Spring Training

 

Even with the winter we have been having in Iowa this year, there are really only two things I miss about my growing-up-years in the State of Florida. One is easy access to beaches and the ocean. I grew up living close to the water – the ocean or lakes or rivers – and I have missed that, although it’s wonderful now to be able to see the great Mississippi River every day!

 

The second thing I miss about Florida is… Spring Training! I have to confess to being something of a baseball nut (and Susanne, fortunately, shares that flaw with me) and I spent many happy hours as a youngster and adult, watching the Twins work out in Orlando, the Red Sox in Lakeland, the Yankees in Ft. Lauderdale, and the Astros, for a while, in Cocoa where my last parish was.

 

I rarely missed catching at least a few games during Spring Training each season, even if it meant taking an afternoon off or, when my kids were small, even taking them out of school for the day so that we could enjoy those times together. One of the minor inconveniences that I experienced during some of those Spring Training seasons was to forego the cold beer I really wanted with my ball park hot dog because I would often give up alcohol for Lent which invariably coincided with Spring Training.

 

And that led me to the realization, one day, that Lent is really “spring training” for the Christian! During these “lengthening days” of late Winter and early Spring (which is where the word “Lent” comes from) you and I are given the opportunity to practice. To practice dying! And to practice living! All three of our Lessons from Holy Scripture this morning have to do with this kind of “practicing.”

 

Abraham and Sarah practicing obedience to God, even having their names changed to symbolize their new identities as the forebears of an entire nation. St. Paul, in Romans, recounting Abraham’s story but also beginning to “practice” what it meant for Abraham’s faith “to be reckoned to him as righteousness.” (This becomes the key text for Paul’s understanding of what it means to be justified by faith, not works). And, in the Gospel, Peter is learning the hard lesson of what it means to “deny himself, to take up his cross and follow Jesus” even when he had to bear the brunt of Jesus’ frustration with him!

 

I wonder how your practice is going. How your “spring training” is going so far. Have you begun to work out? Using the various exercises suggested to you on Ash Wednesday — self examination…repentance…prayer…fasting…self-denial…reading and meditating on God’s holy Word?  Those things aren’t nearly as tough as the practicing Abraham and Sarah, Paul and Peter were about in our Readings today. But I wonder if you know how to “do” those exercises.

 

Self examination simply means spending some time looking over your life and seeing how you’re doing.  You can use the Ten Commandments or the Baptismal Covenant found in the baptismal section of our Prayer Book against which to measure yourself. 

 

Do you believe and trust in God? Do you come to the Eucharist every week? Do you confess your sins to God when you mess up? Do you share your faith with others?  Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you work for justice and peace in this community and in the world? Do you respect the dignity of, not just some, but every human being? If your batting average is not too great in these areas, Lent is a time to work on it.

 

Repentance means more than simply saying you’re sorry.  It has to do with trying to live differently…with going in a new direction, like a recovering alcoholic does in the Twelve Step Program.  In what area or areas of your life do you need to take off in a new direction in response to God?  Lent is a time to do that. 

 

Prayer is simply talking to God…and learning to listen.  Spend some time each day talking with your Creator.  And then spend at least a few minutes in silence in case a Word comes back!

 

Fasting means doing without, or cutting back on the amount of, food we eat. Most of us need to do that, for our physical health if nothing else.  But there’s a spiritual benefit as well.  Going a little bit hungry reminds us that most of the world goes to bed hungry every night.  And the reason for that is that we eat – and waste – far too much. We can fast in order to give!

 

Self-denial is, of course, similar. But it may not have to do with food.  It’s important, spiritually, to be able to say “no” to yourself.  I am absolutely convinced that saying “no” to myself in simple things over many, many Lenten seasons helped me to say “no” to myself in some larger things, later in life, which could have resulted in great pain for me…and for other people.

 

Finally, we are bidden by the Church to read and meditate on God’s holy Word. That’s a fancy way of saying, “Read your Bible!” Buy yourself an inexpensive, paperback edition of the Bible in a good, modern translation that you can understand…and open it up!

Start with the Gospel of Mark…the shortest one! And then go to the Acts of the Apostles…browse through the Psalms. And then go wherever the Spirit leads, but learn the stories of your faith.

 

The Bible is not just a rule book. It’s a library of books which works more like the family album. Just browsing through it teaches you something about your family history! 

 

Well, I hope you’ll do some work during this “spring training season.” Because you’re practicing for something a whole lot more important than a season of baseball.

 

You’re practicing for dying.  And you’re practicing for living. Dying as a Christian… living as a Christian. And the stakes are pretty high! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

 

    

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