“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit;
for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10
This Sunday we begin our annual 40-Day Spiritual Adventure, traditionally called the season of Lent. This season has been for many Christians throughout the centuries a time to do some spiritual spring cleaning. Since the fifth century, Lent (literally “springtime”) has been associated with prayer, fasting, repentance, and almsgiving. It is a time to “give things up,” as well as a time to share with those in need. Sadly, some have turned this tradition into a joyless time to begrudgingly forgo a few token pleasures. But this season presents an opportunity, not a requirement. As one author says, “It is meant to be the Church’s springtime, a time when, out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges.” This is always a time for us to come to terms with who we are, to recall the great generosities of God through Jesus Christ, to discern what has deadened us to him, and to remember what we are yet called to be and do in our time.
Our Lenten sermon theme for this year is “More Than Meets the Eye.” During the next month and a half, we’ll be reflecting on various Biblical characters who encountered God or met Jesus and were chagrined, challenged, and ultimately changed by that encounter. For example, Jonah had to reassess a faith that excluded the possibility of God forgiving his despised enemies, the Assyrians. A self-assured scribe had to expand his understanding of “neighbor” after Jesus told a parable about a Good Samaritan. Job, certain of his righteousness despite horrendous suffering, got a different “answer” to his questions than he was expecting. Mary, a trauma survivor, had to rework what she believed was possible in a garden encounter with Jesus. Jacob got more than he bargained for when an all-night wrestling match with God left him with a limp and a new name. Peter was often surprised by Jesus, learning that forgiving extends beyond seven times, that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross, and that painful failure does not equal disqualification from life in God’s kingdom.
In each of these scriptural stories, we discern that when it comes to God and God’s ways with us, there is always more than meets the eye. God has a way of breaking out of the tidy theological boxes we construct, of caring for people we’ve decided we could write off, of calling us out of complacent grooves. I am prayerful that as we journey through this Lenten season, we will be reminded that there is always more to learn about the Holy One, always more to appreciate, always more to see. Augustine once wrote, “If you understood God, it would not be God.” This quote reminds me of the word “ineffable,” an adjective that means “too great to be expressed or described in words.” I believe that when we speak of God, we speak of the One to whom our words can gesture but never fully contain. May this Lent help us love more deeply the Lord of life whose judgments are unsearchable and whose paths are beyond tracing out.