Give Up! For Lent

News flash: the R-S family now have two teenagers in the house.

If I needed a reminder of the smart alecky beauty of teenagers, Stephanie said to me,

“what should I give up for Lent…

I know! I’m not giving up something for Lent, I’m just giving up!”

She was making a joke, but I think there is truth in the statement.

There are some things in my religion that I’d really like to give up.

One of them occurred to me again when I heard that

a Wheaton college professor Larycia Hawkins was placed on administrative leave and asked to resign

after stating Christians worship the same God as Muslims.

"I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian,

are people of the book," she posted on Facebook, along with a photograph of herself in a hijab. "And as Pope Francis stated … we worship the same God."

Hawkins posted this after the December attacks in Paris and San Bernardino,

when anti-Muslim backlash was on the rise.

Wheaton College has since backpedaled their initial statements and stopped the firing process;

they maintain that Hawkins’ views did not match their mission statement,

as she did not point out what makes Christianity distinct from Islam.

This troubles me, because it points to a kind of possessiveness of the truth that we Christians can have

There can be an exclusivity to our faith with makes it difficult

to know how to claim one’s own truth while allowing others to keep theirs.

In the letter to the Romans, from which our second lesson is taken,

St Paul was explaining his theology, which was a new religion,

or at least a new version of Judaism with some pretty radical changes.

In our passage for today, Paul was beginning a discussion of what all these Jesus the Messiah business

meant for the Jews, which continues in chapter 11.

God gave promises to the Jews first; they were the chosen people.

So what does it mean that now Jesus fulfills the law?

What does it mean that non Jews can join the faith?

Does God still loves the Jews, or do they have to become Christian?

To these questions, Paul answers:

“The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him,” and

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

It is a surprisingly accepting attitude toward other faiths.

There are, of course, places in scripture, where Jesus is portrayed as the only way to God.

The Gospel of John famously places on Jesus’ lips:

“I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”

So how do we balance the exclusive claims of Christ as the Messiah,

and the generosity of God portrayed here?

I think it is important to note that as Lutherans we do not read scripture as if it were created in a vacuum,

a hermetically sealed container of God’s word, straight from God’s mouth.

Instead we recognize that the Bible was written by many people over many centuries

their writings were inspired by God, pointing to God’s love through Jesus for the whole world.

We see the scriptures as an ongoing conversation, with different voices contributing different views

Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, John, people throughout church throughout history, and finally, you and me.

The Spirit works through our reading and prayer and conversation about scripture.

That means our understanding of scripture can change over time.

You already know some understandings that have changed: slavery, for instance,

or women not being allowed to have leadership positions in the church.

Both of these issues were once part of Christian faith and practice,

bolstered by certain scriptures that seemed to support theses views.

But as Christians continued to read scripture,

they began to see that other passages clearly refer to women in ministry,

and that the liberation of the gospel is not consistent with slavery, and they changed their ways and thinking.

In looking at how we view other faiths, I think it’s time to change our thinking.

I think it is time to give up the notion that Christians have an exclusive corner on the truth.

We can, like Paul, hold fast to our claim that Jesus is Lord for us

and at the same time leave room for the possibility that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,

Whether it is Yahweh, Allah, or Lord Shiva.

Opening up our theology to include the possible truth of other religious helps us

to appreciate other faiths and work with them.

Here in Newington we have an unique opportunity for this interfaith work,

as there is a Jewish synagogue and two Hindu temples, a Mosque in Berlin, a Mormon Church in Mtown.

As we get to know our neighbors in school, neighborhood, and as communities of faith,

We can work against the xenophobia and prejudice that we see when people attack mosques

or make blanket statements about Muslims.

“I’m not giving up something for Lent, I’m just giving up.”

After full consideration, Stephanie’s joke is not a bad Lenten discipline.

Giving up whatever takes you away from loving God, loving neighbor, and loving yourself

and giving it to God is good spiritual practice.

In fact, in following Jesus, loving well is always more important than being right.

Today I invite you to consider, can you give up your need to be right?

Rest in the mystery that God, who is called by many names, is more than right…

God is love.

Children’s sermon:

In a bucket, various cleaning supplies and Lenten supplies: devotional, nail, box for world hunger.

Discuss contents.

Lent comes from the word, spring—

Items for spring cleaning, spiritual cleaning.

Cutting board:

giving up my need to prove myself, control the outcome of situations, manipulate people and surroundings to suit my desires

and instead allowing God to direct these things.

Lent is just such an invitation: to give up whatever you are holding onto that leads you away from loving God, loving self, and loving neighbor-- and give it over to God.

In looking at Jesus’ temptation in the gospel lesson, each was for Jesus take matters into his own hands:

feed himself, rule the nations right away, prove himself as God’s son by jumping off the top of the temple.

The temptation was to forget about God and rely on his own power.

“Giving up” has been an important part of my spirituality—

also generous to people who feel unworthy

nearness of God

simplicity of saying something, and desiring to believe it—it is enough to say it and desire to believe it

not a strenuous spirituality

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