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 that day of the week. See, Lou worked in a neighborhood that was 87% Catholic and back then, Catholics didn’t abstain from meat just on the Fridays during Lent, but on every Friday and Lou only sold 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 easy. Ray wasn’t convinced 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.
Today it’s just during Lent, but before Pope Paul VI loosened the restriction in 1966, it was meat-free every Friday. If you don’t know, Lent is the period Christians observe from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday and represents the forty days Christ spent in the desert. In fact, the Latin word for Lent is “Quadragesima” which means “forty days.”  But why go meat-free in the first place? And why Fridays? Some people jokingly or not speculated the Church mandated the restriction to help the fishing industry. But it was done to honor Christ and to remember his sacrifice on the cross. Since Christ died on a Friday, Catholics not only skipped red meat but the flesh of any warm-blooded animal. Dr. Michael Foley explained that it seemed theologically fitting to abstain from eating the “meat of an animal whose blood has been shed” on the day in which Christ’s blood was shed. Today, you often hear of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant alike, giving something up for Lent, if not meat them something else. Soda. Sweets. Swearing. But something that’s meant to be challenging in some way to honor and reflect on Christ’s sacrifice for us.
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 a requirement. Nothing bad happens to you if you don’t do it, but this could be something to challenge you to grow in your faith. And if you have done it before, I want to challenge you to do something new. I want to challenge you to “plus it.” If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone we’re going to read from Luke 6:27-36. We’re going to read from this passage today. “Plus it” is a term Walt Disney used when talking about making something even better. Never one to settle for something that worked, he always challenged himself to find a way to do something better and he called that “plussing it.” One day, early in Disneyland’s history Walt was talking to a group of his accountants who were trying to convince him not to hold this Christmas parade 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.” That concept of always challenging ourselves to “plus it” is true for our faith also. If we grow complacent in our faith, it will take so much more effort to energize us once again. Instead, we should keep finding new ways to examine our faith, to practice our faith, and to grow our faith. We only have to look to Jesus for an example. If you would please rise for the reading of the Gospel as we share from Luke 6:27-36. Hear now, the Word of God.
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.
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 them. We take it for granted now that this is the way we are supposed to act, but back then, this was completely against what they had been taught. Instead of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” Jesus was saying to turn the other cheek. Give your shirt to the guy who just stole your coat. But listen carefully 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 is challenging his followers to do more than the status quo. He’s saying to them that it really isn’t much of a stretch to love those who love you. He’s pushing them to do something MORE! And not because it makes us look better in God’s eyes. We aren’t trying to score Brownie points with God. Jesus is challenging us to grow deeper in our faith by taking love of neighbor to a whole new level. What if we did the same? 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 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 some different ways to do that, to make Lent not just a six week period where we give something up, but maybe increase and deepen our faith by doing something meaningful. 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. Let us pray together.
Heavenly Father. As we enter into this Lenten season, help us to grow spiritually in our faith in you as we remember the sacrifices Christ made so that we can enter into a relationship with you. Help us also to be the type of people who do the unexpected that we may shine a light on you with our lives. The Lenten season is only about to begin, but help us look forward to the end when we celebrate the Risen Christ who represents all the hope we have in the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.