But the worst of all is that we have adopted and practiced fasting as a good work: not to bring our flesh into subjection; but, as a meritorious work before God, to atone for our sins and obtain grace. And it is this that has made our fasting a stench and so blasphemous and shameful, so that no drinking and eating, no gluttony and drunkenness, could have been as bad and foul. It would have been better had people been drunk day and night than to fast thus. (Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent; Matthew 4:1-11: The fast and temptation of Christ)
Another Lent is upon us, and people will often ask, “What will you give up?” The idea of making such sacrifices and fasting is not wrong, but how and why we do so can be. Martin Luther forcefully argued from scripture that we don’t get extra credit in heaven for our practices. Jesus has already sacrificed to save us. We are now saved by faith alone. Instead, the disciplines of Lent can help nurture and make room for our spiritual growth and healthier habits. They can improve our relationships. Ultimately, such growth is solely from God, but we can grab hold of and cooperate with the grace offered us.
This Lent, I am asking you and myself, “How will you cooperate with the grace being offered you?” True, Jesus and the prophets indicate God desires mercy rather than sacrifice. Yet, perhaps Lent is a good time to realize that we are sometimes the ones most in need of God’s mercy. Lent can prove a time to exercise our faith and strengthen the mind, body and soul.We can seek to reconcile relationships.
Could our faith walk and general health benefit by more intentionally seeking God’s love and mercy through the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and sharing the gifts of time, treasure and talent with those in need? Has life seemed too busy to pay attention to our relationship with God and others? Do we feel as if we are running on empty? Discerning how to help reorient our lives toward Christ, his church and others in love is a great place to start our own “healing.” In caring for these personal needs, we just might find it easier to love and care for the needs of others.
At Messiah Lutheran, we are offering many opportunities to help people grow in relationship with Christ and his church. Yet, each of us has to choose. Spiritual growth doesn’t usually “just happen.” It helps to be open to it and intentional about it.
Therefore, I invite all of us to put our hearts into Lent. Give some serious thought into what your needs are and the needs of our church and greater community. Pray from the heart about it and ask for the Spirit’s guidance, “Lord, what will you have me do? What needs my attention?”
Let’s rededicate our bodies, minds and souls to Christ, and see what fruit of the Spirit grows. Rather giving things up, we just might gain more than we ever dared hope for.
To learn more about our many offerings for Lent, please check both our online calendar and our February edition of The Messenger: Messenger – Feb. 2016
I pray we all experience a holy, healthy and helpful season of Lent.