This month we begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 1. We will gather for worship and Holy Communion during the Ash Wednesday Service at 7:30 p.m. This will begin for us the liturgical season of Lent in which we are called to repentance, to examine the reality of sin in our individual lives and in our society, and to journey with Jesus through temptation, rejection, suffering, and death. On the surface, that doesn’t sound like much fun, and it isn’t, but the journey of self-denial and suffering is a necessary journey for anyone who would follow Jesus. As our Lord himself taught us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Jesus frequently spoke in this way. Jesus often spoke about self-denial, suffering, and death.
It makes you wonder why anyone would choose to follow him. Surely there were other rabbis and spiritual teachers in Israel who offered less demanding journeys to spiritual renewal. And yet many did follow this Jesus and many still follow him today. Why is that? It is because in his suffering and dying this man Jesus showed us the way to the life that really is life. This one who willingly suffered and died was raised to life by the one true God of all the universe. It is only when we renounce sin and selfishness, that we can begin to truly live.
As a way of preserving Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, many church leaders encourage people to give up something they enjoy during Lent. Rev. Craig Gates, of Jackson, MS, offers the following alternative suggestions for giving things up:
"WHAT TO GIVE UP FOR LENT"
• GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian disciplines.
• GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.
• GIVE UP looking at other people's worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
• GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?
• GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins.”
• GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.
• GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the "tube?" Give someone a precious gift, your time!
• GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.
• GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ. Now aren't you glad you don't have to do that anymore?
Lent is the church season in which we prepare for Easter Sunday. It is a time to remember the temptation, the suffering, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is a special time of prayer and reflection, of confession and self-sacrifice. Most of all, it is a time to ready ourselves for the sheer joy of Easter morning - it is a time to ready ourselves to meet our risen Lord once again!
Blessings and Peace, Ron Krueger