Pr. Jaynan Clark
March 6, 2014
So the season of Lent is historically and traditionally set aside as a time of repentance. That is an odd and foreign concept in today’s world. It is also a time when we reflect deeply on the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross to save us from our “sin” and “self,” equally odd, foreign, out of date concepts in today’s society which is cross-cultural but no longer a culture of the Cross.
In my short 55 year life I’ve come to realize how much ground the “church” and its teachings have lost. Some would blame me and others as modern day reformers for an acceleration of this process. Blame away. When the institutional church strays from the Word of God it is no longer the church and so it is causing its own demise by trying to be relevant for today rather than proclaiming the Living Word that is eternal and for all time. So be it.
So now we live in a culture that acknowledges or accepts a so called “Christian faith” that is not Christian. It touts the name of Jesus but not in its power and glory revealed in suffering and injustice. Once again we promote the sinner, the sinner’s ability to become good, kind, loving, just, tolerant, successful and spiritual. We apply the groaning standards of the garden of sin as if they were the divine created order. We adopt standards for success, failure, good and bad, right and wrong, just and unfair, from Eden with a 21st century twist. Most in the pews don’t even recognize the total reversal of it all. Many rejoice that they don’t have to hear about sin anymore and they just get to be pumped up and sent out… to fail again… distant from the foot of their Lord’s cross who bends with towel on His shoulder reaching to wash their feet; weary from climbing the ladder of success one rung/wrong after another.
One unidentified writer put it this way: “There is no such thing as failure or success for Jesus. Failure and success are the devil’s inventions and intentions. Jesus never worried about struggling up or slipping down any ladder. Jesus was concerned only with lowering Himself toward those in need and extending Himself forward in God’s service.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said the same thing differently: “The figure of the crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.”
Like hamsters on the American, actually global, wheel we run on in exhaustion not for our good health but on the “devil’s way” that runs counter to “The Way.” Focusing on the self we pass by or trample our neighbor either in our blatant unbelief or in our spiritual high and service that serves neither God nor neighbor. Reaching down to the other, lowering ourselves to meet their needs, smacks of sin not service. Only the Holy One of God, Jesus the Christ, is in a position to lower Himself in order to serve. He did so over and over again.
So many brands of Christian churches gave up on Lent. It is too depressing I guess. Out with the Wednesday church night when any intentional discipline and teaching that reminds us of who we really are and just how messed up “our way” of thinking, seeing, hearing, and so called serving really is. Most alive today don’t even know why “fish-wiches” are on sale this time of year. Activities and events are routinely scheduled over the top of Lenten soup suppers and services without a thought. If one mentions that “it is Lent,” you get either a blank stare indicating no background knowledge of what you are talking about or a roll of the eyes indicating you are one of the oldies but not goodies.
So be it. It is not like the Word of God has ever been popular. Any attempts in the past to conform it to society and make it the norm have seen the Word remove itself from that abuse. Americans were spoiled or softened for many decades as the “church” held its place as the cultural norm; however, in further review, one must confess that it was the “church” as an institution that ruled and succeeded by the world’s standards… not the Hidden Church of God… not the Word of God.
The change isn’t that there is no longer a “church night” or a culture of Lenten discipline or “Blue Laws” or a setting apart of Sunday from the rest of the work/entertainment week… but, rather, that we equated that acceptance of those cultural norms with the Christian faith and the following of the Crucified One. We imported ours and the devil’s understanding of life and death, winning and losing, success and failure and exported the Truth; we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we “need” a Savior we don’t “want” one. Sin, death, and the power of the devil, as we used to teach and preach, is still real; it just went underground, covered up in order to deliver a much more attractive message. But what could be more attractive and appealing than an eternal solution to our deepest needs?
Repentance is not just for a season, it is life and breath itself. Forgiveness is forgiving and for receiving 24/7. It is not the exception but the norm. Sin is not a four-letter word to avoid but the point of origin, your rendezvous with the One, the only “One” who can save you from its eternal consequences.
What’s up this Lent for you and yours? Most likely it is more life on the wheel of success but if you have ears to hear, jump off and experience that “what’s up” which is actually down. It is grounded. It is real. It is on bended knee with basin and towel. It is bleeding, betrayed, denied and rejected. It is raised up on a Cross to come down to your level. It is the Christ. It is Jesus. It is the Crucified-One sent down, lifted up, raised from the dead for you.