Kruiz edited
Let's Give It Up for Lent
Philip Melanchthon, Confessor
16 February 2018
For some years, I have given something up for Lent. The goal of such fasting is to remind the sinner of human weakness and human dependence upon God for all our needs of body and soul. We are flesh and blood and need to be sustained by a gracious God. The hunger we may feel because of our fasting teaches that we are mortal and that we shall return to dust. Honestly, though, I am never hungry even when I am fasting. There are so many food substitutes for those things that have been excluded from my diet. Some years ago, an acquaintance of mine in the Roman Catholic Church said that she looked forward to Lent because then she would get to eat as much seafood as she wanted. She eagerly anticipated this because living in New Orleans meant that the seafood was plentiful, fresh and delightfully prepared. She said, "My mama did wonderful things with seafood." A dear friend of mine every year gives up mushrooms for Lent, even though he never eats mushrooms at any time. Now that's what I call giving up something for Lent!
This year I foreswore desserts and candy, although I have not been as consistent about keeping the fasts as in previous years. I have thought about the fact that I am better off without desserts and candy in my diet. I usually lose a little weight and feel better during Lent. Then what is the purpose of such "fasting"? It is hardly a burden. In fact, it is giving up that which I am better off without. I am almost taking a Lenten discipline for my own benefit, rather than as a matter of repentance. This defeats the purpose of the fasting. It becomes a worm wedge, by which the serpent wriggles into our lives with a perversion of repentance, a dose of spiritual pride, and a modicum of self-help. None of these things is true contrition but the devil's own brew.
True contrition is rather the devastating sorrow that admits our transgressions have been offensive before the holy and righteous God. This is a desperate enough condition that it hardly requires any other gyrations such as fasting. To stand rightly accused before the holy God is punishment enough, inflicting ourselves with further acts of contrition is superfluous if we are truly sorry for our sinful insults to our heavenly Father. When, as a child, I knew I had disappointed my father, further punishment was entirely unnecessary (although often still forthcoming), because I was devastated when I had let my father down. So it is for the children of God. What more could be piled upon true contrition? What greater weight is there beyond the burden of sorrow? How will sackcloth and ashes help?
I am more than capable of fooling myself with my Lenten fasts when I am not truly sorry for my sin. In fact, such fasting might actually mask or excuse my greed, rage, and slander of others. Fasting might become decorative paper that covers a wall rotten to the core and eaten into by a million termites. It looks lovely, but it will soon collapse with great damage to those who are standing about admiring the lovely wallpaper. Sham repentance will receive only the sham forgiveness that comes from the accolades of self-esteem or the honor of your sacrifice in public. There is no sham forgiveness in God. Let's give up sham repentance for Lent.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"Although we fall into sin, let us not despair. On the other hand, let us not be too casual about it afterward, but, when we transgress, let us afflict our minds and not merely talk about it. For I know many who say indeed that they bewail their sins, but do nothing of account. They fast and wear rough garments; but after money are more eager than hucksters, are more the prey of anger than wild beasts, and take more pleasure in detraction than others do in commendations. These things are not repentance, these things are the semblance and shadow only of repentance, not repentance itself. Wherefore in the case of these persons too it is well to say, Take heed "lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices;" for some he destroys through sins, others through repentance; but these in yet another way, by suffering them to gain no fruit from repentance. For when he could not destroy them by direct attack, he came another way, increasing their labors, while robbing them of the fruits, and persuading them that they had successfully accomplished all they had to do, so that they neglected what remained.
"We may not then fruitlessly afflict ourselves. Praiseworthy indeed is even that which some of you now do: you fast and lie on the ground and in ashes. But these avail nothing except true contrition and forgiveness is added. God has showed how He remits sins. Why then do you forsake that path, and pave another for yourselves. In ancient times, the Ninevites sinned (Jonah), and they did the things that you are doing now. Let us see however what helped them. For as in the case of the sick, physicians apply many remedies. Yet the man of understanding considers not merely that the sick person has tried this and that medicine, but what benefited him; such must also be our inquiry here. What then was it that availed those barbarians in Jonah? They applied fasting to the wounds, yes, applied extreme fasting, lying on the ground too, putting on sackcloth and ashes, and lamentations. They also applied a change of life. Let us then see which of these things made them whole. And how shall we know? If we come to the Physician, if we ask Him, for He will not hide it from us, but will even eagerly disclose it. That none may be unaware, the prophet has even set down in writing the medicine that restored them. What then is this? "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it." (Jonah 3:10) He did not say, He saw their fasting and sackcloth and ashes. And I say not this to overturn fasting, (God forbid!) but to exhort you that with fasting you do that which is better than fasting, the abstaining from evil.
"David also sinned. (2Sa 12:17-23) Let us see then how he too repented. Three days he sat in ashes. But this he did not for the sin's sake, but for the child's, who was suffering with that affliction. But he dealt with his sin by other means, by humbleness, contrition of heart, compunction of soul, by falling into the same sin no more, by remembering it always, by bearing thankfully everything that befell him, by sparing those who grieved him, by refusing to repay those who conspired against him; yes, and even preventing those who desired to do this. For instance, when Shimei was bespattering him with many reproaches (2Sa 16:5-12) and the captain who was with David was incensed, he said, "Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to," for he had a contrite and humbled heart, and it was this especially which wiped away his sins. For this is confession, this is repentance. But if while we are fasting we are proud, we have been not only benefited in nothing, but even injured ourselves."

 John Chrysostom,
Homilies on 2 Corinthians, 4.6
Matthew 6:1-21

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 
"Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
"And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (ESV)
Almighty and everlasting God, because You hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are repentant, create in us new and contrite hearts that we, worthily repenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain from You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For those who have experienced the burden of their own sins, that they would receive the proclamation of divine forgiveness in holy absolution
For all new parents, especially Hilary and Nathan Haak, who have brought home their child Adelin Jean, that their home would ever be a shelter for the defenseless, a fortress for the tempted, a resting place for the weary, and a foretaste of their eternal home with You
For Pastor Robert Paul, Headmaster of Memorial Lutheran School and the faculty as they commemorate the Lenten season, that they would take up their cross and follow Christ
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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