Lent is for you: a sermon for Ash Wednesday

One of the great Dominican theologians of the 20th century, Herbert McCabe, once preached that one problem with the church today is that we forget that the Church and the Season of Lent aren’t just for great sinners, but for mediocre sinners too. 

McCabe thinks that we spend most of our time focusing on big sins, and similarly the big punishments: God’s wrath and anger, offending God’s majesty, and so on.

And yet, I’m sorry to say that the majority of our sins are just not that remarkable. They’re small trifles. They’re mediocre.

Now I’m not trying to belittle your experience as sinners or even to diminish the gravity of all sin. But I think McCabe has a point here. Those big sins, like betrayal and violence, separate us from God and others in really extraordinary ways, and deserve the attention that they get. 

However, in the day in and day out, these aren’t the sins that the majority of human beings commit. And a preoccupation with big sin makes it hard to see how Ash Wednesday and Lent are for mediocre sins and mediocre sinners too. McCabe describes these small sins as not loving as we ought to. It’s not that we don’t love God, or that we don’t love others, but that in these moments our love cools and diminishes.

We see this in the Prayer Book, too. The General Confession talks about these smalls sins as those things left undone, as not loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

What causes this cooling of love? 

I think many of us know that feeling of distraction, of not being able to concentrate on what really matters. Maybe you can remember being preoccupied with something unhealthy, like a relationship, or an activity, or something you consume. Maybe your work life has impinged on your relationships. 

Maybe you’re too busy to stop.

Whatever it is, the distractions of life can make it hard to love and labor on behalf of God and neighbor.

If you can identify with any of what I’ve just said, then Lent is for you too. Lent offers you a time to return to loves that are worthy, especially your first love, the One that loved you before you were ever thought of by your parents.

Lent is here for you to consider how short and precious this time is that the Lord has given us. Lent offers the time and space to remember that not even tomorrow is promised. 

Whether you have a Lenten practice or not, and whatever your Lenten practice might be, these 40 days are given to us reflect on self-denial for the sake of love.

What are those things that have entered into your heart that block love? What are those small and mediocre things that are cooling your love? 

Lent is 40 days long because Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing for the beginning of his brief ministry with his followers and the people of Israel, a ministry of self-denial and ultimately his own death. Through that self-denial and out of love for his creation, Jesus broke through mortality to a new beginning, just as winter gives way to the new life of Spring.

Lent is for you. 

This Lent, consider giving up those bits of yourself that cool your love for Jesus and your neighbor. Deny those things of yourself that clutter your heart. Make room for Jesus and the new life of Easter.