As we begin the season of Lent, I think it best to circle around and take another look at something which runs perfectly contrary to what we will be observing in the coming weeks.
I can tell by the numbers that a lot of you are interested in what I had to say last year about Joyce Meyer and her brother’s death. Her brother died under tragic circumstances brought on primarily by poor choices he had made in life. Shortly after his death, Meyer spoke at a conference of prominent church leaders and used his life as a sermon illustration to draw a contrast between a wasted life and a life that God rewards. Using the story of the paralytic by the pool in John 5, she noted the key difference between herself and him: he just wanted to lay around and feel sorry for himself and blame others for his plight, while she did what she could to make a better life for herself. Making the assumption that the paralytic in John 5 could have at least wiggled over to the edge of the pool but chose not to, she said that her brother “just wanted to lay by the pool another year, feel sorry for himself, blame somebody and remain crippled….I got tired of laying by the pool and I decided to wiggle.” She went on to make the application that if you do what you can and try your best then God will bless you and do what you can’t. The Christian Post gives a more detailed summary of Meyer’s message and presents it in a slightly more favorable light than I do.
Do your best and God will bless you. Do what you can and God will do what you can’t. Classic American style self-help preaching, and it runs completely and totally contrary to the spirit of the Lenten season.
If you had the opportunity to participate in an Ash Wednesday service this week, you probably received ashes on your forehead. These are a reminder of your link with all the rest of humanity: that you are dust and one day you will return to dust. That everything you are and everything you do will eventually turn to dust. That you can try to wiggle all you want but you will not get to anything remotely resembling life.
The ashes are also a sign of repentance. Sackcloth and ashes appear throughout the Bible as a symbol of repentance. During this season, we repent of doing things our own way. We repent of trying to walk in our own strength. We repent of trying to do what we can and doing our best and trusting God to meet us partway because even if God meets us partway we will never get there.
The paralytic in John 5 could not have wiggled his way into the pool, even if he wanted to. He needed Jesus. And Jesus came to him. Jesus listened to his sad story, then told him to get up and walk, and he did.
Like the paralytic in John 5, we need Jesus also. We lament our human condition, that we are dust and will return to dust. In a few weeks we shall celebrate the cross and resurrection, by which Jesus has delivered us from our condition and enabled us to have life that lasts after we have turned to dust.