Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which is the 40 day season extending to Holy Saturday. (That's 40 days excluding Sundays. Each Sunday of the year is considered to be a "little Easter.") Ordinarily, people speak of what they're "giving up" for Lent. One year, I decided to give up something that I enjoyed, and drank, too much: Mountain Dew!
Still, if Lent means nothing more than giving up something, then it's a waste of time. Not that there aren't plenty of things we don't need to "give up," but the Lenten season is much more than that. Consider a lesson from Matthew 6, the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, where Jesus warns about "practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them."
Here's something from my Ash Wednesday sermon: "Receiving ashes on your forehead is something others will notice. Now, if you’re hoping others will notice the ashes and think you’re spiritual, then I would suggest wiping them off before you leave the premises. On the other hand, if you’re reluctant to let others see that ashy sign of the cross, that’s a different story. If you’re embarrassed and don’t want to look like a fool for Christ (my sermon topic two Sundays ago), then I would suggest that you leave that thing right where it is!
"That’s true for Ash Wednesday. That’s true for leading prayer in a group. That’s true for feeding the hungry. That’s true for peacefully demonstrating for an end to the war in Iraq. That’s true for visiting the sick and the prisoner. If love for God isn’t our motivation, then our treasure is meager indeed." Dare we give up our resistance to looking like a fool?