Summary: True devotion to God does not require recognition, only the humble knowledge that we need to come before God in full and complete dedication.
Today marks the halfway point in our Lenten journey. As we gather this morning on the third Sunday of Lent, I would like to begin by taking just a moment for us to be reminded of what Lent is all about. I want to do this not only because we are halfway through the Lenten season, but also because this morning’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount really strikes at the heart of what Lent is all about. If you remember, Lent is a time of preparation; the forty days (excluding Easter) when we empty ourselves of the old, the dirty, the bad, so that we can take on the new life that is made possible through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every year at Easter.
In and of itself, Lent is a very important time of the Christian year, and also an important time for the life of believers. The problem, though, is that we have a tendency to contain this season to just six weeks of doing good, rather than building a Lent that becomes a way of life. And that’s why this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, and all of the Sermon on the Mount, really, is so important; because when Jesus stood on the mountainside and taught the disciples and the crowds, he was directing them on a way of preparation for new life with God. In other words, he was teaching about a whole new way of life.
You know, we really do miss the point about Lent. In fact, in recent decades, I think we’ve made Lent so much about what we “give up” that we forget the “why” behind those practices. On the first Sunday of Lent this year, Mary Ellen came home from church and while she was eating her lunch, she told Ken and I about how they talked in Sunday School about what they were going to give up for Lent. So Ken and I asked Mary Ellen if she was going to give something up, and she said yes, “junk food.”
So then Ken asked, “Junk food, well, what does that mean? Is it like desserts, or what?”
Well, Mary Ellen explained that it was all junk food, like pizza, and desserts, and bad things. And sure enough, Mary Ellen finished her lunch and without a word, she went about playing—no request for dessert or anything. But then, that evening, when dinner was finished, Mary Ellen asked me what we had for dessert. And I said, “But Mary Ellen, you gave up junk food for Lent.”
Mary Ellen says, “No, that’s not what I said.”
And I said, “Well, that’s what you told me and Daddy at lunch.”
Then Mary Ellen went on to explain to me that what she actually gave up was “SOME junk food.” About that time Ken walked in the room, and Mary Ellen asked him for some dessert. He engaged her in the very same conversation I had just had with her. In the end, Mary Ellen had dessert, and that bit about giving up junk food for Lent was completely forgotten.
Does that sound familiar to any of you? We give up things for Lent because that’s the “appropriate” thing to do. And maybe we do a little better than Mary Ellen in sticking to our covenant for those forty days. But then went Easter comes, we congratulate ourselves, move on with our lives, and it turns out that practice didn’t make any difference. Obviously, these practices, as a general rule, do not have any profound and lasting impact on our lives.