To the Beloved in Christ at Ashmont
My beloved mother was forever announcing dates when she would once again begin some project of self-improvement: “After the Fourth of July, I shall....” After Labor Day, I shall....” After Christmas (New year’s resolution), I shall....” And, of course, most of all: “When Lent comes, I shall....” Self-improvement for Christians – or for anyone – is generally a good thing. And the coming season of Lent can be such an occasion for us.
Let’s assume that our Lenten focus will be entirely on following Jesus, with the expectation that it will be hard. Let’s even assume that we shall “get nothing out of” such a Lent. Let’s stop asking if we shall benefit, and let’s assume that we get shall get no self-improvement out of it. Let us simply, as Mother Teresa put, “Do something beautiful for God.”
I ask, for myself and you, four commitments -- ranging from easy to distinctly uncomfortable -- for our Lent this year:
- This is the easy, almost fun, commitment. This Lent I will greet all the people I encounter. I have taken to greeting everyone as I walk around Lower Mills: “Good morning!” “Hi! How are you?” This is frigid New England, and months ago some people, when I greeted them, looked at me as if I was about to mug them. Now they often greet me before I greet them. One man, who grumbled, “What’s good about it?” when I said “Good morning” months ago, said to me recently: “I actually look forward to passing you on the street when you go to buy your newspaper.” Christians should be bringers of recognition and bringers of joy. It costs nothing.
- This is a bit harder. This Lent I will either visit (preferably, and if possible) or write one person – perhaps elderly, perhaps alone, perhaps unpleasant to deal with – who might be cheered or helped by hearing from me, even if he/she is unable to show it.
- This a bit harder still. This Lent I shall go out of my way to be pleasant to someone I don’t like, someone I’ve written off. This is – to put it crudely – the “kill him with kindness” tactic and it sometimes changes everything.
- This is hardest of all (as they say in Olympic diving: Degree of difficulty 4) and most important of all: This Lent I will tell at least one person who does not know Jesus Christ that He is the center of my own life, that He gives meaning and purpose to my life. (No, I do not mean a Muslim or a Jew or adherent of another religion.) I can hear you already saying: “I just can’t do that. And anyway that’s proselytizing.” Get over it: our calling as Christians is to bring people to Jesus. In the Gospel a few Sundays ago, Philip turns to Nathanael and says, “We have found him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote....Come and see.” That is our calling – that is our duty – to invite people to “Come and see.” Stop making excuses and do it. Real Christians do not keep Jesus selfishly to themselves.
When I was a student at Cambridge University, Professor C.F.D. Moule, the greatest New Testament scholar in the English-speaking world, invited Billy Graham to come and speak to the theological faculty. There was much grumbling by many of the faculty and some made snide comments about Graham. But they respected Professor Moule and so they grudgingly turned up for the scheduled breakfast meeting. Billy Graham began by telling them that he was overwhelmed to be in the presence of the world’s greatest scholars and expressed his wish that his own theological training had been as good as “what your fortunate students are learning from you all.” After he elaborated on all this briefly, he concluded by saying: “I have so much to learn; I have so many questions I’d like to ask you. But this morning, I shall leave you with only a single question, “How many of you have brought someone to Jesus Christ in the last year?”F.W.J.