An article by Brandon Ambrosino in the Religion section of the Hufington Post sent the wheels in motions. I am indebted to Pete Rollins book the Idolatry of God as well as his video Atheism for Lent for providing me with the courage to preach this sermon.
I swear to you it happens to me every year! It usually happens when the first person asks me what I’m giving up for Lent. When you’re in the line of work that I’m in, I suppose you should just get used to it. But somehow that particular question makes me wish I did something else for a living. People don’t usually mean much by asking the question. At this time of the year, “What are you giving up for Lent?” is sort of like when people ask you, “How are you doing?” They’re not really interested unless you have a pithy answer. I must confess that over the years, I’ve come up with more than a few pithy answers. Like the time, shortly after I first came to Newmarket to be your pastor and my Mother, who does not observe Lent asked me what I was giving up for Lent and in a feeble attempt to make my Mother laugh, I told her I was giving up drugs and sex for Lent. Things went very quiet on Mom’s end of the phone line. The truth is that the answer I most feel like giving when people ask me what I’m giving up for lent requires so much time to explain that I rarely answer the question truthfully. But t’is the season for confession, so please forgive me but I’d really, really, really, like to give up Lent for Lent. I mean who among you, woke up this morning and said to yourself, “Oh goodie it’s Lent! Yippie!!!”
I remember when I first started going to church, I was a teenager, and I don’t mind telling you that my first experience of Lent almost sent me packing. All I heard was that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. All that talk about sin made me feel so guilty and worthless. I was just 15 years old and I hadn’t had much of an opportunity to commit much in the way of sin, and all I kept hearing was repent, repent! The message I received loud and clear during those first few Lents in the church was that I was nothing but a wicked sinner, a worthless worm! Poor, poor, pitiful me! But have no fear, cause Jeeeeesus can make you better. All you have to do is give something up for Lent!!! Jeeeeesus, he’s on his way to be executed on a cross, because of you, so you owe it to Jesus to feel lousy because he’s going to sacrifice everything for you. They’re going to nail him to a cross because of you. You wicked sinner. The least you can do is give something up for Lent. I know, how about a little chocolate? That’s it, that’s it, just give up some chocolate for Jeeeeesus! Hands up anybody who has ever thought about giving up chocolate for Lent. Now Lord knows, I could sure do with giving up chocolate, I mean lets face it, I could give up chocolate and maybe loose a few pounds andhave something to say to folks when they ask me what I’m giving up for Lent.
I remember years ago, listening in on a conversation between two little kids about the merits of giving up chocolate for Lent. Little Katie asked her big brother why people were giving up chocolate for Lent and her big brother carefully explained that: “We have to give up chocolate for 40 days and 40 nights so that when Easter comes, we can really, really enjoy the lots and lots of chocolate that the Easter Bunny brings us.”
So, while I’m busy confessing my distaste for Lent, let me move on to that other Lenten subject that I love so very much: temptation! Chocolate!!!! First of all, let me just say: I firmly believe that chocolate is a sublime pleasure, not a sin. Yes, chocolate can be sinful. When I have all the chocolate and you have none; that’s a sin. So, I brought you all a little taste of temptation. The very idea of giving up something you love for Lent strikes me at the very least as self-indulgent. So, I brought enough chocolate for everyone to have a taste, because today I want to see if we can move on from wanting to give up Lent for Lent.
Let me remind you that there is indeed some very good news about Lent. You see Lent doesn’t appear in the Bible. Lent is not based on any biblical instruction. Nowhere in scripture will you find anybody saying, “You shall keep a holy Lent; ponder your sinfulness; give up your pleasures; for you are a worthless worm.” Lent is a season that was developed by the church to encourage people to fast, confess, repent and pray. Now the people the church was trying to convince to fast, confess, repent, and pray were for the most part uneducated, superstitious and illiterate and to keep the masses in line the clergy used fear and intimidation. Death was all around and so why not play on people’s fear of death. Life was full of danger and all sorts of evils lurked around every corner, so why not play on people’s fascination with the temptations of evil. So, over the centuries the church developed what some theologians like to call worm theology. Miserable sinners that we are: why we deserve to have to wallow in Lent. I mean if we want people to rejoice in the glories of God’s grace why not deprive them for a while so that they can really whoop it up come Easter. Now, I know I’m over simplifying things here. But I hope you get the idea. Lent is a season that was designed by the Church to control its members (pardon the pun). All that excessive wallowing in guilt went a little over the top and even the church has had to re-think Lent. For years now the church has been encouraging people to forget about giving up things for Lent and instead try taking something positive for Lent. But even these attempts at putting a positive spin on Lent hasn’t done much to encourage people to embrace the season of Lent. I mean come to church all you good, busy people, and we’ll make you feel so guilty that you’ll feel compelled to add one more thing to your busy days. For forty days and forty nights, excluding Sundays, you can take on some Lenten discipline or other to make yourself feel good about you.
Well, not this year! We don’t have to keep up the control games of Lent. This year, I’m going to suggest something really radical for Lent. Something that ought to move us beyond the trivial self-indulgent, control games that we are tempted by the traditions of Lent to give up or take on. Before you get excited, I’m not going to suggest that we actually give up Lent for Lent. What I have in mind is more radical that simply giving up something that doesn’t really make much of a difference to the world. This Lent, I’m going to put it all on the table. This year for Lent I’d like you to consider the possibility of giving something up for Lent. This year, how about giving God up for Lent? Continue reading