Salem Lutheran Church

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The Practice of Love

Today, begins our 40-day journey of Lent. That time between Ash Wednesday and Easter when we are invited to examine our own lives so that we might identify those things that keep us from fully loving God and from living the lives we have been created to live. It is a time in which we are challenged to give up, or fast from, those things that prevent us from living lives that that glorify God.

Now, for many, Lent is often caricatured as a long-faced, no-fun season. But Lent is really about saying no to some things so we can say yes to others. As we will hear this coming Sunday, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was tempted by Satan to say yes to the chance to use his gifts for immediate gratification of his physical needs, to say yes to the enjoyment of material wealth and the thrill of power over others. He said no to these temptations, and headed into the towns and villages to say yes to long days and nights of healing, teaching, and feeding.

During Lent, Christians are called to say no to those habits that come between us and God. What are those habits, well, they might be unhealthy physical habits, or unhealthy eating habits. They might be unhealthy community acts such as always gossiping about others, being jealous of others' accomplishments, or of consistently seeing the worst in people and situations. Such bad habits might be our indifference to the condition of the homeless and the lonely in our community. It might be the habit of judging and categorizing others to maintain our sense of superiority. These, like so many actions in our lives are practices that keep us from fully experiencing and loving our God.

In our Gospel text today, Jesus begins by warning people not to perform their acts of piety publically. Now, before I go any farther, the acts Jesus is warning us against are those acts that we perform as religious acts. Those things we do that tell the world that we follow God and God’s ways. Any action we take that is intended to point to God and God’s ways is a pietistic act. So, when I give away my money, or my time, or my talents, I am performing pietistic acts. When I stand with the poor, the outcast, the stranger, or anyone in need. I am performing a pietistic act. When I pray, or fast, or act humble, I am performing pietistic acts. These are all good actions and actions I should take everyday and Jesus is not condemning us for practicing our piety. No, what Jesus is condemning in this story is our motives. When you “practice your piety in order to be seen” (6:1); when you practice your piety to get something in return; when you practice your piety, so you can get a reward then Jesus says, “Beware!”

Lent is a time when we ought to reflect and examine why and how we practice our faith. Do we do these things so we can get to heaven? Do we give to the church because the bible said to or because Pastor said so? Do we do service projects because we get points at school toward a scholarship program, or to get “good service awards?” Do we pray because it is mealtime and everyone knows you pray before you eat? Do we fast because it is Lent? Do we give to the person begging on the street corner because we feel guilty if we don’t? If these are our motives, Jesus says to us, “Beware!” Whether we do these things publically, or in private, if these are our motives, beware!

So, why ought we do these things? Why should we live lives filled with piety? Well, because we are loved and because we love. Lent is a time to reflect on our lives and to help us come to see that we are loved, as we are. God loves us so much, that She named us and claimed us before we were in our mother’s womb. God loves us so much that he died for us, in the life of Jesus Christ. We ought to live as God calls us to live, not because have to, but because we are loved. Lent is all about love; God’s love for us, and our love for each other. As we will hear on Maundy Thursday, we are commanded to love each other, as Jesus loved us.

My hope and prayer for all of you this Lent is that you come to see that Lent is not that “long-faced, no-fun” season that so many claim it be, but instead that you come to see that this season is all about love. It is about realizing that God loves us so much that she made us just as we are. It is about realizing that God loves us so much that he gave each of us unique gifts to share with each other. It is about realizing that all these acts of piety are intended to be acts of love.

In just a few moments I will invite you into the Season of Lent and we will begin by confessing our sin, an act of love. Yes, we are all sinners and yes, we are called to confess our sin, but we confess that sin because we are loved and we are forgiven. Then following that act of love, you will be invited to come forward and receive they ultimate sign of love on your forehead, a cross of ash. The cross, once a sign of death, is now a sign of love, eternal love. As you leave here today with that cross, boldly showing our your forehead, I invite you to live your faith boldly, to live your faith generously and to live your faith loving each other as God loves you. Amen.


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