Ash Wednesday - Just Give Up #1
Did you hear about the guy who decided he’d found the perfect way to celebrate Lent and the perfect thing to give up for Lent. He chose to give up his New Year’s Resolutions.
Many people give up something during Lent like chocolate or cokes or sweets, maybe even dining out. But in our culture where we seem fixated on self-improvement, this can cause a big misunderstanding of what Lent is all about. We begin to equate Lent in terms of another diet program or self-improvement program. Some of us even begin to think of Lent as New Year’s Resolutions Round Two!
What we need to remember is that Lent is not about us! Lent is about Jesus Christ. Lent is basically a season of surrender. We surrender bad habits; we surrender attitudes of the heart, we surrender ourselves to God. And as we do we are surrendering ourselves to personal spiritual discipline.
In Lent we might give up something, or we might take on something. But the point isn’t self-improvement. The point isn’t even self-denial. The point is to feel a little discomfort, to feel a little pain, like Jesus did. The point is be constantly reminded of the love and the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ, who denied himself for our salvation.
If you observe Lent with prayer and fasting, use that prayer and fasting first of all to remember Jesus. If Lent is not about getting to know Jesus Christ better, it really is a waste of time.
We surrender ourselves to God who strengthens us so we can surrender our sins to God as well. The sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads symbolizes that surrender.
I recently read a true story about a baptism on an infant named Eric. The pastor took Eric in his arms baptized him and then traced the cross of Christ on Eric’s forehead using a special anointing oil.
Following worship, Eric’s family celebrated with a big backyard party. Family and friends ate hamburgers, hot dogs and chips. They played volleyball and Frisbee and all sorts of games under the summer sun. Eric, being only six months old, was left to nap in his stroller.
There was a giant Oops in Eric’s family when Mom got Eric up from his nap. Basted on Eric’s forehead was the image of the cross. Mom had forgotten to wash Eric’s face following his baptism, and the oil that the pastor had traced onto his forehead acted the opposite of a sun screen. The Cross of Christ was imprinted on Eric’s forehead.
“For several weeks, until it completely disappeared, that cross was a wonderful reminder of the meaning of Baptism and a reminder that the Cross of Jesus was ‘written’ upon Eric’s forehead.” And hopefully his heart, as well.
And it became a powerful witness. “Eric’s Mom and Dad had to explain the cross to the pediatrician, to the neighbors, to the stranger in the grocery store. For a few weeks, Eric was nothing less than a [living] children’s sermon. It was only a bit of a sunburn to be sure, but [it was] the best basting a child could ever have. Not sure anyone expected the cross the stay there but the cross is supposed to be the foundation of that child’s life.” (1)
I do need to warn you, though, that you should probably use a dry cloth, face cream, baby oil or plain old vegetable oil to wipe off the ashes before you wash your face when you get home. The reason being that water and ashes make lye which can burn the skin. It wouldn’t be much, but you might look like little Eric for a day or two.
I saw a sign one time that said: “If you’re headed in the wrong direction, God allows U‑turns.” The sign of the cross in ashes tells us we’ve made a U-turn. It reminds us that we have chosen to make a new beginning with God.
It’s like an old Army officer who for more than thirty-five years had been a heavy drinker. This wasn’t helped by the fact that he had the temperament of a top sergeant long after he had become a Colonel. Christ and Alcoholics Anonymous helped him change both his habits and himself.
One day this Colonel was invited to speak to a group of doctors. He described to these physicians a personality change that he had experienced. Now, he declared, he was as temperate as he had once been intemperate, as considerate as he had once been severe, as concerned for others as he had once been selfish.
There was a psychiatrist in the audience who was of the school which says that personalities are set very early in life. He protested that at the Colonel’s age you can’t have a personality change.
This Colonel and member of Alcoholics Anonymous thought for minute and then said, “Well, maybe not, but at least I am under new management.” (2)
That’s what this night and the season of Lent are all about. Cleaning Up by Giving Up those things that would keep us separated from God and surrendering ourselves to new management. Let’s take moment for silent prayer.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
2. “The Man Who Came By Night,” Dr. William K. Quick, http://www.faithandvalues.com /2007 First Quarter Sermons, King Duncan, Dynamic Preaching, 2007, 0-000-0000-20