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Homily: What To Do About Lent?!

A homily preached on Ash Wednesday at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hil on February 13, 2013.
RCL (Year C): Joel 2:12, 12-17; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

At a recent pre-Lenten retreat with +Bishop Shannon (Johnston), I heard our Bishop say, "We cannot do Holy Week, let alone the Triduum, without doing Lent properly."  The Triduum, a series of special religious observances over three days in preparation for a great feast, are specifically Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, that culminate with the Great Vigil and Easter.

The Bishop went on to talk about the Lenten practice of 'taking something on' rather than foregoing something common.  He questioned this discipline, asking why we might be trying to avoid a spiritual fast.  He encouraged us as his clergy, and I now invite you, to consider giving up something meaningful and daily for the forty days of Lent.  But you also might consider taking something on, to give time to something you don't ordinarily practice.

It's true that ever since the bottom fell out of the sackcloth and ashes business, we've really not known what to do about Lent.  "What do I give up?" seems to be the primary question, the antithesis of Jesus' call for us to give, as in alms-giving.  Lent isn't a time to slim down or to bank money by not buying chocolate or going out to dinner.  Way too often do our Lenten disciplines resemble holy variations on New Year's resolutions, and we know how long those last!

Part of the issue is that we compartmentalize and individualize Lent.  We begin with me.  Us, ourselves. Because we begin with me myself, the whole thing slides into another form of personal spirituality, perhaps somewhat ruined by our sly hints to others about just what it is we are sacrificing and why it is important to us.

Sacrificial giving is not solely rooted in annual stewardship campaigns, but

in Christianity, for as with our Jewish ancestors, it means the offering of life.  Its culmination is Jesus' offering himself for us on that cross on Calvary.  The central way we commemorate this is in our offering of the Eucharist, a corporate thanksgiving for the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord.  In Baptism, each of us is joined to those who "in Christ" offer the sacrifice, the life-offering of Our Lord and Savior.  We make this offering through Jesus for the world, in all its reality: for the homeless, refugees, those starving to death, anyone terrified by strife and civil war, and even those living hopeless lives of denial and indulgence.  In short, we get involved with the reality of life as it is.

Lent's forty days prepare us for the Cross and the Resurrection, and no good intentions about giving up something gets us to the 'green hill far away.'  It's true that, once our goal for Lent is established, fasting and abstinence are ways to keep us on rack, but first comes the goal.  The goal is simple but profound.  It begins with our parish church.  How does our community of the faithful here at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill intend to spend Lent together?  What extra acts of worship or study will be added to the calendar?  In what ways will this parish reach out to the world?  We begin there.  And these extras on the calendar are not only for the holy few.  They determine how each of us may spend Lent, and guide us to choose individual acts of love that fit into the wider program. 

One way is to encourage you to participate in the Region IV Lenten Program focusing on "Science and Faith" that is being hosted among five Alexandria Episcopal parishes: Church of the Resurrection, Beauregard Ave.; St. Clement's, Quaker Lane; Meade Memorial; Emmanuel, Russell Road, and here at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill. 

At the same time, we remember that what we do does nothing to help us earn God's love.  The question instead is how I might, and we as a parish church, become worthy of Christ's death and passion?  How do we deserve His conquering death for us and giving us eternal life?

On one hand, we cannot earn and will never deserve God's love for us in Christ.  However, we can open ourselves to this gift and then seek to rid ourselves of anything that gets in the way of God's redeeming grace.  We used to call these impediments to Grace the Seven Deadly Sins.

Obviously Gluttony was among them.  (And the pancakes, blueberry pancakes, sausages, bacon, and apple sauce were all quite wonderful last night.)  The other six sins include: Pride, Covetousness (or Greed), Lust, Anger, Envy and Sloth.  Those age old sins were clever and effective ways of reminding us just how "self" can get in the way of service.  Now, of course, you may feel you do pretty well in avoiding these pitfalls and failings.  But just ask your partner, spouse or significant other; or your children, your parents, or your best friends.  With a little cajoling, they probably can come up with examples of bad temper, feeling sorry for yourself, being envious, or angry and so on.

The point is not that we should dwell on these things, but rather to rend our hearts and not our clothing, to offer them each day to God in our devotions, with certainty that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.  God wants to forgive and strengthen us.  We must be willing to let God do that work in and for us.

The Gospel today reminds us that the smudge of ashes on our foreheads could either be a boast of our piety, or serve as a sign to us and to others around us that this Lent will be about more than giving up chocolate; it will be a time when God's redeeming work can and does transform each of us and our church.

May it be so.  Amen.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2013 05:54 pm (UTC)
Great job, Love!
....sorry I missed it...
Feb. 20th, 2013 04:57 pm (UTC)
I was scrolling down the entries on Face Book and saw yours about a comment about your Ash Wednesday sermon so I quickly skipped from Face Book to your web site and read your sermon. It was so good that I hurried to set up my printer to make a copy so I can read it over again. Who ever made the comment about it to you was certainly correct that it is good. I , however, I can not agree that it is your best. I think that all of them have been great. After reading them I ask myself - Why didn't I think of that ?

I really am glad that you share them with me.

Love, Dad
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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