Giving up for Lent

A homily for Christ Church South Yarra (John 12)

Monday in Holy Week, 25 March 2013

This year I gave up two things for Lent: FaceBook, and chips.

When I say chips, I mean potato crisps out of a bag. Corn chips were forbidden, rice crackers were allowed. Biscuit-like snack crackers (baked not fried) were borderline but permissible on weekends. French fries were definitely out, but sauteed potatoes in a restaurant were acceptable.

As you can tell, giving up FaceBook was comparatively easy.

I have been reflecting in the last week on whether giving up something for Lent made any difference. I didn’t lose any weight, but I did recognise that my body is noticeably aging. I didn’t lose any friends – although, not having checked my FaceBook page, I don’t know if anyone has virtually dumped me.

So I beg your indulgence, at this late stage in the season, to question the whole practice of giving up things for Lent.

I think most of the things we give up seem incredibly trivial.

I don’t care whether you drank alcohol or not this Lent (though I do care if alcohol is destructive for you).

I don’t care whether you exercised more this Lent (though I do care if you hate your body).

I don’t care whether you put money in a mission-box this Lent (though I do care if you went hungry).

I don’t even care whether you had sex this Lent (though I do care if you feel unloved).

But I have noticed how deep-seated and profoundly ingrained are the great and weighty sins that we commit every day.

Why are people so profoundly horrible to each other, whether in the corridors of power in parliament or in church, or in the everyday interactions of friends and strangers?

Why do Australians find it so hard to even imagine giving up some unnecessary luxuries to make room for others to eat at the table?

Why are we twenty-first century Pharisees so obsessed with security, with compliance and with risk management?

So I come tonight to muse on what can cut through our apathetic, self-indulgent little sacrifices before the idol of inestimable wealth and unending plenty. Perhaps I am asking too much, but how do we stop the cycle of temporary purity, resumption of filth, to achieve real transformation?

Tonight John’s account of the gospel gives us three guides, Mary, Judas, and Jesus.

Mary pours out her dignity, her security, her money, her body on Jesus’ feet. It is costly, it is deeply embarrassing, and it is a sign of things to come.

Jesus responds in kind, knowing who and what he is, and pointing us to the value of the eternal over the immediate, while living completely in the here-and-now.

Judas is the reasonable one here. He objects to this waste. If Mary wanted to give up something of value, why not feed the poor?

The evangelist’s accusation that Judas was a two-faced, hypocritical thief seems unnecessary. Judas’s reasoned defence of the mortal world as it exists, poor and needy, warts and all, fails to take account of the world as it could be: the kingdom of God, where boundaries are broken, the dead are raised, and all are expected to come in to the banquet.

It’s still not too late to give something up this Lent. Give up your allegiance to your own thoughts, your hunger for affirmation, your desire for security. Open your heart to sudden change, mindful of the inestimable cost of Jesus’ call to true repentance.

Finally, as you truly deny yourself, welcome the transformation that will sweep across us all as we first stand at the foot of the Cross, then find ourselves crucified with Christ.

Postscript: To FaceBook friends, no I’m not on FaceBook, this automatically delivers to my feed 🙂


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Filed under Anglican Church, Sermons

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