Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. From early this morning Christians have been attending Ash Wednesday masses and special services, with many being marked with a cross of ash on their forehead as a sign of repentance.
During this time many Christians will give up many things. Some will stop smoking, or drinking kava, or other drinks. Some will give up chocolate, some meat, while others will fast from sunrise to sunset.
The Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma has also called on its members to fast and pray for the Church and the Nation during the month of March. For members and clergy alike, this commitment to fasting and abstaining from the consumption of kava will be put to the test daily and especially on weekends and during the upcoming Rugby 7's World Cup. The challenge will be faced by those who prefer to put tradition and culture ahead of their faith.
I reflected on the significance and challenges Christians face during the Lenten period as I prepared my sermon for tonight's Ash Wednesday Service at Dudley Methodist Church (7pm, corner of Amy Street and Toorak Road – All Welcome).
The most difficult thing I find during this period of introspection, self denial, repentance and sacrifice is that sometimes we often goes through the motions without committing ourselves to the deeper significance. Or we do the bare minimum required of us and feel as if we have paid our dues. We may fast all day and yet feast all night. We may give up many things but we find it very difficult to sacrifice our pride or our arrogance.
Jesus asks us (Matt 9:13) to learn the meaning of the statement, “I desire mercy not sacrifice,” (Hosea 6:6). What is the point of our fasting and denying ourselves of material excesses when we still allow our egos to get in the way of our relationship with others?
I address those of our nation's leaders, popular and usurper alike, who are Christian:
Are you willing to sacrifice your ego this Lenten season?
Are you willing to sacrifice hidden agendas and sit around the table to enter into dialogue and find a way forward for this nation?
Are you willing to sacrifice your own status and authority for the sake of those who have neither status no power?
Are you willing to sacrifice your fears in order that the hopes of others may live?
Are you willing to sacrifice your might for peace?
To those who today will pledge themselves to fast or sacrifice for the next six weeks until Easter Sunday:
Will you sacrifice your prejudice and really love your neighbour?
Will you sacrifice your thirst for revenge in order to receive mercy and forgiveness yourself?
In the Bible we read of Lamech, who was a descendent of Cain, one of Adam's sons. Now when Cain killed his brother Abel, God put a mark on him, saying that if anyone killed Cain they'd pay for it seven times over. One day somebody hurt Lamech, so he gave in to resentment, killed the offender, and said, "I have killed a man for wounding me... If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times" (Gen 4:23-24 NIV). In Lamech's mind he was absolutely justified. The man who did him wrong had it coming.
The philosophy of Lamech is: if you hurt me, I'll hurt you. And not just once, but seventy-seven times over. The spirit of revenge is never satisfied. Simply stated: It doesn't work!
Like Lamech, Peter had been hurt by someone close to him, and it happened more than once. So he went to Jesus and asked, "How many times do I have to forgive this man? Seven times?" (Matt 18:21 NIV). Peter thought he was being extremely generous and expected Jesus to pat him on the back. So he probably wasn't too pleased when Jesus deflated his ego by saying he must forgive the offender, "not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matt 18:21 NIV). Where did Jesus get that number? From the Old Testament. Jesus knew the Scriptures well so He chose it deliberately. He was doing away with the philosophy of Lamech! "Peter, you can follow in the footsteps of Lamech and retaliate, or you can follow Me and keep extending forgiveness - but you can't do both!"
This Lenten season, let us sacrifice our egos on the altar of peace and reconciliation.
May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love, peace and the desire to put service before self.