February 10, 2016
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Jl_2:12-18
Ever wonder, beloved, just who is this God for whom we are to do all this sacrificing? And then we might ask, are we really sacrificing for God or is it for ourselves? Does God benefit from our sacrifice? OR do we???
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” Mt_6:1-6,16-18
If we look at an athlete who wants to win the big prize; the prize of notoriety, or cash, or team standing, we’ll see them practice day after day to make that ‘better time’, to perform flawlessly, or to improve their endurance. And all of that practice takes sacrifice. It may even be pretty painful. But in the end, they know that the reward they seek will be worth it. And sometimes the odds of actually winning that prize could be quite astronomical. Yet they persist, because they also know that the sacrifice is not just for the prize, but it’s for their own benefit as well.
And yet! And yet we know that the notoriety will eventually disappear or be won by someone better in the future. We know that the cash will all be spent in the blink of an eye. And even the strength, the dexterity, the speed, the sharpness of our own bodies and minds will eventually turn into flab. So why the sacrifice? Why the pain? Is it all just for one glorious moment?
Suppose, however, that there really was more to life than this physical existence that we now experience. Suppose there was a reward that could never be beaten. And suppose the “high,” the glorious moment of our accomplishment would never go away . . . We Christians call this perfect reward, eternal life. And the odds for winning it make it so easily attainable, that all it takes is a simple decision on our part: I will it so!
Unfortunately, just as perfect physical fitness is always at odds against gravity and laziness, our decision to believe in God, to believe in Jesus and follow His way, is always at odds against the “way” of the world and sinfulness. Thus, we have to work as hard at staying in Spiritual shape as we do at staying in Physical shape. And that means sacrifice!
If we told a ‘couch potato’ that they had to run a mile, it would be as unimaginable to them, as telling an war-craving atheist to love their enemy. And yet, loving your enemy would seem pretty hard for most of us as well. It would be equivalent to being that runner who could run the 26-miles of a marathon, versus the couch potato gasping out a walking lap around the track field for a benefit. Before we can love our enemies, we first have to learn how to love our friends, our family and our neighbors. We have to get into the mode of practice, of preparation.
This is what Lent is all about. This is why we sacrifice. It’s our Spiritual practice for the “Big Game.”
You see, Jesus showed us ‘the Way’ to reach eternal life. It’s our decision as to whether we really want it or not. And when we say we do, we can’t just sit around and hope to be able to run the 26-miles, without the preparation. We need to prepare.
And if we think we don’t need preparation, all we need to do is ask ourselves a few basic questions, like: How well can we control our worldly passions? Can we not hate those whose views are different from ours? Can we offer a hungry beggar the food that we would have eaten for lunch, and pass-over a meal? Can we go without coffee, or TV, or internet, or air conditioning, or cell phones for any more than a couple of hours, and still be pleasant to our neighbor? Can we love, even our enemies?
Jesus said, what we are sacrificing is not for the show of it. What we are sacrificing is for the benefit of the world. It’s for the benefit God’s kingdom. It’s for the reward of eternal life.
And how can we possibly say no to that!
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