By the Rev. Peter M. Wallace
The Rev. Peter M. Wallace is the producer and host of the Day1 radio program and podcast (Day1.org). He is the author of Getting to Know Jesus (Again): Meditations for Lent (Church Publishing), The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn from Jesus About Love, Fear, Grief, Joy, and Living Authentically (SkyLight Paths), and editor of Faith and Science in the 21st Century and the forthcoming Heart and Soul: The Emotions of Jesus (both from Church Publishing). He is an assisting priest at Highpoint Episcopal Community Church in the Diocese of Atlanta.
Lent is coming…again. I have heard preachers groan in anticipation. Yes, for some, it’s their favorite season. But for many, it’s tough to come up with a fresh approach to preaching in Lent.
Let’s be honest: The observation of Lent is often reduced to artificially somber and ritualistic practices of self-denial without an honest, whole-hearted attempt to genuinely experience the flow and meaning of the season. The “practices” undertaken involve simply giving up chocolate or wine. That’s suffering for Jesus, for sure, but what does it accomplish if we’re not focused meaningfully on what we should be?
So I’d like to suggest that in our preaching, we shake things up a bit.
Let’s preach a countercultural Lent.
Obviously, Lent is supposed to be countercultural, because it calls us to silence, contemplation, and self-denial. Such things are becoming virtually impossible in our culture. But there are more than a few ways to live out this call to Lent, and to preach about it. Here are five ways.
First, be extra intentional about the season.
This approach should start before Ash Wednesday in order to prepare your people for the season of preparation. This calls for good planning. In my work with Day1, some of our preachers on Lenten Sundays ignore the season and simply preach the text as they would anytime. But then, they only have one week to preach. If you’re preaching through the whole season, why not come up with a theme that approaches Lent freshly, and tie all your sermons into that theme. Put the theme on a banner or poster and in your newsletter and bulletin. Certainly I would encourage folks to discover ancient practices of prayer and contemplation, to walk a labyrinth, or to use one of the many wonderful Lenten devotionals available, one of which I’ve written (he modestly adds). The goal of this extra intentionality is to communicate that these practices are countercultural. So they take time and effort, which means they must be deliberately and carefully planned and undertaken.
Second, there’s no need to be so somber.
Yes, we want to encourage self-examination and prayerful contemplation, but consider that we are anticipating something glorious! Let that Easter-glory reality shine through your Lenten sermons. Consider encouraging your music leaders to experiment with different styles and genres of music during the season. For instance, what would “Ah, Holy Jesus” sound like with a lively country music twist? Let’s not deny the Easter joy that we’re aiming for.
Third, encourage an active, not a passive Lent.
In addition to the invitations to spiritual practices, let’s encourage active involvement in a social service outreach, a ministry to those on the streets, or other community need. Of course, involvement in such efforts should be year-long, but is there a short-term project your people could undertake during the five weeks of Lent, like a Habitat home build? Perhaps some other effort could be launched during Lent that would continue afterwards. What might your folks do that takes them out of their comfort zones, that may even be a bit countercultural? In my daily Lenten devotional, in addition to some questions for meditation, I suggest an action to take in response to each day’s text. Whether it’s a congregational outreach ministry or individual service opportunities, let’s promote active ministry during this holy season.
Fourth, remind your people that Lent is not about giving up something.
Lent doesn’t mean you have to give something up like Facebook, vaping, or whatever else annoys you already (as healthy as those things can be). Rather, it’s about giving away ourselves. Giving away our time, our talents, our money, our abilities, to love and serve one another in life-giving ways. Others have put it this way: Instead of giving up something, take on something—whether it’s a deeply spiritual study or a service experience.
Fifth, and perhaps most important, plan carefully how you personally will spend your Lent.
We all know ministers already don’t have enough time in their week. But I encourage you to take on or give away something specific, and share honestly with your folks throughout the season how you’re doing with your practice. Let them know you’re struggling with them in the journey of making this Lent wholly meaningful, challenging, stretching, authentic—in other words, countercultural.
May God be with you in this good and holy journey.
Great Preaching: Insights from the Day1.org Radio Program
Master Class with Rev. Peter Wallace
February 25th at 4:00 CST for members of The Collective+
Peter hosts some of the best preachers in the U.S. at Day1.org. Over the course of his program, he’s learned a few things about great preaching and will be sharing those insights with members of The Collective+ next week.
Find out what Peter Wallace has discovered about great preaching. Join now!
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