Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

What is Lent All About

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Wednesday Ecumenical Service

Luke 4: 1-19

Deacon Larry Brockman

Lent!  It’s that time of year 40 days before Easter when some people give up chocolate or beer or any one of a number of things.  Why?  What’s it really all about?   

Well this Gospel talks very clearly about it.  You see, Jesus lived the very first Lent.  After his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, our Gospel today tells us that, filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, and that he ate nothing in those days.  That means that Jesus fasted for 40 days.  And why did he go into the desert?  To pray and reflect on his life.  Jesus felt the need to go into the Wilderness and reflect on his life!   

At the end of the reading today, we see that Jesus’ entire life changed after those 40 days.  Rather than being a humble neighborhood Carpenter in the sleepy village of Nazareth in the Hill Country, as Jesus had been for some 20 years of his life- 20 years, Jesus emerged as a teacher of a new way of life.  He visited all the Synagogues in the area and preached a message of repentance and renewing one’s relationship with God.  And all who heard him were moved by his message.   

Then in his home town, he made his mission abundantly clear.  For in Nazareth, Jesus read words from the scroll of Isaiah.  Those words described his mission., the mission of the one and only Messiah- the Christ.  And Jesus boldly told his own people that he was that Messiah; that he was fulfilling the prophecy in their own hearing.  Jesus life had indeed changed forever.  

So, Jesus emerged changed from his 40-day Lenten retreat, for that 40 days prepared him for what God wanted him to do.  Jesus emerged with the understanding that he was the Son of God; and Jesus emerged with knowledge of God’s will for him as a human person.  Jesus was ready for the mission to preach, suffer, die, and be resurrected; all to bring each one of us who follow him everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.   

Lent is simply that time in the Church Calendar when each of us is called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.  We are called to prepare ourselves for the resurrection and everlasting life.  We are called to spend time “in the desert” fasting, praying, and resolving to find our mission, God’s will for us.  We are called to look forward; not backwards.  We are called to leave our sin and imperfections behind, and to be transformed by that desert experience.     

By the year 300, Lent had emerged in the Christian Church as a time of penance and reflection for the 40 days leading to Easter.  There were very strict fasting rules imposed by the early Church.  In fact, the original fast rules only allowed one meal a day at Noon, and no meat was allowed at that meal.  These rules have been greatly relaxed in virtually all the congregations that still practice Lent formally.  But the need for Lent still exists.     

Oh, before I forget it, let me mention why Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  Some of you can and probably have done the math.  If Lent is 6 weeks and 4 days long, that’s actually 46 days.  But because Sunday was always considered a day of celebration in commemoration of the Resurrection , the Church exempted the six Sundays of Lent from the Lenten fast.  Also, the word Lent is rooted in an Anglo-Saxon word that means “Spring”.  This is because Spring is the emergence of new life, a new beginning.  That is what our Lenten experience should do for us.  It should help us to leave old sinful ways behind and emerge refreshed in spirit for a new beginning.  While this is the root of the English term we use for the Season of Lent, the fact is that in most other languages, the word used for Lent is a derivative of the word 40; the emphasis is that the renewal is spread over 40 days.     

So, Lent has been part of the Church calendar since the very first centuries of the Church.  Let’s take a closer look at what happened in the Gospel this morning, and perhaps that will give us a few clues about how to spend our Lenten season.   

First, let me describe a few historical things about why Jesus did what he did.  Some of you may be familiar with the book of Jonah.  Almost everybody knows about Jonah and the whale.  But there’s more to the story than that.   

You see, Jonah tried to run away from God because he didn’t want to follow God’s orders to him to prophesy to the people of Nineveh.  Jonah had been told to march through the huge city of Nineveh and to preach a call for repentance by the people because the people of Nineveh had sinned greatly.  Jonah was afraid to march through Nineveh and make that proclamation; and what’s more, he detested the people of Nineveh over the great evil that came from within it.  So, he fled on a ship; but was thrown overboard by the crew when he revealed his secret.  You see, the crew blamed Jonah for the terrible storm that hit the ship because he had angered the Lord.  It was then that Jonah was swallowed by the whale.  From within the belly of the whale, Jonah makes a fervent cry for mercy to the Lord, and a promise to do God’s will.  After 3 days and three nights, Jonah was spat forth on dry land by the whale.   

Then Jonah did, in fact, march through the city and preach repentance.  He told the people that they had just 40 days before Nineveh would be destroyed.   But alas, what did the people do?  According to the book of Jonah, the people put on sackcloth and fasted; and the King of Nineveh arose from his throne, put on sackcloth, and urged the people to repent.  He issued a decree that all the citizens should repent of their evil fast.  And the people did precisely that. 

Meanwhile, Jonah climbed a hill overlooking the city, and awaited the destruction of Nineveh.  It never came because the people had repented; they had changed their lives and had shown humility and contrition for their offenses.   

Now I am sure the symbolism in this story hasn’t escaped you.  The people had just 40 days to repent.  They put on sackcloth, an itchy, horrible irritating self-mortifying way to walk around.  And they fasted, a common practice associated with penance.    Jonah was in the whale for 3 days and three nights.

Later in Jewish history, these elements were copied by many Jewish people who were looking to reflect on their lives.  They would dress in sackcloth, fast, and go into the wilderness for 40 days to reflect.  In fact, that is precisely what John the Baptist did before he emerged for his Baptismal ministry.  And by the way, those who were planning to enter the early Church, the Catechumenates, were required to put on sackcloth and fast beginning Ash Wednesday!  They maintained that practice during all of Lent.  

And so, it is not surprising that Jesus, who was a devout Jew, would do the same thing- go into the desert for 40 days and wear sackcloth and fast while he reflected on his life.   

Notice that the Gospel this morning mentions Jesus’ fast explicitly.  It says He ate nothing.  Why is fasting considered a requirement and what value does it have?  Well, many mystics have commented on how much fasting helps one to concentrate, to put one in the right mode for reflection.  I am sure most of you experience that mid-afternoon slumber that comes after a fine lunch.  It does make it hard to concentrate without a nap first!  Indeed, there is validity to the Mystics assertion to be sure.   

But there are symbolic reasons for fasting as well.  Consider this- Adam and Eve were asked to do a partial fast.  They were not to eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Sin came into the world as a result of the fact that Adam and Eve broke this partial fast.  And so, when we fast, we display a measure of self-discipline that is in the spirit of God’s desire for our first parents.  We are demonstrating that we will self-sacrifice something in our life as a symbol of our intent to comply with God’s will, not our own.   

Now today, I think that it is appropriate to talk about other kinds of fasting rather than just fasting from food because the reason that most of us can’t find the time to reflect on our lives during the season of Lent  Is that we are just too hung up on activities in our lives.  We get stuck in a routine that eats up all our time.  Reading fiction, surfing the internet, Facebook, checking e-mails, watching TV, playing cards, various clubs, and on and on.  These activities can sap our time so that we don’t have the time, and in some cases, we don’t have the energy to reflect and repent of our ways.  So, if you decide to make a Lenten Fast resolution, consider fasting from something that robs you of the time you really need for prayer and reflection.   

Notice that the Gospel this morning is silent on how Jesus prayed and reflected.  Only this do we know for sure:  that Jesus did his 40 days in the Wilderness or Desert; that he went there to pray; and that he was tempted by the devil.   

Now going into the wilderness is an extremely valuable tidbit of information.  You see, that means Jesus needed to go to a place where there would be no distractions.  Our desert can be the sanctity and solitude of our own homes or rooms.  But of course, that means we turn the ringers off on our phones and cell phones; we turn the radio or TV off, and truly make an effort to reflect in silence and without distractions, because distractions are a perfect way for the devil to derail us, you can be sure.  And it is best to get into a prayer routine.  Pick a time and place every day for your prayer so that you get into a routine.  

I recently conducted a Bible Study called “Lectio Prayer”.  It was based on an age-old practice called “Lectio Divina”.   This is a Latin term for prayerful reading of the holy scriptures.  The idea is that our prayer life is enhanced by using Lectio Divina.  You see, the author of that study made this interesting point.  He said that all prayer is initiated by God.  So, that means we have to listen to God initiate prayer.   

You know, we should all approach our prayer relationship with God like we approach a friendship.  A true friend listens to what we have to say; but to be a true friend, we have to listen to them as well.  And God’s agenda for us is always more perfect than anything we might conjure up for ourselves.  So, opening your prayer with a long list of requests and complaints doesn’t seem like the way to talk to a friend; and it is definitely not the way to talk to God.   We should start our prayer humbly asking God to talk to us and be prepared to listen.   

Now I am sure many of you recognize that God speaks to us in very subtle, gentle ways.  But God does speak to us through the scriptures, the word of God.  When we read scriptures, something usually leaps out at us.  That is often God’s way of asking us to reflect more on it.   

And God speaks to us in those nagging feelings you have that something is wrong in your life.  They are God calling you to reflect and change something.  Take advantage of the time and solitude you make available in Lent to ponder God’s messages for you, and then get focused for the future, focus on making your life better in God’s eyes.   

When you are done with your reflecting and prayer, hopefully you will emerge with a new Spirit of enthusiasm for life and a determination to act on God’s will for you.  In a sense, this call to action is akin to “Almsgiving”.    Any material favor done to assist the needy, and prompted by charity, is “almsgiving”.  But what is important is that we give of ourselves out of charity, whether it is time, talent, or treasure that we give.  To be sure, a generous contribution of money really helps the poor.  But our Lenten renewal is about more than that; it means giving of yourself, especially in areas that you have the time to help in; or the talent to do something that really helps someone else.  As an example, in a place like this, there can be many lonely or new people.  Extending ourselves to these people is a legitimate form of almsgiving.   

That brings us to the majority of today’s reading- the three temptations of Jesus.  Jesus’ Lenten experience was certainly not unique in that respect.  You can be sure that the devil is going to try to derail whatever progress you make in your prayer life, especially if you are resolving to make a change and improve your life.   

Notice that Jesus three temptations are at the end of the 40 days, not at the beginning or in the middle.  The devil will do or say anything to keep us from performing the will of the Father.  He wants us to focus on our own comfort and the satisfaction of our own desires above everything else.  And so, the devil attacked Jesus after he was ready to return from his Lenten experience and do his Father’s will.   

Let’s take a look at each temptation and see if they apply to us as well.  First, Jesus is prompted to turn stone into loaves of bread.  Now Jesus fast is over; the 40 days are done.  He is going to get something to eat.  But the devil is trying to test Jesus vision of what has the highest priority to him.  He is urging him to satisfy his hunger immediately by foolishly performing a miracle, as if he must have bread immediately to live.  Jesus response is clear- we do not live by earthly food alone.  This is a recognition of the fact that even before our need for food and water there is a life force that sustains us.  We need always to recognize the God given life force above our bodily needs.  We need to be in harmony with God, the provider of our life force.  That comes before any desires of the flesh- food, water, companionship, and pleasure.    

The second temptation is one of power.  The devil offers all the Kingdoms of the world- fame, power, control- all that would be given to Jesus if he would worship the devil.  Jesus response is ever so clear- “You shall worship the Lord your God; Him alone shall you serve.”    Basically, the heart of this temptation is a desire to be totally independent.  It says that we don’t need God.  Indeed, the lust for power, money, and control all indicate the desire to be self-sufficient, for security on our terms.  Our world is plagued by many people who don’t trust in the Lord; they want to be in control.  And they foolishly seek money and power and all those things the devil offered to Jesus, as a means to security.  But all these things can pass away!  

In fact, anything that serves to consume us in this way is like an idol.  It can control our lives; but it cannot give us everlasting happiness and the Kingdom of God.  But we are tempted, because we like to be in control.  

In the third temptation, Jesus is taken to the high place in the temple and is tempted to throw himself down from the heights.  The devil asserts that if Jesus is the Son of God, then the angels will come to his aid and he will not be hurt.  Jesus response is that “You shall not put the Lord your God to the Test”.   

This temptation encourages us to presume too much.  We can presume that no matter what we do, God always loves us and will save us.  We presume too much when we don’t take our sins seriously by simply saying that we believe.  Not so; for that is putting the Lord God to a test.  God gave us life, talents, and a set of rules to live life by.  He sent his son to die for us and to offer us a path to share in everlasting life.  We cannot presume that his mercy will be given to us.  It is our obligation to live our lives in such a way that we are always prepared for the day of judgment.  For after all, Faith without works is dead.   

Then, our Gospel tells us that the devil left Jesus “for a while”.   Indeed, our battle with the devil is ongoing; but it comes in increments.  It comes especially during times of weakness, like Jesus in this story.  Jesus was weak from 40 days of fasting- and weary from the harsh wilderness experience.  It is then the devil attacked him; and it is in our moments of weakness that the devil will attack us- when we are not feeling well; when we are distraught; when our defenses are down from alcohol or drugs.  In any of these or like situations, the devil will be there.  

And so, Lent is that season of the Church year in which we have the chance to follow in Jesus own footsteps in order to get ready for the Resurrection of the Lord and the Everlasting life that he offers us.  It is a time for us to practice self-discipline and self-control.  It is a time for us to break away and reflect on the meaning of our life.  It is a time for us to make a change for the better.   

We can best prepare for Easter by a regimen of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  But expect to be hounded by the devil, who is relentless in his efforts to get us to focus on self and not the Lord.   Lent can and should be a joyful experience for those who love God.  Whatever it takes to get closer to the Lord should make us joyful.  And that is what Lent is really about- a new beginning, no matter what has happened in the past.

It’s Ash Wednesday Again!

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

Health Central Ash Wednesday Service

Joel 2: 12-18; 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2; Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18

Deacon Larry Brockman

Well, here we all are again for Ash Wednesday.  Another year has passed, and Lent begins today.   

A good question for you to ask today is this:  Has anything changed in your life in the last year?  Or are you still living pretty much the way you lived last year?  Are you bogged down in a busy routine, and don’t seem to have the time to break out of it?  Do you sense a growing distance with someone important to you; or are you having problems with someone close to you but don’t seem to ever be able to address them; or maybe you are losing control of something in your life?  Do you have a sense of guilt or concern about any of that?  Do you sense that your relationship with God is suffering?

Because if any of those things resonate with you, now is the time for renewal.  Lent is the classical time on the Church calendar for folks to make some time to reflect on where there are going and what they are doing and to then make a change for the better.  To quote St. Paul:  Now is the acceptable time.

You see, change is absolutely inevitable.    If you wait long enough then something will happen and there will be change- an illness, the loss of a loved one, a betrayal by someone we love.   Any of number of things are percolating around us and can suddenly change our lives forever, even rob us of the chance of healing things because the opportunity is gone.     

The church recommends the three pillars of Lent as a process for renewal.  They are:  Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving.   

You know, fasting has been proven by the great mystics to be an effective way to clear our minds so we can come to grips with what’s going on in our lives.  In fact, that’s what John the Baptist and Jesus both did.  They went into the desert, fasted, and reflected on their lives and where they were headed.  The Gospels tell us that Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, and that he survived temptations of the flesh, power, and pride.  But when he emerged, he could see his three-year mission clearly.  And he also saw that he would suffer, die, and be resurrected.  That 40 days is the origin of Lent.  The Church encourages each of us to do as Jesus did.   

Now you don’t have to fast from food any more- just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  You can, if that is what is getting in the way of your need to pray and reflect.  Indeed, we probably all eat too much.    That can bog us down, even make us sleepy and listless.  Chances are that most of us could free some time up by fasting in other areas though.  Too much Facebook; too much TV; too many sporting events, too many lunches; you get the idea.    But whatever you need to fast from, use the time that you break free in a productive way. 

In fact, that would be a good time for the second pillar- Prayer and Reflection on what’s nagging you inside, whether it’s any of the things I mentioned or something else.   You know, some of the experts claim that it is God who initiates all prayer.  So, that little voice inside of you that nags you about something, may just be God calling you to share it with Him.  If you can find a quiet place and some free time, spend that time in prayer.  And that doesn’t just mean reciting a prayer, and you talking to God.  God wants a relationship with each and every one of us- a two-way relationship.  So, we have got to listen to God as well as talk to him.   

God speaks to us in varied and strange ways- but often directly through His word.  So, pray over the Sunday or weekday readings.  There‘s a little “Daily Bread” pamphlet covering the next three months available from the Chaplain.  That would be a good way to start.  And you may be surprised how your needs may be met when you listen to those little prompts that God gives you.   

The last Pillar is “Almsgiving”.  That doesn’t just mean dropping a few bucks in the collection plate; or even giving a little extra to your favorite charity.  In recent years, the Church asks for us to contribute our time, our talent, and our treasure.  Almsgiving can be from any of those three.  Almsgiving is a measure of how well our Fasting and Prayerful meditation worked.  We are giving back to God.   

You see, God has an agenda for each of us.  And a part of that agenda is giving of ourselves.  Whatever time, talent, and treasure we have, it all comes from God anyway.  And when we make our time or our talent or our treasure available to others in response to Him, we are showing God that we trust that he has our best interests in mind.  We might even find that he answers our requests in the process.   

So, after we receive our ashes today, rather than walking around with long faces and gloomy hearts because Lent is upon us today, let us be happy instead; let us surrender to our basic need to make positive changes in our lives.  Now is the acceptable time!   

Why Should I Observe Lent?

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Ash Wednesday Service

Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18

Dc. Larry Brockman

Ashes! All of us are gathered here to receive ashes? Why?

Is it because it’s the thing to do?  Is it because you long for something different, some change in life?  Or is it because you hope the meaning of life will come into focus for you?

When you receive ashes, you will hear these words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return”.  Yes, the real meaning of life in this world becomes blurred in the glitter and the attractions of the world.  After the joy and celebration of Christmas, the Church reminds us that life in this world is not about self-indulgence; it is not about the joys and fruits of the world.  All of that, good or bad as it seems, will end as it began for us- in ashes.  And it is certain to end in ashes.  So, what is life all about?

Jesus spent 40 days just after his Baptism reflecting on his life and mission.  His whole person was in turmoil- facing the promptings from the Spirit that told him what life in this world was really all about for him.  But Satan tormented him with the other side.  “You don’t have to suffer; you’ve got it Jesus; and I can make you anything you want; just worship me”.

And that’s the way it is for all of us too.  All of us are tempted to make our lives comfortable; to focus on what’s best just for me; rather than follow the tiny whispering sound of the Spirit working through our consciences to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

The Gospel we read provides us Jesus’ advice on how to conduct our Lenten journey.  It was based on his own 40 days in the desert.  Find some time alone to reflect and pray.  And divest yourselves of attachments to things of this world.  He suggests three things.

The first suggestion is to give alms.  That means giving something to others.  But you don’t give alms to win points with those watching.  Rather, you do it to help you focus on others, not yourself.  Who or what is it that God is calling you to serve in this life?

And Jesus advises us to pray in a quiet of space, not openly for all to see.  Jesus is not against public and group prayer.  That’s not his point.  His point is that when you need reflective prayer, and all of us do, then that prayer is not for show, for others to see.  Rather, it is for us to get in tune directly with God so that the Spirit can help us to focus on God’s mission for us.  Where can you go and when can you go there so that Jesus has a chance to touch you in that way?

And lastly, Jesus advises us to fast.  Again, not to call attention to our self- induced suffering and how holy we are; but rather, so that we divest ourselves of what is blocking our spiritual growth.  Just what is it that is blocking your spiritual growth?  What is it that is taking so much of your time, so much of your energy, or so much of your resources that you cannot hear your inner voice; you cannot focus on God’s mission for you.  Give that up for Lent rather than beer or chocolate or coffee or whatever.  Maybe it’s TV or the Internet or, God forbid, Facebook!

Lent is an opportunity to come to grips with the real meaning of your life so you are ready for the Resurrection and life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.  Take advantage of the 40 days just as Jesus did.  Or the ashes you receive today will have lost their meaning.

The Tiny Whispering Voice

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

19th Sunday Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9: 1-5; Mt 14: 22-33

Dc. Larry Brockman


Terrified! The disciples were stuck in the middle of the Lake, some 3 miles from shore working for hours against the wind, and tossed by the waves.  They were afraid their ship would be wrecked.  And this had gone on for hours- because relief didn’t come until the fourth watch- some 8 or 9 hours after they left Jesus.   They were experienced with boats; they knew what they were doing.  They trusted their own skills but they had worked themselves into a panic.  They were terrified!   

Just like the prophet Elijah in the first reading was.  Elijah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord as it came to him; he had followed the directions of the Lord.  He had challenged the prophets of Baal in a standoff.  And it had resulted in a total humiliation of the prophets of Baal.  Baal was the god of Jezebel, who was married to the Israeli King.  When her god had been humiliated along with his prophets, Jezebel had ordered her husband’s soldiers to find and kill Elijah.  But Elijah ran for his life, escaped, and was hiding in a cave.  He too, was terrified because he didn’t know what to do.  He had done as the Lord bid him; and here he was in dire straits.   

Does either of these situations seem familiar?  Have any of you felt helpless against the forces of nature, almost in a panic as the Apostles were?  Perhaps abandoned, stranded, overcome by a hurricane or tornado, or down with an illness.  Have any of you been in a situation where it seemed like the whole world was against you?  Perhaps you were let go at work; you were let down by somebody; or you were persecuted for some reason.  Indeed, all of us have had moments like the Apostles and Elijah.  Life is like that for everyone.   

These are humbling experiences of life that all of us have.  And we learn a couple of things from these kinds of incidents.  First, we learn we are not in control, and second, we learn that we can’t do it all by ourselves.   

I suppose that in many of these incidents, we are just living life using the talents that God gave us.  We think we are in control and we think we can do it ourselves.  But the facts are that neither of these things is true- we are not in control and we cannot act alone.  We find that out fast enough when things build up against us.  We need Faith, Faith in the Lord always, faith that whatever happens, the Lord means the best for us.   

Peter expressed that Faith well by recognizing Jesus on the water.  That’s why he jumped in the water, and walked after him.  But when Peter wavered in his faith because of the ever present storm then he began to sink and needed Jesus to save him.  All of us, too, have Faith, but we can sometimes waver because the circumstances keep knocking on our door relentlessly.  And yet, it is only Faith that can and will sustain us.   

There is also something really fascinating about how the incident ends.  The storm disappears when Jesus gets in the boat.  Yes, indeed, when we really have God besides us, then the storm disappears.  We need God besides us at critical times.   

That’s what makes Elijah’s situation a little different.  Notice that Elijah recognized the need for God right from the beginning and so he was waiting for the word of the Lord.  But the Lord was not in the storm or the fire or the earthquake.  Rather, the Lord was in the tiny whispering sound.   

That is likely the way it will be for us.  If we have faith, and we are sincerely trusting in the Lord, we will probably not find the answer to our prayers in the storm or earthquake or fire that is going on around us.  Rather, we will find it in silence.  We have to stop whatever it is that we are doing as important as that may seem to be at the moment.  We have to stop and listen for the voice of God.   

It is called prayer, and we have got to make time for it.  We need to pray even when we think we are in control because we need Jesus there right beside us all the time to keep the storm under control.  And we need to find the time to pray even when we are busy because it is the highest priority we should have.   

Jesus had a tough day on the day that this miracle was performed.  He and his disciples buried Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist in the morning.  Then, they attempted to get away so Jesus could pray and reflect on his loss.  But the crowds followed him, and he ministered to them instead, working the miracle of the loaves and fish.  After that, he sent the Apostles on in the boat. Why? Because as late as it was, he still needed to go up the mountain and pray.  Then, after that prayer, he walked back to the shore, and some 3 miles out onto the water to his friend’s boat.  The human side of Jesus needed to pray; he needed the time with God.   How much more do we in our humanity need God in the moment of need. 

So when the going gets really tough, then it is time to pray. 

Listen for the tiny whispering sound.