Summary: The season and spiritual practices of Lent are framed within the grace of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
March 1, 2020
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
Lent: Our Journey from Grace to Grace
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
This morning is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a 40-day season. It stretches from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday. Actually, if you were to count up the total number of days on a calendar, you’d have 47 days. So what gives?
When we count the days in Lent, we omit the Sundays. We refer to them as the Sundays in Lent. That’s because Sundays are always “Little Easters.” So even during the season of Lent, the Sundays in Lent carry with them the joy of Easter morning, when Mary and the disciples found Jesus’ empty grave.
The season’s forty days come from the gospel passage today about Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. After his baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness, fasting and praying. In turn, his 40-day wilderness journey is reminiscent of the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the wilderness after they left Egypt. Jesus returns to the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry.
Lent is intended to be a season of preparation. We prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. That preparation involves engaging in various spiritual practices. These traditionally include prayer, confession, acts of service, and almsgiving. It also can involve what’s called “denial of the flesh.” In other words, we give up something for Lent.
The season of Lent is intended to revive our faith. These extra spiritual practices breathe additional oxygen into us. They kindle the flames of faith.
But our Lenten pieties can get the better of us. And here we come to some temptations. Our Lenten practices can tempt us in two opposite ways.
1. They can tempt us into believing that we have to bring ourselves UP. We are unworthy. We haven’t lived up to God’s expectations for us. So we need to shape up!
But there’s a problem with this mentality. It makes us responsible for our own righteousness. We got ourselves into trouble, and now we have to get ourselves out of it.
But this line of thinking cannot have a good outcome. If we think we’ve done a good job in our Lenten practices, then we’ll pride ourselves on the wonderful job we did. We’ll feel that we’ve done a righteous job on the merits of our efforts. It actually leads us AWAY from God. OR, we’ll fail miserably in our disciplines and feel like a spiritual flop. The trap will spring either way.
2. The other way we can be tempted is to bring ourselves LOW. What we need to do is wring ourselves free from any speck of pride. We are completely unworthy! Lent is the season of the church year when we prostrate ourselves before the Lord. But there’s a problem here, too. This pathway is artificial at best and self-debasing at worst.
Ole had lined up a number of Lenten disciplines. He had given up coffee, sugar and television. He read from his Bible for 30 minutes every day. And he had service projects lined up for every week in Lent.
Three weeks into his schedule, Ole had been flawless in keeping up with his disciplines. Boy, did that make him GLAD! But as soon as he felt glad, Ole felt BAD for feeling GLAD. He was supposed to be humble! Oh, but then Ole realized he was feeling bad again. So then he was GLAD that he felt BAD for having felt GLAD. Oh, but now he was GLAD again! So now Ole felt bad all over again. In the end, it was all pretty SAD!
Our text today from Romans sheds light on the spirituality of Lent. And it all points to grace. The season of Lent begins and ends with grace.
Paul is describing our human condition. We are pinned down by sin. The Greek word for sin is “Hamartia.” This word has a rich background. And these backstories shed a lot of light on our sinful condition.
The first usage of Hamartia comes from ancient Greek literature. The Greek tragedy revolves around a central figure, the protagonist. But something is wrong with this person. They suffer from something. They suffer from Hamartia. We call that Hamartia their tragic flaw. It may be something they did inadvertently. It might be something that the Fates have destined for them. It might be a situational problem they have no control over. But there it is, they have a FLAW, they have Hamartia. And this flaw is going to bring them down.
As people of faith, we understand that we have a tragic flaw. It’s called sin. We are sinful by nature. It’s in our bones; it’s deep in our psyche; it permeates every aspect of who we are. Sin is absolutely engrained in us. From the minute we’re born, there it is. And that tragic flaw of sin will take us down. It’s a tragic story, and it can only go one way: towards destruction.