B Cycle – 1st Sunday of Lent 20
I was thinking of my earliest experiences of Lent as a child and as a young adult. My memories are not of how I grew closer to God but just the opposite. I felt like I had moved away from God because I failed to follow through with my own self-imposed sacrifices. Lent was to be a turning away from sin but instead it became a time of self-condemnation. What those failures taught me was to take an easier path the next year. Why attempt something only to fail and bring down more condemnation on myself when I could easily avoid that condemnation if I did nothing.
As I grew older the church imposed fasting and abstinence rules were not something I could follow or not. Therefore, I found myself thinking I can do this, and it will bring me closer to God. What I failed to grasp was how the rumbles of my stomach drew my attention away from God. However, there was a solution which allowed me to follow the law and still avoid getting hungry. The main meal, according to the guidelines, was the measure by which the other two meals would be judged. Breakfast and lunch combined could not be more than the main meal. Well, at that time being a legalist gave me a solution, I could set the standard for how much food the main meal contained. I did not look back on past meals; I looked forward to a new standard for that meal during Lent. Isn’t that what we do with the law. We walk up to the limit and even push the limits to see if it was a rigid a standard as published.
After all, that is normal behavior for a child when testing the limits of parental laws, rules, and standards. The sad truth is that kind of thinking should have been left behind with the other childish things of youth as I aged. Yet, fasting left me hungry and not feeling any closer to God and if I was not going to fail, I needed a solution. I am certain I was not alone in increasing the size of my main meal by 50%. This allowed the other two meals to only decrease by 25% and still not exceed the fasting laws.
What did the serpent ask Adam and Eve, “…did God really say not to eat the fruit of the trees in the garden?” Temptation has not changed much has it? We are still being challenged daily with that seed of doubt about what God requires of us.
Paul said to put aside childish things and grow in maturity. We may want to, but when our own desires take over, we fail miserably. What I learned from my childhood and early adulthood was how easily I could succumb to the lie that what I am doing is just not a big deal or big sin. How many of us drive the speed limit on the interstate or on city roads where the limit is 35 miles an hour? Did God really say “…be holy as the Lord God is holy.” That is an impossible standard isn’t it. What are we focused on this lent and beyond lent? Are we trying to show God how wonderfully we can behave for 5 weeks or should our lent be something more?
The truth is we are called to a lifestyle of discipleship and that standard demands a transformation of heart. The good news is God promised to change our hearts so we will automatically follow his will (Jer. 31:33 and Eze.36:26). If God has promised us, God has provided the means for that to be accomplished in and for us. Our only task during Lent is to surrender our hearts to him. If we can do that, then we will easily follow his laws and decrees and withstand all the temptations to minimize them or get around them or to ignore them. After all Lent is a season in the church and we are called to be disciples in season or out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).
We need to refocus ourselves and look at what we do during lent differently. We need to become willing participants in allowing the Holy Spirit to write the law of God on our hearts. We will then not only fulfill the law, but we will move beyond the law as Jesus said and go beyond the law as we grow in holiness.
What we do in these early days of Lent, prepares us to receive forgiveness of our sins on Easter and to receive the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost.
Those two pieces of God’s plan for our restoration are critical for us to turn back, to see reconciliation and prepare the way of the Lord to come into us and flood us with God’s mercy and love.
Lent is not about our sacrifice; it is about the Sacrifice of the Son of God which removed the barrier of sin between us and God. Once we realize that barrier is gone, then it is about removing the blindness of our eyes by the action of the Holy Spirit. Opening our eyes to see how we need to be guided by the Holy spirit to become willing participants in living the life of a disciple.