It’s the first Sunday of Lent so I know we’re all looking around and wondering the same thing: What did everyone give up for the next 40 days? Maybe we’re not all wondering that but if we are, we’re probably not going to ask. After all, it’s a touchy subject. We don’t want to pry into peoples’ lives. Modesty is good for their benefit and for our's, because just like many of you heard at one of our Ash Wednesday services: Jesus warns us about performing our piety to impress other people. Piety is supposed to help us keep our eye on the ball, to keep our attention focused on God. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re just supposed to put a gag order or a veil of secrecy around it. Because we’re also supposed to encourage each other, as brothers and sisters, in the ways of righteousness. As Paul tells the church, “encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are [already] doing” (1 Th 5.11). Paul expects, even assumes, that it’s already happening. We’re a community of encouragement. Because it’s just as easy to use a false sense of modesty or secrecy about our Lenten discipline as a way to avoid doing anything. In fact, in our busy and distracted world, perhaps we’re in more danger of avoiding piety than blowing trumpets to announce it.
It’s also good to recognize that when Jesus warns about boasting in our piety, he’s exaggerating (Matt. 6). He says things like: don’t blow trumpets when you’re giving to the poor, but keep it a secret between your right hand and your left hand. He’s exaggerating, not giving instructions because it’s impossible to keep “secrets” between one hand and the other. It’s the same when he talks about prayer. He says: don’t make a public scene by shouting your prayer on the street corner, but go into a closet and shut the door. He’s getting the point across, like any good Jewish teacher, by exaggerating. So it’s not about how secretive we are but about why we’re doing it. The more public and showy we are, the easier it is to have mixed motives. If we have any doubts about this all we have to do is watch reality TV. People do the most incredible, strange, and bizarre activities - when they have an audience. So Jesus says don’t do that with your piety before God.
But we also need to hear this: don’t fail to encourage each other - because that makes us a stronger church. In fact, I think it’d be great if all kinds of conversations broke out at Coffee Hour about all the different things people are doing as Lenten disciplines. Not only would it be encouraging but it would probably also create some new ideas. Some of you might even decide that you wanted to check-in with each other during the week to encourage each other; almost like workout buddies. It’s a great way to grow stronger as a community. So let me encourage you.
And let me encourage you by sharing at least of couple of Lenten disciplines that I’ve heard from our youngest members, our children. On Ash Wednesday I spent some time with the kids making big, colorful banners that we wrapped up until Easter. And we talked about Lent. I asked if any of them were going to do anything for Lent, and I was impressed. One of our youth is actually giving up his Playstation 3 for all of Lent. That’s really cool. And it probably puts many of us to shame. If you’re a young person in today’s world and you can give up video games for 40 days, that’s pretty cool. Another one of our young people had a different idea. He said that for Lent he was willing to make a big sacrifice; he was willing to give up... his homework. And I had to be honest. I had to tell him that I admired his creativity but it didn’t really work that way.
I’ll even tell you one of the things that I’m doing for Lent. I’m giving up coffee. I enjoy coffee and I have no intention of giving it up permanently, but if I’m looking for a good reminder about my spiritual disciplines it’s hard to find something I enjoy more consistently than coffee. So it’s a good reminder for me, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy coffee even more at the end of Lent.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far (after surviving those first couple of days with awful headaches). I’m learning, to my shame, that I’m probably a better consumer than I am a Christian. It’s so easy to rationalize consumption. Even before Lent began last week I was already rationalizing why I didn’t really need to give up coffee; rationalizing why it wouldn’t really be all that important. I mean coffee’s a good thing. It helps me work more efficiently. I feel like I can do more (for all of you, of course). And remember, I worked at Starbucks for seven years so I even know the health benefits of coffee. For instance, people who drink 5 or more cups of coffee per day (I know that sounds like a lot, but remember, this is Starbucks); people who drink that much coffee have lower incidence of Type 2 Diabetes. And that’s not all. Men also have lower incidence of prostate cancer. And an 8 oz. cup of black coffee actually has more antioxidants than a cup of green tea.
I may as well be a coffee evangelist. So why would I want to go 40 days without coffee? If you had asked me that question on Wednesday or Thursday - I don’t think I would have had an answer - because I was miserable. But today I can say something positive. Giving up coffee for Lent can help me be a better Christian. In fact, I’d say, it can even help me to be more like God, to reflect more of God’s image into the world. Now, I’m not trying to say something silly. I’m not just saying, “Well, God’s a spiritual being who doesn’t drink coffee so I’ll be more like God if I don’t drink coffee.” No, no, no. I’m not saying that. I’m talking about God’s character.
Read more about Patience During Lent in Part 2...