Luke 4:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘God will command the
angels concerning you,
to protect you,’and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.
Have you heard this one? The local sheriff was looking for a deputy, and one of the applicants – who was not known to be the brightest academically, was called in for an interview. “Okay,” began the sheriff, “What is 1 and 1?” “Eleven,” came the reply. The sheriff thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”
Then the sheriff asked, “What two days of the week start with the letter ‘T’?” “Today & tomorrow,” replied the applicant. The sheriff was again surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.
“Now, listen carefully, who killed Abraham Lincoln?”, asked the sheriff. The job seeker seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.” The sheriff replied, “Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?” The applicant left and wandered over to his pals who were waiting to hear the results of the interview. He greeted them with a cheery smile, “The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!” (sermons.com)
In our Gospel reading this morning it is also Jesus’ first day on the job. Immediately he is confronted with three major temptations. A narrator asks this basic question: Would Jesus take the crown without the cross? (sermons.com) That is our question during this season as well for each of us. Today’s reading has historically been placed at the beginning of the Lenten season – it is not intended to be a season of punishment and shame, but a season of introspection and awareness, of intention and change.
The season of Lent. I have had my own love/hate relationship over the years with these days that lead to Easter. Can’t we get to Easter without Lent? Can’t we get to Easter without the burden? Can’t we get to Easter without the cross? I think these are some of the temptations we face today in our particular culture, and in this specific time in history: wanting the joy without the pain and sorrow; wanting the reward without the hard work; wanting the Easter experience without the needed time for self-reflection and introspection. But do we really want to live the Cliff Notes version of life? Because that is what happens when we skip from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
Ash Wednesday worship services are historically lightly attended. I am not saying this as a criticism or for guilt, or any other negative feeling this may evoke. It just is the reality that the journey to Easter is a heavy duty trip and most of us really would rather not take it. Temptation and sacrifice are often the cornerstone words of this season.
As a child growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition in Rhode Island, Lent meant fish on Fridays and sacrificing something for six weeks. Usually it was chocolate or candy, but also in the background was the hope to lose weight. Was that a real sacrifice – hardly. In my family eating fish on Friday was not a burden since my French-Canadian grandmother made an awesome meal of cod fish cakes. A real sacrifice – hardly. As Lent would begin my mother would declare that we would start praying together every night. We would gather around her every evening for these devotions that were relatively brief, until she’d lose interest – usually about a week to a week and a half after she started. She would do this every Lent so I knew it would be short-lived. A real sacrifice – hardly.
As I got older I traded the sacrifice of giving something up, for the sacrifice of adding something to the journey. Sporadic devotions, journaling, added readings, more meditation. In some ways these things felt like putting a square peg in a round hole by trying to do these things in a specific timeframe called Lent. I never felt that I got Lent quite right. But in time, so many of these spiritual practices have developed in a more organic way in my life over the years and are now a part of my daily rituals – a sacrifice – hardly. But the reality is, that if I were to do without them now – that would feel like a sacrifice to me -giving up something that nourishes my soul. Sacrifice and self-flagellation with whips or words as a form of religious discipline is not what Lent is about. Lent is a journey of discovering and understanding what it is that feeds our soul verses what it is that diminishes our soul. Lent is about what strengthens our faith verses what diminishes it. Lent is more about being aware of all the ways God is present to us rather than absent. Lent is about self-awareness and growth, not self-punishment and self-hatred. Lent is not about achieving perfection, but about faithfulness, and about continuing the journey to be all that God calls each of us to be.
I found the following Sojo Commentary By Joe Kay (3-05-2019) to be enlightening. He wrote: “I hate dusting [that’s not just a guy thing]. As soon as the specks of stuff are wiped away, more come along to take their place. Why is there so much dust? And what is it? I did some research and got a surprising answer. Turns out, much of the dust in my home is … me.
Many of those particles floating in the air and collecting in the corners are my dead skin cells, pieces of me shed so that new cells could take their place. The truth is that we’re already turning into dust.
Ash Wednesday reminds us that life is short and precious and we should make the most of it. The ashes on our foreheads symbolize how our bodies will return fully to their elemental state someday. But that’s only part of the message.
The fuller message is that the turn-to-dust process has already begun. It started when we were born and continues every moment of our lives. Cells in our body are continuously dying and being shed and replaced.
We’re already dust and we’re already reborn. The divine dance of life and death — dust yielding to new life — is hard-wired into each of us and into all of creation. It’s God’s way.
Scripture reminds us that we’re formed from the dust of earth and thus bound intimately to all creation. Science describes how in our elemental form, we’re made of the same stuff as everything in the universe. Yes, we’re earth dust and star dust, too. Everything follows a path of endless transformation. Faith is about daily transformation, shedding old ways and replacing them with new ways. Old wineskins must be discarded. If we cling too tightly to the old, we’ll watch it turn to dust in our hands.
Just as new cells emerge to replace discarded ones, God works with us to create a new life out of our daily dustiness. Death is an important and necessary step in the process. Without it, nothing new could appear. God’s nature is to make all things new, including us.
As Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it, ‘Almost always when I experience God, it comes in the form of some kind of death and resurrection. … It’s about spiritual physics. Something has to die for something new to live.’
When we recognize the spiritual physics — the intimate relationship between death and rebirth — we worry a little less about a future burial and focus more on nurturing the new life being born within us and around us [right now].
Life changes forms but never its essence. Love always emerges from our ash heaps. Spirituality encourages this daily transformation. ‘Dying to self’ involves gradually letting go of selfishness, fears, prejudices, judgments, insecurities, ego — all things that prevent us from loving more deeply and inclusively. Our spiritual exfoliation creates room for compassion, empathy, joy, hope, and healing. We become more invested in transforming ourselves and our world.”
Joe Kay then encourages us to give up indifference for Lent – “This process also works on our collective level,” he said. “We see it unfolding in our society right now. A culture that has for so long reserved power and privilege for a certain caste — white, wealthy, male, straight, Christian — is being shed, bit by bit, to create space for something new. Some are trying to provide life support to an older order, but it’s a futile effort. To borrow an expression from Martin Luther King Jr., such religion is dry as dust and ready for burial. Leave the dead to bury the dead. God is God of the living. Pay attention to the new life poking up. As Lent begins, let’s allow the ashes to remind us not only of a death to come, but the daily death-and-rebirth cycle that’s in motion within us and around us. Let’s recognize, celebrate, and lovingly nurture the new life emerging from the ashes.” How will you live through this Lenten journey?
St. John Chrysostom, sometime before his death in 407 spoke these words concerning holy living and the fasts that we observe to help make us more holy. He asked:
“Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our bothers [and sisters]?” (sermons.com)
I am seeing a variety of suggestions just about everywhere on how to live through Lent. Even Savers got into the act with 40 bags for 40 days as a fundraiser. One person posted an option of doing 40 days of gratitude. Another site had 40 things not to give up. And another, a clergy friend, Tyler Connoley, offered the suggestion of 40 Days of Kindness. I read the following from his facebook page about something that happened on Friday He wrote: “Last night, I was picking up medicine at the vet. There was a woman at the counter crying, and clearly feeling embarrassed and alone because of her public grief. I would probably normally turn away, but I thought, ‘Tyler, you’re practicing 40 Days of Kindness. Say something to her!’
So, I took a breath and said, ‘What was your pet’s name?’ She visibly relaxed, and told me about her lovely beagle and the years they’d had together. We chatted for a few minutes, not many. She wiped her tears, took some breaths, and was eve able to smile a little. I hope she felt a little less alone in her grief. I know I felt a little less alone in this big, wise world. Kindness is everything.” Tyler posted this Henry James quote: “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
So, please be kind to yourself on your Lenten journey. May this journey be one of awakening, rebirth, challenge, growth, blessings for yourself and for those you meet along the way. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019