Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Giving up Guilt for Lent

I know that I have had a lot of Lent and particularly 'giving-things-up-for-Lent' themed posts lately, but as I continue to struggle with not biting my nails, I guess it has just been on my mind a lot.  And, after all, it is Lent.  So, its appropriate.  
Anyway, I was thinking about how our practice of giving something for Lent is a really similar and comparable to the ancient practice of sacrifices and/or burnt offerings.  Of course I am not talking about human sacrifice or anything like that, but the kind of sacrifice we read about, primarily in the Old Testament, but was also present at the time of Jesus.  
There are lots of different kinds of sacrifice talked about and explained in the Bible, but all of it shared a purpose.  The sacrifices and the burnt offerings were to be gifts to God, symbols of our love and appreciation for what God has done for us.  But they were also to be something more than that, they things (different types of animals) were sacrificed as a sort of penance for sins we had committed and the things we had done wrong.  
Finally, they were to cost us something and that cost was to be a reminder to us of the consequences of our actions and a reminder of what God had done for us.  
This is where the greatest similarity lies to our giving things up for Lent.  
We don't give things up for Lent because God asks us to.  (we will get to that in a second).  Instead we give things up to remind us - daily - of what God, in Christ has done for us and to experience, on some small scale a sacrifice to help us appreciate the sacrifices Jesus made for us.  That is good, and important - as long as it is done to help us grow closer to Christ and gain a better understanding of the depth of God's sacrificial love for us.  Giving something up is about getting closer to God and knowing more of God's love.  It isn't for or about God.  
These thoughts crystallized for me as I read today's Old Testament passage from the Daily Lectionary (which can be found here:  http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2011/3/29/  )
The part that really stuck out to me as meaningful for us during Lent was this, from Jeremiah 7:
1Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” 24Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward. 
God doesn't want or ask for our offerings and sacrifices (that is why he says to eat the offerings - the sacrifices to God would have stayed at the temple and shared by the priests)  God isn't interested in our offerings, but our obedience.  God wants us to follow where he calls us and sends us.  
Also, very interesting to me is that part of the problem for the people is that they were looking backward rather than forward.  So often when we sacrifice something - to God or someone else - it is about penitence or repayment.  We do it to make up for something we have done -or left undone.  
But here God is saying that we are to simply look forward into what and where God is calling us now and not be worried about what we have done or not done in the past.  
So, maybe the best thing all of us can give up this year for Lent is guilt.  God doesn't want our sacrifices because God isn't interested in our looking back on where we have messed up or not lived up.  God simply asks us to obey him and that begins with turning around and facing forward into the future and the life that God has called you to.  Not worried about the past, but ready for whatever God is going to call you to next.

1 comment:

  1. I decided rather than giving up something for lent I would make sure and volunteer at least 30 minutes a day (or a total of 3.5 hours a week) to help someone less fortunate than I am. I feel like it is a way more productive use of lent and 40 days to make a change in my life for god.