Again - not written out completely. "Note-y" not naughty.
Give it up for Lent -
What will you give up for Lent? If you are giving up chocolate, or lunch, or the internet, or whatever . . . . great.
I'd like to know how your Lenten discipline affects you. What will you learn? How will you grow? That’s great.
Sermons will explore possible things Christians might give up for Lent. Not stuff like chocolate. But stuff like heartaches. Worry. Fear. Burdens.
The promise we’ll be claiming is the one Jesus spoke “Come unto me all you who labor, carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and have a soft heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my burden is easy and my yoke is light.”
The first burden we want to give up and get some rest from is the burden of a heavy heart. And one thing that can weigh our hearts down and make them feel like we are dragging around a rock - is anger
Two things, really, anger at other people that have done us wrong - and regret about what we ourselves have done - in a past that is less than perfect.
Let’s talk about storing pain and anger over what other people have done first. Cause I hardly ever talk to someone whose heart is heavy. And I hardly ever feel weighted down myself, but what this isn’t part of the reason. Human beings love to hang on to offenses they have suffered. We just do. Description - of holding onto the jagged words and mean things people have said and done to us. Lauren Winner is the one who calls them jagged - “I cling to them although it is my own palms that are lacerated by carrying them.” It is our hearts that are weighed down by holding onto the hurts and heartaches of the past.
Lent is a time for us to lighten up our hearts by practicing the compassion and forgiveness of Christ. By requesting and accepting forgiveness for what we have done. And by forgiving and letting go of those things that others have done to hurt us.
And they are linked. Forgiveness for others and forgiveness for ourselves are inextricably linked - not by theologians, or Oprah or Psychologists. By Jesus. In the prayer that he taught his disciples to pray - the one we say every Sunday - “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Right after the prayer, before he talks about anything else, the FIRST thing he says is “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither can your Father forgive you.” A heart from sin set free is a heart that sets others free. And it happens together - that kind of light heartedness.
Lewis Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and to discover that the prisoner was you.”
To forgive means to let go - to release - any expectation of redress of grievances, or to be Paid Back. It is to say, “That happened, and I am not going to waste one more moment of my precious life reliving it.” And then, you just don’t pay it any more attention.
This does not mean that you renew the relationship with the person who injured you. Your forgiving the hurt does not change the person who hurt you. It changes you.
To ask forgiveness of another is also to be relieved of a burden and to receive a gift. I don’t know if you read conservative columnist Cal Thomas - but his column last week was about a recent experience in which he made a mistake. Before a big crowd of supporters, he said something really mean and personal about MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow. He writes, “All the mean things people say about me are no excuse. I am not supposed to behave like that. One of the principles in which I believe is not to engage in name-calling - which, to my shame, I did. The next morning I felt bad about it, so I called Ms. Maddow to apologize. It wasn’t one of those meaningless “If I’ve offended anyone. . . “ apologies; it was heartfelt. I had embarrassed myself and was a bad example to those who expect better from me. Maddow could not have been more gracious. . . . To be forgiven by one you have wronged is a blessing, it’s even cleansing.”
But even if Rachel Maddow hadn’t been gracious, Thomas would have been unburdened by sincerely repenting. And God’s forgiveness would have allowed him to make a fresh start.
Accepting God’s forgiveness says that God is bigger and God’s love is greater than any mistake or sin in my life. I don’t have to be a liar, even though I told a lie. I don’t have to be a rigid, judgmental jerk, even though I acted like one once. I don’t have to be a lazy, no good whatever. God can make a new future for me.
It’s sort of humbling, when you think of it: it’s just saying that I’m not big enough to ruin God’s plan for the world. I may mess up. And I will never be perfect. But I don’t have to keep beating myself up and making the same mistakes over and over again.
You know I love country music, and there’s a song by Tom Russell that says it perfectly:
“When the lie that you told buzzing round in your head
Let it go.
. . . “
I can change. Which is why it is so hard, I guess. Being forgiven changes you. I’ve told you about the great hat I saw. It said, “Let’s change. You go first.”
So before you forgive, you might want to spend a little time in prayer. Ask Jesus to sit with you. After all, he’s an interested party here. He cared enough about your forgiveness to go to the cross to show you how it is done. So sit with him and try this:
Picture yourself sitting in a beautiful place - a field filled with flowers, or a mountaintop meadow. Or this sanctuary. And you are holding a package on your lap. It is heavy. It is the burden that you have been carrying. It is the pain and anger of a broken relationship, it is the the guilt over a personal failure. It is something that needs forgiveness. Spend a few minutes getting really clear about what is in the package. And then take your hands off of it. Let it go. Imagine that instead of weighing heavily upon you, it begins to rise, like a balloon, and all you hold is the string. What if it flies away? What will that mean for you? Talk to Jesus about that. What would be different in your life if you let it go? And then, the two of you decide if you are ready.
Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and you will find rest for your souls.