Invitation to a Holy Lent

Rarely do I post my sermons onto my blog. However, I am doing so in this case, partly due to several conversations I have had over the last couple of days.

I preached this at the 6PM Ash Wednesday service at Christ Church. The epistle was 2 Cor 5:20b – 6:10 and the Gospel was Matt 6:1-6, 16-21.

A couple of nights ago something happened that seems to happen to me about, oh, once a month on average.

An that is, I had an intense bout with insomnia. It was me against insomnia, and I lost. 1AM, 2AM, 3AM … the clock keeps ticking until … until the sun comes up and with it my 3 year old daughter.

Now, I’m not saying that a night without sleep is the worst thing in the world. Certainly compaired with shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonments, riots, and hunger … an occasional night of insomnia is not that bad.

St. Paul was no stranger to these things and more. Why does he mention them in today’s epistle reading from 2 Corinthians? What’s more, why does he speak of these things as if they are somehow something which comes from the hand of God?

Is St. Paul some kind of massocist? What’s going on?

We get a hint near the end of today’s reading, where he begins to throw out several different paradoxes of the Christian life:

  • how, somehow in the midst of his sorrow, he finds deep and profound joy
  • how his life is shot through with death, and yet in the midst of the death he is more alive than he ever thought possible.
  • how he is poor & dispossessed, but somehow in the midst of this poverty he is is rich;

See, these are the paradoxes of the Gospel: riches in the midst of poverty; joy in the midst of sadness; life in the midst of death.

How can these things be? Is this just crazy talk?

One of my favorite films of all time is The Neverending Story….

You see, brothers & sisters, Jesus Christ is not just some guy that we read about. The life of Jesus is not some narrative that we hear about every Sunday or even read about in a dusty old book.

Rather, the narrative of Jesus – his life, his suffering, his death, his resurrection – these are things that we inhabit. His story is a something that we get sucked into.

His life becomes are life; his suffering becomes our suffering; his death becomes our death; his resurrection becomes our resurrection.

Henry Nouwen puts in this way in his book The Selfless Way of Christ. [Quote Nouwen.]

And don’t you see? This is the first reason why we do Lent. It is a way of learning, little by little, to die. The church fathers spoke of the Christian life as preparing for a good death.

Because, you see, apart from death, there is no such thing as resurrection. This is why we give things up during Lent. This is why we intentionally make our lives a bit more difficult, a bit more inconvenient. It is a way of entering into the sufferings of Christ. It’s a way of sharing in his sufferings & death, that we might share, also, in his indestructible life.

But there is a second reason why we do Lent. And you heard it a moment ago from Deacon Stine’s mouth, and it is this: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The question of Lent is this: what is your treasure? Is it your career? Is it your body image? Is it having healthy children? Is it food & drink?

What is your treasure, really? What is your pearl of great price, the thing that if you lose it, you can’t be happy. When you lose it, all of the sudden it gets kind of hard to breath. When you lose it, you begin to act like Gollum in the LOTR, or like an alcoholic who can’t find an open liquor store.

What is your treasure?

The wisdom of Lent is that the Church (beginning about 1100 years ago) is making a way for us to wean ourselves off of all earthly treasure. It is a way of ridding our lives of the stuff that does not really satisfy.

You see, we’re talking about desire. I’m reminded of CS Lewis who said that our problem is not that our desires are too strong (though this is the charicature of Christianity that the world dispenses to people). Our problem is that our desires are too weak. We are far too easily pleased.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

What are we doing in Lent? If you think about it, it’s the opposite of massocism. It’s really the cultivation of desire. True desire. Strong desire. Rightly ordered desire.

In Lent, we are weaning ourselves off of the stuff that doesn’t satisfy. We are learning to depend on God. We are learning to rest in him, to lean on him. To make him our one thing needful.

Only then can his power come into our lives. Only then can we gain the strength to resist temptation and live like THE FREE WOMEN & MEN WE WERE CREATED TO BE.

Only then, as we participate in his suffering & death, we will rise with him, entering into his indestructible life.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the HS, Amen.

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