The pagans haven’t taken them over yet. They tried, but Easter bonnets aren’t high on the fashion agenda; the Easter bunny, for some reason, has never reached the PR level of Santa Claus; and unless you’re a believer, you probably aren’t big on fasting or giving stuff up for Lent.
Are you giving up anything for Lent?
I’m giving up liver, okra and booze.
I know you’re impressed, but don’t be. It’s the least I can do after all that Jesus has done for me.
And that is, of course, the problem of sacrificing things at Lent and doing stuff for Jesus. It messes with your head and religion has already done that.
I read something the other day that explains a lot about me and why I’m so grumpy.
Someone said that old people are already angry about being old and it takes very little to tick them off. There’s some truth to that. This is true too: Religious people are already weird and it takes very little to tip them over into crazy. Lent will do that to you if you aren’t careful.
If you’re not careful, when you do sacrifice something for Jesus, you start thinking that you’re “getting about even” and become a Pharisee about it, looking down your nose at all those “Christian cretins” who don’t love Jesus enough to repay him for his love.
The Bible says that we’re not even close to getting even.
Paul asked a rhetorical question in Romans 11:35, “Who has given a gift to him [God] that he might be repaid?” The answer is, of course, nobody.
There’s an essential arrogance in human beings that religion will feed if we aren’t careful. You start thinking that when you do or don’t do (if you’re fasting) something for Jesus, it’s more sufficient than (or adds to) the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It isn’t.
Nothing adds to that sufficiency. If you belong to him because of the sacrifice of Christ, it’s enough. It’s easy to forget the absolute sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for us. No matter what you do or don’t do, nothing changes the fact that what Jesus did on the cross is enough.
The love of God secured the cross. There is absolutely nothing you can do to get God to love you one iota more than he already does. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to get God to love you one iota less.
There is absolutely nothing you can do to get God to love you one iota more than he already does
There is another area of weirdness in religion in general that sometimes gets magnified at Lent in particular. It’s this idea that what we give up is important stuff for Jesus and he should be pleased. That isn’t what it’s about. If you do give up some important stuff, it’s to clarify what’s really important.
Do you remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4)? Satan lied to Jesus about what was important. “You hungry? Turn these stones into bread. You don’t have much stuff? Just nod in my direction and I’ll give you more stuff than you ever dreamed of.”
Serving Christ, taking up the cross, going places where we don’t want to go, doing stuff for him we maybe don’t want to do, or at Lent, sacrificing something we think is important, isn’t God’s way of making us miserable. It’s God’s methodology of clarifying what’s really important.
An illustration: After I resigned from the seminary, we decided that we could probably handle the mortgage on the house where we now live, but it would be far better to downsize, moving into a townhouse or a much smaller place. So as we considered a move (we since then decided to stay), we began to give away a whole lot of stuff.
That was a good thing. Do you know why?
It’s because I wasn’t giving away stuff that was important. I just thought it was. Jesus is important and people are important…but the rest is just stuff. God first taught me that in the hurricane when we lost so much. Evidently, I didn’t learn the lesson well enough and so I needed to be reminded.
And speaking of being reminded, this is a wonderful time to remember. On Good Friday (“It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!”), Jesus shared the traditional Passover meal with his disciples, but with a couple of significant changes in the liturgy. Then Jesus said that he wouldn’t share the wine with them again “until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18).
He told us to remember. Remember what?
Remember who we are, whose we are, where we’re going and the dinner party to which we’re invited when this mess is all over.
He told us to remember the smell of the wine until we got Home!
Easter is about a party. Easter is about Home.
A dead man got out of the grave and said we could too.
If you’re practicing a Lenten fast, I want you to know that I just stopped and prayed for you.
Wait, you don’t know what I prayed.
When I spoke to one of the first incoming classes at the seminary, I said, “Your parents are praying that you make a success of this. Your pastor is praying for the same thing. Most of the professors have prayed that kind of prayer for you too. Not me. I’m praying that you fail. Then, when you don’t have anything to offer, you’ll understand why God’s love for you is so unbelievable, astounding and precious.”
I prayed something like that for you. I prayed you just couldn’t be disciplined any longer and when the smell of the food finally got to you, that you would break your fast.
And I also prayed that when that happened, God would hug you and you would know deeply and profoundly that you’re loved not because you’re better…
…but because you’re his!
Okay. I confess that I could never get liver down, I think okra is hairy and slimy (even if it’s fried, you remember what it was!), and I can’t stand adult beverages.
But Jesus likes me anyway! So there!