You may recall the Reclaiming Jesus statement released a couple years ago by Jim Wallis and Sojourners along with a long list of Will’s fellow church elders. In anticipation of Lent this year, much the same group has renewed the summons, now specifically to attend to the traditional Lenten practices with an eye to what the fact that Jesus is Lord has to do with our contemporary political climate. If you would like to join your voice to theirs, you can do so here, as I have done. By responding at that link, you’ll receive a daily email devotional throughout Lent.
Lent 2020: A Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Repentance Leading to Action
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Romans 12:21 NRSV
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. —Ephesians 6:12 KJV
We can no longer pretend otherwise: The United States is in the midst of a struggle for its very soul. Are we merely collections of self-interest and partisan identities or are we “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?”
This is a moment of spiritual peril and decision. Nothing less than the soul of our nation is at stake.
On one level, the outward and visible form of the divisions and tensions among us as a nation are political, social, and even ideological. Yet, the deeper and invisible causes are spiritual and moral. When selfishness is exalted above sacrifice for the good of each other, the soul of the nation is at stake. When falsehood is exalted and truth is slain in the public square, the soul of the nation is at stake. When toxic politics manipulates public faith, the soul of the nation is at stake. When fear, hate, and violence shape our politics and anger governs our speech, the soul of the nation is at stake.
In another time of national spiritual crisis, President Abraham Lincoln issued an appeal to leaders and people of the nation to summon “the better angels of our nature.” As elders in the churches, we believe that we are in a spiritual battle between our better angels and worst demons.
Now is not a time for playing the superficial politics of the right or the left. Now is a time for the deeper spiritual engagement with the realities that are beneath our conflicts in order that God might help and heal the “soul of the nation and the integrity of our faith,” as our Reclaiming Jesus declaration called for.
The season of Lent is traditionally a time for deeper soul searching, reflection, and repentance that leads to renewed action and commitment to living out the teachings and the way of Jesus of Nazareth.
As elders who have called the church to reclaim Jesus, we now issue “Lent 2020: A Call for Prayer, Fasting, and Repentance that Leads to Action.”
We invite individuals, clergy, national churches, and local congregations into a Lenten season of prayer, fasting, and repentance built around practices of daily prayer, weekly fasting, and reflection with spiritual discernment that can lead to more faithful action.
We covenant together to repent from both our personal and social sins, to pray for our nation and all nations, and to fast as a reminder to discipline self-interest, idolatry, and division for the good of living God’s love in the world.
Prayer calls us to give up control.
We pray to return to God’s two commandments on which hang all the law — to love God and love our neighbor.
“Love God with your whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind” — which means to repent and remove any national, racial, or political ideologies and idolatries that have replaced loving God with our whole selves.
“And love your neighbor as yourself” — which means to love all our neighbors that we have forgotten to love (no exceptions), including those who are different from us, who disagree with us, and, especially, those of another race or nationality whom we are directly instructed to love by the words and example of Jesus.
And we should also reach out, in particular, to those who are different from us or disagree with us politically, even in our same congregations and local communities.
Fasting calls us to redirect our attention.
We will fast in ways commensurate with our health, situation, and communities on one day per week — on Wednesdays beginning with Ash Wednesday.
Fasting weekly can help us to stop, pay attention, wake up, interrupt our schedules, go deeper, and listen for God and the Holy Spirit in ways that might lead us to new places in our hearts and minds. This weekly fast will begin in Lent and could continue until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Repentance calls us to change our hearts.
Repentance in all of our traditions means much more than shame or guilt and feeling sorry; it means to stop, turn around, and go in a whole new direction. These spiritual disciplines could help take us out of our strategies and control —by admitting that we don’t have all the answers — and to go deeper together to hear the voice of God, often in the still, small whispers of the Spirit, leading us to better places.
These spiritual practices can help us to answer questions like: What are we called from and what are we called to? Who are we called from and who are we called to? Spiritual disciplines can even be targeted: Who and what are we praying and fasting for, and what might our praying and fasting open us to do?
We confess that as church elders who have often engaged in action, we are not fully sure what to do in the growing national crisis in which we now find ourselves. We therefore hope that the disciplines of daily prayer and weekly fasting will clarify and draw all of us to the decisive, prophetic, and reconciling actions required in this time of great crisis. Because, as the New Testament teaches us, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).
Through praying and fasting together, particularly with people who disagree politically, we hope to find actions that might bring more people together — even across the margins of previous voting blocs — so that we can find and pursue what is best for the country.
Regular spiritual disciplines can deepen our faith, inform our citizenship decisions, and lead us to find the courage to stand up for the most vulnerable and, if need be, to protect our very democracy.
We see this Lenten call to fast, pray, and repent as a time of purification for ourselves and as a time of preparation and expectation for the kinds of action that can lead us forward instead of backward. How can we anchor ourselves in the kind of love that is not safe, but saving?
Going to God
Going to God means tuning out the constant tumult crowding our heads in order to tune our hearts to quieter voices revealing God’s holy intentions for this time.
As U.S. church elders, we confess that we don’t consult with God seriously and frequently enough. This Lenten call and these spiritual disciplines are meant to take us to God with regularity during this time of national and faith crisis. Regular conversation with God can be transforming in any culture and especially those in crisis — and it can lead to better conversation with each other. We must go to God with choices and decisions that are political, social, racial, and economic — these are not just personal decisions.
We offer a summary of our Reclaiming Jesus declaration here. More than at the time since it was released in 2018, it is time to renew it now. In 2020, it is time to reclaim Jesus.
In a time of moral, political, and theological crisis, let us go to God.