(This was a draft of the Sermon I had intended for the first week of Lent. I had made many edits, but I believe I forgot to save the text…so may this serve as inspiration; may it be good enough!)
Today, we find ourselves on the first Sunday of Lent, the holiest liturgical season within the Christian tradition. Lent dates back a very long way and reflects the traditions and rituals that emerged in the early church community to invite fellow believers in the Jesus story to pause in the midst of their daily lives and to deepen their faith in anticipation of the journey to the cross and the resurrection. Most of the world’s major religions observe a period of time each year to reflect on the ways in which we have moved away from God, to reflect on the ways in which we have caused pain or hurt to others and thus to ourselves. Historically, Lent was a very somber time, a time for fasting, doing penance, and caring for others. We know that the 40 days of Lent mirror the time of Jesus in the desert, of Jesus in the wilderness in his own time of prayer and fasting. The so called devil tempted him, trying to distract him from his devotion to the higher calling for which he had come to earth. In the depths of his own hunger and weariness, he sought to stay the course and stay focused on the ultimate reason he had come to live among us. Many of us may have varied experiences of Lent from our own childhood. What I know is that even among those who are not necessarily religious, the opportunity to pause in our lives to reflect, the chance to make amends for how we have fallen short, and the opportunity to deepen the meaning of our existence is powerful. And yet, we too have our share of distractions in our lives. We live in a culture that presents many challenges to a life of prayer and faith. So here is our time; here is our opportunity. Let us pray, O God of all things sacred and ordinary, we invite your presence among us in the days ahead. Help us to let go of all that may keep us from your peaceful presence; help us to welcome that which enriches our lives of faith. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
I recall visiting patients at the hospital who were nearing the end of their lives. Time and again, they would speak of the unfinished business, of the brokenness within families or their regrets at not having reconciled with someone whom they had hurt or who had hurt them. They were filled with guilt or sorrow and some were all alone. If they had time, we sometimes formed a plan of how they might reach out to someone with whom they wanted to connect. Sometimes they felt too ashamed to even take this first step. It was hard and they acknowledged that they were running out of time. We know that it is valuable to take stock of our lives every now and again, to try to patch up the places that need tending, and to reconcile with those in our lives where there is brokenness.
Scripture fragment: 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.’” – Luke 4: 1-13
Synopsis: We find ourselves hungry for many things that we believe will bring us satisfaction. The devil lays a bet that Jesus will jump at the chance for glory, fame, and the quick fix. Who wouldn’t? But Jesus keeps up the pithy one-liners long enough that the Tempster just has to slink away. What are the temptations that catch your ear, singing out promises that your life should be more special than it is? What if ordinary life is already holy–as is? (Commentary ideas)
In our scripture from Luke today, we hear the story of Jesus’ journey in the wilderness. We know that Wilderness wanderings at the inception and heart of spiritual leader’s journeys is a common theme. What if we could see our own wonderings and wanderings and struggles with the incessant temptations to “greatness” as portals to a spirituality of “integrity”–a way of redefining “perfection” to mean that which is perfectly suited “for us” which might, in fact, be quite “ordinary” in someone else’s lexicon of life?
The Latin word “sacramentum” is a description of “holy” as the inbreaking of the Divine on or in something quite ordinary. Like bread and wine or water (sacraments). Actually, all we have is the ordinary stuff of life to point toward the Divine presence. All we have is our ordinary lives to give witness to the sacramental nature of God’s action here and now. While we are waiting for something “spectacular” to happen (stones into bread, a million likes on social media, angels swooping down to catch us), we might just miss the real inbreaking in real time. If life is feeling like a wilderness wandering of ordinariness, we are in good company with the Israelites and Jesus who encountered the inbreaking of God in just such conditions.