Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:1-4)
Most Americans are not too good at “doing without.” We like our things, and our privileges, and our opportunities – so much so that we often take them for granted. Words like “discipline” and “sacrifice” and “deprivation” and “surrender” are viewed negatively. We like being comfortable and pampered and secure. The Lenten season for Christians often inspires people to give something up – we give up ice cream or chocolate or dessert for Lent. But while we deprive ourselves of an indulgence, we truly don’t make much of a sacrifice. We still take very good care of ourselves!
We stop short of depriving ourselves to the point where it hurts. We give up a little bit. We make a small sacrifice. Not too much changes in our lives during Lent. But I want to issue a challenge. I want us to give up something hard, something difficult. What I invite everyone to give up for Lent is ego.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a healthy ego, but our egos can cause problems when they become over-inflated. An over-inflated ego demands its own way. It makes us feel superior to other people. It makes us think we deserve anything and everything we want. It makes us “holier-than-thou,” and causes us to be judgmental. When our ego makes us the center of our universe, we displace God. It is impossible to be both Christ-centered and self-centered at the same time.
Lent is a season of kenosis – the Greek term for emptying or surrender. The Apostle Paul defines kenosis in the second chapter of Philippians, when he instructs us to:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
If the one true Son of God could set ego aside through perfect and total surrender, we surely cannot continue to demand our own way, and think too highly of ourselves. Lent is a time for us to strive to be more like Jesus. Rather than judging, we offer grace. Rather than condemning, we extend mercy. Rather than focusing on division, we work to reconcile and unite. Rather than building walls, we build bridges instead. To intentionally think less of self in order to think more highly of others is indeed an act of sacrifice and surrender.
The end result is a deep blessing. As we empty our lives of self-interest, self-serving, self-centeredness, and just plain selfishness, we create a “grace space” to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus in the wilderness, we will be tempted to take care of ourselves, to think first of our own needs, and to do whatever we can to be comfortable and cared for. But following Jesus’ example, we will find ourselves nourished, not by our own will and effort, but by the living Word of God. So, give up self for Lent, and receive the abundance of God’s love and grace to share with everyone you meet.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).