Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Let the Holy Smack Down Begin

Brad Sullivan
Ash Wednesday, Year A
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
St. Mark’s, Bay City, TX
Joel 2:1-2,12-17
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103 or 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

This morning, just before setting out our ashes for the service, I printed out my bracket for Lent Madness.  It’s kinda like March Madness, but with saints pitted head to head against each other instead of basketball teams in a single elimination, winner take all competition.  Each day during Lent, the Lent Madness people give biographical information about two saints, and people vote on the saint they want to win the holy smack down.  In addition to the gold crown, the chosen saint gets his or her face immortalized on coffee mugs which can be purchased from the Lent Madness people.  “It’s just kind of fun,” my wife said as I listened on, dumbfounded last night.  Over 50,000 people participated last year, my wife informed me, and I thought it was just crazy enough that I’d try it. 
It does seem a little odd, playing a bracket vote off for the winning saint with a bunch of dead people, but they aren’t really dead are they.  These saints have died, and yet they are alive with Christ in God.  That’s what we’re really remembering today as we have ashes put on our foreheads and hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  We’re not mourning our mortality.  We’re embracing and celebrating our mortality because through Jesus’ resurrection, God gives us resurrection as well.  We embrace our death with hope and faith in Jesus’ resurrection. 
During this season of Lent, we’re preparing ourselves for celebrating Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.  We may fast.  We may take on some new devotion or new way of living intentionally as Jesus’ disciple.  We may give up some bad habit, some habitual action which keeps us from fully loving God and people.  Lent in a somber season because we are holding up a mirror and taking a good honest look at our lives, at our mortal nature, and at our sin.  Lent is also a joyful time, for the same reason.  We’re seeking to live more completely as Jesus’ disciples, and that is a joyful enterprise.
Is Lent Madness, then, not taking Lent seriously enough, turning it into a joke?  I’m certain some will see it that way, but taking Lent seriously, whatever action we take is really a matter of the condition and intention of people’s hearts. 
Jesus took prayer very seriously.  He prayed often, not making a show of it, but praying because he wanted to connect with God.  He knew he had to connect with God through prayer.  In our Gospel lesson from Matthew, therefore, Jesus wasn’t just setting up a new set of rules about how we are allowed to pray, to be followed up later by eat fish on Fridays (something we don’t have to do by the way).  Jesus was illustrating the condition of our hearts such that we pray in order to draw near to God, not to elevate ourselves above others. 
I wondered about Jesus speaking about the hypocrites who pray in public to be seen and rewarded by others.  Do we still have that nowadays?  Then I thought of several political ads I’ve seen lately with candidates vaulting themselves as champions of prayer, both person and public prayer.  I don’t know that those candidates are trying to be hypocrites in any way, and my guess is their prayer and faith is genuine.  I’m not sure, however, that Jesus intended prayer to be used as a tool for political manipulation. Prayer is intended to be shared, I believe, but more in a one on one kind of setting, human heart reaching out to human heart.  
The condition of our hearts, is what we’re seeking to explore and to heal this Lent.  Jesus’ desire for us is to heal our hearts.  So the big question this Lent is, “would Jesus be ok with Lent Madness?”  Yes?  I think so.  Jesus was and joyful soul.  He took joy and delight in creation and in God’s children.  If learning about the saints and having some fun with it helps heal our hearts, then I think Jesus would say, “go for it.”  Jesus desires us to live joyful lives.  
Sometimes living a joyful life means giving up and letting go of those things which keep us from living joyfully and keep us from allowing others to live joyfully.  Through fasting, prayer, self-examination, maybe even learning about the lives of the saints through Lent Madness, we’re seeking to heal our heart to live as Jesus would have us live.  I encourage you to practice an intentional, holy, and joyful Lent.  Amen.

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