By Pastor Michael Harman
St. Johns Lutheran Church
Many Christians are in a part of the Christian Church year called Lent, a period of 40 days plus Sundays before Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). Lent reminds us of Jesus fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights tempted by Satan. Some begin with ashes placed on the head as a symbol of repentance. Repentance means turning around from going your own way to following where God wants you to be. It is having the faith to confess your wrongs and then follow the Ten Commandments.
Fasting is linked to Lent. It means giving up something important you like to do AND investing time doing something spiritual like reading the Bible, praying, or singing hymns. Some people don’t have meat, alcohol, chocolate, or some other food during Lent. That’s fine as long as you don’t gorge on other foods. Others give up TV, Facebook, movies, or other entertainments, replacing that time with Christian devotions, perhaps reading the New Testament in 40 days, following a schedule.
Fasting is not a time to be sad and dismal. Just after Jesus says not to have flashy or repetitious devotions, songs, and prayers in Matthew 6, He says, “WHEN (not if) you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They disfigure their faces so their fasting may be seen by other people. Truly, truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face (look normal and healthy) so your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Some churches fast by omitting Alleluias, cutting back on some songs, and having Lenten hymns. Some offer more time in God’s Word to us with extra services on Sunday or Wednesday evenings. Some observe Lent by giving a church a Biblical offering of a tithe, which is 10% of a paycheck, bonus, or some other income, perhaps toward a mission project or parochial school.
As good as these may be, it is not your offerings, praises, fasting, repentance, or Lenten observances that save you. Only God’s gift of faith in Jesus Christ saves you. It is your lack of faith, your disobedience to the Ten Commandments, your unwillingness to turn your focus from things of this world, OR conversely to publicize your spiritual efforts (fasting, offerings, praises, etc.), OR all sins your feel are too big to forgive, OR too small for God to notice: these and more drove Jesus to the cross. His love for all sinners put Him on the cross. His absolute love for you. For all.
The spiritual exercises of Lent work in you to turn the eyes of your hearts toward His once-for-all sacrifice. They are a discipline, a training, not to make you look to your own shoddy goodness, but to turn you to depend on Christ’s perfection. The focus of Lent is Jesus Christ.