Nobody says that Lent is their favorite season.
We like the blues of Advent, when we hang the greens and decorate the trees and put the ducks on the pulpit. And we love the whites of Christmas, when we tell the story about the shepherds in the field, watching their flocks by night, walking into town to find a baby in a manger: the God who came into the world as one of us; good news of great joy for all people.
We celebrate the whites of Easter, when we fill the chancel with flowers and follow Mary to the garden; when we see the stone rolled away and hear the good news: Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! Halle— (cutting off hallelujah)… well, we don’t say that just yet.
We sit in awe at the reds of Pentecost, when we greet the Spirit and stumble over the nationalities and hear the words of a promise: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
But we are troubled by the purples of Lent. We are troubled by the colors of confession and sorrow and penance. We are troubled by the colors of a searching and fearless moral inventory. Nobody says that Lent is their favorite season.
Here and now, O God, I am laid out before you. Here and now, O God, is everything that I have done and said and thought… and everything that I have left undone and unsaid and unthought. Lord, you are merciful. Lord, I beg you, have mercy.
Last week, I told you that our neighbors are the people who show us mercy. And I told you that in those most important moments, when we are facing down evil and our lives are on the line, we don’t get to choose our neighbors.
In fact, I told you that sometimes, in those most important moments, when we are facing down evil and our lives are on the line, when someone shows us mercy, we refuse to believe it… we invent ulterior motives and hidden agendas… because…
Well, because sometimes—not all the time, not every time, but sometimes—the ones who are showing us mercy… are showing us mercy… be calling us to confront ourselves… and everything we have done and said and thought… and everything we have left undone and unsaid and unthought.
The things that we know about. And the things that we have hidden so well that we don’t even know that they’re there.
Sometimes—not all the time, not every time, but sometimes—the ones who are showing us mercy… are showing us mercy… by calling us to repent. And nobody says that Lent is their favorite season.
And I’ll be honest. I thought hard about using this example. I tried to avoid it. I tried to work around it. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hear about it. But here I am, Bible open in one tab and news sites open in others… and… well…
A couple of years ago, the New York Times Magazine published some works that are known, collectively, as The 1619 Project. You see, a couple of years ago was the four-hundredth anniversary of the first Black slaves being brought to the American colonies. And the purpose of the Project was to tell that story… and to tell the story of how slavery shaped America, and how the legacy of slavery continues to shape America today.
And some of the history in the Project are debatable. And maybe the Project is a little bit pessimistic. But it also adds an important strand of thought about how we talk about the parts of American history that we so often long to avoid… and work around… and…
Well, there’s a bill working its way through the Iowa House that would strip funding from any school… that used any curriculum… derived in whole or in part… from the 1619 Project… or any similar curriculum.
And I’ll be honest. I don’t think that’s because some of the history is debatable or a little bit pessimistic. I think that’s because something like the Project forces us to confront some things that we have done and said and thought… and some things that we have left undone and unsaid and unthought… some of which are hidden so well that we don’t even know that they’re there.
And nobody says that Lent is their favorite season.
In our reading today, Jesus is calling people to repent.
You see, some people have come to Jesus while he is teaching. And they tell him the news.
Some people… some Galileans… some people like you, Jesus, you’re from Galilee… well… they were making sacrifices to the Lord our God… and Pontius Pilate, the prefect, the governor, the Roman, the complete and total… well… he had them killed… and their blood ran together with the blood of their sacrifices.
And Jesus doesn’t condemn Pilate. Jesus doesn’t condemn the Romans. Jesus doesn’t condemn the enemy. Jesus doesn’t even flinch.
Yeah. And I remember the time that the tower fell on some people in Jerusalem. Revolutionaries die. Innocent people minding their own business die. You don’t know how you’re going to meet our end. You don’t know when you’re going to meet your end. And the end is coming sooner than you think. You are a fig tree and you gotta bear some fruit… or you’re gonna get cut down. Repent!
And he doesn’t just say that to them. He says it to Jerusalem. He says it to the capital of his nation and his people. He says it to the city of the throne of his ancestor David!
I keep sending you prophets and you keep killing them! I don’t even think that a prophet can be killed outside your walls. I keep calling you home and you keep refusing. I keep calling you to safety and you keep saying, ‘no.’ I am merciful. My love is steadfast. Just… accept it already!
And here’s the thing. Here’s the deep down thing. Here’s the hard, difficult, arduous, burdensome, onerous, painful, troublesome thing. The only thing that is standing in the way… of us stepping into a better world… into the kingdom of God… … … is us.
Nobody says that Lent is their favorite season.
But the truth… the deep down truth… the hard, difficult, arduous, burdensome, onerous, painful, troublesome, truth… is that we need Lent. Not just during the official season, but so much more often. We need it as individuals. We need it as a church. We need it as a society and a nation and a world.
We need those opportunities to take all of those things that we have done and said and thought… to take all of those things that we have left undone and unsaid and unthought… to take all of those things that we are ashamed of… all of those things that we’re afraid we should be ashamed of… all of those things we have hidden away… all of those things that burden us.
And step into a brave space. And lay our burdens down before God. And watch them fade away; so that we can be the people who God created, the church that God created, the society and nation and world that God created.
And I know… that’s hard. Believe me, I know… that’s hard. You do not get to stand here and preach this without conducting a searching and fearless moral inventory… and turning to God… and saying, “I just can’t carry this stuff anymore,”… again and again and again.
But I also know that on the other side of that—on the other side of Lent—is Easter… and an empty tomb… and a risen savior… and endless grace… and abundant life.
Because God is merciful, and will have merciful, again and again. Christ is merciful, and will have mercy, again and again. The Spirit is merciful, and will have mercy, again and again. Thanks be to God.