What’s the difference between a flute and a stick in the mud? The stick in the mud is full of itself. The flute has been emptied of itself so it can make music. Tonight, we join together with one other and with Christians around the world to celebrate Ash Wednesday – to kick off the 40 day season of Lent and prepare for Easter.
Traditionally, Lent is a season of fasting (giving up food or luxuries or bad habits) and repentance (which means “to re-think” things, to turn around), and we put ashes on our heads made from Palm branches, from last year’s Easter season, as a sign of our mortality – “from dust we came and to dust we shall return.” We live in a world where many of us are like that stick in the mud. We’re “full of ourselves” and we need to be emptied of ourselves – so that our lives can make better music.
Lent is a time to reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s a time to step back and rethink how we think and live. In a world of instant gratification, it’s a chance to practice delayed gratification – to give something up so that we can truly appreciate the blessings we have.
It’s not uncommon for Christians who fast during Lent to become so focused on what we’re giving up that we forget about why we decided to give it up in the first place. Perhaps what you give up is not as important as what you take up.
You may decide to give up watching your favorite TV show over the course of these next forty days. But, if you do, consider taking up daily Bible reading. Spend the time that you would have been watching TV diving into the Word of God. Maybe you’ve been thinking of giving up junk food or chocolate. If you do, whenever you have that craving for something sweet, spend a moment in prayer.
If you’ve been thinking about quitting smoking or drinking, Lent is a great time to start. Or how about this one – go forty days without gossiping and focus that energy on serving others. Kids, go forty days without talking back to your parents. Parents, go forty days without screaming at your kids. And instead try to show each other love and respect. Maybe you don’t want to give up anything for Lent. That’s fine too.
My hope is that we might begin to see Lent as an opportunity rather than an obligation, a season that is defined by love and depth rather than by guilt and shame. Will sacrificing chocolate for forty days really help you identify with the sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross? Probably not. But it may create space for you to refocus your attention and draw closer to God here and now.
This Lenten season, let’s give up trying to do life on our own and take up the grace that God offers through Christ Jesus our Lord. The apostle Paul urges us in Second Corinthians, be reconciled to God. You can’t be good enough on your own. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor. Now is the day of salvation. Repentance is about turning around and, this very day, we have an opportunity to turn from ourselves and turn back to God.
Go wants to have a deep, meaningful, lasting relationship with each one of us. And when we put our trust fully in Jesus Christ, we can be made right with God. This Lenten season, seek out that reconciliation. In the Christian church, we talk a lot about heaven. But eternity begins now. Believe in Jesus, take up your cross, and follow after him. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid for our sins and screw-ups. When he rose from the dead, he made it possible for us to experience new life as well.
Give up the things of this world and the sin that so easily entangles. Take up your cross and follow in the footsteps of the Living God. Our life here on earth is but a breath. The Scriptures teach that we are made of the dust of the ground, and to dust we shall return. The Word of God also says we are more than dust, filled with the breath of life by God himself at the day of our creation.
Though you may have to wait to see God face to face, you can seek him here and now. The prophet Isaiah tells us to
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. Give up whatever is holding you back from fully committing yourself to God. Take up the life that he offers and, like the apostle Paul, you may find that you are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”