Discovering the Truth about Ourselves this Lent
When I was an assistant at Trinity Church, Boston, I prepared teenagers for confirmation. Along with the Rector of Trinity and his wife, Nancy and I were invited to dinner at the house of one of the teenagers. After a wonderful evening together, Nancy and I said good-bye to our hosts, Bob and Ann Muller.
Yes, the Bob Muller, Purple Heart recipient, former Director of the FBI, and now Special Counsel of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and related matters. A faithful Episcopalian, Muller’s job is to discover the truth about what happened in the last election, and to bring the full weight of the law to bear upon those who have violated the law. As you know many people have already been indicted for a variety of reasons. What the final outcome will be, and whether or not President Trump will be judged to have colluded with the Russians or obstructed justice, is still to be determined. What is clear is that until we know the truth it will be hard for our country to move on.
The same is true for us as a church. Until we know the truth about ourselves, it will be hard to discover a more abundant life. A prerequisite for a fruitful Lent begins with acknowledging the truth about ourselves, and we cannot discover the truth on our own. Like the United States, we need a Special Counsel. Our Special Counsel is the Holy Spirit, which will lead us into all truth (John 16:13). The truth telling begins on Ash Wednesday with the invitation to discover at least three truths about ourselves.
First, we are invited to discover that we are dust: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We aren’t invited to remember that we have super human powers. No. We are invited to discover that we are fragile humans. In a society that emphasizes power and reliance on our own resources, we forget that we are dependent on resources beyond ourselves. Lent isn’t about getting our act together; it is about recovering our fragile humanity and realizing how much we need God and other people.
Secondly, as a church community, we are invited to discover the truth that we often miss the mark. We collectively confess that we have not always loved God and our neighbor. We confess that we have not always responded to the needs of others. We confess that we have judged others, polluted the creation, and so on and so on. In our confession, our self-righteousness dies, and we realize again how much we need God’s mercy.
Thirdly, we discover the truth that our pious practices are often a substitute for real religion. The reading from Isaiah 58: 1-12 reminds us that Lent isn’t just about my own spiritual journey; it is about what is required for the renewal of society, and we are warned that our pious practices might be a cover-up for unjust practice. The passage from Isaiah is addressing people who are living in a city filled with injustice. The pious residents are wondering why God isn’t responding to their pious acts. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” The reason is this: they are oppressing their employees. What God wants is people who will “loose the bonds of injustice…let the oppressed go free…share their food with the hungry…take in the homeless…and cover up the naked.” If they do this, they can expect that God will draw very close to them.
As we prepare for our Lenten observance, let us ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the truth. The promise is great: “The truth will set you free” (8:32).