Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Of Babies and Bathwater
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Ash Wednesday, 2011
Preached at Center Moreland UMC for the Center Moreland Charge
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is the traditional Christian season of repentance and rededication. In this season, it is commonly expected that you will abstain from something in order to tip your balance of life, your attention, so as to re-focus on something else. By abstaining from a common item, food or something, each time you reach for it, you will be reminded that you are to be thinking about God, or your sins, or something edifying.
We late-coming Protestants may scoff at this traditional practice at this Christian season, or we may find ways to adjust it to our understanding, sometimes as a egotistical and hubristic way of doing it better than the traditions. I’m pretty sure, however, that if you are here tonight, you are not one of those scoffers.
There is value in questioning traditions, but sometimes, the answer to the value question is “well, it just works.” And after trying to re-invent the wheel, we Protestants come to the blinding and perhaps embarrassing epiphany that, indeed, there was some value in the tradition we were handed, that after centuries of practice, there is wisdom that has been distilled. So maybe our growing observance of Ash Wednesday, and maybe even Lent itself, is our way of going out into the yard and picking up the baby that we threw out with the bathwater.
So, “giving up something” for Lent does have some value, as long as what it is that you give up does point you into a better relationship with God. I have a hard time believing that giving up chocolate, as an example that I have commonly heard people choose to abstain from, is a spiritual task. It is perhaps a food that we eat too much of, and we wish to stop, but Lent, if I may humbly suggest, is not a time to start a new diet. Lent is not the time to begin to escape from your addictions.
I will readily accept, however, that chocolate, as a symbol of personal excess and indulgence, needs to be greatly reduced in some people’s lives, and Lent is the time when, with support of friends, family, and fellow followers of Christ, we can take on the task of examining our own personal commissions of the sins of, again as an example, gluttony and greed.
Tonight’s Psalm speaks of the preferences God has with regard to what it is that God wants from us. We hear it in other places, as well, about how God does not want our rituals, God does not want our burnt offerings. Instead, time and again, in the Scriptures, we hear that God wants us. Just us. Unwashed, imperfect, delusional, mistaken, hurting, frightened, arrogant, us. God wants us humble and open.
God wants us to come to him the way Jonah did after three days in the belly of the whale.
God wants us to come the way that Peter approached Jesus that morning on the beach as the disciples were eating the fish that Jesus had grilled;
Unsure of ourselves, but really honestly wanting to make amends.
The Psalm says: 17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Ash Wednesday is not for everyone. Lent is not for everyone. We’re Protestant enough to not expect everyone to toe this line, walk this path.
Lent is a non-scriptural, Church-derived practice, misused for abusive purposes by some over the ages, neglected by others through the centuries, and for some people, today, it is simply irrelevant.
Let me gently suggest that we have, tonight, a few of us, indeed gone out into the yard and picked up the baby. We see value in what lies before us, and we are choosing to present ourselves to be laid bare, in some way, by God.
Because that is how we grow. Just as Paul writes to the Corinthians that what we sow does not come to life unless it dies, and what we sow is just a seed and does not resemble the body of what will be, so too what we will grow into will very likely not resemble who we once were, and may not even resemble who we are now.
May you leave tonight with your Spirit under pressure, like popcorn heating up in the oil. May it crack somehow in these next 6 weeks, like a seed with a sprout. May your heart grow contrite, may your spirit be broken.
May you arrive at Easter morning with yourself as your sacrifice; white, shriveled, crawling up on the beach, and may the resurrection of Jesus join your brokenness back together into the body that God has chosen.
Because God will not despise a broken and contrite heart.