Monday Matters (March 6, 2023)


The Collect for the second Sunday in Lent

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
Whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
-Psalm 84:4.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Going astray

The first Christians were not called Christians. They were called People of the Way. For many reasons, that might have been a good name to stick with. I’m guessing that name grew out of the way Jesus spoke about himself when he said: “I am the way.” It was an invitation to his disciples to follow him, to stick close to him.

That in turn echoed the notion from the Hebrew Scripture that God would show the way through the wilderness, either as the children of Israel left the slavery of Egypt, or later on, as the exiled children of Israel tried to find their way home.

We are finding our way through the season of Lent. The season has been compared to the wilderness. One of the things that was both challenging and frightening about wilderness was that it was described as a trackless wasteland. In other words, there were no road signs. No directions. No paved roads. No rest stops. Certainly no GPS. It was easy to wander. It was easy to get lost. It was easy to give up hope. Which is why it was important to have someone or something to follow.

The prayer we heard yesterday in church confesses that some of us (maybe all of us) have gone astray, perhaps an echo of the biblical text set to music by Handel: All we like sheep have gone astray. In yesterday’s prayer, there is a call for a penitent heart which is really an admission that we have either lost our way or deliberately chosen to go off on our own path. We’re headed in the wrong direction. Penitence, an expression of repentance, suggests an intention to turn around, to make a course correction.

So in this season of Lent, a season of self-examination, we might want to think about the way we travel through our own version of wilderness. (We all know something about wilderness.) Where are we headed? Do we have a clue which way to go?

As the prayer suggests, this season is an invitation to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your word, Jesus Christ. What actually might it mean to embrace and hold fast that truth, which we encounter in the person of Jesus?

It goes to what it means to be a disciple, someone who follows. It means asking the question posed by pastor and theologian Brian McLaren to our congregations: Are we a club for the elite who think they have arrived or are we a school for disciples who are on the way?

One way to focus on the way is to reflect on the way of love articulated by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. He’s boiled that way down to seven verbs. These words chart a course in the wilderness, based on a relationship that makes it possible to follow the one who will lead us through the wilderness. The verbs? Turn. Learn. Pray. Worship. Bless. Go. Rest. (Scott Gunn, Exec. Director of Forward Movement has written a grand and succinct book on this way of love, reflecting on each of these words. Definitely some good Lenten reading.) As you unpack each of these verbs, and figure out how they apply in your own context, they provide a way to keep on track, a way to keep from going astray. This expression of the way of love is obviously not the only way to think about how to move forward faithfully. But I have found its simplicity helpful in my own spiritual journey.

The bottom line is that we are not invited to follow a set of rules. We are invited into a holy relationship with a person, to follow Jesus who invites us to come and see new life available to us. Take these days of Lent to consider what that kind of relationship might look like in your life, and how you can cultivate it. By God’s grace, you’re going to make it through the wilderness.

-Jay Sidebotham

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