Lent is a forty-day long journey of remembering that we bask in grace, not condemnation. Grace, not condemnation. Grace, made possible by God in Jesus in a way that seeks to change our lives, even now, and that claims us in love, even now, as well as into eternity.

Ok, we’re done here. Message for today has been shared…Well, maybe there’s just a wee bit more to say. You see, as I was reading up and pondering ahead of today’s homily, I came across an article by Robin Lovett-Owen in the Living Lutheran magazine (Jan/Feb. 2023). Lovett-Owen was pondering her struggles with dieting, and reflected that (and I quote), “for many people, Lent becomes a Jesus-sanctioned diet. Since Jesus fasted for forty days, we give up sugar, soda, or bread, or whatever else we think will help us shed a pound or two by Easter.”

Lovett-Owen talks about the highs and lows she and so many of us have experienced around dieting. Good days when we don’t eat what we don’t think we should, and bad days when we do eat things that we don’t think we should. And then Lovett-Owen points out that in theological terms, this is a form of works-righteousness, where our worthiness is tied up in our works. What we do or don’t do. Whether this is in connection to our care of our bodies or any other facet of our lives, be it our productivity at work or the success of our relationships or whether do enough to help those in need. Lovett-Owen points out that even though Martin Luther tried mightily to free himself and those around him of works-righteousness we see in his writings that Luther, too, considered the days when he prayed more, confessed more, fasted more, and gave more to the poor his “good” days and the days when these things did not happen his “bad” days. Poor Marty was stuck in works-righteousness. Poor us because we are, too!

Think for a minute, think of two or three things that you consider to be the things you have to do on your “good” days in order for you to be “good” as a person in your eyes…? Now, how about two or three things from one of your “bad” days?

Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to share them with each other, although if you panic to think of sharing these things with others that’s yet another indicator of how deeply we get our self-image and self-worth all tied up in the things we do or do not do, and in stories of shame and unworthiness about ourselves.

This, this story of ups and downs and shame and unworthiness is NOT who we are in God’s eyes. Despite the fact that we, like Adam and Eve way back in the Garden of Eden, often do not make choices that respect or give glory to God, be it with choices connected to our bodies, minds, hearts, or souls; though we often do exactly what God asks us not to do, God did not and will not desert us! Just the contrary. God humbled God’s self to become one with our humanity – in a body just like ours – and then did what we could not do for ourselves. Resisting temptation in the face of all the tempting forces of evil after fasting forty das in the wilderness, and ultimately and willingly dying on the cross and rising again in new life so that we might have new life. So that our identity would not be defined by what we do or do not do, how well we do or do not “succeed” in our own eyes. Instead, our worth would be and is defined by the love of God that first made us as humanity in all of our diversity wonderfully in God’s own image, and then redeemed us by the cross in love, once again re-creating us.

The truth is that we can work and work and work at ourselves and these lives and we will never free ourselves from the cycles of feeling good in one day and feeling bad on another and feeling shame in all kinds of wacky ways. We can’t free ourselves from all the other ups and downs that are part of the deception of works-righteousness. Of thinking that we can do the work of making ourselves worthy. Lent is a great time to remember this deep truth again.

And goodness no, Lent is not a forty-day long diet. It is not a work to be completed with Herculean effort on our parts. Lent, instead, is a forty-day long journey of being turned back to the love of God in Christ that has never let us go and will never let us go. It is a time, a season in which to recognize, again, with Christ’s help, that it is God’s work that sets us free. Lent is a journey to the cross, where all of the unworthiness stories we have been telling ourselves get taken up in the arms of grace and in the Great Story of Redemption made possible by Christ, and these sins are washed away, and we realize with wonder and awe that we have been made whole, have been made new again. Thanks be to God! Amen.