UNION — What can you give up for Lent? More importantly, what are doing with the life God has given you and will you have any regrets when it is over?
Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before Easter, lasts 40 days, the number of days Jesus, following his baptism by John The Baptist, spent in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by the Devil before beginning His earthly ministry. In commemoration of Christ’s time in the wilderness, Christians celebrating Lent often look to give up something in their lives that they find tempting.
The practice of giving up something tempting during Lent was the subject of the Lenten Meditation presented at Grace United Methodist Church on Wednesday, March 8 during the second of seven Community Lenten Services hosted by the church. Delivering the Meditation was the Rev. Merritt Wentz, Pastor of Bethel/Duncan Acres United Methodist Church who began by reading the following scripture:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
— Romans 12:1 ( KJV)
Wentz then asked the question “What are you giving up for Lent?” He then presented some of the more humorous answers to that question he has come across over the years.
• “I believe I’ll get close to God by spending a few weeks not eating M&M’s.”
• One was heard giving up the tanning bed for Lent.
• “I’m giving up drinking for Lent but I’m giving up Lent for St. Patrick’s Day.”
• “I’m giving up being cranky and obnoxious….Not that it’s any of your business!”
• “I gave up picking my belly button for “lint”…get it?
While these answers can be seen as humorous, Wentz pointed out that they are examples of a more serious misunderstanding that many have about the true meaning of Lent.
“I believe most of us here are in this mindset,” Wentz said.“This year, for Lent I’m just mostly ‘giving up!’”
Wentz said that Lent is about much more than simply giving up something for the duration of the observance.
“During Lent we focus not only on our need of penitence but also our own mortality,” Wentz said. “We hear many meditations and devotionals on our need to repent but few on our mortality. We don’t like to focus there. But remember during the ‘imposition of ashes’ we say, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’”
Wentz then proposed to those in attendance an exercise to more clearly grasp this truth.
“Let’s do something this afternoon. Let’s use our imagination for a few minutes,” Wentz said. “Let’s imagine that here to my right is a dot and here on my left is a dot and we draw a line to connect the two together. And in the center of that line we mark the exact center. Now let’s say the dot on my right is our birthday and the dot on my left is the day we die. So the line representing our life, now using our age, let’s put a mark on the line were we are on our journey.
“We can’t do anything with that we’ve already lived but let’s focus on this part of what’s before us. What we have left to live before we die,” he said. “It’s what’s most important. The question is, ‘Is there something you need to do or accomplish to fulfill your service for Christ’s Church in this space we have left to live? So that when we die, we die with no regrets.’”
Wentz pointed to the Apostle Paul about what this means for the Christian.
“Now remembering the words of the Apostle Paul,’I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course,’” Wentz said. “We understand that Paul’s ministry wasn’t haphazard but he moved with purpose and intentional direction. Moved by the Holy Spirit. We must also be intentional. Ministry doesn’t’ just happen. We must wake each morning and make a decision to follow Jesus.”
Wentz then returned to Romans 12:1, examining each part of the scripture and its meaning.
I beseech you
“Hear Paul ‘begging.’ that’s the language of ‘grace’ not law. He’s speaking to church people. Not saying “you must do this or you have to do that’ but I’m begging you…please!”
Present your bodies
“Present means to ‘place alongside of’ or near as to one’s hand. Have you ever substituted something for a hammer? Crescent wrench? Knife handle? Hardback book? Trusty shoe heel? God will use those who make themselves ‘available,’ not necessarily the qualified. To serve God we must keep ourselves close and near to God.”
A living sacrifice, holy
“What is it we say in our liturgy when we receive the Lord’s Supper? ‘And so….in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as holy and living sacrifice.’ Don’t be afraid of that word, ‘Holy.’ I tell people whenever God takes/removes something unnecessary out of our lives, He always has something good for us to replace it with.”
Your reasonable service
“That is our ‘logical’ response. To greatly desire to respond in our experiencing God’s unfailing love, shed aboard unto all…the Cross of Christ. When you understand, find faith into and understand ‘the love of Jesus’ that would die for you! This love will move you in divine service for His Kingdom.”
Wentz concluded by asking those present not what they have given up for the celebration of Lent, but what they plan to do to serve God in the remaining years of the life He has given them.
“What is it that you have left to accomplish for Christ’s cause? What is it you have left to do with the time we are afforded? What has God called you to in His service?”
The Community Lenten Services continue today at noon at Grace United Methodist Church with the Meditation delivered by Father Mike McCafferty, Pastor of Saint Augustine Catholic Church.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.