UNION — What is Lent? That’s a question even some Christians have trouble answering as Rev. Merritt Wentz, pastor of Bethel and Duncan Acres United Methodist churches, illustrated with the following story.
Wentz said that “two good Methodists” were discussing what Lent is with one of them saying he wasn’t completely sure, but that it “starts with pancakes, ends with a feast, and there’s a lot of temptation in between.”
The story was part of the “Above All Things” sermon Wentz delivered during the “Meditation” portion of the Second Week of Lent Service at Grace United Methodist Church Wednesday afternoon. The service is the third in a series of Lenten services that will be held at Grace UMC through Easter. Each service will feature a Meditation delivered by different ministers from different local churches.
Traditionally, Lent lasts for 40 days, the number of days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism by John the Baptist and prior to beginning His earthly ministry.
Jesus’ time in the wilderness was a time of preparation and Wentz said that is what Lent is, a time of preparation that he said prepares Christians for a time of celebration. That time of celebration is Easter when, three days after dying on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead. Wentz described Christians as “Easter people” who, through the preparation of Lent, move to the celebration of Easter and all that it means.
The story of Christ is told in the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testatment, but for the main part of his sermon, Wentz referred to the Old Testament book of the prophet Jeremiah.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
— Jeremiah 17.9
Wentz said that the verse “speaks with great discernment” about the truth that “there is nothing above the deceifulness of our hearts.” He said that given the deceitful nature of the heart and the power of that deceit, it can cause Christians, to “deny ourselves the truth of our own condition.” To combat this, Wentz said Christians need to examine themselves, to examine their lives and see “the fruits we bear” as they go through life.
In addition to causing people to “deny ourselves the truth of our own condition,” Wentz said the deceitfulness of the heart can also cause people to “deny ourselves the truth about the brevity of life.” Wentz recalled a cartoon featuring the “Peanuts” comic strip characters “Charlie Brown” and “Snoopy” as an example of the contrasting attitudes about life and its brevity. Wentz says Charlie Brown observes that one we are all going to be dead, to which Snoops replies, yes, but we will be alive all the other days.
Wentz said that “we all want to be Snoopy,” acting on the assumption that when today is done there will be a tomorrow for us when in point of fact we are not promised that tomorrow. Furthermore, sooner or later there are no more tomorrows.
In the face of this reality, Wentz said that Christians must turn away from the deceits of the heart and “contemplate the brevity of life and do what we can with that life. We should sound out our own lives and not be deceived about what we believe about our lives but see the truth.”
Wentz said Christians have help in doing this from “an all-loving God who knows the deceptiveness of our hearts and knows we need Christ.” Because of this, Wentz said that, in order to “get over the deceitfulness of our hearts and bring us closer to Jesus,” Christians must “find strength, not in ourselves, but through God. Trust in God and in Him alone.”
Lunch at Grace United Methodist Church this past Wednesday included spaghetti. The lunch was prepared by the church’s Food Committee and served following the Lenten service.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.