HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
March 19, 2007, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

Lent is more than a blip on the screen

Rev. Sherri Sandoz, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lester Prairie

Often as not, Lent is described as a 40-day journey.

More than a road trip or a vacation, a journey implies a profound experience of adventure and risk. A real journey is a prolonged experience containing elements of both delight and disaster.

Some of our most productive journeys are in the realm of the spiritual, which seeks, finds, and names the very existence of God in our lives. Adventuresome? You bet. Risky? You know it. Worth it? Without a doubt.

We know from the Gospel readings on the first Sunday of Lent that Jesus was no stranger to spiritual journey. For 40 days, in a desert wilderness, Jesus relived the history of God’s chosen people.

Having left Egypt, the ancient Israelites endured unimaginable hunger and temptation on their way to the promised new land. Their hunger was great, but their temptation was even greater. In it, they questioned the very existence of God in their lives.

I have a story to tell about my own wilderness wandering. As many of you know, I had a profound prayer experience that served as my “call to ministry.”

After several conversations with my parish pastor, I followed the required protocol for admission into Luther Seminary in St. Paul. In April of 1992, I was accepted and was scheduled to start classes in the fall.

Knowing money would be tight in the coming years, I continued in my job in the food industry, working right up until Labor Day weekend. Prior to that, in mid-July, I was contacted by a job recruiter who was doing a candidate search for Del Monte Corporation in the little town of Burley, Idaho. 

My interview over the phone went well.  The company flew me out to see their canning operation.  I interviewed well again.  For the third interview, my husband, Jim, was invited to fly out with me.  The position was quality assurance manager, at a starting salary significantly higher than my current salary.  They offered the job to me. 

As you can imagine, I really wrestled with what God wanted from me.  Seminary?  Or a key management position in a respected name-brand company?  Had I made a mistake in thinking seminary was right for me?  Had God really acted in my life?

In our hotel room, my husband, and I wrestled passionately for four straight hours with all the pros and cons of taking on the new position. We finally came to the conclusion that Jim could simply not make the move at that time.  He offered to turn down the position for me – which he did when we met with Del Monte officials later in the day. 

The door to my former career closed like a steel vault, because it meant no turning back to industry, ever.  This left a clear, unobstructed path to seminary – unobstructed by guilt, or what-ifs. 

In that spiritual journey, old doors closed and new doors opened. I could not have known at the time what a necessary step it was.  My husband’s was the human voice I needed to hear to decide that  Del Monte was the wrong choice.  He was the only human being on earth who could have changed my stubborn mind in those moments.   

Within a couple of days I finally came to know there was no destination for me other than seminary.  The result was tremendous relief.  That kind of clarity is pure gift. 

And because of the radical nature of it, I have to believe God was involved. A couple of months later, I was ushered into a brand new life. 

The ancient Israelites experienced thirst and they questioned whether God was among them or not. In faithfulness to their question, God provided the water they quarreled over.

So, which is more difficult to fathom: a natural, but systematic removal of many obstacles along life’s journey? Or God’s action?

In Lent, we join Jesus in his journey from death into the new land of life. Perhaps Lent can also be, not just a blip on our annual screen, but the start of a whole new way of life. Adventuresome? You bet. Risky? You know it. Worth it? Without a doubt.

By the way, that Del Monte plant shut down permanently by the time I was a senior seminarian. We would have been stuck in Idaho with a mortgage and little or no way back.

God is good.

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