Comedian Jay Leno had a long run as the host on the Tonight Show following the iconic Johnny Carson. Leno has always been a fascinating character. But one story out of his past is particularly memorable.
When Leno was growing up, there was one firm rule in his family he had to follow. It was to never take the Lord’s name in vain. His mother used to tell him, “People might steal money because they have to eat. Or maybe they get into a fight to protect somebody, then they go to prison. But there’s no reason to ever take the Lord’s name in vain.”
After Jay grew up and became a famous celebrity, he and his father were watching a boxing max between Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard on television. One of the fighters was hit hard and fell and in the excitement, Jay took the Lord’s name in vain. His mother heard him, walked into the room, and hit Jay on the side of his head with a frying pan. Then she told Jay, “You’ll not say that in this house!”
Leno was a grown man. His name was a household name, but in his parent’s house, he was forbidden to violate the third commandment. And it’s important to note that his father was in total agreement with her.
I don’t know about you, but I find that refreshing. Our culture as a whole is becoming extremely coarse and rude in its language, and using God’s name loosely and without reverence is part of that trend. And we ought to give that some thought. Could this be related in any way to the vulgar deterioration of our society? When God’s name becomes simply a way of expressing our anger or frustration or surprise or disgust, what does that say about us?
One day a Pharisee, an expert in ancient Judaic law, tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (St. Mark 12).
This is the very heart of the Christian faith. Love God and love your neighbor. Jesus taught us that all the teachings in sacred scripture, both Old and New Testaments, hang on these two commandments.
We often talk in church about loving our neighbors. That is because so much of what is askew in our world is due to our ignoring this second of the great commandments. But what about the first commandment? What about loving God? We probably do not give the great commandment enough attention. What does it mean “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”?
This coming Sunday I will take on this tough issue as I continue my current sermon series.
I wanted to also remind you that the Holy Season of Lent is almost upon us. The Christian Lenten observance has developed over the centuries. The early church originally celebrated Lent only for a few days before Easter Sunday. Over time, the length of the season grew until it was several weeks long. In the seventh century, the church set the period of Lent at forty days (excluding Sundays) in order to remind people of the duration of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (St. Matthew 4).
Lenten observance began as a time of purification and preparation. In the ancient church, Christian baptism was only performed on Easter Sunday. Lent was the time before Easter in which these converts would fast and pray, preparing themselves to be members of Christ’s church. As years went by, the church began to baptize and confirm people on days other than Easter Sunday. After the Protestant Reformation, the discipline of fasting and giving up something for Lent became a part of the observance of this holy season.
March 6 is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of our Lenten journey toward Easter with the imposition of ashes in the shape of a cross on our forehead, ashes that come for this past year’s branches from Palm Sunday, we move week by week closer to the Crucifixion of Christ. Lent culminates on Good Friday.
This will be our first Lent in the new sanctuary and I trust that you will mark your calendar for Wednesday evening March 6 at 7:00 p.m. and join me for the commencement of the most holy season in the life of the church. The Chancel Choir has been working on some remarkable music to capture the spirit of the season, and I will be sharing a special Ash Wednesday message titled “The Ash Heap of History.” On a personal note, one of the most moving things for me to do as a pastor is to impose the ashes on the foreheads of those who come to worship. This prepares me for the glories of Easter so profoundly that my words cannot express it. I treasure the opportunity to invite you to observe a holy Lent with me. I look forward to seeing you, your friends, and your family there.
It is a time to remember the temptation, the suffering, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is a special time of prayer and reflection, of confession and self-sacrifice. Most of all, it is a time to ready ourselves for the sheer joy of Easter morning — it is a time to ready ourselves to meet our risen Lord once again!
I love you all. Let us love one another.
P.S. If you joined me last Sunday in worship, you will remember that Asbury’s worship service schedule for this Lenten Season and Easter have been finalized and you can find all that information—and share it with your family and friends—by visiting: asburyonline.org/holyweek.