, we hold on to wounds, grudges, and prejudice. This emotional clutter drives us to a kind of emotional or spiritual rapaciousness. People can need love so much that they put themselves in physical danger. People may repeat hurtful relationship patterns that they have lived through in their past. People may be afraid to seek or extend forgiveness. Both of these are very dangerous. To know we need forgiveness without the humility to seek it robs a person of healing and continues the original misdeed into the future. To be unable to forgive keeps both the offending party and the offended party held hostage to a past that cannot be changed. And, it sends them both into the future to carry that wound forward into the lives of others.

Fear drives people to greed and to unchecked accumulation. If there is one thing that Americans need to learn to do, it is to let go of accumulation as a cultural value. To do this, we, as a whole culture, must begin to examine our fears and to challenge them.

Sabbath does just this. It provides a wholly different approach to the world that trusts in abundance and in God's guiding presence. Sabbath makes no room for fear; it is too busy making room for the "other" - for the stranger, for the neighbor, and for all of creation to thrive. Lent is a season that invites the Christian to examine all that obstructs us from God's presence. What fears hold us captive? What fasts do we need to take on in order to enter into God's kin-dome (Isaiah 58)? What spiritual practices will bring us near to God? What habits need cultivating that will foster our authentic selves and dispel our false selves? What priorities do we need to establish in order to see the stranger as our neighbor and to treat our neighbor as ourselves? These are deep questions of faith. They do not ask us to find new ways to store the accumulation in our lives. They challenge us to pare down that which does not serve God.

God has gifted us with life, but it is our holy and sacred challenge to sort out how to live it. Lent is a time of justification. But it is not a time for navel gazing. Lent, as a time of preparation for the convert or repentance for the Christian, challenges us to re-center ourselves in God's glory, that we may be born from heave and raised with Christ come Easter morn. These phrases may mean little in our secular world, but they simply mean that through the process of re-centering, re-focusing, uncluttering, and prioritizing, we can let go of the vices of this world in order to be born into God's vision for this world. This rebirth gives us God's eyes with which to view creation and God's heart for all of creation. And, by this rebirth, we are raised to new life as Jesus. The powers and principalities of this world - the powers of sin and death - cannot hold us prisoner any longer because we live in a world ruled not by scarcity, not by sin, not by death, but by abundance, right relationship, and life. This is to what you are invited. And, we don't get there by accumulation. We get there by trust and through service. A new way of living altogether.

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