Tuesday, February 19, 2013

First Sunday in Lent 2013

Here is Sunday's sermon as requested:


We are back in Lent (again, weren’t we just here?).  A time the church observes every year and one we treat less like a joy and more like a flu shot. 

We understand that Lent is necessary, that it's good for us in much the same way as Brussel sprouts or spinach might be.  

A recent twitter chat held by the Huffington Post made it clear that not only are most of us who say we observe Lent unable to explain it, we have limited understanding of why we observe it. We still do not understand it.

We take part in it by adding spiritual disciplines to our routines or giving things up without looking at the reason behind our actions. We do these things sometimes for no other reason than that we have always done it. 

We add a new bible study; attend Morning Prayer, increase our time in personal prayer.  We cut out white sugar, caffeine, or red meat.  We tell others we to do these things for forty days to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the resurrection.

To an outsider it likely seems more like a diet or preparation for a spiritual marathon.  If we don't have a good explanation for our Lenten behaviors, if we don't seem to fully understand the focus of the season, how meaningful is what we do?

Let’s look at the words shared on Ash Wednesday in the Book of Common Prayer (page 264): 
 The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.

Lent is then a time to prepare for Easter according to our traditions.  Through self examination and spiritual disciplines we prepare for Easter. 

In the Revised Common Lectionary every first Sunday of Lent we travel with Jesus into the desert after his baptism by John.  This is to remind us of other biblical retreats, yet it is different from the retreats of Moses, Elijah, and the Israelites.  The forty days Jesus spends in the desert follows the tradition that taught that it takes forty days for one to hear from God.  Yet Jesus has already heard God, in fact is God, so why retreat into the desert?  Jesus knows already God intimately.

Is it about his interaction with the tempter?  In this time he is both fully man and fully divine.  None of the temptations presented to Jesus are outside the realm of his power.  At any time he could have left the wilderness, could have filled his belly, changed his circumstances.  Yet he stayed until the “testing” was over.  Why? 

Perhaps the lesson for us today has less to do with what we do during Lent and more to do with why we observe Lent.  Paul’s words have been used as license for cheap grace….  if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

If that is all it takes, there is no need to observe a holy Lent.  The work is done, isn’t it?

I go back again to the tempter.  If we think we need do nothing at all, he has won.  We are not consumers of Lent though, rather we are children of God in need of mending. 

I believe that is why we are called into a holy Lent.  To remove those distractions, those temptations, those pitfalls that we and our society place in the way of our relationship with God. 

This time with Jesus in the desert is more about remembering that on our own we will never win the battle.  Just as Jesus waited there in that seemingly barren place, so too are we called to wait with God.

We are children of God who win the battle only as we surrender our wills, our hearts, and our souls to the One who loves us unconditionally.  Our external actions are not those that count during Lent; our motivations and intentions are what matter.  Not human affirmation, but rather those things we do that glorify God. 

That is how we experience a holy Lent.  This time in the desert is the time to meet the tempter and our temptations and surrender those things that take our eyes off of the God who loves us in spite of those obstacles we let fall in the way.

So whether we wore ashes all day last Wednesday, wiped them off as soon as we got to the car, or never had ashes imposed, a holy Lent is a time about the heart, not action.  It is not about the bible study, the lack of red meat; it is about a heart set toward God.

Stop and listen, let go the rush and noise.
Let all that you are wait quietly before God.
Let the busyness of your body rest,
Let the worries of your mind rest,
Let the doubts of your heart rest.
Hear God's call to holiness.
Allow the Spirit to transform and recreate,
Busyness into peace,
Worry into trust,
Doubt into hope.
Let all that is within you rest and find God.

(c) Christine Sine 
http://godspace.wordpress.com/  (used with permission)

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