Tag Archives: Lent
And the older son felt the terrible weight of those years of work that he and his father had done, without his younger brother and the property he had taken away, and he knew that all the toil and anger and bitterness and poverty were for the sake of this one moment.
In each case, notice that the devil is tempting Jesus to do something that sounds good. Food is good, just and peaceful government is good, the mysterious power of God is good. The devil is taunting Jesus to get serious about these things already. What use is feeding a few thousand here and healing a few there and touching a few hearts somewhere else when you could just grab it all at once–fill every stomach, heal every infirmity, hold every heart in the palm of your hand?
The denial of death and guilt has become useful to us, even necessary. Ash Wednesday stands out, then, as a brutally frank reminder of things we have halfway persuaded ourselves aren’t true — that our lives are brief and that we need grace. It’s a reminder people seem to crave. I’ve made empty churches echo with the news that God embraces and forgives, but when the day comes to be marked with the sign of mourning and repentance, the pews are suddenly full.
Being a faithful person involves some loss. It involves letting the flood of baptism wash some things out of our hands. It involves dying to our desire for domination, dying to our need to always be right and wise in our own minds, dying to our need to have more and do more, dying to our desire to possess the world even at the expense of others. Being a faithful person means letting God rip those things from our hands, just as surely as it means being embraced by God and raised up by God and clothed in righteousness by God.
The season’s meager forays into discomfort can only show how very different fasting is from true hunger, let alone hunger imposed and enforced as a policy. Self-imposed penance for the sins of the world is an impossibility; it can even be a perverse delusion. Nothing in that world can be assimilated to our prostrations or hair shirts. “Weep not for me, but for yourselves,” as Jesus says
So it happens that skipping one meal on Ash Wednesday, another on Friday, and eating neither meat nor sweets at all, leaves me feeling like Gandhi by Saturday. One of the implicit bargains I’ve made with life is that I do my work and meet my responsibilities, however onerous, and in exchange I eat whatever I feel like, whenever I wish to. And it’s not just me. This is the structure of daily life in the twilight of the middle class: sacrifice sleep, family time, personal interests, and peace of mind, but grant yourself any of a million coruscating indulgences.
“Hardness of heart” is a powerful metaphor. Because that’s how we live and make our choices: one at a time, little by little, day by day. We don’t feel the sclerosis of our hearts because it doesn’t happen all at once. We just lose that softness a little bit each day. We lose that responsiveness to God, or to conscience, or to our neighbor. At first it was hard to ignore the voice of God, but it got easier every time. A hard spiritual heart, like a hard physical one, eventually just stops working.
(Note: I preached this sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church on Ash Wednesday, 2015) Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and […]
(Note: I preached this sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church on Ash Wednesday, 2016) Sisters and brothers grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. After all of that unpleasantness in the garden, God tells Adam about his life: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, […]
(Note: I preached this sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church on Ash Wednesday, 2012) Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. When the LORD God chose to make a human being, the story goes, he knelt down in the dust of the earth. The LORD […]