Looking towards Lent
The gifts Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, but it seems like the holiday rush began last July—or certainly, people have been shopping or decorating their yards for various holidays all fall. I sense that folks are hungry to celebrate the holidays this year, like we haven’t been able to for four years!
So I don’t blame folks for looking ahead to Christmas—but Lent?!
Actually, Easter comes early in 2024 (how often does Easter land in March?), so Ash Wednesday comes on Valentine’s Day. And the Presbytery is going to try something new—we are proposing that folks participate in a Presbytery-wide Lenten series. We are even suggesting that churches encourage their members to participate in this instead of doing a Lenten study for their congregation alone. And we wanted to offer this before people start ordering Lent study materials.
Intrigued? We have invited pastors to a Zoom-based sample of this series tomorrow, Tuesday, at 2 pm. A couple of pastors have told me that they could not attend that day, so they have sent the invitation to someone else in the church, like the elder in charge of adult education. That’s fine; since we want as many people involved as possible, I’m sharing the Zoom link here if you want to experience the session, as a way of planning for your faith community for Lent:
Meeting ID: 827 6896 3576
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This series is called “Growing as the Beloved Community,” and will be led by Dr. Tracey Shenell. Tracey is a church change consultant and coach, and has been a pastor in non-denominational churches, but she has just embarked on a six-month agreement to provide pastoral services with TE Bear Ride with Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church in Azusa. Most importantly, she is a prophetic speaker and leader for all of us as we explore who God has made in us, and in each other. This series will offer us the opportunity to get to know fellow members of San Gabriel Presbytery in a deeper way, which has been a request of presbytery members for years. We are grateful for the diversity of our presbytery, but unless we share with each other more deeply in a guided and safe environment, we will not move beyond assumptions and possibly misleading narratives about who is in this presbytery family.
What does this have to do with Lent? Traditionally, Lent was a time of preparation for baptism, which would happen during Easter weekend. The preparation would include reflecting on who we are, and how much God loves us, that God would come to save us in Jesus Christ. As John Calvin wrote in opening his Institutes of the Christian Religion,
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.
As we gather and reflect on ourselves and each other, we will know ourselves better, but perhaps more importantly, we will have a broader understanding of God’s creative genius in giving us a rich diversity of cultures, experiences, perspectives, and identities in the people of God.
Of course, the experience will be much richer with participation from more people from across the presbytery, so we are hoping to see all of you—if not tomorrow, then soon after Ash Wednesday.
Christ has indeed gifted us with partners in ministry with a variety of calls, and we will be an even more faithful and effective body of Christ as we come to appreciate who God has called into our presbytery family—and as the Presbytery’s mission statement states, we will help to transform San Gabriel Valley by “becoming a mosaic of Godly diversity in a deeply divided society.”
I am very hopeful that this series will be a profound gift for our presbytery. Tracey conducted a series for Santa Barbara Presbytery, and they recommended her highly. As I’ve mentioned this to folks around the presbytery, several leaders shared that this will be a great opportunity for their congregations, especially if we have participation from across the presbytery. So please step forward in faith, and offer yourselves to your San Gabriel ministry partners, that we may draw closer as one body of Christ, called to be a glimpse of God’s kin-dom for a troubled world.
And may we prepare our hearts for that wonderful season of anticipation, as we enter into the season of Advent this Sunday. Blessings to you, and may we rejoice in the gift that God has offered us—in Jesus Christ, and in all whom Jesus loves.
Happy Holy Days,