Do you practice lament?

But Jesus grieves

Matthew 23:23; 37-39 “What sorrow awaits you hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. … O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

A new month. Are we any wiser? Or just older, continuing in our same patterns of behavior as we conclude Lent and prepare for Holy Week … We still have time, time to sit before the Lord and ask him to reveal to us our own hearts and his. Time to soften our resistance to his still, small voice of love, inviting us to be freed from our selfishness and blindness. Inviting us into his care.

Matthew 23 is a chapter we tend to skip over, except for verse 37. Jesus pours out a blistering rebuke of the leaders of his day, repeating the phrase “What sorrow awaits you” seven times. It’s an anguished cry of lament. “They don’t practice what they teach … They crush people and never lift a finger to ease the burden … Everything they do is for show …”

The last line I quoted refers back to Jesus’ “triumphal entry”–after which the Jewish leaders, indignant, began to plot how to kill him.

I find most shocking Jesus’ declaration to these leaders that they will be held responsible for the murder of “all godly people of all time,” beginning with Cain’s murder of Abel. “This judgment will fall on this very generation,” Jesus says, before launching into his lament over Jerusalem. We know he would shortly bear on the cross the penalty for all the sin committed for all time.

Can you feel his anguish over innocent people who are killed by others with evil motives? It’s the lament of the Old Testament prophets, a revelation of God’s tender heart. “I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies” the Lord said through the prophet Amos after decrying those who oppress the poor and crush the needy. “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living” (Amos 5:21, 24).

And then comes the phrase Jesus appropriated: “What sorrow awaits you …” (Amos 6:1). “How foolish you are when you turn justice into poison and the sweet fruit of righteousness into bitterness” (Amos 6:12).

Lord, you see our nation. You see all that’s going on in our broken, weary, bleeding world. And you see my heart. Take the blinders from my eyes so I can see it too. Let me find refuge beneath your wings.

How is Lent going for you?

But Jesus is our high priest

Hebrews 10:12-18 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time… For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

Philippians 1:6 God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

When I was in college in the ‘70s, some of us wore buttons that said PBPGINFWMY. Do any of you remember that? Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.

I just discovered vintage buttons are still available on the internet!

How different this is from what I understand to be “cancel culture” (feel free to correct me!), wherein a person can be condemned and ostracized if they make one mistake or commit one sin—even if they repent, confess and ask forgiveness. Especially if it’s a sin of a certain type which brands them forever as a “bad” person.

PBPGINFWMY acknowledges there is “badness,” immaturity, self-centeredness, blindness, ignorance, stupidity, and sin in each of us. The good news of the Gospel, however, tells us Jesus has provided a way forward. Though he was perfectly good, he chose to be “cancelled” so the rest of us wouldn’t have to be. He endured false accusations and paid the penalty of the judgment made against him, fulfilling the terms of the sentence once for all.

All of this so we (who are in fact guilty) can be forgiven and live in freedom. And have space and time to grow up into goodness, confident we are already accepted and dearly loved.

So, this mid-point of the season of Lent seems a good time to ask: How is Lent going for you?

If we try to do Lenten work on our own, it can be a total downer. But if we trust our High Priest and depend on the Holy Spirit and soak in the Father’s unfathomable love for us, we can experience hope and relief and gratitude and joy.

Like my friend who just received news of a clean scan, after a long, difficult fight with cancer. It wouldn’t have been a kindness for her doctor to have patted her on the back and said, “You’re OK, I’m OK.” Recognizing the cancer that was killing her, though it led to tough, painful times during treatment, was essential. This is the lifesaving, life-transforming kindness of God we can experience during Lent.

The disciplines of Lent offer us time to pay attention to areas of our lives which still need to change and mature. Recognizing and admitting them is called confession. Repentance includes choosing to do all in our power to live, think, behave, and treat others with the grace we receive through God’s forgiveness of our sins and failings. This process is called sanctification.

Making us holy is a joint effort between us and the Trinity. We humbly accept that we can’t make ourselves better. While we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, asking him to produce his beautiful virtues in our lives, Jesus, our High Priest, intercedes for us. And our Father holds us in his love.


Lenten roses in my back yard

What are you “no” to?

But Jesus said “No!”

Matthew 4:1-4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 5:37 Just say a simple, “Yes I will,” or “No, I won’t.”

In her book Saving Grace (Convergent, 2021), Kirsten Powers tells her painful story of trauma recovery and ways she is learning to live by grace. In her chapter about boundaries, she says “I am a ‘no’ to contempt, cruelty, disrespect, shaming, judging, bad-faith accusations, bullying, gaslighting, demonizing, dehumanizing, lying, both-sides-ism (creating false equivalency between the behavior of different people or groups), and any and all forms of bigotry. I am a no to having conversations with people who are committed to misunderstanding me.” She continues by identifying practical ways she has learned to say “no,” so she has space in her life to say “yes” to grace.

Shutterstock: Kastoluza

Saying “no” can be painful. And we love avoiding or minimizing pain—at least I do. But in her wonderful Transfiguration sermon on Sunday, Jess Bennett linked suffering with glory, inviting us to explore that connection during this season of Lent. And Jonathan Millard in his Ash Wednesday sermon told us fasting (saying “no” to whatever enthralls us) intentionally creates space for us to draw close to God and to discover he is kind and gracious, not angry and vindictive. Jonathan challenged us to let the cravings we feel when we say “no” stir in us our longing for our Father. Most of all, fasting in secret challenges our “approval addiction,” setting us free from our desperate need for the approval and affirmation of others.

I’m working on my “no” list. Then I’ll move on to my “yes” list. Will you join me? And then use this Lent to explore ways to make your “no’s” stick?

During these forty days, I’m deep-diving into Matthew and Hebrews. So I’ll close with this encouragement from Hebrews 12:10-12:

Our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.