Giving Up, Giving In

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Ash Wednesday
March 2, 2022
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

It’s Lent, what are you giving up? Many of you, grew up, as I did, counting down the days until the first day of Lent. There was, for me, a weird sense of dreaded anticipation mixed with the thrill of the challenge of giving up something that really tempted me. It would be something fairly superficial like, chocolate or shrimp. It was only for 40 days; surely I could handle that (the shrimp struggle was real). As I matured in my faith, I realized that giving up something, was just that. I gave up something. Yet, that sacrifice was not explicitly associated, at least in my mind, as a faith discipline. Making sense of the relationship between the act of denying temptation with the act of repentance just didn’t click.

As a way to integrate my understanding of giving up something with repentance—turning away from sin and turning toward God—I began to journey through Lent with an added discipline. There is certainly a spiritual discipline in turning away from that which is tempting. And, there is a spiritual discipline in turning toward an actual discipline—a discipline that serves as a tool to exercise the spiritual “muscle memory” of prioritizing God, focusing on God and being obedient to God. These tools of discipline can come in many forms and shape the spiritual lives of individuals differently.

For example, in the context of the faith community, coming to church—corporate worship—is a discipline. After two years of the pandemic, online worship has provided the gift of access. It is tempting to sleep in on Sunday morning, grab coffee and watch church service on the laptop or the big screen TV at home. If one’s health permits, Lent is an opportune time to re-engage the full-body discipline of the liturgy. It’s Lent, what are you giving up? For some, it may be giving up pajama church, and adding the discipline of communal worship.

Another spiritual discipline, shared by people of faith, is prayer. Prayer is deeply personal and it is deeply communal. As you move through your own Lenten journey, remember Jesus’ admonition, in our Gospel passage, to “…go into your room and the shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret…” Jesus was describing a discipline. Plan to set time apart from the world, plan to be alone with God, plan to actively turn away from the distractions of this world which distance and distort the soul’s relationship with God within you. Jesus was talking about the work of the soul that is necessarily a private and unique partnership with God in fully restoring God’s beloved creations—each of us—to God through faith in Christ.

It’s Lent, what are you giving up? For some, it may be giving up anything that distracts from prayer time, and adding the discipline of the Daily Office in our Book of Common Prayer (Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline). If time is still tight, consider praying the shorter, Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, also in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 137). Still, if time is tight, pray the Confession of Sin, the Lord’s Prayer, or even the Collect of the Day. The tools for meaningful prayer are available; the discipline is to do it.

It’s Lent, what are you giving up? For some, it may be giving up the long-carried wounds of the soul that have yet to be healed—wounds of grievance, guilt, shame, and unforgiveness. Sin is anything that breaks relationship with God and with each other. These spiritual wounds serve to break relationship, and therefore, nurture sin. Lent is a time to tend to the work of spiritual triage—in order to turn away from that which wounds and turn toward the healer and lover of all souls.

It’s Lent. And, perhaps the question isn’t, “What are you giving up?” but “How are you giving in?” How will you, intentionally, give in to God’s divine presence and God’s holy leading through your own spiritual wilderness? Perhaps the acts of wondering, and wandering, through your own spiritual wilderness are the sitting, with, and the wrestling with this very question? How am I giving in to God?

For some, giving in to God may mean giving up something or certain behaviors. For others, it may mean adding something or adopting certain behaviors. For others, still, it may mean both. And for all, it certainly means being obedient to God’s will and not our own.

As we are marked with ashes this night, remember that ashes are an ancient sign of penitence, intended to remind us of our need for God, and of God’s call to us. The reminder that we are dust turns our attention to the creative power of God, and God’s ability to heal the brokenness in our lives when we choose to offer that brokenness to God.

On this first day of Lent, you are invited to enter into the triage unit of your own soul. In those times, when the daily demands and spiritual assaults of this world may make you feel as if you have been reduced to ashes, know that the Lord God who formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, breathes that same breath of life into your soul to restore you to wholeness.

May this holy season of Lent offer you safe space to practice the discipline of turning first to God, the soul healer, in all things.