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Does Practice Make Perfect?

We invite you to

worship with us on Ash Wednesday, March 2 at 7:00 PM. Join us online or in the sanctuary at 16 Hitt Street, Columbia.

Ash Wednesday is the first day in the season of Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) just prior to Easter. In the ancient church, Lent was a time of intense study and fasting for people new to the faith before they were baptized on Easter. Later, Lent became a season for people under church discipline to do penance for their sins. The 40-day period recalls Noah’s 40 days in the ark when God drowned a sinful world in a flood. It also recalls Jesus’s 40-day experience of fasting and temptation in the wilderness.

Many Christians give up something for Lent in imitation of Christ Jesus who gave up his life for us on the cross. At the Ash Wednesday service, the minister often says, “I invite you, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, by works of love, and by reading and meditating on the Word of God.” So, Lent can also be a time of addition, not just subtraction, if you observe a holy Lent by adopting a spiritual practice that’s new to you. This Lent, we’re going to explore a variety of spiritual practices in Sunday school and worship, everything from traditional practices such as prayer and simple living, to the brand-new practice of unplugging from electronic devices. We hope that this Lent will be a time of adventure and experimentation for you, and most of all, a season of growth and renewal.

But it’s not necessarily the case that, with Christians, practice makes perfect. In fact, we can probably think of a Christian or two whose shortcomings are as evident as their lengthy prayers, big donations, or unfailing worship attendance. Long ago the Protestant reformers argued that neither good works, not spiritual practices nor religious rituals can save a person or make someone righteous in God’s sight. We are put right with God when we believe the Good News that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose to raise us to new life. We are saved by faith alone, not by anything we do.

So, are we free to eat as much chocolate as we want during Lent? Are we even free to skip church, let our prayers go unsaid, and spent our offerings on our next vacation? The reformers also argued that, while we are free from having to do something to get saved, those who are saved through faith possess a peace and a joy and a desire for God that expresses itself in prayer, worship, service, fasting, and other practices. “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works,” wrote Martin Luther. He added, “Illustrations of (this) truth can be seen in all the trades. A good or a bad house does not make a good or a bad builder, but a good or a bad builder makes a good or a bad house.” What makes us good is the soul trusting the Good News that Jesus died and rose for us.

I’ll leave it up to you whether to eat chocolate or not, meditate or not, scroll through your social media feeds or not. It’s not a question of whether you must or should do this or that. It’s a question of how your trust in Jesus Christ expresses itself in a disciplined and sustained way. That’s what Lent and spiritual practices are all about.

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