Ten Minute Sermons

Ash Wednesday

Livarot (LEE-va-roh) cheese

That's the short, "take-away" phrase I'd like you to bear in mind after you leave this Ash Wednesday service: Livarot Cheese.

You see, back in the 13th century some monks in Normandy, France greatly missed their ration of meat during the Lenten Fast; so they developed a particularly meaty, savory cheese as a substitute: hence Livarot cheese was born. It's unctuous, pungent…velvety smooth…it has kind of a "lip smacking" quality. Hey, with this meat substitute the monks were able to feast and fast at the same time: Pretty convenient, eh?

Well no…it is not convenient…it is cheating.

And it's because of cheating…disobedience…that we set aside the forty days of Lent as a time of fasting, penance and prayer.

The forty days of Lent should remind Christians of the privations of the Children of Israel in the desert for forty years: subject to the wrath of God for their disobedience in worshiping the golden calf before Mt. Horeb. Yet, remember, they were never abandoned by God. Yahweh provided them food: manna from heaven for forty years.

The forty days of Lent should remind Christians of Moses who was on Mount Horeb for forty days without food or water…sustained only by the very presence of the Almighty. And it was on this mountain that the very finger of God set forth in stone His commandments for His people: providing for them the principles of what is like to be a holy people: set aside for God. Even while…at that very time…the people below were rejecting the very God who had delivered them out of bondage in Egypt.

The forty days of Lent should remind Christians of Elijah in the 1st Book of Kings (chapter 19) during a time of great disobedience by the Children of Israel. Elijah traveled through a vast wasteland to Mt. Horeb without food or water for forty days: sustained only by brief meal given to him by God before his journey began. And it is on this mountain, after this journey, after this fasting that the Yahweh meets Elijah and promises him that a faithful remnant of Israel will survive God's wrath.

These reminders are only a brief overview of the multiple reminders of our corporate sin…and don't forget, our individual sin…that grieves…that angers the Almighty Creator of the Universe. The wrath of God is real…and the wrath of God is deserved. However, notice, in each illustration: the steadfastly faithful Creator of the Universe…the steadfastly faithful Creator of you continues to provide for His wayward people.

In the Book of Judges the multiple cycles of Israel falling away from God, forgetting His commandments, straying from being a Holy people, falling desperately close to being an enslaved people once more, are always followed by God Himself raising up a hero, a judge, to throw off the shackles of bondage and restore the people once again to a faithful union with their Creator. These cycles of rebellion and God's faithful restoration: Judges 3, "the land had rest for forty years", Judges 5, "the land was undisturbed for forty years', Judges 8 "the land was undisturbed for forty years in the days of Gideon", and…well, you get the picture: Forty year cycles of sin followed by unmerited salvation.

So I hope in this Lenten season Christians don't cheat and substitute Livarot Cheese for meat: give up sugar and allow themselves honey, give up three hours of television and allow themselves added time on the internet…give up arguing outwardly with their spouses, only to retreat into insular worlds of self pity.

OK…I get it…no Livarot Cheese. I need to lose some weight anyway…give up white sugar, no substitutes. I need to spend more time exercising, so no television…a workout instead. I do need peace at home: perhaps a few sessions with my friendly neighborhood shrink would be in order…OK, I get it.

No! Why are you giving up sugar, television…anger, whatever? Well, a better question is "for whom are you giving up sugar, television…anger, whatever?" Don't take on a Lenten discipline for you…that's the problem…you…me…all of us…our eyes are too much focused on ourselves and not on our steadfastly faithful God who still…still with our disobedience…wishes to continue to provide for us. During this Lenten season…have what you give up…no, what you do…have what you do focused on Him who has His love focused on you.

Jesus had his desert time…His time of fasting and prayer as well. Forty days with His eyes set on the Father, and look what our extraordinarily steadfast, faithful God did with that time. We are so shackled with temptations…yet, Jesus could not be bound. Sin overcomes us…yet, it could not blemish Jesus.

And this sinless lamb, tempted in every way that we continue to be tempted, came blameless to the cross to die for our transgressions. He died for us…and was in the grave for forty hours. He was in the grave for forty hours.

But God sustains…forty years in the desert: God provided….forty days on the mountain: God provided…forty hours in the grave…

Lent is a time of prayer and fasting with our eyes set on our Creator. From mere dust you were created. Lent is a time of penance: we truly need to be mindful of our disobedience, remember…the only thing we are assured in this life is death: From dust you were created; to dust you shall return.

But be confident. After forty hours in the grave, Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever with the Father in Heaven. And your steadfastly faithful Creator wishes to create this life for you as well.

This Lent continue to focus on what God continues to do for you…continues to do for us despite our brokenness.

I know this Lent, with any promise I make, given the chance I'll cheat…but thank God, given the chance…He'll continue to remain steadfastly faithful.