One of my favorite sermons I ever preached was about addictions, idols really — those things we allow into our lives believing that they offer life, but ultimately do not — and the key text was Isaiah 44. In the text, people take inanimate, lifeless objects like wood and fashion them into gods to be worshipped. Times haven’t changed. We still do this. We make things – money, food, sex, accomplishments, a particular political philosophy, the words of a radio or television personality or cable news station, whatever – our gods. We chuckle at the idea of folks worshipping a piece of wood, but it’s not as funny when we think about the men, women and marriages that have been ruined by people worshipping pornography or sexual immorality.
Our addictions and idols reminds me of the importance of the Christian calendar, in general, and Lent in particular. Lent, as you may know, is the 40-day period before Easter. In short, it is designed to help believers share in Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice – at least that’s the most popularized aspect of the season.
But at a deeper level we might want to consider the fact that since we are all idolaters – looking to other things give us life – Lent is perhaps our one chance, our one excuse every year to give ourselves permission to melt our golden calves. Lent is the perfect chance to try giving something up, something that has come to master us.
What I mean is simple: Oftentimes our false gods and idols seem so overwhelming that we surrender the fight thinking that nothing can be done. This is made easier by the fact that we generally enjoy idol worship. If we didn’t we never would have begun in the first place. But Lent sounds like a suggestion. It’s just 40 days. Spring training is longer, for goodness sake. If your god is shopping or over-eating or over-spending or terse, course language then 40 days appears plausible.
Lent is subversive this way. For the last 10 years I’ve participated in Lent, setting aside some crutch I’d come to depend to deeply on. Each year I’ve learned the same thing: I can live without it! In years past I’ve set aside certain language, words I use about others, red meat and few others that I’m too embarrassed to mention. And every time I learned that those things don’t give life and never could. They were blocks of wood. I learned that not only did I not enjoy them all that much, they were harming me in ways I never noticed or considered. What’s more, for each idol I’ve relinquished, I never returned to using them like I did before. Lent provided me an excuse to try – without feeling like I was trying to climb Mount Everest – and ultimately allowed me to loose them and be free.
So here’s my encouragement to you. If like me, you’re from a non-liturgical tradition that thinks Lent is strange or foreign, just give it a try. This is how we learn; we try things. Though the season is already in full swing, pick up the idol that is eating at you and say, “Until Jesus is raised (Easter), I’m leaving you in darkness.” My bet is that by doing so, you will come to see the light.