The Danger of the Bleachers

Rev. Aaron Richert

With the season of Lent often comes the question of whether or not to give something up. Paul encourages Christians to discipline their bodies and keep them under control so that they don't lose the gift of salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24-10:13). He uses the analogy of athletes who deny their bodies certain pleasures as they prepare for competition. Think about it like this. When I was in high school I played basketball. I played intramural basketball in college, and even played for the seminary team for a few years. I was never in danger of getting an athletic scholarship or a serious look from an NBA team, but because I practiced and exercised every day, I held my own. A few years ago, after marriage and kids, I played in an alumni game at my high school. I learned quickly that after so much time away from the game I couldn't do the things I used to. I couldn't run as fast for as long, I couldn't jump as high, I couldn't shoot from the same distance. My skills had slipped from lack of use. When I was sitting in the bleachers, it was easy to see what the players were doing wrong and assume that I could have done better. But reality was a harsh judge. Once I laced up those sneakers for myself, I realized that I wasn't nearly the player I thought I was in my own mind.

Giving up something for Lent can work the same way. The Augsburg Confession encourages all Christians to train and subdue themselves so that laziness does not tempt us to sin (AC 26).

I think many of us have felt the desire to avoid a situation because we are afraid to fail. Maybe it's asking someone to prom, or auditioning for that solo, or applying for that scholarship. We stay on the sidelines because life is safer and easier there. Trying something is a bit more frightening, for it will show us whether or not we truly have what it takes. There is certainly a danger in giving something up for Lent if we think that by doing so we are earning God's favor. But there can also a danger in not giving up something for Lent. It's the danger of staying in the bleachers. It's the danger of doing nothing to avoid failing. It's the danger of convincing ourselves that we have no idols to be concerned with, that we have our sin under control, that we are doing just fine living according to God's Law. It's the danger of comfortable complacency.

Trying to give up something for Lent won't make us righteous in God's eyes, but it will certainly shine the light on the idols we cling to in this life. If it's true that you don't know what you love until you've lost it, giving up something for Lent is an opportunity to see just how attached we are to the things of this life. Can you go a week without your phone? Or without Facebook? What about pop or dessert or pizza? While we often wouldn't think twice about missing church to go on vacation or to a sleepover, we miss our phones within minutes of putting them down. Giving up pleasures of the flesh for Lent is a chance to see the reality of our sin for what it is, and, in the words of Paul, to take heed lest we fall.

Best of all, it's a chance for repentance. Whether or not you give something up for Lent, it is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in our place that makes us right with God. If trying to give something up for Lent shows me my sin and drives me to Christ, praise be to God for that. If I don't give something up for Lent, I still have Jesus. It ultimately doesn't matter what I can or can't sacrifice for 40 days. What matters is the sacrifice of Jesus in my place. So give something up or don't, but don't sit in the bleachers and lie to yourself. Confess the reality of your sin and live in the joy of forgiveness, for that is what it means to be a child of God.

Rev. Aaron Richert is Associate Pastor at St. John Lutheran Church and School, Fraser, Missouri.

Created: March 17th, 2016