It may not look like it at first, but the above is the perfect question for Lent.
Lent, for our ancestors in faith, was a time of concentrated preparation for those who would be baptized into the Church on Easter morning. During these weeks, the candidates for baptism were flooded with sermons, lessons, tests and small rituals. The candidate’s sponsor, a constant presence during Lent, was tasked to shepherd the new believer and report back to the leadership of the Church. The sponsors hoped to report the gradual, ongoing conversion of the new believer, a changed identity.
On Easter, the baptism ritual would do two things: initiate the believer into the Body, and mark that point in time when the believer would finally and completely move from death to life- dying out to self and sin and being raised to a new, peculiar, dynamic life in and through Christ as a member of His Body.
Conversion, in this case, takes some time- and quite a bit of effort. With the help and guidance of the sponsor, there is growth, struggle, pain, and then more growth. It’s so much larger than any one-time decision. There’s so much at stake!
It’s not just the heart and habits that are changed in the process of conversion- it’s the whole being, the sense of self. The converted believer has a new language, a new community with new associations, a new life trajectory, a new life’s work and dream. When converted, I allow my entire identity to be overtaken by the One who made me and knows me better than I know myself.
This is when the words of Paul make the most sense to me: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)
The baptized community takes a specific, sometimes strange place and posture in the world. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, should it? Jesus, the One, the Firstborn of this peculiar people wasn’t exactly normal. And so we, His Body, are at times a little odd, at least where the rest of the culture is concerned.
It’s because of this identity issue I’ve been talking about. Like Jesus himself, we Christians are baptized into a movement and into a category unlike any other category. We Christians, while loving and identifying with so many people, defy any clear cut classification or label, except the one that’s been carved out for us by Jesus himself- Christian.
You’ve heard me say it before, but listen again: when we’re saved or converted, we’re not just rescued FROM something, we’re kept FOR something and added TO something. We’re identified with Christ and the movement He began and continues through us.
Are you in yet? Lent is the perfect time to continue the conversion process. For many of you, long identified with Christ, Lent offers a season of intentional attention to your own journey. I hope you’ll continue to blur the lines between you and Jesus, so that like Paul, you won’t be sure where you stop and He begins!
If you are not yet converted, this season, quite literally, is made for you.
Many of us are in training for the first annual Cole Center run, March 31st. It’s a 5k run, and for you experienced long-distance runners, 5 kilometers won’t be much of a challenge. Perhaps you’ve been running for a long time! Perhaps you’re preparing for the Memorial Marathon, training to tackle the half or the whole thing! I’m exhausted just typing it!
Are you aware of all the training tips that are available to aspiring runners-in-the-making like you?
Even if you are the classic “couch potato,” a training regimen exists to coax and coach you all the way to your first 5k run. In fact, the training program is called, you guessed it, “couch to 5k.” And yes, there’s also the “couch to 10k,” and the “couch to half-marathon” and the “couch to marathon” programs, if you’re so inclined.
Couch potato to marathon runner. Just let that sink in a moment, especially if you understand yourself to be that couch potato.
Now there’s a conversion story! And how about an identity change?!?
Look at the definition below….
- (of a person) Tending to spend much time seated; somewhat inactive.
- (of work or a way of life) Characterized by much sitting and little physical exercise.
That word, sedentary, defines or at least describes too many of us! We need an identity change; we need to be converted, and perhaps that couch to 5k program is just what we need.
I’ve looked at it several times, and I know many who’ve been helped. I know a couple of “sedentary” people who are becoming runners, really!
You don’t jump off the couch and run a marathon. Couch potatoes don’t run (or even survive) marathons; runners do. If a couch potato wants to learn to run, he or she will have to commit to the training, the regimen, the process. And that process will result in a change, not just where habits are concerned, but there will be a change in identity and self-estimation as well.
I hope you’re starting to see where I’m headed this Lenten season. Together, we’ll celebrate the small victories along the way to conversion and Christlikeness. Together we’ll explore who we’re meant to be as the people of God, the Body of Christ. I guess you could call it, couch to Christian….
We’re having a big baptismal service on Sunday, April 15. On that day, we’ll baptize as many as we can into this strange, Christian movement. In addition, we’ll have a brief but large ceremony that will allow all of us to remember and celebrate again our baptism into the Body.
So between now and then, we’ll need to have some teaching, some learning, some discussion and some preparation.
Each of my sermons during the Sundays of Lent will serve as a session in a prolonged baptism class. By the time we get to the Easter season, those who have heard these sermons and participated in the Lenten process will be ready for this amazing sacrament we know as baptism.
If you would be interested in having a sponsor to help shepherd you along the way, please let me know. Call the church office or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together, we’ll get off the couch and learn to run the race marked out for us. Conversion and changed identity are in our future.
“Who do you think you are?” Great question. Here’s one more, “Who do we think WE are?”
Christ seems to think we can be fellow runners, running the same strange race we see Him running throughout the pages of the Gospels.
Listen as He calls you, as He calls us, to run with Him!
Time to get off the couch. It’s the Lenten season.