The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 2/13/02
Text: Matt. 6:1-6, 16-21 (Ps. 51:1-17)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Lent is not normally thought of as an occasion for levity, but... A Catholic priest working in an inner city was walking down an alley one evening on his way home when a young man came down the alley behind him and poked a knife against his back. "Give me your money," the young man said. The priest opened his jacket and reached into an inner pocket to remove his wallet, exposing his clerical collar. "Oh, I'm sorry, Father," said the young man, "I didn't see your collar. I don't want YOUR money."

Trembling from the scare, the priest removed a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to the young man. "Here," he said. "Have a cigar."

"Oh, no, I can't do that," the young man replied, "I gave them up for Lent."

Yes, we have arrived at the season of Lent, that period of the church year in which people figure we are supposed to feel miserable. After all, just prior to Ash Wednesday we run into Fat Tuesday - Mardi Gras in French - a time of joy and revelry which stands in stark contrast to the observance that begins the next day. The fun stops. At least that is the popular understanding.

Strange. The word "Lent" originally meant "springtime," not misery. Because the church season always fell at this time of year, the name came to apply to the ecclesiastical observance as well.

The Lenten observance has changed over the centuries. The early church celebrated Lent only for a few days before Easter. Over time, the length of the season grew until it was several weeks long. In the seventh century, the church set the period of Lent at forty days (excluding Sundays) in order to remind people of the duration of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.(1)

The Lenten observance began as a time of purification and preparation. In the early church, baptism was only performed on Easter Sunday - an entire year's worth of converts to the faith would be baptized and brought into the church on that day. Lent was the time before Easter in which these converts would fast and pray, preparing themselves to be members of Christ's church. As years went by, the church began to baptize and confirm people on days other than Easter Sunday. Lent was no longer a time of preparation for these events, but it remained as a special time of prayer and fasting. After the Reformation, the discipline of fasting became unpopular (and it has never regained much favor). Thus, as a way of preserving Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, the church leaders encouraged people to give up something they enjoyed during Lent. (For years, I have suggested that the church give up MEETINGS for Lent, but I am still working on that one.)

Speaking of giving things up, I've had something in my files for years offering suggestions.(2) Listen:

  • GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian disciplines.

  • GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.

  • GIVE UP looking at other people's worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.

  • GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?

  • GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins.

  • GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.

  • GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the "tube?" Give someone a precious gift, your time!

  • GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.

  • GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ. Now aren't you glad you don't have to do that anymore?

Lent is still the church season in which we prepare for Easter Sunday. It is a time to remember the temptation, the suffering, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Remember the admonition of the Gospel lesson to do it right - "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them." This is not Show Time! It is a special time of prayer and reflection, of confession and self-sacrifice. Most of all, it is a time to ready ourselves for the sheer joy of Easter morning - it is a time to ready ourselves to meet our risen Lord once again!(3)


1. Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1.12-13, Luke 4:1-13

2. Rev. Craig Gates, Jackson, MS, "WHAT TO GIVE UP FOR LENT"

3. Janice C. Weaver, Associate for Adult Resources, Education and Congregational Nurture Ministry Unit, PC(USA)

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