Second Sunday in Lent March 12 and 13, 2022
“A Party During Lent?” Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I have the impression that too many of us are glum, discouraged, or depressed during these days. I think there are a number of reasons for such an attitude. The weather has been a stinker. Even though I declared winter to be over a few weeks ago, it didn’t work. Snow, ice, cold seem to be what we got. If that is what we wanted, we would have moved to Minnesota a long time ago. If you are going to fill up your car these days, you have to rob a bank first. One of the local newscasts what showing signs that are in the area. One made this simple request, “Any good news, please.” That’s what we need. Just some good news. Any good news would work.
We are in Lent, a time of repentance. Sackcloth and ashes, right? Years ago, I remember folks telling me that no one could get married during Lent. Weddings usually have dancing, drinking and laughter following the ceremony. I guess that wouldn’t be proper during Lent.
I know I missed it on the weather, but I’m going to get this one right – there needs to be a party during Lent. There needs to be a party right now. How about a little joy?
But this can’t be a made-up party. In December, the 25th anniversary of the Seinfeld episode about Festivus will be recognized. Festivus was the made-up celebration by George Costanza that was to be a substitute for Christmas. It was to happen on December 23. You would have an undecorated aluminum pole in your house. After the Festivus dinner you would participate in the “Airing of Grievances” with your guests. You would tell others how they disappointed you during this past year. That would be followed by “Feats of Strength”. This would usually be wrestling with others in the living room. Mark it down – December 23, Festivus pole, the meal followed by the airing of grievances and feats of strength.
This party, the one I want us to have, has to be real. It has to have a real substance to it. The best parties are surprise parties. You’re not expecting it. It catches you off guard. You’re delighted that it is happening but you never saw it coming. The reading that I’m using today comes from Deuteronomy 26. Look at it as a surprise party. “Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us a land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 26:5-9)
Do you know what this section was? It was the creed of the Old Testament. It was the recounting of the mighty acts of God. That’s what a creed is. It is strong on verbs – actions – deeds – things that God is doing. The Lord heard and saw…the Lord brought us out of Egypt…the Lord gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
This was a surprise party that God was throwing. They recounted how this great work of God in making the Jews His people and bringing them to this Promised Land was just unbelievable. We read, “My father was a wandering Aramean.” He was talking about Jacob, who went down to Aram and lived there for 20 years, working off the debt of marrying Rachel and Leah, and eventually having 12 sons. He started out with nothing, was a nomad, and it was just him in that land, but after God did His great work, he was the father of a great nation. Surprise!! Who would have thought??
Reed Lessing, in his book, Overcoming Life’s Sorrows, the book I’m using for the Sunday Morning Bible Class, tells this account, “I once saw a multimillion-dollar boat. Its name? Deserved. That’s the American way. Work hard, make it big, then boast, ‘Deserved!’” (Page 145)
That’s not our way. Our way is grace. Undeserved favor. It is God throwing a surprise party, at any time, and especially during Lent, when God shows His great kindness. When you recount your life, it must be spoken in superlatives of everything that God does. He plans. He brings it to a conclusion. He forgives. He saves.
But even surprise parties don’t just happen. They are planned. Great parties are planned. They just don’t happen. Every detail is considered. Everything has to be just right. When that happens, and you are the one that is the recipient of the affair, you have such joy that someone would work so hard to make this party for you such a magnificent event.
We speak the Apostles’ Creed regularly in worship. Listen to all the details, all the actions, all that God does for us. This tells us that the party was planned to be a remarkable event and we would be the humble recipient. In our Confession about God the Father and God the Son listen to the planning of all details for our good, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
Did any of that happen by chance? Was His coming to earth from the joy of heaven just by luck? Was crucifixion, resurrection and ascension happenchance? No. All on purpose. All to bring us the fullness of life. All to bring us the assurance that our lives and our future are part of God’s perfect plan.
It is too bad that Lent is quite a reserved and quiet time because we should have some type of big and loud and happy party because of what God has done for us. In the Book of Acts, shortly after the party we call Pentecost happened, when Peter and John were told that they were not to speak about Jesus and His great and mighty works, they said matter-of-factly, “We cannot help but speak about what we have heard and seen.” (Acts 4:20) Shortly after God brought the children of Israel out of slavery and through the Red Sea, God’s people would sing, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2)
It is time for a party because our God always does more than we can ask or imagine. He has always done that and He will do that over and over again. Remember – surprise parties are the best. We get gifts that we never deserve. Remember – parties that are planned to bring the desired result are appreciated. God, through Jesus, has given us the wonderful surprise of grace and His plan for us is worked to a great end.
Did you pay attention to what the Israelites were doing in this reading from the fifth book in the Bible – Deuteronomy? They were thanking God for His kind deeds. “When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put it in a basket…the priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God…And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given you and your household.” (Deuteronomy 26:1-2a, 4, 11) The party is in what was received from God and the joy was multiplied in what was given back to Him.
What is missing in the lives of too many of us is joy. Our spirits have been sapped. Learn from those people we read about. There was joy in the lives of those people. They had a land. They had a crop. They had more than they had ever had before, and they knew it was God who had given it to them. They brought an offering to God and they brought their laughter, their smiles, their tears of gratitude. This party was meaningful.
This is Lent and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have a party during these days. Our party celebrates the deep, deep sacrifice and work of Jesus. Our reaction of joy is the perfect response. Amen!!