Abram went as the Lord directed him. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it. Leave the land of your kinfolk and your Father’s house – leave all that you call ‘home.’ Many of us have done that – because of marriage, because we left home for college, because of a new job opportunity, because our health requires a different climate, because of a new assignment in the priesthood. It strikes me that the physical moving is the easy part. We get used to the new neighborhood, the new school, the new rectory, the new routines to our lives. In all my leavings, the most in depth changes are not due to the physical landscapes I have left. There are lands even more difficult to walk away from than “home”.
The most difficult land of all to leave goes by a kindly sounding phrase: your comfort zone. We know what is expected of us in our comfort zones. We know who we are, surrounded by neighbors and family members. Even the daily decisions about faith are made easier when everyone around us is more or less on the same page. No one will challenge us, too much here. And if they do, we’ll shrug them off as ‘one of those crazy people’ or one of those prophets, or even as a ‘living saint’ – because that takes US off the hook. That is extraordinary discipleship they are living. No way God could be calling little old ordinary ME to that stuff.
Even the disciplines of Lent become ‘familiar comfort zones.’ I’ll give up my alcohol, my chocolates, my eating between meals. I choose my extra time of prayer, my extra generosity to the poor, my extra efforts to be patient and helpful to the crabby neighbor. Yet somehow, those practices, even with the best of intent, never really transform us, they never transfigure our living the way Jesus was transfigured on the mountain.
• We fear to leave the land of self-will to embrace the land of surrender.
• It is so hard to leave the comfort zone of hoarding and embrace the land of simplicity, as we are being urged to do with Lent 4.5.
• We hope to leave the land of fear to walk in the land of trust.
But until we see Christ for whom He is – the one who calls us to absolute discipleship – I don’t know if we’ll ever have the courage to leave our comfort zones. The disciples did not want to leave the mountain. “It is good, Lord, for us to be here.” We know who you are and who we are. You, whom we have followed – you are more than what we hoped you would be. Let us stay here!
And yet, when they hear the voice: “They fell to the ground and were very much afraid,” They understood there was more to this seeing, an invitation to leave the comfort of the vision and the mountain top. Matthew is anxious to tell us two important truths about what gets the disciples back on their feet. One, they hear Jesus calling them, telling them “Do not be afraid.” And two, “When the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.” If we really trust it is Jesus calling us, and if we really keep our eyes focused on him, then it becomes easier to leave our comfort zones.
I confess, I was a bit resistant to Lent 4.5 when Barry Buchek proposed it two years ago, when it was too late to incorporate it into our Lenten plans. And a bit resistant when Kathy Dolson said: Let’s start recycling and composting at fish fries? Both of those seemed like crazy talk. It would have been much cheaper in a time when we are counting every penny, to say no. But they kept praying and keeping their eyes on Jesus. And I did the same. And now we’re doing both of them. 44 people are in small groups, studying and reflecting and praying about how to live a sustainable lifestyle as a response to the God of love. Two fish fries under our belts and only two grocery-bag sized containers going to the landfill. And though it is not exactly the same depth of commitment that Jesus makes when he leaves the mountain to go to the hill of Calvary, it is a step out of our comfort zone as a parish and as individuals. (I cannot think about ever using a plastic bag at a grocery store again. And since I always would forget to bring them, the last act of my putting food away is to put the reusable bags into my car. I am not done till that is done.)
This 2nd week of Lent, our Lord invites us, as he invited Abram and Peter, James and John, to leave our comfort zones, to leave the peace of the mountain top, and to journey the long road to Calvary. Perhaps the first step may be one suggested in this weekend’s Lent 4.5 bulletin. Maybe it will be the decision to keep your eyes focused on seeing Jesus alone in your prayer. But make no mistake: Jesus calls us, too, in our time and our space, to follow him down the mountain, away from our comfort zones – all the way to our own hills of Calvary, of trusting him with all we are.