The beginning of March marks the start of the Lenten season as we prepare ourselves for the mystery of the Cross. During this month, different speakers will explore what it means to ready ourselves for Easter by reflecting on different Scriptural passages and Lenten themes.
Abby Davidson who is a pastor at Spring Garden Church in Toronto will be leading our community in thoughts related to sacrifice and fasting from a habit or food for the 40 days of Lent with attention to Psalm 90.
Abby is the Pastor of Missional Discipleship at Spring Garden Church in Toronto. Abby is a graduate of Tyndale (BA and MTS) and lives in Toronto with her husband Bruce and their young son.
That was fantastic. Thank you to all the singers, and I love that bass player are just allowed not to have an expression while they're playing. My husband's a bass player, so I can point that out. But that was wonderful. I almost don't feel the need to preach anymore. I had almost forgotten about my first retreat at Tyndale. So thank you, George, for reminding me. I think the first two months of my time here I was known as the "sick girl", I would walk around and people would say, "Oh, you were that sick girl". But, speaking of human fragility, just a reminder to pay attention to food allergies, and know what's going into your body.
This morning, I want to read Psalm 90 for you. And if you have a Bible or phone, you can feel free to read along. Otherwise, just feel free to relax and hear the words.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born, or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You turn people back to dust, saying return to dust you mortals. 1000 years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death. They're like the new grass of the morning. In the morning, it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and weathered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath. We finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to 70 years, or 80, if our strength endures. Yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass and we fly away. If only we knew the power of your anger. Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Relent, Lord, how long will it be? Have compassion on your servants, satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy, and be glad all our days. Make us glad, for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children. May the favour of the Lord our God, rest on us. Establish the work of our hands for us. Yes. Establish the work of our hands.
God we thank you for your word that is alive and active. And I ask now that you would open our ears to hear what your spirit has to say. Amen.
So Lent, Lent begins tomorrow. Today is Tuesday. Some of us know it as Pancake Tuesday. And at my church, at Spring Garden, we'll actually be getting together for the first time to eat pancakes. We're calling it the International House of Pancakes. So we have our standard North American pancake but also a Korean pancake and a Syrian pancake and a gluten free pancake. Speaking of food allergies. Now lent is something that I actually discovered during my time at Tyndale. I grew up in a church tradition that mentioned Lent, that we'll say observed it, but it was more of a countdown to Easter than anything. Now when I became a student here, I attended my first Ash Wednesday service, the service that George had spoken of earlier, and I love how you framed it. And I'm sure my lack of understanding about it had nothing to do with the Ash Wednesday service here. But as I heard about this, as I had ashes put on my forehead, I thought, Okay, I want to, to be more involved, and be more engaged with Lent. So I decided to give something up for the next 40 days. And with very little thought I said coffee, I'll give up coffee. That's something that's hard, right? You're students, that's pretty much how students survive the four or five years of school, is with a lot of coffee and prayer. So I gave it up. And I thought that I did pretty well, I came to the end of my Lent journey, and realized I had survived. I had my one coffee on Sundays, but then throughout the week, I would go without. At the end of Lent, I was in my room, drinking coffee, and enjoying it more than ever, and my roommate saw me and she said, "Oh, so you're back drinking coffee?" And I said, "Yes, Lent is over". And she said, "Well, thank the Lord because you were horrible to live with".
Now, this might have been a successful Lent in some eyes. Not only did I identify with Christ's suffering myself, but I let all those around me experience that suffering as well. But I love that my roommate was honest with me, she always was. And in my efforts to identify with Christ, what I really did was have shortness and irability, irritability with others, and no one said, "Thank you". So I tried again, the next year and the next year. And what I'm going to share today are just some of the things that I've learned, in my experiences with Lent.
Now, Psalm 90, the psalm that you just heard, gives us a good starting point, as we approach Lent. It's a psalm that is often associated with Moses, although there's debate as to who actually wrote the Psalm. And it's a Psalm where the author is asking for wisdom, asking for wisdom in light of human fragility, and finitude. It takes us back to the beginning of time, before the mountains were born, before the earth was breathed into existence, God was there. And from generation to generation, to generation, God continues to be there. Now people have often read this Psalm, and found it to be a little bit depressing. Or it's been a Psalm that is only reserved for funerals. And I can understand why. I remember my own grandmother's funeral in Jamaica, this Psalm was read. She lived to be 80 years old, and so it seemed a fitting reading for her funeral. And while this beautiful poem is very fitting to mark one's death, I also see that it offers us words for life. Particularly life, during difficult times. This poem is a meditation on God, on humanity, and on hope. One author describes it as a theological plea written in the key of hope. And the psalmist describes this great gap that exists, this contrast between humans and God. God our dwelling place, God the Creator, God from everlasting to everlasting, God, who for whom 1000 years is like one day. Now, humans on the other hand, we wither and fade, we turn to dust. We are like a dream. We could live to be 70 years, 80 if we're strong. And the psalmist brings his lament. And the problem's presented. And the problem is, is that life is short. So what is the purpose? Nothing we do really matters, does it, since one day we will all die. And further than that, there is actually nothing that can truly give us joy, or satisfy us. This might be a hard place to be, but I have a feeling we've all been in this place before. Whether you've had suffering in your own life, in your own community. Maybe you feel this way listening to the news, and hearing of the war that's happening in Ukraine. And that's what makes this Psalm good for life. Because this is the cry of a community that is in crisis. It is the cry of a community that is suffering. Now, the Israelites were wandering in the desert. And they knew that their wandering wasn't going to be short, that it would last for 40 years. And so they knew that there was this end to their problems. They knew that something good was coming. But they also knew that they just weren't there yet, that they had to go through this period of wandering, of struggling. They were stuck in this in between place. And they give their lament, a lament for the in between, a lament that speaks of the harsh struggle of life, and a lament that acknowledges the harsh realization of asking those difficult existential questions, and not coming up with any good answers. Life is short, and full of pain. So what's the point?
I want to talk about Moses for a little bit, as the psalm is associated with him. Now, if we look at the life of Moses, we see that for him, it wasn't the promised land that was the important thing. That if we look at his life, it was actually more about the journey, than the destination. And in the Bible, we get this very detailed example, of one whose purpose was all about learning to listen to, and live with, and be with God. It always struck me that it was so unfair that Moses went through all this hard work, that he was unappreciated, and he comes to the end of the journey, and God doesn't actually allow him to go into the Promised Land. And I think that's one way of looking at it. But another way to see it is that, for Moses, his reward was unfolding, as he went about his journey. It was unfolding as he saw God, in a burning bush, as he ascended the mountain to speak with God, as he learned what it meant to be fully present to God and have God be fully present to him. During his lifetime, Moses experienced true communion with his maker. His life wasn't about the destination, it was about the journey.
So there is truth in this Psalm. Yes, life is short. Yes, life is full of pain. But there is also good news. And verse 12, stands out in this psalm as an exhortation to number our days, that we may gain a wise heart. Now this, this instruction to number our days, I don't think we need to take it literally. But because I have access to Google, of course I did. And I found out that today I am 13,131 days old. You can check how many days you are, after. But as we number our days, as we learn what that means, it doesn't mean that we should live as if we will live forever. Or it doesn't mean that we should live as if we won't live forever. We should live as if we're doing life intentionally. And part of this means coming to terms with our own humanity, with our own fragility, so that we don't take our bodies for granted, or our time on this earth for granted. And as we do this, as we become aware of ourselves, of our vulnerabilities, we are led into a deeper dependence on God. Psalm 90 teaches us what it means to make God our shelter. And really, there's nothing else that can offer us the same hope, the same security, the same love. We are hopefully nearing the end of a worldwide pandemic. But it has turned our lives upside down. We've seen in the last week how, overnight, war can descend on a country, leave people running from their homes, saying goodbye to their loved ones. So where is the hope? Where is the peace? And the answer to these questions lies in our return to dust. The Psalmist is referencing Genesis 3:19. When God declares that people were made from dust, and to dust they will return. Just as Adam was formed from the dust, we die and our bodies will return to the dust. There's a scholar and professor, her name is Bridget Coll, and she writes about this verse. And she points out that the phrase "until you return to the ground" in Genesis three, that this phrase holds a double meaning. This text is very explicitly talking about a change of direction, she says, for the Hebrew word for return, replies, implies also the theological dimension of repentance, of turning back to God. It has this idea that when we repent, we are turning around, we are turning from what we have become, to turn back to our Creator. This verse then, she explains, is not just about our physical bodies returning to dust. But it implies that, as we repent, as we turn, we are turning back to something. We are turning back to our true vocation to serve and preserve the Earth. Returning to dust is about turning back, about leaving behind that which has distracted us from our true calling, to turn back to God.
I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with the story, "The Secret Garden". Has anyone read that, seen the movie? I'm going to give some spoilers then. It was written in 1911. So if you haven't read it now, that's on you. But it's a story of a young girl. Her name is Mary Lennox. And she grows up in India. She is British, her parents are British. And she's unloved and unwanted. She watches us her parents have parties, and have this fabulous life, and she's kind of left to her own devices. One day tragedy strikes and her parents are killed. And she is sent to England to live with her uncle, that she doesn't know well, in his giant estate. He lives on acres and acres of land. Now this house, as large as it is, is filled with secrets. And Mary , she's a child with nothing to do, so of course she sets to uncovering all these secrets and learning about what they are. Now before Mary had arrived, her aunt had been in the garden, this, this garden that she's heard about. It was a place that Harriet loved to go, and would spend hours and hours there. One day there's an accident and her aunt dies in the garden. And her uncle is so overcome with grief that he locks the garden and throws away the key, and its location becomes unknown. So as Mary uncovers the story, she sets out to explore the estate, explore the grounds and to find this key, and the garden. Of course, she comes upon the key, and eventually finds the garden, and she lets herself in. As she enters this giant walled garden, she sees that everything is either dead or overgrown, it's colourless. It looks pretty awful. She has a friend that works on the grounds. So she brings him in, and as he's looking around, he pulls back some of the brush and he shows her, "See, there are buds here. There's life here. It just needs to be tended to". Now she and this friend, along with her cousin, they decide that they're going to, to clear out the mess,. They're going to make this garden beautiful once again. So they set to work. Every day they go out there, they remove dead shrubs, they trim what needs to be trimmed, and they work in the dirt. Now winter turns to spring, spring turns to summer. And as they find themselves in the garden, it's become a place that is full of beauty, and life, and wonder. All three of these children carry wounds, some that are physical, some that are emotional. But as they work with the earth, and with each other, they find healing. They uncover beauty not only within the garden but within themselves. Autumn arrives and as the children prepare to leave the estate, to attend their various schools, they lament that they have to leave this wonderful place, this garden that they have cared for. But Mary speaks to her cousin as he's lamenting and she tells him not to worry, their garden will be here when they return.
As I think about this story, I think about what it means to return to the ground. I find it's a good metaphor, for approaching Lent. It helps us contemplate what it means to return to dust, to return to dirt, to return to the garden. The garden, the garden as the first place where God came to commune with man and with a woman. So this morning, as you prepare for Lent, what I propose to you is not an invitation to suffer. But to come back to that place of communion with God, whatever that might be for you. Commit to taking time in silence and reflection. And ask where you have allowed the chaos and distractions of life to choke out the beauty and simplicity that comes with living a life that is in step with Jesus. I invite you to ask the spirit to show you, what in your life needs to go. So that you can be more in tune with what God is doing. With where that growth is. With where life is trying to come up. As you think about what might need to go, maybe it will be coffee, I don't advise it. But maybe it's a worry. Maybe it's isolation. Maybe it's discontentment or apathy. Or maybe it's not about giving anything up. But about slowing down. And being open to seeing what God is doing around you and in your own life, so that you know where you need to till and cultivate the ground.
There is a pastor in Vancouver. His name is Ken Shigematsu. And he wrote this great book. It's called "God in my Everything. How an ancient rhythm helps busy people enjoy God". Now his book is about the practice of developing a Rule of Life, which I'm not going to talk about today, but definitely something to consider if you're wondering how you can engage more deeply with Lent. But he has this great paragraph about prayer and I want to share that with you.
"Prayer is less about looking for God, and more about cultivating an ever growing awareness of His presence. In prayer, we discover what we already have. We start from where we are and deepen what we already have and realize we are already there. Everything has been given to us in Christ. All we need is to experience what we already possess."
So as you think about that, does he think about what Christ has already given to us? I hope that you're not approaching Lent, ready to struggle, and suffer, but more with an openness to what God will do. We serve a God who is generous. A God who wants to know us, and a God who wants to be known by us. And in his generosity, God has given us others to walk this journey with. He gave me a roommate to be very honest with me during my first Lent experience. And he gives us communities where we can seek him together, and support one another. If we go back to Psalm 90, we see that the language that is used, is communal. As we consider the brevity of life and our fragility, remember that the love that God extends to us is often given through his children. We all benefit when we surround ourselves with people who love God, and who are looking for ways to walk the journey of discipleship together. Joining others on a Lenten journey of fasting, or of making space, it's not about competition, but about community. It's not about proving what you can do to others, or to yourself. No, it's about engaging with God and relying on God, and that which God has given us to fully satisfy our souls. We read that in verse 14. "Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love. So we may sing for joy at the end of our lives." As depressing as this Psalm might be, it does come back to joy, and good news, because that's what God is about.
So a successful Lent is one that will allow us to deepen our experience of God. And the results, as we come out of it, the end of 40 days, should be joy, resurrection joy. We come to Resurrection Sunday with joy and gladness, and singing. But we haven't started Lent, so we're not going to go there yet. Right now we're in this space of in-between. Right now the invitation is to sit in the garden and to wait. Sit in the garden and ask those difficult questions. The Psalmist asks, ask how long Oh Lord, how long will you delay, and it is here that we linger. We linger in the dust. And we till the earth, in hopes of cultivating an ever growing awareness of God's presence. And we can trust, that as we do this, that God is there, that God is waiting for us with open arms, and that what He is offering is the promise of beauty, and of new life.
Let me pray with you.
God we come to you this morning with our questions, with our sorrows, with our fears. And God while we wait expectantly for you to turn us to joy, to turn us to your peace, we know that we can trust you as we wait. Oh God I pray for each person that is here in this room. God for those that are joining on line, God that as they seek to find you, as they seek to uncover what you're already doing in them, that your spirit would open their eyes to the beauty, to the peace, to the life that is already there. We pray this in Jesus name and by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Children of God, you may go in peace.
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