What if Lent wasn’t just about what we gave up but how we increased our giving to Christ?
This morning, our Bible reading comes from Luke 6:27-36.
This is a passage that encompasses the radical love Jesus exhibited for us all and outlines for us the kind of love we are supposed to have for others. It’s challenging, difficult, and against the cultural norm which taught the Jewish people at the time “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.” This new teaching by Jesus completely turned those old philosophies on their heads and is still something we struggle with today.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Lou Green isn’t a household name, but his creation is.
Back in 1962, Lou was the owner of a little fast food place in Cincinnati, Ohio and he was struggling with sales every Friday. Business got to be so bad that he was making only about $75 on those days. See, Lou worked in a neighborhood that was 87% Catholic and in those days, Catholics didn’t abstain from meat just on the Fridays during Lent, but on every Friday and Lou only had hamburgers. A competing restaurant in town , Frisch’s, had been making a good fish sandwich and all Lou’s customers were going over there. Knowing he could come up with something on his own, he created a special batter, made his own tartar sauce, and presented his creation to the head of the company, Ray Kroc. And the Filet-O-Fish sandwich was born. But even then it wasn’t that easy. Ray wasn’t convinced that it would sell and he had created his own sandwich to combat “meat-free Fridays” – the Hula burger, a cold bun served with a slice of pineapple in the middle. Ray challenged Lou and put the burgers together against each other and said whichever sold better the company would adopt. Needless to say, Ray lost. Today, McDonald’s sells over 300 million Filet-O-Fish sandwiches a year. Lou doesn’t see a penny of it, but don’t worry. When Lou sold his franchise he owned 43 McDonald’s locations across Greater Cincinnati.
What surprised me was to find out at one time Catholics were meat-free EVERY Friday.
I always thought it was just during Lent, but before Pope Paul VI loosened the restriction, it was meat-free every Friday. For those of you who don’t know, Lent is the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday and represents to us the forty days Christ spent in the desert. In fact, the Latin word for Lent is “Quadragesima” which means “forty days.”  But why did they go meat-free in the first place? And why Fridays? Turns out the answer is equally compelling. The Church mandated the restriction not to help the fishing industry as some have speculated, but to honor Christ and commemorate his sacrifice. Since Christ died on a Friday, Catholics were forbidden to eat not only meat but the flesh of any warm-blooded animal. Thus fish, being cold-blooded, were alright to eat. In that vein, if you wanted to eat lizard, that would be okay too. But it was all done to honor Christ and to remember his sacrifice on the cross. Today, you often hear of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant alike, giving something up for Lent. Some give up meat. Some give up soda. Some give up sweets. I don’t ever hear anyone giving up coffee though. I don’t know if that would be good for anybody. Lots of grumpy Christians on the streets in the morning.
Are you giving something up for Lent?
If you’ve never done it before, I want to encourage you to try it. It’s not meant to be a punishment or even penance for past sins, but a reminder to us all of the great sacrifice Christ made for us. Some of you might wonder if it’s a requirement and its not. Nothing bad happens to you if you don’t do it, but consider it if you haven’t done it before. Don’t become stagnant in your faith. Challenge yourself to grow from the experience. If you have done it before, I want to challenge you to do something new. I want to challenge you to “plus it.” I want to challenge you to “plus it.” It’s a term Walt Disney used when talking about making something better. Walt was talking to a group of his accountants who were trying to convince him not to hold this Christmas parade that he wanted to do. They ran the numbers and to do everything Walt wanted was going to cost about $350,000 and this was back in the 50’s and early 60’s when the park was still young. They told him not to spend the money, that nobody would complain because they were already going to be there and they wouldn’t be expecting it and he said to them, “That’s just the point…We should do the parade precisely because no one’s expecting it. Our goal at Disneyland is to always give the people more than they expect. As long as we keep surprising them, they’ll keep coming back. But if they ever stop coming, it’ll cost us ten times that much to get them to come back.” Always give the people more than they expect. And he was right. Think about our own situation in the church today and how many people have left. Think about how slow we are to change. What if instead of waiting for people to come to church, we did something to attract them? What if instead of resisting change, we embraced it and allowed for the Holy Spirit to work in the change?
If we look at our passage this morning, Christ calls his people to do something radical.
He wants them to “plus” their spiritual life. He challenges his followers to love their enemies and to do good to those who hate you. Like we talked about earlier, this was completely against what they had been taught. It must have been hard to understand why you would act the way Jesus was asking them to act. Give your shirt to the guy who just stole your coat? But listen to what Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” Jesus isn’t saying that you have to love your enemy to score Brownie points with God. He’s saying that to differentiate yourself as a Christian you need to do what’s different. To differentiate yourself as a Christian, you need to do what’s different. You need to take that extra step that nobody else is taking, to do more than what is expected. During Lent we traditionally give something up as a way of honoring Christ’s sacrifice and to remind ourselves how much we need God’s forgiveness. But what if we did the unexpected? What if instead of just giving something up, we gave up something more? What if we gave more of ourselves to God and to one another? What if we gave more time, more money, more prayer, more of everything to God? What would that look like?
Over the next weeks, we are going to explore that question together.
I want us to challenge ourselves to do more than just give something up. But to really give something UP! To INCREASE what we do for God. To really “plus” your Lenten experience this year and make it one to remember. In the coming weeks, we will talk about giving up giving, giving up time, giving up money and other subjects to make us think differently about this period. And if you’ve never given something up? Then try at least this year to do that and use that extra time, money, and effort to invest in God. Lent is a time for us to reflect on all that Christ has done for us. Let us use this time to do the unexpected and be the people that Christ calls us to be. As you come up for communion today, prayerfully ask God what he is leading you to give up during this Lenten season. And then ask how God wants you to give more so that you will grow deeper in your faith. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.