You’re a fraud, a fake, a charlatan.
That’s a rather rude way to open a sermon, isn’t it? Well, I can say all those things about you with great confidence, because I, too am a fraud, a fake and a charlatan. We all are. That is part of our human condition.
Being married has been extremely eye opening for me. I knew marriage would be difficult, but I thought it would be difficult because of something my husband would do. Maybe he would be sloppy, or careless, or insensitive. It turns out that marriage has been challenging, because now I have someone in my house to mirror exactly how selfish I am! Living on my own for the last five years, I had no one to irritate, no one with whom to compromise, no one with whom to disagree. Now, I have all sorts of opportunities to pick fights, whine, sulk, demand my own way. . .You get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, Matt and I have a very happy marriage, but it has been shocking to me how my self image does not match up to reality! I am very content to project the image of a loving, caring pastor, even when I am not behaving in a very loving or caring way. You’ll notice our times of silence before confession have been longer since I’ve been married. That’s because I just need more time now.
I would worry more about this, but I know I’m not alone.
After all, the authors of Genesis knew all about these kind of human tendencies. The very first thing Adam and Eve do after they’ve tasted the forbidden fruit is to cover themselves. Adam and Eve feel shame for the first time, and in order to deal with that shame, they disguise their naked bodies and hide from God.
We hide ourselves, not with figleaves, but with nice Sunday clothes, and bright smiles, and the answer, “Fine.” when someone asks us how we are, even if we are suffering. Somehow what has become important is what people will think of us, rather than how we are actually feeling.
We all experience shame, fear, or sadness in our lives-each of us is struggling with something. I know you. I know each of you has your own set of very impressive baggage along this journey, but here’s the secret. No one’s baggage is any more spectacular than anyone else’s. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, some Sunday, if we each brought a suitcase with us? Mine might be labeled: anxiety disorder, and tendency to be controlling. Yours might be labeled: depressed, or out of energy to deal with my children, or struggling with addiction, or grieving a loved one, or having serious money problems, or really hate my job, or really don’t like my spouse. We would air out our suitcases, listen to each other’s stories, and then march them up to the altar and offer them up to God.
(Sigh.) That is basically my fantasy day at church. But, back to reality.
At the beginning of the service today, to honor the beginning of Lent, we sang the Great Litany. Some people love this part of the service and some people HATE the Great Litany. At times, it seems the litany of ways we fail God and each other will never end! But really, what the Great Litany does is give us a chance to bring our baggage before God. The Litany gives us a chance to be honest, and to tell God, “You know what? I can’t do this on my own. I can’t manage my own life, I don’t always make the right choices, I need help.”
This kind of honesty is what Lent is all about. Lent is not about self-flagellation, Lent is about surrender. We surrender to a God who loves us more than we can imagine. We surrender to a God who has faced all the same temptations we have. We surrender to a God who was able to resist those temptations in a way we cannot.
Lent is a time to lose our fig leaves. We are invited to stand naked before God and offer ourselves-our broken, misbehaving, selfish, addicted, ungrateful selves. We do not have to pretend to be okay in front of God. We do not have to offer God a polite smile /and a “fine” when he asks us how we are doing. We can tell him the ugly, unvarnished truth.
Lent is a time to get real. Lent is a time to look at ourselves deeply and to start being honest with the people around us.
The road to Jerusalem is a long and tiring one. We’ll walk this road, following Jesus, for the next six weeks. On such a long journey, carrying heavy baggage will just be exhausting, and pointless really. You don’t need baggage where Jesus is going. So, today, as you come forward to communion, I invite you to leave your suitcases on the altar, leave all that weighs you down and start this journey fresh, knowing that God will take good care of you and of what you leave behind.