Rev. Dan Haugh
Lent begins today. Lent is the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, when the Passion of the Christ is remembered. Christians are meant to consider their lives prayerfully and decide on what the shape of their Lenten fast will be- whether its a giving up of a vice or addiction, or taking up of a devotional activity...or both.
As many of you know, Ash Wednesday has been celebrated by Christians for centuries, marking the beginning of Lent, a time of spiritual preparation for Easter.
We are all in a time of preparation. We are all on a journey. A journey that is heading somewhere. There is a final destination, and we are reminded of our frailty during this time of season.
Ashes are placed on our foreheads reminding us that we were made from ashes and to ashes, or dust we will return.
Now this can certainly be a sobering reminder and help us to focus on how we are living our lives and what we are living for.
To me however, as important as these reminders are, the beauty the Creation Story in Genesis found is how these ashes were turned into life.
We read that the Creator God, breathed life into mere dust, dirt, and created humankind. One may take that as literal or as symbolic, but in either case, Scriptures declare that only the Divine breath of God truly gives us life.
As we approach Lent we pause for a short season, this evening being the beginning of 40 days and declare anew our need and desire for God’s breath and life to sustain us, nurture us, fill us, and indeed renew a spark of life into us.
I greatly appreciate this time set aside in the Christian calendar and honored by so many traditions and here at ACP
a period of 40 days to fast, repent, and believe again in the Good News of God’s life everlasting.
of course 40 days is highly significant as it parallels the number of days Jesus was tempted in the garden and fasted during this time.
What has spoken profoundly to me is that Jesus fasted for a purpose. For him this was a time of preparation, a journey through the darkness of doubt and despair in the dessert, and leading towards his purpose. His identity was secured, his dependency upon the Father, and his submission to the will of the Father.
You will notice that immediately after these 40 days, Jesus begins his ministry. His fast prepared was not the final destination. it was a means to an end. Fasting ironically and paradoxically strengthened and sustained him for the journey and mission he was about to embark on.
In a similar way, the tribe of Hebrews wandered the dessert for 40 years prepared them to enter the Promised Land and learn in community what it meant to be a blessing to all peoples and all nations.
And so Christians gather universally around the globe and spanning all traditions, denominations and creeds on this day to begin to fast for 40 days.
I know many friends who anticipate this day, Ash Wed and the start of Lent as a huge milestone. What are you giving up for Lent? I am giving up _______________
They wear that as almost a badge of honor.
You may know yesterday was Mardi Gras, or as literally translated from French into English, “Fat Tuesday” because traditionally people will overindulge in all their little, or not so little vices before vowing to give them up for Lent.
Some fast from material possessions that can easily become idolized. Going with out television or internet, Facebook, Reading, Going out to dinner
Some fast from arguing or complaining or say unkind words. make a conscious effort to avoid sarcasm, cruelty or busyness perhaps.
Others from certain habits that perhaps already have crossed the line towards addiction
Some from certain pleasures in life such as chocolate, for my wife, or caffeine for me.
Some will abstain from food over these 40 days, not every day of course, but certain meals each day.
But i suggest that the fast itself is not the goal or the aim of Lent
Contrary to popular culture, Lent is not about giving something up just to prove that you have control of your addictions, or that you’re better than the chocoholic next door. Instead, its about making space to receive more of God’s love, His tenderness and your true identity in Him and Him alone.
yes we empty ourselves and go without so that we can use that time,energy, and often money and dedicate it to God in service to others.
But what happens when Lent is over the fast completed? How are our lives and faith different? Another, and perhaps more important question, is this: how are the lives of those around us different? how is our church, this city of Paris, and the world different as a result of these next 40 days? Is our fast really making a difference?
Are we, like Jesus fasting for a purpose? Are we also on a a Journey?
the other question is what kind of a fast honors God?
The text that was read earlier from the prophet Isaiah beautifully portrays the heart of God. He was witnessing very good religious piety. the people were fasting and observing all of these festivals and traditions.
But God was not impressed. True fasting is a journey leading somewhere. It leads towards a great and deeper understanding of God’s heart.
it leads towards repentance and then repentance leads towards action.
inward focus and reflection leads to outward change
when i fast and take time during Lent to reflect, I realize the depth of my depravity and need for grace. I realize just how dependent i am on things that can never truly satisfy me
I also begin to realize I am more selfish and self-centered than i thought and often service seems like a chore and sacrifice rather than an act of love.
these realizations do not lead to despair, but towards repentance, which then leads to a renewed commitment, a change of heart and mind....leads to ACTION
It causes us to look inward and realize our need and then to look upward and receive the very breath and life of God.
This breath strengthens us and awakens us towards compassion, care, generosity, faithfulness, service and love. it leads us to share our food with the hungry, to seek to end injustice and oppression in all it forms and to all people (especially those we disagree with and our “enemies”
This kind of fasting leads us to the Cross. It leads us to our own cross, begging the question we will forfeit all for the sake of God’s call.
This Lenten season, I encourage us all to Fast
The penitential time of Lent is meant to be a response to God’s longing in Joel 2 “Return to me with your whole heart!” It is a time to reflect, re-asses, repent, let go of attachments which hold us back from loving God with our whole heart.
We hear the invitation of God to look at our own heart and consider the things that keep us from deeper intimacy with a God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine.
Why do I choose Facebook over time communing with Him? What is it about the food or drink that I go to in the cabinet to numb myself instead of the comfort of Him? What keeps me tirelessly at work instead of home deepening relationships with family and friends?
Has has called me His beloved, do I believe it?
Repent and Believe the Good News that you are dearly loved and life, true life awaits you.
May we empty ourselves so that God can fill us up
may our fasting leading to action and the pursuit of righteousness and justice
May we willingly follow Jesus to the Cross and to the very death of ourselves, only to be shown that in death do we truly find life...resurrected and eternal.
In the name of the Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen