There’s so much happening around the world. In addition to Ukraine, I want to draw your attention to the conflict and violence in Tigray, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Yemen, Afghanistan, and others. All major humanitarian crises.
In the face of all these heartbreaking tragedies, why would I invite people into the Lenten season – beginning with Ash Wednesday?
I appreciate the Lenten season because it helps me create rhythm in my life – especially as an antidote to busyness, chaos, clutter, and incessant noise. And of course, Lent helps me prepare for Passion Week – the final week of Christ. And while we know Easter brings upon us the celebration of the Resurrection, I am grateful that the Lenten season more thoughtfully and deeply prepares me for Maundy Thursday, Crucifixion Friday, and Silent Saturday.
Lent is also known as the season when Christians are “giving up” something. I’ll be honest that I’ve grown somewhat reticent about how vogue or easy it is to give something up during Lent – umm, especially when it’s something like chocolate, sugar, social media, Netflix, coffee, alcohol, and you name it.
Okay, Netflix is a big deal. Lol.
I don’t want to knock those who give stuff up. In fact, I understand the significance of self-denial and feel it’s something we should actually pursue more of – especially beyond the Lenten season – as in a life commitment. But if we’re not careful, we can so easily just fall into religious practice for the sake of religious practice. If the goal is merely the giving up of something without taking up of something more significant, the focus is just merely on the stuff we give up or really, the focus is on the practice of giving up something rather than giving into Jesus – or in other words, our solidarity with Jesus.
In truth, it becomes about us. Again.
Anything that produces rituals, practices, and the like – without ultimately inviting us to a deeper understanding and worship of the Living God…lends itself to empty religion. And what we need isn’t more empty religion.
We need Gospel. And by Gospel, I’m not speaking of a self-help, pop spiritual psychology, but a Gospel that cuts into the heart of humanity with a grace and conviction that compels us to not just merely to salvation but a life committed to mercy, justice, and humility.
Isaiah 58 speaks of fasting but fasting that God is not pleased with. It’s fasting that caters to our own eyes or pleasure but not the kind of fasting that God invites us to…a life broken and transformed by the things of God:
6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
In other words, I wonder if God might have these words for us:
“Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee.
I asked you to surrender your life.”
We mustn’t think of Lent as only ‘giving up’ but rather a season of more deeply ‘giving in’ or ‘giving to.’ So here are some questions for us to ponder – especially in light of so much suffering and injustice around the world
In what ways am I more compelled to give in to the ways of the Kingdom of God?
How am I more deeply giving in and giving to – to my neighbors, families, church, strangers, refugees, and others?
How am I more deeply giving or growing in stewardship, generosity, and convictions?
How am I more giving in to Mercy, Justice, and Humility?
How am I more giving in to the Beatitudes and the ways of Christ?
May we give ourselves more fully to Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Remember, we are dust and to dust we shall return. Repent, believe, and be saved by the gospel of Christ. Amen.
Join me and Bread for the World on the Lenten journey.