Lent

            Imagine you are out for a hike on a beautiful spring day and you come to a creek. You notice that someone has dumped trash into the stream—not a pretty sight. Judging by some of the empty soda cans, the trash has been there awhile. And there is an ugly film on top of the water. You can’t just leave the scene as you found it, because it would bother your conscience.
            So, you stoop down and begin gathering the trash.  It ends up taking several hours before you can begin to see a difference.  You’re amazed how much junk is there. You sit back, rest for a moment, and realize you’ll have to keep coming each day until the site is truly clean. But when you come back the next day, it’s as if you didn’t even do any work at all.  In fact, there’s more trash than the day before. It’s as if the garbage bred overnight. You think about the unlikelihood of someone coming to this very spot to dump their garbage just in the one measly day you were away.
             Then, you realize that something smells fishy—so to speak. So, you begin to follow the creek upstream.  Sure enough, there’s a nasty garbage dump that’s been there for years. It’s emptying into the passing creek. Your cleaning job was only a small opening to a world of filth. You could try and clean every day.  But if you really want your creek to be free of pollution, this means going directly to the source and dealing with the crud that’s there.
            Our hearts are the source from which our lives flow. Unfortunately, we spend great amounts of time, money, and energy—even in the church—doing trash removal “downstream.” But real transformation begins when we travel upstream to the source. Our real struggles and sins take place where no one sees: in the heart.
            Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in the season of Lent.  Ashes remind us that we live in a polluted world full of garbage; that it is fouling up our lives; and, that we must respond to the mess with a humble return to God.  Lent is a 40-day cleaning project on the inside of our hearts, instead of trying to keep up dealing with all the scum on the outside of our lives.
            Entrance to confronting the dump of garbage requires fasting, self-examination, prayer and repentance.  As the Lord God said through the ancient prophet Joel:
“It isn’t too late.
You can still return to me
with all your heart.
Start crying and mourning!
Go without eating.
Don’t rip your clothes
to show your sorrow.
Instead, turn back to me
with broken hearts.
I am merciful, kind, and caring.
I don’t easily lose my temper,
and I don’t like to punish.” (Joel 2:12-13, CEB)
 
            We find that at the end of the Lenten journey, Jesus is there.  He swallows all the massive tonnage of the world’s garbage on the cross.  It’s so rotten that it kills him, and there is only darkness.  Then, three days later, Christ is risen, having shaken off the filthy stench of death.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the prophet’s words, the merciful one who has taken care of the filthy source of garbage once and for all.
            May you find on this day and every day that the spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and repentance put you in a place to receive Jesus. As you lean into the mess in throughout the next six weeks of Lent, may you discover the cleansing and healing agent, Jesus Christ, the Savior who scrubs the heart clean of toxic waste.

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