Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten Cultivation

Ash Wednesday
February 25, 2009
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

I don’t know about you, but if I were saving the world, and it had to be through suffering hell, I think I’d want to just get it over with. Not Jesus. He began His three year Ministry leading up to His suffering by enduring the temptation of Satan for forty days.

Some people show up here on Easter Sunday thinking that’s the important day to be here. They see no need to be here today, Ash Wednesday; or any other day, for that matter, except for Christmas, of course. They don’t understand why we need to go through a solemn period of Lent. But here we are. Contemplating our mortal state. That it is from dust we came and to dust we shall return.

We don’t have to do this, of course. But we may need it more than we realize. It’s not simply a matter of pondering what our Lord went through. It’s also a discipline. It’s a kind of training. Lenten practice is being cultivated into a Christian who thinks as Christ does, acts as Christ does, is as Christ is.

We’re not just Christians who know they’ve been saved, we are daily being formed into ones who are more and more like Christ. Jesus began His journey toward the cross with forty days in the wilderness—forty days of spiritual struggle. You wouldn’t think salvation could be accomplished in an area that’s desolate, where Jesus has nothing at hand for help, including food. It’s counter-intuitive that salvation could be accomplished in Almighty God struggling and suffering, dying and being buried. But these are the things Jesus did to bring about the very salvation we need.

You might not think that a solemn time of Lent would be significant in our Christian lives. It doesn’t seem to match the triumph of the joy of Easter. But it is in the practice of Lenten pondering of our Lord’s Passion that discipline is formed. It is in this subdued time we are cultivated by the Holy Spirit.

Our Lenten pondering will be on the very heart of the Gospel, five phrases in the second article of the Creed that describe the core message of the Bible that Jesus Christ suffered hell so that we wouldn’t have to.

I encourage you to ponder in these six weeks of Lent that what Jesus did in suffering, being crucified, dying, buried, and descending into hell, He did for you. For your salvation He became sin who knew no sin.

It’s only in what He has done for you that you have salvation. It’s only in His suffering hell in your place that you may live in the way He has called you to live in the Gospel reading. The practice of righteousness isn’t something you can just go out and do. You need to be formed. You need to be cultivated by the Holy Spirit. You need the discipline of Lent to live in the way God has called you to live.

If Jesus needed to go out into the wilderness for forty days in order to save us, how much more do we need a spiritual struggle to form us? Our default position seems to be to meet the minimum standard. I made it to church on the big days, Christmas and Easter—I’m good to go. Even for those of us who are here all the time, who make it to church every Sunday and even all the Lenten worship services—I’m really good to go.

But it’s not about that. It’s about being cultivated. It’s about seeing that your righteousness is in Christ. That you don’t do righteousness in order to gain favor with God. You gain righteousness because Jesus suffered hell in your place. Now why would you go and ruin that by seeking recognition for practicing righteousness? Why not live instead in the freedom Christ gives you to serve one another and love them unconditionally?

The Lenten cultivation is a microcosm of the Christian life. You think you’re going to walk away from this Lenten season and feel so much better about being a stronger Christian? Well, you might. But you might not. And whether you do or don’t it’s going to be hard. Cultivation is not an easy process. And it’s not quick. It takes a lifetime, but God is willing to invest the time in you.

He sent His Son to suffer hell for you. If He has done that, how much more will He give all things to you? How much more will He impute His righteousness to you? How much more will He form and cultivate you into a little Christ, that when others see you they will see Christ? Rejoice in every opportunity to be formed by Him. The harvest you reap is eternal. Amen.


No comments: