Lent 2023

This month we enter the season of Lent, a period of 40 days in which we prepare for Easter by dedicating ourselves to repentance, prayer and service. We are also in a year that we have dedicated to loving our neighbors. It seems fitting, then, to take a moment to ask: how can the season of Lent help us to love our neighbors?
As I think about it, Lent can be the perfect time for us to dedicate ourselves to loving our neighbors, since every part of Lent points us in that direction. First of all, Lent calls us to repent of our rebellion against God's commands. One of the traditional readings of Lent is Joel 2:12-13: '“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate,  slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.' (NIV) We are called to rend our hearts, to honestly acknowledged the ways in which we have rebelled against God's commands--the chief of which are to love God and to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).
Secondly, we are called in this season of lent to seek reconciliation--first of all, to be reconciled to God, and secondly to be reconciled with each other. The sacrifice of Jesus makes peace possible between God and humanity, but it also makes peace possible between neighbors. Paul writes in Ephesians that "His purpose [in dying on the cross] was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Eph. 2:15-16, NIV). We repent so we can mend relationships. In the season of Lent there is nothing more appropriate than to seek peace and reconciliation with your neighbors.
Finally, Lent calls us to service. There are four traditional types of service in Lent: Fasting, prayer, scripture-dreading, and alms-giving. Each of these can play a role in your efforts to love your neighbors. In the case of fasting, for instance, you could choose to fast from something that fills up your schedule. One of the biggest obstacles we face to neighboring is busyness--when do we find the time to love our neighbors? But what if you chose to fast from one of those non-essential things in your schedule--like watching TV? Scrolling through social media? Or what if you fasted from doing those things alone?
As for prayer, it is easy enough to commit to a prayer discipline that focuses on your neighbors--perhaps also commit to talking to your neighbors so you can prayer for specific concerns? It can be powerful to neighbors to find out that when you say, "I'll pray for you," you really mean it!
If you want to talk on a scripture-reading discipline, I would encourage you to approach whatever you read with a mindset toward being better-equipped to love your neighbors. Every part of scripture helps us to fulfill that command--you just have to watch for it. Maybe you can read through a gospel and watch how Jesus sets the example for loving neighbors!
Finally, alms-giving. This may one is a bit trickier, because it's not often you have an opportunity to just give money to your neighbors in a way that is helpful. But there are a couple of ways you could use alms-giving to love your neighbors. On the one hand, you could give alms to a local cause that serves your neighbors. On the other, you could set aside money for the express purpose of spending on your neighbors--perhaps for hosting a meal or game night. When you commit some resources, you can get really creative with how to gather your neighbors together.
As we go through this season of Lent, I hope each of us can take it as an opportunity to focus deeper in on this effort to love our neighbors--especially as the weather begins to warm, and more opportunities start to present themselves. I have already started to hear stories from several of you about encounters you've had with neighbors, and I truly believe that there are a lot more awesome moments just waiting to happen!

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