Sunday, March 10, 2019

Lent 1: Temptation from belovedness

Lectionary: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; salm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13;Luke 4:1-13

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

If I could reduce the purpose and practice of Lent into a single idea, I would use this quote from a poem by St. Theresa of Avila:“[God] desired me, so I came close.” Here’s the fullness of that poem:

A thousand souls hear [God’s] call every second,
but most every one then looks into their life’s mirror and
says, “I am not worthy to leave this

When I first heard his courting song, I too
looked at all I had done in my life
and said,

“How can I gaze into his omnipresent eyes?”
I spoke those words with all my heart,

but then He sang again, a song even sweeter,
and when I tried to shame myself once more from His presence
God showed me His compassion and spoke a divine truth,

“I made you, dear, and all I made is perfect.
Please come close, for I

It’s very sad to me that the most common notion about Lent is that it is a dark and difficult season, to be approached with dread, guilt, and sometimes even self-loathing; that we have to “tame” our desires by giving something up, then use all the self-control we can muster to keep our Lenten promises.

The irony is that exerting our self-will is exactly what we are called NOT to do during Lent. Lent isn’t meant to be a time of practicing self-control. It’s meant to be a time of relinquishing it.

During Lent, we practice discipline and repentance. It’s a mistake to confuse discipline with self-control and penitence with wallowing. In fact, it’s sin: the sin of hubris – the very thing that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the garden.

Our discipline and repentance are the means by which we re-enter the womb of God where we can rest, be restored, renewed, and prepared. In his book, “Praying Shapes Believing,” theologian Lee Mitchell reminds us that: “Joy, love, and renewal are as much Lenten themes as are penitence, fasting, and self-denial; and we need to remember that it is within the context of preparation for our participation in the Feast of feasts that [our] Lenten penitence is expressed.” (29).

Jesus said: “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28-30)… and “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11) St. Theresa of Avila said, “[God] desired me so I came close.”

Temptation is anything which leads us into sin – and sin is that which causes us to forget who we are, whose we are, and why we’re here.

The gospel writer tells us that Jesus, the Incarnate One, the manifest reality of the unity of humanity and divinity, was tempted to separate himself into a dichotomy of body and spirit; to focus on his humanity (he was famished) and forget about his divinity.

Next, though he knew his divine purpose, Jesus was tempted to walk away from God’s plan for his life and live out a different plan – one in which he would get glory and avoid pain and humiliation.

Finally, Jesus was tempted to throw his life away, daring God to prove that he mattered.

We share these temptations with Jesus. The first temptation, forgetting the divinity that dwells in us, goes to our very identity. We are body and spirit. The actual coexistence of humanity and divinity was made manifest first in Jesus. Now each of us is a living testimony to that co-existence.

The second temptation, putting ourselves and our wills ahead of God’s will for us, goes to how, or even whether, we will live into our purpose. If Jesus’ life is an example,living into our purpose won’t be all blessing and honor, but it will be redemptive – for us and for the world.

When we’re honest, it seems ridiculous that we think we can devise a plan for happiness and fulfillment by chasing after the perfect life partner, the perfect job, the perfect body, or the perfect car, home, or salary. That’s how the world tempts us away from our divine purpose, and about the only thing being fulfilled is the corporate bottom line.

The third temptation, testing God to prove we matter, goes to our core understanding of our relationship to the Divine, one another, and ourselves as beloved. Whatever our earthly experiences have been, our faith assures us that all whom God created are beloved of God. We don’t need to prove that – or prove it again - to anyone, not even ourselves. Our identity and purpose are fulfilled when we live into the divine belovedness that belongs to all.

Identity, purpose, relationship. Temptations are what lure us away from true knowledge and experience of these, which is why discovering what our temptations are and repenting of them is one of our goals during Lent.

For example, some of us eat, smoke, or drink to comfort ourselves. Repentance might involve attention to the stewardship of our physical bodies - noticing the physical signal that starts the process of filling an emptiness within us, then acknowledging the justifications as they speak in our thoughts (I can have this one cookie, or I deserve this drink) and responding differently (which is to say repenting), saying “no” to the temptation; saying “no” to the self. Living in the emptiness until it is redeemed.

Others among us work too much in order to win approval or to feel like we matter. Repentance here might involve attention to the stewardship of our time and relationships - committing to a schedule that balances time devoted to work, family, leisure, and includes time devoted to corporate and private worship of God. Lent is a good time to commit to regular attendance at Sunday worship or Evening Prayer, remembering that we live out our purpose in community as the body of Christ in the world.

Some of us habitually deny ourselves anything good out of a sense of unworthiness or, at the other end of the spectrum, deny ourselves nothing from a sense of privilege. Repentance here might involve stewardship of our spiritual lives - fasting from criticism of self or others or keeping a prayer journal which acknowledges the daily gifts and blessings God is giving.

The disciplines we practice are meant to help us enter humbly into the presence of God, where we surrender ourselves to God’s unfathomable love and unfailing care for us. The emptiness in us that continually seeks satisfaction comes from our sense of separation from that love. I think we know this deep down.

God desires communion with us. Jesus came to make that happen – once for all. Remembering that helps quiet those voices of temptation that play like a tape-recording in our heads, saying: ‘you’re not worthy, you’re not beautiful, you’re not gifted, you’re not loved.’

We are. We’re also unfinished… continually growing and maturing in body and in spirit.

Our brokenness is not something to be ashamed of or to avoid. It is as much a gift as any talent we possess because it is the place in us where God dwells most assuredly, most compassionately.

Our brokenness is the cross we bear; the place where we witness the redeeming love of God still at work in the world. When others see spiritual growth and maturation happening in our brokenness, they are empowered to stop being ashamed of their brokenness, pick up their own cross, and walk into redemption.

God desires us to come close and we hunger for that too. Bound together in the eternal love of God in Christ we discover love that protects, satisfies, and delivers us.

This is our Lenten journey. God bless us as we begin it. Amen.

No comments: