Today marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Just a short word about the season of Lent. The season is 40 days long, excluding Sundays as they are considered mini-Easters. This is a season intended for each of us to reflect on our lives, our witness, our discipleship. Many people follow a fast during this season, abstaining from certain foods or activities as a way of connecting with the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross.
Interestingly, I’m not sure giving up sweets, or chocolate, or movies can truly give us an understanding of what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. I’ve seen some alternate fasts suggested for those who want to observe Lent in a meaningful way. It has been suggested one should abstain from hateful speech, gossip, forms of oppression, forms of racism, forms of elitism, anger, selfishness, greed, ostentation, cheating, lying, backbiting…you get the idea. In other words, try our best to be a decent human being who is desperately trying to follow Jesus’ example.
On October 1, 1925 in a small farming town, a young child was born to a farmer and a nurse. He began to follow Jesus at an early age, and although it would have been easy to take up the racism of the day, his desire was to treat everyone with dignity and respect. He was educated in the public school system and went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about the 39th president of the United States, James Earl Carter, Jr., affectionately known the world over as Jimmy Carter. Jimmy married Rosalynn Smith of Plains, Georgia in 1946. Jimmy’s father died in 1953, so he resigned his commission in the Navy and returned to Georgia where he took over running the Carter farms and Carter’s Warehouse, a general seed and farm supply company in Plains. On November 2, 1976 he was elected President of the United States. He served from January 20, 1977 to January 20, 1981. During his tenure, he was able to accomplish the Camp David Accords (the treaty of peace between Israel and Egypt), the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union, and the establishment of U.S. diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. He championed human rights throughout the world.
The first presidential election I was able to vote in was when President Carter ran for re-election. He was not successful in his bid for a second term. He left office the same way he came in, as a gentleman and humanitarian. Since his time in office, he and Rosylnn live in their community and attend church as they have always done. Jimmy has been a vocal and prominent supporter of Habitat for Humanity, not just giving lip service, but actually swinging a hammer and doing the work. He has authored 32 books, many of which are now in revised editions. I have watched successive former presidents in their years after leaving office, but none have been able to compare in my mind to the selfless service of Jimmy.
As I think of the beginnings of Lent, I desperately want to follow in the steps of Jesus. I want to be like him, I want to emulate his compassion, care, and love for others. Our dear friend Jimmy has just entered into hospice care in his home. He has been a model for so many. He probably would not want that kind of accolade, but would simply point us to Jesus. This is what our Christian walk should be, pointing others to Jesus, not drawing attention to what we ourselves are doing.
During this lenten season, I’m going to dedicate myself to praying more, especially for those who I disagree with and have issues with. I’m going to dedicate myself to serving others and shunning any notoriety or accolades for what I do. I’m going to dedicate myself to being more self-effacing, seeking to draw attention to the One I’m endeavoring to follow. In my quiet moments, I’ll think of Jimmy and say a prayer for him and his family in this time of transition. I saw an illustration recently that truly reminds me of who Jesus is calling me to be. The illustration had Jimmy on a ladder hammering on the roof of a house. Written above the front door were these words: “Facing mortality with Humility, Grace and Courage.” The caption above the illustration said: “One Last Habitat, For Us All.”
In Matthew 25:23 Jesus tells the parable of the servant who did an exemplary job for his master. The master says to the servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” I believe when Jimmy enters heaven, those are the words he will hear from God. May each of us live our lives in such a way, during Lent and beyond, so that we too may hear those same words.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,