Sermon: Giving Up “Lent” for Lent

Ash Wednesday[Given March 5, 2014 (Ash Wednesday) by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]

“Jesus said, ‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.’” – Matthew 6:1

Hallelujah, thine the Glory.

Hallelujah, Amen.

Hallelujah, thine the Glory.

Revive us again. +

The task I have afternoon is a solemn one. I am tasked to stand before you and tell you all about Ash Wednesday and Lent and, through eloquent words and melancholy images, invite you into the observation of a “Holy” Lent.

It’s a task that I will not do, at least not how you might think I will.

The reason I cannot do what is expected of me is because I have chosen to take a different path, this Lent. In a world where Resurrection has become the exception, while Lent has become the rule, I have chosen to give up Lent for Lent.

Lent began, unassumingly enough, as a time for preparation for the mystery of Easter.

Lent was meant to be a temporary interruption in the regularly scheduled fiesta of resurrection. It was a time when new converts were examined, when sinners were restored, and when everyone prepared to hear again the great story of God’s salvation work in Jesus Christ.

But somewhere along the way, Lent stopped being just 40 days.

Somewhere along the way, the Church obscured the Resurrection Reality and never recovered it.

Somewhere along the way, the eyes of the Church became accustomed to the darkness.

Somewhere along the way, the Church became comfortable inside herself.

Somewhere along the way, the Church laid down the shining banner of Resurrection, put on the sackcloth of Lent, and forgot to take them off.

Somewhere along the way Resurrection became the exception, while Lent became the Rule.

We’ve been fed the company line of “the Church is irrelevant” so much that we actually believe we are.

We’ve been told so many times that we’re shrinking, that we look over new families who are coming among us.

We’ve been hearing for so long that we’re bad at Evangelism and telling the good news that we refuse to open our mouths and “tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.”

The Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright, the 10th Bishop of Atlanta told the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes Conferences last week that “from where I sit, the Church seems to be in a protracted season of Lent.”

Protracted. Enduring. Elongated. Extended. Sustained. Drawn-out.

We’ve been a in a Lenten season for a long time. Perhaps then, God is calling us to a revived sense of Resurrection-living.

Lent is supposed to be a time where we pursue where we haven’t gone yet, to journey to new dimensions in God, to experience more and more of an inexhaustible God who chases us with his love, a God who still bids us “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross.”

And for that reason, I am giving up Lent for Lent this year, at least the way the Church typically does Lent. I’ve decided to take Jesus’ words seriously, to “put oil on my head and to wash my face,” and do Lent differently this year. I’ve decided to take of the dreariness and to put on the Joy of the Lord that is my strength.

I’m giving up Lent in three ways – I’m going to Live out Loud, I am going to Live in Love, and  I’m going to Live in Praise.

First, I am going to live out loud.

The holy-quiet of Lent is supposed to give us time to reflect upon our spirituality. This is a noble spiritual practice, so long as it’s a means to an end – greater Evangelism.

We have an example. The Bible says that when Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, he didn’t come back from the desert to live a quiet, respectful life in Galilee. He came back from the 40 days possessed by the power of the Holy Spirit to live out loud and spread the Gospel.

As a church, we’re very good at reflection, but if we aren’t careful we can confuse reflection with distraction. We may be so caught up in navel-gazing and introspection that the whole world around us is going to hell and we know nothing about it.

It’s the reason why states all over this country including this very state, not just Florida, can Stand their Ground but there is outcry from the Church to Stand up for the Gospel of Peace.

“We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.” Have mercy on us, Lord.

The world needs Christians who are on the front-lines, “Crazy Christians” caught up in the rapture of a love affair with Jesus Christ who cannot hold their peace. The world needs Christians who are bold enough to stand flat-footed and “preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, loosing the chains of the enslaved, and declaring, no matter what it looks like, that this is the year of the Lord’s favor.”[1]

There is a Word in you that someone needs to hear. There is a story that only you can tell, a song that only you can sing, and poem that only you can recite. This season – tell it.

Not only have I decided to Live out Loud by telling the Gospel, but I’ve also decided to Live in Love by focusing on God’s abundance.

Fasting is also a noble spiritual practice. Through fasting, through denying ourselves, we being to feel physically what is a spiritual, God-shaped hole in each and every one of us.

Too often fasting becomes a religiously sanctioned practice of self-abuse. We can be tempted into the delusion that by giving up chocolate or beer for 40 days, we can somehow make ourselves worthy of God’s love. God is not that trivial. God’s love far exceeds a Hershey bar or a pint of Guinness.

Somewhere in the midst of all of Church-talk about budgets and average-Sunday-attendance, and theology, we often lose the core message of the Gospel – God loves you with no asterisk, clause, or conditions. Jeremiah declares that God has loved us with an “everlasting love.” Psalm 136 says that God’s love “endures forever.”

You are loved. God loves you. God can’t help but love you. God is madly, head-over-heels in love with you. You are beautiful just the way you are right now. God’s love and mercy are pursuing you all the days of your life.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Have mercy on us, Lord.

I hear God singing a love song to us this Lent. He’s singing

If you need me, call me
No matter where you are
No matter how far
Just call my name
I’ll be there in a hurry
You don’t have to worry

‘Cause baby,
There ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you

Remember the day
I set you free
I told you
You could always count on me
From that day on I made a vow
I’ll be there when you want me
Some way, some how

Hear God singing to you today serenading you with a heavenly song of love. Let the sweet voice reach down in the deepest, darkest, most hurt places in your life. Let love inhabit your life this season.

So not only have I decided to live out loud, and not only I have I decided to live in love, but finally I’ve decided to live in praise by renewing my worship.

I’ve never really understood the practice of burying the “Alleluia.” I mean, I get it from a cognitive standpoint. The “Alleluia” is closely linked with Easter and so burying it acknowledges the fact that Jesus did die and was buried. I get that, but that explanation still fails to reach me emotionally.

Alleluia literally means “praise the Lord.” Burying the Alleluia only makes sense to me if we resurrect it in new life. When Jesus rose from the grave, the Bible says in every single account that he was unrecognizable to those to whom he appeared – not Mary Magdalene, not the disciples, no one.

Our praise ought to look different now than it did a year ago. We have another year of God’s grace. Another year of God’s provision. Another year of God’s presence. Another year of God’s protection.  Another year of God making a way out of no way. Our praise and worship ought to look differently than it did last year.

So, since I am giving up Lent for Lent, since I am making Resurrection the rule in my life, I am not burying the Alleluia. I may not be able to say in the liturgy, but I can live in praise in my life.

You see, Praise and Worship is not just something we do in here – it is a lifestyle, a way of being. Living in praise means that we walk with a spirit of thanksgiving. Living in praise means that we walk in a spirit of gratitude.

If we want to break the endless cycle of death and shadow in our world and in our church, we must become committed to Resurrection-living. We must be intentional about breaking the cycle, about interrupting the narrative, about telling the story, about shouting out the good news and to never be silent.

The truth is, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t bury my Alleluia. When I think about all that God has brought me through, all the things people said I couldn’t do, when I think of where I could be – I can’t help but praise God. What about you? What’s your story?

We confess to you, Lord our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.

God is calling us to the observance of a holy Lent where we relearn what it means to be loved, and redeemed, and sanctified, and empowered, and strengthened, and cherished.

God is calling us to…

Walk in the light, beautiful light. Come where the dew drops of mercy shine bright, shine all around us by day and by night, Jesus the light of the world.

Jesus is the light of the world. A light that cannot be hidden. A light that will never be extinguished. A light that will never be diminished. The darkness of Lent is supposed to highlight that shimmering fact and that resplendent reality alone – not our piety, not our religiosity, not our spirituality.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. But for the time being, you are dust that has been fearfully and wonderfully arranged in a form that is meant to show forth the glowing glory of God in a Lent-Laden world.

Go forth, beloved, and for God’s sake shine.


[1] Luke 4:18-20

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