On Sunday, February 7, my own sermon reached me, as I preached on the disciplined Christian life compared to the disciplined life of an athlete in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. It was during my own sermon that had an epiphany about the concept of discipline. I haven't had a bad relationship with discipline in my life, but I have questioned its application. I led a disciplined life as a baseball player for several years and as a student in college (at least most of my last 2 years in college). That discipline reflected choice on my part. I also cringe at the concept of discipline because it is often used as a guise for abusive and controlling behavior by a person of power. I am also in the midst of a learning process about the relationship between discipline and parenting. I am thankful that my parents stuck to their values and gave discipline in a way that inspired growth in me. My parents were not and are not infallible, but they raised me in a way that I am able to respect boundaries and understand those boundaries as a blessing and opportunity for growth.
Discipline is an important concept for a Christian, particularly in the 40 days of Lent. Lent is a time to cultivate the life of faith in Christ so that that life can bear fruit in one's own life and in serving the neighbor. Cultivation takes discipline. What has tormented me about Lent in my 12 years as a pastor is that discipline has been forced on me to the extent that I have taken on the disciplines of a particular congregation. These disciplines are not of my own choosing. Not to mention gearing up for two sets of sermons and worship services in a week is draining and exhausting. I find myself getting cranky and irritable during the time before Easter that was originally designed to prepare and welcome new converts to faith in Christ. I desire for Lent to be an opportunity for people rather than a burden. But then again, discipline is not easy. Forty days is not a random choice of number, but reminiscent of a period of testing and reflection, as with Jesus or Noah. If we move easily toward discipline, that might also be a little dangerous. Discipline has to be related to a goal, and the goal is to live joyously in Jesus Christ. Learning, connecting, praying, and serving.
My discipline for this Lenten season is approached with some trepidation. First, I don't like the word journey. I find it an overused word that has lost its meaning, and even sounds a little flaky. Second, Lent makes me a little cranky. Third, I'm still sorting out my relationship with discipline.
I chose the aforementioned book because I'm always curious about what it means to be a Lutheran Christian in these days when denominational affiliations are so fluid. I don't have the answers about what it means to be Lutheran, and I am highly suspicious of people who proclaim to be resolutely certain about Lutheran Christian identity. I have made vows in the Lutheran Christian tradition in my ordination, and I can also learn from Luther as an influential person in world history, a faithful (but by no means perfect), Christian, and a wise theologian/biblical scholar.
You are invited to join me in reading the Augsburg Books "40-Day Journey With Martin Luther" and joining in the discussion of reflections for journal writing. It is part of my discipline to pray, reflect and learn from and with a great teacher. Discipline is intended to be an opportunity, not a burden. Discipline is challenging, yet applied faithfully can reap a great harvest.
Questions for day 1:
Describe your present practice of prayer:
My most present effective method of prayer is setting aside a time during morning exercise. It's about the only time I have where I do not experience an interruption. Movement inspires blood flow, which not only relaxes me, but also gives my brain the blood and oxygen it needs for thought. I give thanks for God's work in the world and in my life. I give thanks for particular people in my life. I ask for guidance for the day and the days ahead. I pray for people who are hurting. I ask for forgiveness. I sometimes listen to music when I do this, most recently, I have Taize music on my iPod. After a time of prayer during running or walking, then I shuffle the music and see what prayerful thoughts arise.
What do I want to learn about the life of faith as I begin these 40 days?
I want to learn more about the faith of the person whose life and work was foundational for the tradition to which I ascribe. I am not looking to duplicate Luther's practices or faith necessarily, but I do want to spend time with him as a teacher of the faith. I hope to have my faith challenged. In all of this discipline activity that I may see the love, mercy and work of God in Christ.
Today, the writing from Luther implicitly speaking of discipline as dodging distractions, for they make us joyless in prayer. The biblical reference has some warrior imagery (Ephesians 6:17), that makes me cringe. However, the point is not to go to war literally, but have perseverance in dodging distractions that take the joy out of a relationship with God.