Religious Grounds

Java for the journey.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

We'll see how this goes...

All right, I have an urge to resume blogging. For today. We'll see how this goes.

But I have nothing to contribute right now - except a sermon. If you like to read sermons, read on. If not, then you are free to check back later.

God bless.

First Sunday in Lent - February 25, 2007

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

In the early centuries of the Christian Church,

men and women,

alone and in small groups,

fled the great cities of Northern Egypt

for the desert areas surrounding them.

Often the small groups would form religious communities,

but the most intrepid of them would try to live alone in the desert,

to undertake a radical existence of simplicity and solitude.

We know them today as “the Desert Fathers” and “the Desert Mothers.”

They had an enormous impact on the Church’s history.

They fled the cities at first because of persecution,

but then because of persecution of a different kind.

When the Christian faith was first tolerated, then privileged, in the Roman Empire,

the result was good in some ways, and bad in others.

Good because there was no longer the ultimate price to pay for being a Christian.

and bad for the very same reason.

Pretty soon there was no difference between being a Christian and being a normal citizen.

And that led some people to wonder, shouldn’t there be a difference?

So some people voluntarily chose a life of simplicity and solitude in the desert

in order to follow Jesus more closely.

Perhaps they thought that their temptations to backslide,

to live a life no different than everyone around them,

would disappear once they had left civilization behind,

and were finally alone with God.

What they found was something quite different.

God indeed was in the desert,

but the devil was as well.

They found that temptation was not something that could be left behind so easily,

that it was in fact as close to them in solitude as it was in civilization.

They discovered what Jesus discovered on his forty-day stay in the wilderness.

When Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit “into the wilderness,”

he finds more trouble there then anyone could have expected.

The devil shadows him, closer than his own shadow,

always at his side and in his ear.

Through his forty-day fast, he has nothing to distract him from the insistent crying-out

of his very human, very mortal body.

There is no dissenting voice to shield him from the vision taking shape

of a lonely road that he must walk,

where few will understand him

and few listen to him

and at the end, all will abandon him.

God seems to be silent.

The only voice speaking is the devil’s,

who invites him to a different reality,

a reality in which he is master of his own fate,

captain of his own ship,

in which he need not be hungry,

need not be lonely,

need not be a failure.

All he needs to do is reach out his hand and take what he wants for himself.

Of course, the devil is lying.

“He is a liar and the father of lies” Jesus said at another time,

perhaps remembering his experience in the desert.

No one dances to one’s own tune,

Jesus knows,

but follows a leader – either God or the devil.

And so Jesus rebuffs the advances of the devil,

and listens to God’s voice –

for God has not been silent,

not with the voice of Scripture speaking in Jesus’ heart,

sounding clearly and strongly even above our devil’s attempts

to twist God’s Word in the desert

as once he did in the garden.

Jesus experiences what all human beings experience,

the stark utter choice between dancing to God’s or the devil’s tune,

and alone of all humanity he remains faithful to his Father,

and makes it possible for us to be God’s as well.

For if even one human being resists the satanic call,

then Satan is not Lord of this world, but God is.

And they are saved from the lies of the devil

who, trusting in Christ, confessing his Name,

put faith in what he has done for us in the desert and on the cross

and turn away from trust in their own works, their own righteousness.

Why, then, if Jesus has gone to the desert for us, must we go to the desert,

literally, or metaphorically?

What did the Desert Fathers learn in the desert?

What did Martin Luther learn in the monastery?

What do youth who fast for thirty hours

or adults who give up chocolate for Lent gain from the experience?

Lately there has been a movement I’ve been less than thrilled with.

Rather than “give up” something for Lent,

some say,

it’s much better to “add on” something.

Add on a good deed a day,

or a sponsorship of a child

who needs food and medicine and education,

or a habit you’ve been meaning to acquire, like Bible reading or healthy eating,

instead of giving up something which isn’t going to do anyone any good anyhow.

Now there’s nothing wrong with adding something to your life.

After all, the discipline of Lent is not only fasting,

but fasting, prayer, study, and works of love.

The implication I’m not comfortable with is that this should be done instead of fasting.

And to me this is simply a mistake.

Because if we only add more to our lives, we run the risk of increasing our pride

while fasting reveals our brokenness.

It is to let go of our imagined needs,

to let go of our half-spoken wants and half-dreamed-of desires,

and in the letting go experience just how tied we are to them,

whether to comfort food or comfort media

or to habits long-engrained.

It is to attempt to give more glory to the Creator than to the creation,

and in doing so to know within ourselves how much we want it otherwise.

It is to give up our cherished control over our own existence,

to surrender it to the one who gave us our existence and who will take it back.

And thus the way through temptation

is to acknowledge our dependence, our temptation, our brokenness,

and to call upon the help of Jesus,

who endured temptation for our sake and who emerged victorious.

For when the Fathers emerged from the desert, and Luther from the monastery,

they came confessing their own failures, but Christ’s victories for them and in them.

It might have sounded something like this:

“No strength of ours can match his might;

we would be lost, rejected.

But now a champion comes to fight,

whom God himself elected...

Christ Jesus, mighty Lord,

God’s only Son, adored.

He holds the field victorious.”


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