There is an old Shaker hymn that was popularized by composer Aaron Copland: "'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free. 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come 'round right."
Lent is a season for returning to God. For most of us that means, turning and re-turning, because we're always being lured away or thrown off course by our sin, by our tendency to do what is unhealthy physically, spiritually or emotionally.
The first step of turning is to acknowledge that we have wasted God's good gifts or failed ourselves and others by what we have done or left undone. The second step is to desire a more abundant life with God. The third step is to commit to a new way of life by embracing Christ's loving forgiveness.
On Ash Wednesday, we heard the prophet Joel calling us to "return to the Lord with all your heart ... for the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Joel 2-12-13).
We wondered what we might start doing or stop doing to draw closer to God. It is not about proving ourselves worthy to God -- that could never happen - but being thankful by turning. For the free gift of God in Christ is grace, but when we are thankful for that grace, we must be eager to embrace it, to allow the gift to transform life.
I got a new "Bluetooth" for Christmas from my husband, but much to my own frustration, I have not changed my way of using my cell phone to embrace this gift. It takes time and determination to change your patterns, to allow gifts to transform life.
Likewise, when the gifts of joy and peace and love that God provides in abundance do not transform me into a joyful, peaceful, and loving person, I need to keep turning and seeking to be transformed. It requires some determined effort.
Last week's reading from Isaiah was an invitation to abundance God gives when we "return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD." (Isaiah 55).
This week's reading from Luke is the parable of the lost, wasteful son. With three parables of lost and found, Christ teaches that God is eager, always zealous to rescue the lost, to forgive the sinner, to welcome home the one who wandered off. When the wayward son returned to his father, the father did not even wait for his apology, he rushed out to celebrate the son's return.
So it with each of us, every time we turn to God and are transformed by God's love.
The Rev. Elizabeth M. Deibert, is pastor of Peace Presbyterian Church, 10902 Technology Terrace, Lakewood Ranch. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 941-753-7778.