Lessons for Lent

In an interview several years ago, the famous German conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-89), was talking about his early years as a musician. He made this remarkable statement: “Then came the decisive day when I discovered that my two hands weren’t enough to express what I wanted to express.”

His two hands were not enough to express what he wanted to express. That’s how he discovered that he needed a hundred pairs of hands to express what he wanted to express. In other words, he needed a fully symphony orchestra, and that’s how he discovered his calling to be one of the leading conductors of the 20th century, who went on to become music director for life of the most famous orchestra in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic.

The same can be said of the Bible. It needed many hands to get its story out. And the story got told many times, in many variations. The Bible is indeed a collection of stories. Jesus himself taught mainly in stories; we call them parables.

And three of those parables have prepared us for the beginning of Lent.

  • Three weeks ago, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, taught us to watch out for pride and hypocrisy in our lives.
  • Two weeks ago, the Parable of the Prodigal Son gave us the story of a young man who squandered his inheritance in a far country until he “came to himself.” The parable is a call for us to come home!
  • Last week, the Parable of the Last Judgment (the Sheep and Goats) told us that it’s not theology that decides our standing with God, but rather whether we notice and help those less fortunate than ourselves.
  • Finally, today’s Gospel reading tells us we need forgiveness. And this is why we need forgiveness: Like the Pharisee, we act with pride and hypocrisy. Like the Prodigal Son, we drift far from God. And like the goats at the Last Judgment, we are self-centered and ignore those who need our compassion.

In the final analysis, we are invited to enter Lent with awareness that we are not alone. The Christian life is not simply about me and God, my personal relationship with Jesus. You can’t have a relationship with Jesus alone! The Gospel today tells us that you can’t ask God to forgive you if you don’t forgive those who have done bad things to you.

My sermon today explored this theme in greater detail. The audio file is here:

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