Headlines from First Thoughts

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Acting out for Lent

“All the world’s a stage,” said Shakespeare, but Jesus knew that the moment he walked out from behind the curtain onto the global scene. He saw actors a few miles down the road in the nearby village of Sepphoris. Herod built a huge outdoor arena for the great plays of the ancient world. Actors donned the masks and became someone else. They called them "hypocrites" in Greek or our word in English "actors."

The Pharisees and religious leaders' actions seemed eerily similar to the stage of Sepphoris. The same language of the theater lies behind his warning to us in Matthew 6. It’s the language of the theater. It’s the same experience that you and I could have on Broadway and for a moment imagine a whole new reality. But when acting invades the life of the pious and religious, you have is just a bunch of rubbish.

Lent and Easter can turn into an act. Put a little ashes on the forehead, show off your good stuff, be present and accounted for the next 40 days or so. But all we’ve done is stood in front of the curtain and arranged for all to see us, masking an inner sham.

Matthew 6's secret practices of lent are prayer, fasting, and giving. They actually function as a kind of backstage pass for us. To go into the secret place--behind the curtain--and see where the real action is.

All those fancy things out front-- fancy religious language-- just covers up stage fright. Backstage, we see Jesus at work in us.

When I was on the stage crew at my high school, I learned that the actors not only performed, they built the sets. The janitor came in and fixed lights. The stage crew had to repair things. That’s when you rolled up your sleeves, and the dirt got all over you. The dirt was not just a smear on the forehead or the palm, but all over. You really hadn’t worked on the stage crew until you really were dirty all over.

The same applies for the Christian life. The backstage of life is where Jesus works behind the scenes. It was behind the scenes of the dirt of the Roman rabble, and Jewish corruption, and religious intrigue that Jesus said, "This is for the forgiveness of sins."

Lent tells us you can’t be out in front of the curtain until you've understood the power of dirt. You can’t preach, teach, worship, or put on your Sunday best without rolling in the dirt, understanding your sinfulness, and then a receiving a good spiritual bath of forgiveness that no one can see. You wouldn’t want them to see that anyway. That’s just between you and God. Behind the curtain.

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