(This is what I plan to preach tonight, 18 Feb. 2015; but I don’t use a manuscript.)
I have spent the last week or so, setting up and organizing my scrapbook or craft room. The concept is that the room itself would be decorated with mementos from High School, College, my travels, and general adventures that are unable to fit within the pages of an actual scrapbook. As I finished this task the other day, I pondered how much the room seemed to be an “I Love Myself” room.
Let me explain. Most people, especially in high school, have a section of their bedroom or an entire wall dedicated to certificates, awards, and various achievements earned. In my family, this is called the “I Love Myself” wall… and now, I seem to have a whole room.
This caused me to ponder Ash Wednesday and Lent in general.
Last year, Ash Wednesday “trended” on social media. People (and congregations) encouraged others to attend worship with the clever catch-phrase “Get your Ash in Church”. And after getting the ashes, people were encouraged to take a selfie and share with the clever #AshTag. This year it has expanded with Christian companies offering individuals a chance at free items, if they do so and include the company’s hashtag as well.
Have we turned Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, not into a “I Love Myself” wall but into a “Pious Christian” display?
Similar to what the gospel this evening warns us NOT to do.
Lent is marked with the practice of fasting. But why? Why do we fast?
It is not to suffer ‘as Christ’ suffered. Lets be honest! Even if I fasted from my primary vice, Coca-Cola, it would not compare to the temptation, suffering, and death of Christ.
Lent is marked as a time of awaiting, held in suspense, of Jesus’ journey to the cross and his resurrection. But why?
We know how the story ends!
These are misrepresentations of Lent, a season most dread; however, a few strange people, myself included, actually like it.
It reminds us of our own impending death. As Ash Wednesday reminds us, “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
It is a reflective time to ponder our imperfections and those in our broken world, although we spend a great deal of time and energy deny said personal sin.
So, why do I like Lent?
Because the real intention of Lent is neatly packaged in 4 words: Reflect, Repent, Reconcile, and Restore.
First, Reflect. We are called to reflect on our lives and our relationship with the Triune God. I noted in a couple recent sermons that ‘demons’ are things, good or bad, that distract us from God. We are called to reflect upon these ‘demons’ and fast from them.
Next, Repent. We are called to repent, to turn from these ‘demons’ and turn towards God through the power and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Then, Reconcile. After repenting, we are reconciled with God in the glorious light of forgiveness. God is eager to continually offer grace with the gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Lastly, Restore. When reconciled with the Triune God we are restored, at the very least spiritually.
Instead of seeing it as a time to suffer, see it as an opportunity to be intentional about your spirituality and your spiritual connection to God.
Put down the steamy romance novel and read a devotion.
Turn off the TV and spend time in meditation, use Christian Art or Prayer Beads to focus this meditative time.
Put down the phone, step away from the social media, and go for a walk in nature or participate in community service.
Basically, be intentional about making time to be in relationship with God, which does include to love and serve our neighbors.
Therefore, I have a challenge for each of you, if you so choose to accept.
DO NOT SHARE with people what you are ‘fasting’ from and/or the intentional spiritual practice you are engaging. Why? The gospel tonight warns against putting our spiritual practices on display, like the hypocrites, because ultimately it becomes less about the personal spiritual journey to connect with the Triune God and more about displaying our own ‘pious’ Christian pride.
Let’s NOT make this Lent such a display. Amen.