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March 6, 2019

Disciplines of Lent?

Preacher: Pastor Braun Campbell Series: Lenten Midweek 2019: The Disciplines of Lent Category: Biblical Scripture: Matthew 6:1–6, Matthew 6:16–21

Ash Wednesday
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Disciplines of Lent?”

When I lived in Paris while studying abroad, I loved going to visit the museums.  The collections of artwork there are amazing – not that we’re art-deficient here in the DC area – and I particularly enjoyed looking at the work of master sculptors.  August Rodin produced some of my favorites.  You’ve probably seen a casting or reproduction of The Thinker, one of his most famous pieces.  On a nice day, go downtown to the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden on the Mall and see The Burghers of Calais.  It takes an astounding level of skill and focus to turn malleable clay into something like that.

Lent is a time for sculpting.

Today as we observe Ash Wednesday, we enter in to the time of Lent.  The ashes we receive on our foreheads serve as a reminder both of our mortality and of our sin.  Lent is a penitential season.  It’s a time for confession and repentance, a time for seeking God’s forgiveness for all the things we’ve done or left undone that have separated us from life with Him, our sin.  The wages of sin is indeed death; but it also “pays out” by messing up our lives from day to day when we make self-centered choices.  If we don’t recognize our sin but rather go on living in it, we’ll just be moving farther and farther away from the masterpiece that God meant life to be.  Sin makes a mess of life.  That’s why confession and repentance are important parts of the time of Lent.  But Lent’s also more than a season of confession and repentance.  It’s a time to be shaped.  It’s a time to be sculpted.

In each of our midweek services during this 40-day season (not counting Sundays!), we will consider the disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and works of love.  We’ll get into those in more detail in the weeks ahead, but let’s first focus on what binds them all together: they’re all disciplines.  They’re all practices that are intentional parts of the life of Jesus’ disciples.  Prayer, fasting, and works of love are all choices to act.  Each of these is a practice that can focus your attention on what God does to address the payout of sin in your life and in our world.  Jesus has called you to follow him, and disciplines like these are part of what it looks like to follow him.

Jesus speaks to these in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 6.  When he’s talking about prayer and fasting and how you are to steward your stuff, he’s not implying that any of these disciplines are strange actions that few of his disciples would undertake.  It’s just the opposite.  Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving were all normal actions of Jewish piety, of living out one’s faith.  Christian piety doesn’t give those up.  We can and should live out our faith in these disciplines as Jesus’ disciples.  And here’s the amazing thing: as we do, God is shaping us, forming us, sculpting us, discipling us to be more and more like Jesus.  That’s why these disciplines have historically been emphasized during the season of Lent.

Lent is for you, but Lent is not about you.

Christian piety, living out our faith with intentional action, is good.  Pietism is bad.  We don’t engage in the disciplines of Lent to draw attention to ourselves.  Our personal spiritual practices aren’t meant to mislead others into thinking how great we are.  Jesus warns his followers against temptations to have their practice of intentionally living out their faith be any kind of self-glorification.  Don’t go “showing off” with your prayers or fasting or works of love; that’s not why these disciplines are part of a Christian’s life.  Simply enjoy them for what they are: opportunities to declutter in your spiritual life.

Lent is for you, but Lent is not about you.

Look at this season of 40 days as a gift.  It’s a time to be intentional with the choices you make in life, particularly as you go from day to day.  Choose to intentionally dedicate some time to prayer, engaging with God’s Word each day.  Choose to intentionally set aside or just plan get rid of the luxuries or unnecessary distractions that could be turning you away from following Jesus.  Choose to intentionally act in love through service and to use your financial resources for doing good to your neighbor.  The disciplines of Lent are here for you to aid you in your journey as a Christian, a disciple following Jesus.  Enjoy this time of Lent by intentionally slowing down the pace of life so as to focus on God’s gifts to you, especially the gift of your Savior.

Lent is for you, but Lent is not about you.

Lent is about God’s love for you, the length to which He intentionally goes to bring you back to Him.  The cross of ashes on your forehead is also a reminder of what God has done to bring you out from death to life.

Throughout the season of Lent, the cross always stands before us – and that’s a good thing.  Because on the cross, Jesus accomplished our rescue from sin as the perfect sacrifice.  He intentionally lived his life for you and me, to be the one who could go before his Father, our heavenly Father, to take our place.  Because of Christ’s cross, you and I get to prepare with joy for Easter and the empty tomb that marks his triumph over death for us.

Lent is a time for sculpting.  As we move through these 40 days, come back to learn more about the disciplines of Lent.  Even better: choose to practice them.  Enjoy Lent as God shapes you, forms you, sculpts you, and disciples you to be more and more like Jesus.

Let’s get ready together.