Lent is not so much about what we give up, as its about what God gives us. I am following some of our denomination’s resources and guidelines for Lent, including the daily devotional helps from Goshen College, which you can access at http://www.goshen.edu/devotions, among other things, in order to follow the ancient Christian practice of preparing over these forty days for Easter’s resurrection celebration.
The journey of Lent typically begins with two stories of temptation: the one into which we, like Adam, typically fall (Genesis 3); and the one which Christ fought and won (Matthew 4: 1-11). I found it helpful to think about these two stories as the stories of two trees. You can access yesterday’s message (February 10, 2008) to this effect at this link: Download Lent1-08.doc
And what do these trees have to do with jealousy? I have lately become convinced (and convicted) that jealousy is a very clear window into the condition of the soul and, indeed, of our fall into sin. Pastors do get jealous too, I confess. Jealous of other pastors’ faster-growing and attention-grabbing ministries; or of other people who have more clearly-defined jobs that they clock in and out of (where’s my time card?), even though people in those other jobs may be jealous of others with freer schedules and more chances to be creative and connected. I’m also convinced that jealousy is worse than a waste of time. And yet the economy thrives on it, and entire nations are mobilized to fight wars over it.
The following name has been changed to protect the innocent. Let’s call her Sally. Sally played violin in our citywide youth orchestra so well that she got to play lead part in a concerto her senior year. Sally was also a superb baseball player. And a superb scholar who, if she didn’t go to college on a full scholarship, should have. Worst of all, Sally was not stuck up about her talents, but was friendly, respectful and gracious to everyone. How dare she? Thirty years later I can say its great to have been around such talent, brains, character and personality as Sally’s. I am around people with various combinations of such great gifts all the time today. Now I can appreciate it and learn from them (I hope). But at the immature and insecure age of fifteen, I confess I was watching Sally closely, hoping for some sign of a fall that would signal presumption and pride. Now I can’t remember any such thing, and it doesn’t matter. If ever I find that she has become the concert mistress of a major symphony orchestra, or the president of a major university, I will say she had it in her and that I was privileged to see it back then, even if I didn’t appreciate it as much at the time as I should have. If not, then I’ll know I’m dealing with that same snake in the grass who said to Eve, "You will be like God…." What nerve, what chutzpah, trying to make us jealous against God Almighty! And what a terrible burden, constantly carrying around the question, "How do I rate (compared to others)?" As one wise wag put it, "If you keep asking ‘How do I rate?’ that’s all you’ll ever get: irate."
Blessings to you,
Mathew Swora, pastor