Give Up For Lent
My neighbor's son is in his first year at the Navel Academy. She recently talked to him and asked him if he had decided what he would give up for Lent. He replied, "Mom, I'm at the Naval Academy; they've already taken away everything I could give up." Do you think that's true? I don't. In fact, this text shows us 3 things that every one of us not only could but should give up for Lent.
Give up jealously for Lent. Jealousy is in this text. Right before it Jesus had told all 12 disciples that some of them would get to see the kingdom of heaven coming in power. Then Jesus took only Peter, James, and John. Among disciples that argued who was the greatest and who wouldn't stoop to wash each other's feet there had to be hard feelings because of this. James and John go as brothers. Yet Andrew, Peter's brother and the first disciple, doesn't go. Philip whom Jesus Himself recruited doesn't go. And not even Nathanel whom Jesus knew so well gets to go.
Jealousy is alive among us. Why does this person get all the brakes? Why do things always go right for her? How come that person is so healthy and I have only health problems? And make no mistakes about it; though we think and speak of people, we're really talking about our Lord. It's not luck, chance, fate, or "just how it is" that determines sickness and health, pain and pleasure, success and failure, it's Jesus.
Jesus is the one who makes distinctions between Christians. Does realizing this help you give up jealousy for Lent? Knowledge can help you change outward behavior. Knowledge can aid you in giving up some food, drink, or habit for Lent, but knowledge can't enable you to give up sin. If it did, then the 10 Commandments would've been enough. The people would have come away from Mt. Sinai never sinning again because now they knew it was wrong to steal, worship other gods, tell lies, etc.
Knowledge won't help you give up any sin for Lent or at any other time. So what will? Before I answer that, let me tell you something else you should give up for Lent. Give up your opinions about Jesus. People, who don't deny Jesus existed, yet don't believe He's Lord and God usually believe He was a good example or a great teacher. Jesus either shows them how to give up things for Lent or teaches them how to do it.
Jesus does teach deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me, and Jesus certainly shows you how to do that. But note, Jesus doesn't teach deny your love for chocolate, your taste for meat, or your hobby. He teaches deny yourself. Now, we're pretty close to that jealousy thing again, aren't we? When I'm jealous I'll tell you one thing for sure; it's all about me, and I'm 100% right. There is no other way to look at it. I'm being wronged because that person has something more, better or different than I have.
To give jealousy up I would have to reach down my throat and pull out my heart, so interconnected with it am I. Nothing less than the death of me, myself and I is required for me to give up jealously for Lent. And Jesus sure shows me how that's done, doesn't He? He's beaten, whipped, mocked, and crucified, and doesn't complain. He hangs from the cross scarred, bloody, swollen, and dead. Yup, that's all it takes to give up jealously or any other sin you might be trying to keep as a pet. Have it beaten, whipped, and pounded out of you till you're dead.
Jesus the good example, Jesus the great teacher, doesn't help a bit, does He? If we're really going to give up sin for Lent, we first need to give up our opinions about Jesus. No matter how pious, high, or devout they may be, they're still just opinions. On the last day, what you, me, or anyone else thinks of Jesus won't matter. Come Judgment Day Jesus isn't going to ask you, "What's your opinion of Me?" But as you stand before Him on trembling knees you'll be dying to know what He thinks of you?
The only way you'll arrive at the answer to that is if, by God's grace, you see beyond your opinions of who Jesus is. Then you will see what Jesus came to do. Then you'll know what Jesus thinks of you. This text shows you who Jesus is. He's not just a teacher, not just a rabbi, not just a friend, He's God in flesh and blood. God declares from heaven that the One who called Himself the Son of Man is also the Son of God.
Now the amazing thing isn't that Jesus allows us to see His flesh and blood glow with the heavenly power that is His from all eternity, the amazing thing is that Jesus stopped glowing and came down off that mountain! If Jesus hadn't done those two things, He couldn't have suffered, been crucified, or died in place of sinners. He would have remained on the mountain dwelling in one of the booths Peter offered to make. He would have remained above and beyond the blood, sweat, and tears it cost to pay for your sins. Who could have nailed Jesus to a cross, who could have whipped Him, who could have slapped or mocked Him for the jealousy that never ceases to be in my fallen heart if Jesus hadn't stopped glowing whiter than the sun and came down off this mountain?
But Jesus did stop glowing, and He did walk down the mountain. Why? Because people gave Him money? Because people worshipped Him? Because people served Him? No, because people were sinners, because people needed saving, because the jealous, sinful hearts of the people were taking them straight to hell unless someone went and got them. A good teacher, even a great teacher is not going to go to hell for you, and what if he did? You would still go. Another man suffering hell doesn't save anyone from hell, but a Man who is God going to hell in place of sinners, that's another matter. If Jesus paid for my sins, who can make me pay now? Who can send me to hell if Jesus went for me?
What does Jesus think of you? He thought so much of you that He gladly did what you couldn't do, keep the 10 Commandments, and then suffered and paid for your not keeping them. This makes Jesus your Savior and what I really hope you give up for Lent is listening to others rather than Jesus. You heard God the Father thunder to the cowering disciples, "Listen to Him!" He said that because they hadn't been listening. Neither have we.
We listen instead to Moses. We hear Moses thunder, "Thou shalt not do this, and thou shalt do that." We hear Moses command us, "You shall not be jealous," and we set off doing our best not to be jealous, but we fail, fail, and fail. So we try harder, but fail even harder. So we turn to Moses, thinking more Moses has got to help, but he doesn't. He either makes us despair of ever being pleasing to God or fools us into thinking doing our best not to be jealous makes us pleasing to God.
There is a time to listen to Moses, but it's only for awhile. In the text, Moses returned to heaven; Jesus remains. Listen to Moses only till he convinces you that you're a sinner and no amount of your trying is going to save you from hell. Then it's time to listen to Jesus. And what does Jesus say about your sin be it jealousy, greed, pride, lust or worry? What does Jesus say about that sin dragging you to hell? What does Jesus say about that sin you can't beat? He says, "I forgive you; I cleanse you; I free you from it. It is no longer your master."
Listen to Jesus; don't listen to Moses, and don't listen to Elijah. Elijah was the hero the disciples had grown up waiting for. When Elijah returned, the Jews would win again. You know why they thought that? Because Elijah never loses in the Bible. He takes on 900 prophets of Baal and wins! He's mighty in Word and deed and is taken to heaven in a whirlwind! But don't listen to Elijah. Listen to Jesus because Elijah doesn't remain with us Jesus does. And Elijah and Jesus have different views of winning.
Elijah wins by making others suffer; Jesus wins by suffering. Elijah wins by making his enemies die; Jesus wins by dying at the hands of His enemies. Elijah is taken to heaven accompanied by glorious chariots of fire. Jesus is taken to heaven by a cross surrounded by Roman chariots. If you listen to Elijah about winning, then your sickness, sorrow, suffering and problems, can only be indications that you're losing. Then those other people without your aches, pains, and afflictions are winning and have more of God's favor. But listening to Jesus, you find the world's definitions of winning and losing transfigured, changed. Jesus tells you the world's sickness is His health, the world's sorrow is His joy; the world's weakness is His strength, and that the world's suffering is His Father's care.
Give up listening to others for Lent. Listen to Jesus, and listen wherever Jesus speaks. Don't be put off by the simple places Jesus speaks to you. It has always been God's way to wrap holy, divine things in simple, human ones. God wrapped His eternal Word in human letters. God the Son is wrapped in human flesh and blood. Don't be jealous of others who say Jesus speaks to them in their heart, in their dreams, in their thoughts. No, you have a more certain Word from Jesus than this. Jesus speaks to you in your Baptism telling you that you are God's child. Jesus speaks to you in the Absolution saying your sins really are forgiven. Jesus speaks in Holy Communion testifying that His body and blood are wrapped in Bread and Wine for forgiveness and life now and for salvation for eternity.
If you want to give up something for Lent, give up your sins, but you can't do that unless you give up your opinions about Jesus and give up listening to others instead of Jesus. But these you can only do once Jesus' opinion of you saves you from yourself. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Transfiguration of our Lord (20060226); Mark 9: 2-9