Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Giving Something Up or Getting Ourselves Ready?

This post is also in today's newsletter from St. John's, Decatur. If you want to read the rest of the newsletter, click here.

At diocesan convention this weekend, the keynote speaker, the Rt. Rev. Robert Wright, Bishop of Atlanta, encouraged us to follow Jesus as his disciples by living as those who “walk in love.” In part of his address, he encouraged us to examine the meaning behind our Lenten disciplines:

If the best we can think of is to give up chocolate and sherry for Jesus, then we ought to think again. I mean, if you have a bona fide spiritual problem with chocolate and sherry, I give you…a pass. I don’t; bring it to me. But, beloved, Lent is for serious and careful examination of the darker corners of our hearts so that, at Easter’s “Alleluia!” you and I have something to shout about: that the tectonic plates of our hearts are moving, that our hearts are unfolding, that we find the courage to look into ourselves, understanding that in Christ Jesus, therefore, now there is no condemnation.
Bishop Wright's address starts at 1:02:35. The remarks about Lent begin at 1:25:15.
Lent begins tomorrow. Perhaps you have already decided what you will give up. Maybe you give up the same thing every year. Or maybe, like me, you are scrambling to think of something that will teach you a little bit about the faithfulness of self-discipline without giving up something that will cost you too much. Bishop Wright has made me rethink that approach. His words remind us what Lent is all about and why giving something up is meaningless unless it prepares us to walk into the light of Easter with renewed confidence that we are the forgiven, redeemed, transformed children of God.

Even before we get to tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday service, take a look at your life. What has been hiding in the darkest corner of your heart, a quiet reminder that the work that God has begun in you is not yet complete? Perhaps you would benefit from forty days of letting the light of Christ bathe that secret spot. Might you give up cynicism? Might you give up lust? Could you practice beholding each person you meet as a beloved child of God instead of looking at them through the stereotype you instinctively bring with you? Could you let go of some of that defiant self-reliance by which you have fooled yourself into thinking that you will be alright all on your own?

The truth is that we cannot get to that place of spiritual perfection by ourselves—not with forty days of heightened spiritual discipline, not with forty years of unwavering ascetic practice. In order to be complete, in order to be made perfect, we need God’s help, the saving help he gives us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the miracle of Easter cannot shine completely in our lives if we pretend that there is a part of us that God cannot redeem, if we deny God access to the sin-infected recesses of our soul, if we refuse to examine the deepest shortcomings of our lives, if we will not give those shortcomings to Christ, begging him to give us the strength to amend our lives.

The true Lenten journey from the wilderness of our temptation to the salvation of the cross and into the light of the resurrection is far more difficult than giving up candy or cursing or Coors Light for forty days, but, by giving up whatever it is that takes us away from the love of God, we invite God to come into our lives in places we have not noticed him for a long time. That is what it means to undertake the observance of a holy Lent. That is what it means to prepare for Easter.

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