Take time to pause and listen during Lent

Glory to God, whose power working in us could do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. Amen. 

Good morning, Good Samaritans. I am impressed with the number of people who are here today, considering it was 14 degrees this morning when I walked the dog. And when I say it was cold, I mean it was really cold. But I was prepared; I had double insulation on, I had warm gloves. The only part of my body that could be seen were my eyes. The rest of me was bundled up. It reminded me of the scene in A Christmas Story with the youngest son getting bundled up for a cold walk to school only to discover that he couldn’t put his arms down. That was me this morning.

I’ve either been influenced by the Super Bowl or the All-Star games, because I could really use a pre-Lenten pep rally. What I mean is, they say that a preacher really preaches sermons to himself, and today is a very good example of that. I’m going to talk a little bit about listening for what God is calling you to do and where God is calling you to be. It may very well be exactly what you’re doing, but the point is, if we’re not listening, how are we going to know that? 

Lent is a very good time for us to just stop and pause. It’s a period of time when we change things up a little bit. For example, we started out with the Penitential Order and began with confession. Do you notice anything else? Our setup is a bit drab today, isn’t it? That’s okay. We’ve covered a few things, and that’s ok too. The chalice is clay today. And all through Lent, we put the silver away, if you will. We’ve covered up the crosses. And that’s just a reminder for us of this season of Lent that we’re in right now.

There are six Sundays in Lent, and today is the first one. Lent is a 40-day period, not counting Sundays, so technically it’s a 46-day period. The custom has always been to give something up for this time, to sacrifice and all that. However, this year, I’m going to recommend that instead of giving something up, we take something new on or we change something. Maybe we give something up, but we replace it with something else. So if your custom is to pray in the morning, maybe you pray in the morning and in the evening. Or maybe you shake it up and just pray in the evening. I want to encourage you to just practice something different

When runners are training for marathons—and a millennia ago, I was a runner—we switch things up. So, if you were a distance runner, every once in a while you would work in some speed work. That’s kind of what Lent is. This 40-day period is a reminder of when Jesus was in the wilderness, tempted by Satan, and he had to make choices. Forty is a very important number in the Bible. It symbolizes something important is going to happen. So when you hear that word “40,” pay attention.

  • Noah watched the rainfall for 40 days
  • the nation of Israel wandered lost in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights
  • Elijah was on the mountaintop with God for 40 days
  • And we now celebrate these 40 days of Lent. 

In the early church, Lent was a very penitential time. However, I’m suggesting we make it a celebratory time. Let’s change the way we do things. Instead of having the attitude of, “Woe is us,” I suggest that we try to be a little bit happier than that. Let’s ask ourselves, “What are we doing? Where are we going? And who is our captain?”

I invite us all to spend this time taking a pause. Taking a pause is hard for us to do in our society. Because, “I have so much to do! I’m a busy person! I’ve got places I’ve got to be, people I’ve got to see, business I have to do!” And this is true. But there is also space for a pause if you will honestly look at your daily routines.

Today we’re back in the Gospel of Mark, at the very beginning of this synoptic gospel. Scholars call Matthew, Mark, and Luke synoptic gospels, as synoptic comes from a Greek word which means, “to see together.” And we need all three of these Gospels to truly see. Remember that the Gospels came from an oral tradition that was passed down by memorization. People memorized vast amounts of information that they shared from generation to generation. And when these narratives were finally written down, there was no printing press. They had to be handwritten. So there were only one or two versions of each book. 

Scholars believe that Mark is the first sustained literary interpretation of the traditions of Jesus in primitive Christianity, and the oldest of the synoptic gospels. Matthew and Luke both have narratives very similar to Mark, but not identical. The general thought is that Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark when they were writing down their version of Jesus’s life, and they used his gospel as a basis into which they fitted extra material which they wished to include. Without the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke, we wouldn’t have the birth of Jesus or the resurrection. We need to see all three of these together to get an idea of what this time was truly like. 

An interesting side note is that Mark’s introduction starts with: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” From the first sentence, the entire Gospel of Mark is about who Jesus is. He begins his gospel by telling you exactly who Jesus is: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Then he ties in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, and even John the Baptist, who’s baptizing folks. John is telling people about “the one to come.” And then finally comes the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. 

The Gospel of Mark starts with the ministry of Jesus, at the proclamation of John the Baptist of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. John baptizes Jesus, the heavens open up, the Spirit descends, and God affirms. What happens next? Jesus is tempted. When the Bible says, “the spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness,” that’s when Jesus started the Galilean ministry. 

Isn’t it interesting that this is the only place in the Bible that where the Trinity are all present at the same time? We have God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit presented together. In just a few verses, Mark gets our attention. the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are full of detail and background, but Mark jumps right in. These few verses function as a call narrative: Jesus is called in baptism, followed by the eternal work of struggling with demons and wild beasts, and finally we have his action. Jesus gets called, tempted, and then starts his ministry. He answers the call. This demonstrates for us a spiritual practice that involves a call, struggling with a choice, and then moving into action.

Ultimately, all of us are called. Among us, some are called to ordained ministry. For me, there was a time that I almost left seminary. I’d been in the secular world for a very long time, and attained regional vice president of sales. I had a group of people that worked with me to introduce a web-enabled, automated dispensing system. It boomed. But unexpectedly, we felt a call, left the business, and I went to seminary. Before seminary, I was used to people listening to what I said. But here, I was just the old guy. Here, we had all these young whippersnappers that could memorize and spout out all kinds of things. And then you had me and a couple of other older guys. I wasn’t the oldest, just to be fair. 

But then I got a call. “Jim, if you come back and continue to work during the first four months of your seminary, we’ll pay you 5% commission.” These systems were expensive, so I said yes. So during my first year of seminary I would come home after a full day of class”dial for dollars” from 3:00-6:00.. That’s what we called it, dialing for dollars. Seminary is expensive, and my wife was working the whole time, but I had to pull my own weight.

So it was a lot. I mean, A LOT. As I was working, I took Old Testament, New Testament, and church history all in the same semester. During this time, there was also a contest among the professors to see who could give us the most to read during the week. Now, I’m a slow reader, and by the time I got to the Old Testament, I had it figured out. I went to the library and got the audio version of the Old Testament, and I listened to it while I was reading it—so  I didn’t fall asleep. But then I thought, “I don’t think I can do this. This is just too much.” I hadn’t realized that both of my daughters would get married while I went to seminary. We’d planned for one, but not both, so we were struggling a bit. And I just thought, “You know what? I’m going to go back to sales. That will fix everything.”

But then I talked to a wise friend who said, “Jim, you answered God’s call. You’re faithful. Play it through.” So I did. My second year was better, and after my third year I didn’t want to leave seminary. God has a funny way of calling us, and a sense of humor. And as you answer His calls, you also figure out what your gifts are and how you can use those gifts to serve God in God’s kingdom. We all have many different gifts that require folks to do different things, and that’s a good thing.

If we circle back to Mark, you will see that the last in today’s Gospel is the thesis of the entire gospel: “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.” Repent means to stop, to turn around, to pay attention, to pause. Is this really what God is calling you to do…or not? That’s for you to figure out. And we do this by pausing, taking a break, and turning off all of the distractions. Listen for a call from God, listen for God’s voice. 

Once there was an old, tired-looking dog who wandered into someone’s yard. He was well-fed, well-taken care of, and was wearing a really nice collar, and it was obvious he’d come from a really nice home. He strolled over to the owner of the home who patted him on the head and invited him in. So he sauntered in, walked down the hall, and plopped down in front of the fireplace and fell asleep. An hour later, the dog got up and walked to the door, so the owner let him out of the house. The next day, the dog came back, and the same thing happened. He was greeted in the yard, and then walked inside, resumed the same spot in front of the fireplace, and he slept for an hour. Then he walked to the door, and the owner let him out. 

This continued daily for several weeks, when the owner of the house finally got curious enough to wonder who the owner of this dog might be. So one day before the dog left, he pinned a note to the collar of the dog that said, “I would like to find out who the owner of this sweet dog is, and ask if you’re aware that he naps at my home most every afternoon.” The next day the dog shows up with a new note pinned to his collar, and the owner of the house was excited to find out who the owner was. The note simply said, “I had no idea. Can I come with him tomorrow?” Taking naps are important. Taking a break is important.  

But it is also important to pay attention. We can serve God in many different ways, but we need to listen to where that is. You might be answering your call where you are right now, in your work, at home, as a parent, as a friend, as a child, as a spouse. You just need to acknowledge your action as, “This is what God is calling me to do in this space and this time.” So pause and think about that. 

Sometimes we just need a moment of calm to determine our direction, our way, our course, to calm ourselves, to calm our breath. May we choose to discover these moments during the Lenten season. This your opportunity to do that. So if you find yourself in a situation that doesn’t serve you, you can just say, “Sorry, I can’t do that. It’s Len.” Sometimes, like our four-legged friend in the story, we just need to go somewhere calm to find rest.


This sermon was from the February 18, 2024 service at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Brownsburg, IN. The video can be found on the Good Samaritan YouTube channel.


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