It's that time of year again - Lent. 40 days of repentance and spiritual reflection. It is a time when we focus, not on ourselves, but on the Lord and what He has done for us. He is the sinless Son of God who came into the world to be our Savior. He took upon Himself our sins. He placed Himself under the Law in our stead. He suffered. He sweat. He carried. He died. All for us. Lent is about our Lord did and not about what we do.
I guess that is the change that I have seen in the past years. Lent has become more about what we do and while we do this, we talk about what our Lord did. But it seems that Lent has become that expression of Christian piety that was at one time seen as foreign to Lutheranism and was to be done away with. Perhaps I am a product of the church in which I was raised and that influences me today as a pastor in that same church.
Some of the things that have become "popular" in the Lutheran Church that were not part of the church piety in years gone by. The first is the "giving up" something for Lent. It has become fashionable to do such a thing. More than that, it has become fashionable to wear that on your sleeve and let everyone know that you are giving up something. We strive for bigger and better things to give up. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think that there is a thing wrong with giving something up for Lent. I just am appalled by the show that is made of it. Like the Pharisees in Jesus day, we give up soda, chocolate, candy or something else and then tell the world on the street corner. Our Lord tells us to do these things in private, not letting "the right hand know what the left hand is doing," for your Father in heaven knows what you are doing. The people around you don't need to know. It becomes a show of piety rather than an act of faith.
Then there is the imposition of ashes. It has become fashionable among the "faithful" of the Missouri Synod to do the imposition of ashes. To wear the ashes marks a person as a faithful Lutheran. Yet at the same time, we read the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday which tells us, "When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may be not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret." (Matthew 6:17 ESV) Through the years, our marks of piety have become more for show and less about serving the Lord. My parents and grandparents would be appalled by Lutherans walking around with ashes on their foreheads. That was seen as the extreme acts of piety that was for show. As a pastor, I do not do the imposition of ashes. Perhaps I am robbing my members of this faithful action but I can't bring myself to do it. It seems so self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Look at me, I have my ashes, I am faithful. Instead we should be saying, "Look at Christ. He suffered. He died. He is faithful."
I remember back when I entered the pastoral ministry, all the things that are popular today among our conservative elements of the LC-MS, we the things that the liberal elements were doing. I guess we have baptized them confessional and made them a part of true Lutheran piety
My point today? My point is this. Whatever you do, do it for the Lord. When you give up something, don't make a show of it. Do it as a way of focusing your attention on what the Lord has done and not on what you are doing. If you receive ashes tomorrow, wash them off before you leave the church. Why? So that you are not calling attention to yourself and your actions but instead calling attention to your Lord and what He has done and continues to do for you.
.Lent is not about you! It is not about your actions. Lent is about your Lord and His actions. He is the Savior. He is the One who carries the Law. He is the focus of the season. Don't forget that as you get caught up with the acts of piety that are spreading through out our church body.