Lent: Call to an Altared/Altered Life

Romans 12:1-2
12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message)

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Last week we looked at the way conformity to our culture hinders our pursuit of faithfully serving God. This week we look at the obstacles in us that hinder that pursuit. The rigor of the changes in us that faithful discernment exacts. Someone has quipped that the only problem with the “living sacrifices” (Rom.12:1 NRSV) Paul encourages us to become is that we keep climbing down off the altar.

John the Seer gives us a thumbnail sketch of the kind of people God wants and intends us to become in Rev.12:10: people who conquer the enemy by Jesus' blood (his way of loving, self-sacrifical way of serving others, by holding to his testimony, and willing to give their lives for Jesus' sake. I don't need to detail the struggles each of us has in coming to terms with what this will cost us. But there you have it.

Paul's counsel is to “fix your attention on God.” We face our struggles by turning our faces to God, to Christ. That's how we get “changed from inside out.” St. Augustine tells us how this works: we become what we adore. Not by dint of self-effort or moral improvement but by adore and fixed attention on the God we know in Jesus Christ. And that's right where the Lenten journey takes us. To the God who hands on a cross for love of us to rescue us from whatever hell we have found our way into.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's story “The Great Stone Face” captures this truth dramatically and memorably.

In a rural valley there was a rock formation that to the locals looked like a human face. The local folklore of the valley includes a prophecy that one day a local would be born who bears a stricking resemblance to the Great Stone Face. Others woud recognize this resemblance and acclaim him as "the greatest and noblest personage of his time." Ernest, a young mane of the valley, sets humself to discover the promised hero. He spends hours just looking at and ponering the Great Stone Face.

As time passes and Ernest grows to manhood, the story of the Great Stone Face gets around the United States. Others, who fancy they may be that hero revisit the valley to seek if others will acclaim them to be the one. A weathy merchant, a successful general, a skilled politician, a brilliant writer comme one by one to town. Ernest, however, discerns significant character flaws that disqualify them from fulfilling the conditions of the prophecy. They don't quite look like the Great Stone Face.

Ernest is a good bit older by now and is lay preacher for the community. He has faithfully kept up his vigal pondering the Great Stone Face.For one of his sermons the congregation has asked Ernest to deliver his sacred remarks from a the base of the cliff where everyone can see the Great Stone Face high above.

Hawthorne describes the climax of Ernest's sermon:  
“At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so imbued with benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms aloft and shouted, 'Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!' Then all the people looked, and saw that what the deep-sighted poet said was true. The prophecy was fulfilled.”


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