Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rethinking Lent!

One time a friend of mine was attending an Ash Wednesday service.
As he was leaving the sanctuary something made him involuntarily laugh.
Another Church goer behind him in line to leave said indignantly, “Lent is no laughing matter.”
I have often reflected on this story.
This is how we think of lent.
It is a somber time.
It is a time to confess all our sins.
It is a time to reflect on how horrible we are.
However, most of us already know that we are horrible.
We don’t need the Church to remind us of this.
Most of us are all too aware of our short comings.
I also think that lent is a particularly hard time for people living in New Hampshire.
We are at the end of winter; there is still snow on the ground.
In fact, this morning it was snowing.
We all feel beat down already.
We are anxious for spring, for warm sunshine.
We already feel in a sour mode, and now we have to come to church and hear about how awful we are, how awful life is, how dreary is the human condition.
What are we going to do with lent?
It is no laughing matter, but it comes during a time when we need to laugh more than ever.
One of my friends on Facebook posted this.
“This year I am giving up Lent for Lent.
Just this one time.
I've heard people say that for years and years and understood but never really internalized it.
I love the ash, I love Holy Week and all the rituals and all the reminders but this year I have had too much death already.
I'll take Easter, you take Lent.
Bring on the spring!”
Maybe you feel that way about your life too.
Too much death, too much bad news, too much winter, we need resurrection and spring.

Perhaps we can shift just a little our view on lent.
First of all it is not a time for the church to tell us that we are bad people.
I always feel that I don’t need to point out other people’s sins because they know those sins already.
We are often harder on ourselves than others are.
Instead what we can see lent as is permission to let go of the idea that we need to be perfect.
We can let go of the idea that everything in life has to be a certain way.
In our Gospel for this evening Jesus gives us permission to let go.
To not worry about tomorrow, to not worry about what we look like to the outside world.
Jesus gives us permission to lay our burdens down at God’s feet.

Second, lent is not really about sin.
At least not in the way we think about sin.
We think of sin as actions that we do.
We sin when we are mean to someone, when we rob the local store of some bread or milk.
Instead it lent is about the human condition.
It is about the condition of human fragility.
It reminds me of the Sting song, “On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are”
Life is precious because it is so fragile.
We are fragile.
We are fragile because we so easily mess up our own lives with self-destructive behavior.
We get hurt easily, we get bruised by life, and we get cut up by other people.
And we die.
Lent is an invitation to merely ponder that fragile existence.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.

Third, lent is not about punishment it is about renewal.
As our Psalmist says, “Create in me a clean heart O’God and renew a right spirit within me.”
Lent is about us renewing ourselves by giving ourselves over to God.
And perhaps this season of lent renewal is exactly what we need.
We need it because we are worried about so many things, and it will feel good to let go of those burdens.
We need it because things are just not going in the right direction in our lives, or we feel that they are not.
We need it because we have lost the ability to connect ourselves to the source of God’s love and redemption.
If lent is about how fragile we are, it is also about reconnecting to the source of our strength.

Forth, lent is not just about us.
Lent is about Jesus.
In lent we focus a lot on ourselves.
We focus about giving things up to improve ourselves.
We focus on our spiritual journey.
But the truth is that what is at the heart of this is not self improvement.
It is God as we know God in Jesus Christ.
It is about getting to know Jesus better.
That is why we give something up to know Jesus in our lives better.
It is to live more fully into the truth that Jesus is teaching us tonight.
“Do not worry about your life.”
Instead trust and turn toward God.
Give that life over to God in faith and watch and see the miraculous things that God will do for you.

If life is fragile and because of this we need to be renewed than it is Jesus Christ that is the source of that renewal.

I would like to share a story with you tonight that illustrates this it is about a man named Bill.
A man named Bill was a successful business man on Wall Street.
He believed in his abilities, his mind, and his good work.
He was out to prove to the world that he was important and that he mattered.
He was always a heavy drinker.
In 1929 the stock market crashed and so did all of his dreams and money.
Over the next years he became more and more heavily drinking.
He became powerless over alcohol.
He couldn’t control it, no matter how hard he tried, no matter how much he promised his wife that this was the last drink.
He lost everything.
Until one day an old drinking buddy showed up at his house to tell him about how he had gone sober, about how he had found “religion”.
The only cure for his alcoholism was to submit to his higher power.
As Bill tells it, “I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood God, to do with me as God would. I placed myself unreservedly under God’s care and direction.
I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without God I was lost.”
This story is told by Bill W. who was the co-founder of AA.
The story is told in AA big book.
I share it with you tonight as an example of what lent is really about.
It is about our reconnection of our fragile life, and our need to rest our lives in the hands of God, and the need to be restored and renewed by God.
It is a serious thing no doubt.
But it also is something to laugh at.
It is something to find joy in knowing that we are not condemned to live quite lives of desperation without hope.
We can instead give them over to God.
As Bill writes, “There is a vast amount of fun about it all.”
There is a fun in life, and there is fun in knowing God’s love and care given to us in Jesus Christ.

So may we laugh this lent.
May we throw worry and sin into God’s arms.
And may we know of God’s grace given in Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

  1. I really like your emphasis that Lent is not really about sin, but about the fragility of the human condition and the ever present possibility of renewal in God.
    Thanks for your thoughtful reflection.
    Btw, love your blog title...more pastors and theologians could use a dose of your humility.