Now, he made it clear that THE gospel has no holes. THE gospel, found in the life of Jesus and the pages of the New* Testament, is perfect, complete and wonderful.
But OUR gospel … the one that we practice … is often incomplete. Insight into these holes was given by the Old Testament passage Micah 6:6-8:
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
In other words, shall I be over-the-top in my religious expression? The bigger the personal religious sacrifice, the greater the pleasure of God, right?
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Do, love and walk. These aren’t “don’ts” these are “dos”. What good works the Lord requires of us are not activities of denying ourselves, but of blessing others.
The New Testament reading from the Ash Wednesday service, James 2:1-9, also brought clarity to this truth. Here are some excerpts:
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place”, while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there”, or, “Sit down at my feet”, have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor man … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
Virtually all of my friends are rich. Most everyone who attends my church is rich. In the example James uses above, at least the sinful man is speaking with the poor person! We have sterilized our church environments so thoroughly that the poor feel unwelcome, and we feel no pang of guilt that this is true. God has chosen the poor … but we have not.
We do have a “hole in our gospel.” We do pretty well parsing our theological words and proclaiming our creeds. But James goes on to tell us that our beliefs, without accompanying works, are dead beliefs (Js. 2:17,26), and that real religion involves not only personal holiness, but an active life of serving the helpless and afflicted (Js. 1:27).
In short … I don’t need to stop eating sugar, as much as I need to start loving my poor neighbor. Not a Lent of not-doing, but of doing. I need do the full gospel, not a holey one. I believe that’s the Lent the Lord would have of me.