Tag Archives: sacrifice

Take up something for Lent

I’ve been reading a lot on facebook today about people giving something up for Lent.  Several have said their FB “goodbye,” because they will be giving up facebook.  Thousands (millions?) will be giving up chocolate, french fries, cofee, swearing, late-night snacks, food during the day, or somesuch other thing.

They will do it in the name of fasting.  The idea of giving up something for Lent has taken on a certain cultural cache.  It is a strange phenomon in our culture of overindulgence.  On the surface, I see it as a good thing.  Self-denial, even of menial or luxuriant things, is a much overlooked virtue.  So I applaud all of those that, in the name of God or their faith, are trying to give up something for Lent.

I just want to add a word of caution.  Don’t let your giving something up for Lent replace an actual relationship with the living God.  And don’t let your sense of piety over giving up something for Lent keep you from taking a hard look at what God really wants us to be doing.

This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.  (Isaiah 58:6-7, The Message)

Just be careful.  It is great to do something for God.  It is great to remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us.  Just do it for the right reasons.  Don’t get caught up in the cultural trend of giving something up without also trying to take something up.  We give things up to make room to take things up.  Give up something that is getting in the way of your relationship with God.  Give something up that is getting in the way of the Kingdom.

Give up chocolate.  Give up chocolate that is made on the backs of the working poor.  Give up choclate that enslaves children and puts them in dangerous working conditions. Give up Hershey.  And take up Fair-Trade chocolate.

Give up facebook.  And take up a pen and piece of paper and a stamp, and write a note to a teacher, a friend, a loved one, someone sick, or someone lonely.

Give up TV.  And take up conversations.  Take up stronger relationships.  Take up the Bible.  Take up prayer.

Give up oppression.  Give up resentment.  Give up fear.  And take up justice.  Take up reconciliation.  Take up love.

Mark your forehead with ashes – not to take up shame and guilt.  Mark your forehead with ashes – and take up your inheritance as a child of God.  Take up your task to do the work of Christ.  Mark the start of your journey to the cross, so that when you get to Easter, you can look back and know that this Lent, you did something with God.  Then sing “Hallelujah, The Kingdom has come.”

If you liked this post, you might find the podcast “Pulpit Fiction” interesting.  Go to the Pulpit Fiction homepage for commentaries on the Biblical text throughout Lent – and every week of the year.

40 Notes in 40 Days – An old-fashioned exercise for a digital age.

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“With,” not “For”

Christians love the phrase, “Jesus died for me.”  I can’t help but feel like the overuse of that phrase has led to a lot of problems.  The idea that Jesus died for my sins is certainly Biblical, and it has been the cry of Christians, Protestants especially, for many generations.  I don’t feel like I have to explain the idea of sacrificial theology too much because it is so prevelant, but here goes:  We are sinful and a just God needs redemption.  Instead of retribution, God sent Jesus, who was sinless, to be the sacrifice for the world.  There is more to it than this, and most Christians have heard this story a thousand times.  Jesus died for me because I am sinner and I need to be saved.

I have come to realize how problematic this type of thinking can be.  For one, it is incredibly selfish.  Yes, it is important to realize that God seeks out individuals.  God loves every part of God’s creation and yearns for a relationship with all of us, even you and especially me.  But if the language is all “my sins, my savior, my God,” you end up with a very small god, and a very limited idea of salvation.  The “we” is sacrificed on the altar of “me.”  As a result such important ideas like the communion of saints, systematic sin, and communal confession are lost.  Sin is reduced individal moral failing, and Jesus is reduced to a self-help guru.  (Many Christians charge other with making Jesus into a glorified teacher, but these people often make Jesus into a glorified Dr. Phil with magic tricks).

Secondly, the constant chorus that “Jesus died for me” is the first step toward a serious faith conflict.  Let me explain: If I believe that Jesus died for me, then I expect Jesus to hang on the cross for all of my sins.  Jesus is the one suffering, and I respond with tremendous gratitude because I know it could have been me on that cross.  After all, I’m kind of a jerk.  So I sing songs like “Take me to the Cross,” which thanks Jesus for stepping in and taking my punishment for me.  I adore Jesus, but am not so sure about that Father, who felt an uncontrollable desire to punish someone.  So I live my life, thankful that Jesus took away my suffering.  But then something funny happens: I suffer.

I lose a loved one, or I am diagnosed with cancer, or my child is sent to war, or I take seriously the fact that the suffering of one is the suffering of all and I see that children in Africa are dying of AIDS and boys are being kidnapped, given cocaine and machine guns to kill their parents.  So now I am faced with suffering, but all along I believed that Jesus died for me.  Now what am I supposed to do?  Jesus must not have suffered for me, because here I am doing plenty of it myself.  Yeah, Jesus might have had it worse, but this is pretty bad.  So I can either clench my jaw and think, “Well, Jesus died for me to save me from eternal punishment, but he doesn’t do much for me now;” or worse, I think, “Jesus abandoned me.”  I am left with nothing but despair.

Does this seem over-simplified?  Maybe, but I am convinced that only believing “Jesus died for me,” results in despair when faced with real-life suffering.  So what do we have?  There is another Biblical idea, one that Jesus himself believed when he told his disciples to “Take up your cross and follow me.”  The idea is that Jesus died with me.

If Jesus died with me, then Jesus is there on the cross with me.  I am still suffering.  Jesus did not take that away, and God did not put me there to satisfy some divine blood-lust.  I recognize that this world is broken.  There are biological, political, economic, and environmental forces that are outside of God’s direct control and make us suffer.  There are sins that are greater than individual moral failures.  Because of these things, we will suffer.  So when I am faced with tragedy, I know that Jesus is with me.  Instead of despair I have hope.

What makes the Christian unique is not that Jesus suffers for us, but the comfort that comes with the knowledge that Jesus suffers with us.  We know we are not alone.  We know that Jesus is there for us through the darkest days, and that God the Father is not seeking ways to punish us, but sought, and found, the perfect way to comfort us.

If we hold only to the fact that “Jesus died for us,” then the story ends on the cross.  If the story of Jesus is that he had to die for us to take our punishment away, then the resurrection is nothing more than an interesting postscript.  If Jesus’ only mission was to die for us, then the mission was accomplished on the cross.  But Paul tells us that we die Jesus’ death and share Jesus’ resurrection.  When we suffer, we know that is not the end of the story.  We know we have hope in the one that died, and was resurrected, and lives eternally with God.

So in this, my first post that is explicitly about God, I offer you this: Jesus did not simply die for you; Jesus died with you, and you will rise with Jesus.  Suffering will surely come, but know that the suffering comes with the hope of the Resurrected One.  May God’s peace and the hope of Jesus Christ be with you.

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