In a few days, Feb. 17 to be exact, the Christian season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.
In a variety of ways, followers of Jesus Christ from different traditions - Baptists, Bible churches, Lutherans, Methodists, Roman Catholics and others - will focus intentionally on Christ's journey to his crucifixion and resurrection on Easter.
Historically, many Christians have observed this holy season by "giving up something for Lent." The essential idea behind this practice is the notion that one lets go of a particular activity or habit in order to pay closer attention to God and in so doing draw closer to Christ.
The term "Lent" comes from the Anglo Saxon word, lente, meaning springtime. The association of Lent with spring creates common ground between Christian people and those who do not follow Jesus Christ.
The human longing for the light and warmth of spring (especially those of us in the far north!) foreshadows the Christian anticipation of Christ's victory over the power of eternal darkness, as Lent gives way to Easter. Indeed, one need not be a follower of Jesus Christ to long for light to break into the world and overcome dark forces that oppress and destroy creation.
This Lent, Christians who share the same Bible readings ("common lectionary") will hear sermons from the gospel of Luke. Indeed, thousands of people in Juneau will listen to these messages. Saint Luke, a Greek physician and historian lived during the first century, not too many years after the earthly life of Christ. This follower of Jesus emphasized at least two themes that are timely and relevant for us, whether or not we identify with Christ.
First, Luke emphasized the social-justice content of Jesus' message. He did so in a way that was practical and down-to-earth. Luke helps us understand Jesus' call to use responsibly the resources God has given us. According to Luke, Jesus is less concerned with a radical restructuring of society, and more focused on practical benevolence.
The gospel writer tells us that God wants us to use our resources to help and care for those less fortunate than ourselves. Surely, with the cry of Haiti in our ears, Jesus' call to love in practical, tangible ways is a message for all humanity.
Secondly, Luke highlights Jesus' message of forgiveness. This theme transcends religious identities and commitments. We all make mistakes. We have all harmed others. We all need forgiveness. Love and forgiveness - these are the antidotes to the rage and bitterness that fuels so much of our public discourse and private relationships.
The season of Lent is not just for Christians. Darkness surrounds us and the holy season of Lent invites us to remember that light and The Light will soon arrive.
Check out the ancient wisdom of the Gospel of Luke. Its message of social justice and forgiveness, delivered to us this Lenten season, is exactly what we all need.
Douglas M. Dye is pastor at Chapel by the Lake.