Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT, 1928.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Our Lord was casting out a devil and it was dumb. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake.
We are hearing a great deal nowadays of the right to self-expression and of the dangers of repression. And it is more or less true. But there is a great lot of it that is very misleading and thoroughly vicious. Self-expression is being sought through self-indulgence. As a matter of fact self-indulgence is fatal to self-expression. Self-indulgence is sin. The wages of sin is death. Sin is an error in self-expression. Sin is a mistake. The phrase "an error in self-expression" is merely a concession to the jargon of the times. But it practically means the same thing as our Christian phrase "a missing of the mark". Sin misses the thing it seeks.
Repentance partly means the discovery of the mistake. It means a lot more. If it goes no farther it ends in remorse. But it begins with the change in viewpoint. It begins with the disillusionment which leads to the discovery that self-indulgence is self-destructive.
Forgiveness is restoration to right self-expression. It is a lot more. But it is that.
Just what is meant by self-expression? What self is to be expressed? The worst? Or the best? If it is the worst self that is to be expressed, then self-indulgence is the way. If it is to be the best self, then self-sacrifice is the way.
This is the question which Lent raises. It is the inescapable issue of Passion-tide.
Lent begins and continues through with self-discipline. It culminates with self-sacrifice. It is followed by the glorious Resurrection and the wonderful Ascension. The whole thing is demonstrated before our eyes. Our Lord is the pioneer who blazes the trail through self-sacrifice to self-expression. Through death to life.
Lent demands the three notable duties of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Not as mere acts of piety for the time being. But as continual means of attaining a definite end.
Prayer is the school of instruction in which Our Lord teaches us the principles of self-sacrifice. The essence of prayer is the offering of the will to God. Whatever the thoughts or the feelings may be, the offering of the will is the one thing that matters. It is not easy for us to understand this. So God often withdraws from us the sensible consolations of prayer. That is, we are allowed to be without conscious inspiration. We are left without the sense of uplift. Or the answers to prayer are deferred. Or the thing prayed for is denied us. And all the while, the will must persevere and remain stable. It is the way of expression through sacrifice.
Fasting is called for. Apart from the regulations of the Lent self-denials, and back of them is the principle that to find one's life, one must lose it. The sources of energy must first be governed, then sanctified, then directed, before they may be used rightly and freely.
Almsgiving is called for. Apart from the personal duty of self-apportionment and back of it lies the principle of self-giving. The gift without the giver is bare. Our Lord has given us the two laws for self-giving. The first is to do the will of God, for the love of God. The second is to lay down one's life for one's friends. It will mean the same thing whatever the form it takes. That will depend upon the variety of vocation. But for each and all, without exception, it will mean unfettered self-expression.
Affectionately in Our Lord,