Shall Lent Be Joyless?

Sermon – 03-06-19 – Ash Wednesday – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
Sermon Title: “Shall Lent Be Joyless?”

No delicious, greasy food. No alleluias. Extra church services. Ashes on our foreheads!

What is this? It is a time of repentance. It is a time of being sorry and trying to be good. No laughing matter. This is serious stuff. We are doing this to honor Jesus, to be a partner with him in his suffering.

He does suffer to be sure. One year in approximately 33 A.D. it was not fun! Not only does Jesus know he is facing unimaginable pain, but he has all these deadlines. I personally have been facing deadlines continuously since the beginning of December. For some of us, that is how life is – a continuous flow of deadlines. Self-care gurus remind us over and over – some in sweet fake voices, some in stern voices – that we need to step out of the pressure of deadlines. Get ahead of them or don’t accept them, side-step them. Deadlines. Some of my deadlines are self-imposed because ideas come to me. Some of my deadlines are imposed upon me. Whichever it is, most of my deadlines give pleasure to me; I look forward to meeting them, to have them behind me, to see the good results. That is where the joy is.

Well, Jesus has deadlines. He has to prepare these 12 unusual disciples to start his church without him by their side. The weight of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth will be on their shoulders.

Jesus tries to tell his disciples what will happen, but their minds and hearts are set on this Master being with them forever. The mission with which Jesus is charged does not compute with the disciples. Jesus deadlines are not transferrable. He must bear them alone, except for the Father with him!

That is the key! The Father with us! When it seems that we are not aligned with the path on which Jesus is walking, we can call on God the Father to take our hands and lead us, our feet also because as you know – where our hands go, our feet must also go. Where our heart pulls us, our feet drag along. What does Jesus need from us? What is God wanting us to do for the kingdom? Are we paying attention or are we monopolized by the ashes, the doom and gloom? Are we like the disciples at the foot of the mountain after the Transfiguration? They could not heal the boy of the nasty spirit. How defeated Jesus must feel? Having just come from the glorious affirmation of his mission, he finds his progress toward that mission is not in good condition.

How does Jesus manage this frustration? Since we believe that Jesus is totally human during the time he spent on earth while still being fully divine, it can be understood why he displays disappointment to the point of anger.

When I am anxious about meeting deadlines, it usually gives me the necessary energy and motivation to press onward, vaguely as Paul plows diligently through numerous obstacles as we heard in 2 Corinthians 5 and 6. I would understand if Paul felt no joy, yet it is Paul who writes about rejoicing, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

So here we move from the end of tonight’s Epistle lesson into our Gospel lesson. Matthew is telling us how to be effective followers of Christ through this season of Lent. He ends with, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth or rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It is all about heaven. We emphasize being at peace here on earth. We emphasize loving God and loving each other. We press on toward justice for every living creature. We partly do this because it is right. We do this because we can see that force does not a peaceful world make. We see what works and it is kindness and fairness, respect and love. “Restorer of streets to live in.” Yet in the corner of our mind, we are yearning for the time of meeting God without a wall, not even just an open gate, but a wide open endless space where everyone who believes can float on in! Our treasure there will not be waiting in a corner or in a room. Our treasure will have been transformed into a joyous feeling; an everlasting feeling of delight.

As promised in Isaiah 58, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; . . . you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”

I left Jesus expressing anger and disappointment in the midst of his deadlines. How does he keep himself balanced? How does he keep from exploding under the pressure? Scripture indicates that he is continually in prayer with the Father. Additionally, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus is divine – one of the three persons of God. I believe that Jesus knows the plan. I believe that he knows that when the deadline has come and gone, the joy will be like fireworks that stay in the sky forever. Until then, he needs to keep his hand on the plow, as we say. Above the frustration with this curious band of disciples, he loves them. He knows the Father has given them to him, something like a choir, to be molded, to use the gifts with which they were born, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to start the Church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus knows that the Resurrection will follow the awful Friday on the cross with the drama of the thunder, with the desertion of the twelve disciples as far as we know, EXCEPT John who stands beside the mother of Jesus, Mary, at the foot of the cross. John says all through his writing that Jesus loves him more than Jesus loves the other disciples. Here John is rewarded for staying close. Jesus honors and charges John with caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Joy in this quarter! And then the resurrection – oh, one more task! Jesus must prove that he is alive after having been dead! It takes 40 days. He needs to convince the disciples, now called apostles, of his aliveness. No ghost here! Real! And then comes the ultimate joy for Jesus. Off he is whisked, feet last, toes last, to his forever joy! The angels sing. The alleluias return! There is everlasting joy in the heavens! So be it for us as we repent, as we pray, as we keep moving toward the restored joy.

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