Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lent 1B

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13)

A week ago, Fr. Gil Stafford preached about how Jesus often sought solitude so that he could pray with God. Such solitude provided sacred space for Jesus to better understand what God’s will was for him. This time alone was especially vital as he approached his mortal death on “Good” Friday. Seclusion brings us closer to God and to ourselves. It can also be very scary. Isolating. Silence cracks open doors to voices we strive to set aside from ourselves. Murmurings inside of our heads and hearts discomfort us, especially in times of uncertain pain. It’s crazily silent and discomforting in the Wilderness times of our lives. It’s also when and where we can be most close to God. The Holy Spirit draws us there, most typically kicking and dragging our heals into the dust of our day to day experiences.

On Ash Wednesday – Fr. Howell Sasser told the people of St. James that the Ashes of Lent literally fly into our face. The smudges of ash hold potential power to transform the way that we see God. The blackened sign of the cross on our foreheads can’t help but change the way that people view us. You’ve long since washed away those ashes. Perhaps you’ve forgotten about them, or didn’t even receive them. It may be that Lent’s moments of recognizing your mortality haven’t driven you into the wilderness experiences of fasting, repentance, and reflection just yet. It might even be that you’ve been experiencing Lent’s isolating experiences long before this past Wednesday. Regardless, Lent is here, now – providing the presence of God in opportune yet awfully visible, dusty, visceral ways of being Christian that we more often than not would rather avoid.

The wilds of Lent bump up against the world’s emphasis upon ourselves and the noise of our surrounding political and economic complications. The Holy Spirit’s rough invitation in this season of Lent beckons us to examine our faith. God calls once again to communion with God's self and one another. The Creator’s angels and demons alike wander around with us for 40 days. We determine during these difficult days whether or not we truly desire to deepen our commitments to our Christian lives.

There’s a variety of ways to “do Lent” – Traditionally, people give up something. We swear off on eating chocolate even as we proclaim that we won’t swear at terrible drivers as we normally do. We set our hearts and minds to spend more time accomplishing charitable acts just as we dedicate ourselves to spending less money on gasoline or going to the movies. All of these actions however place the emphasis of our Christianity upon ourselves. We become the center and source of personally decided upon commitments. Listen to what Ash Wednesday’s Gospel says. 5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus didn’t joyfully go racing into the Palestinian Wilderness. God directed him there. Seemingly Jesus’ human personality didn’t comprehend what he should do following his baptism. He wasn’t yet ready to proclaim his presence of God’s Kingdom to the people around him. First, God’s Son, our Lord, goes into the desert because God’s Spirit tells him to go. The desert Jesus entered was and still is a stark and desolate place. Jesus could have fallen in to any number of deep ravines. He spent many nights in cold caves. It’s in the desert of Jesus’ life where he confronted temptations, abided with wild beasts, and lo and behold – was attended to by angels. Fear and love are much more primeval during Lent, especially when we, like Jesus don’t set up the landscape on our own terms, but, on God’s.

I think it was in the Wilderness where Jesus first learned to pray – Our Father – you are holy – Your Kingdom Come – Your Will be Done. Lent isn’t specifically about the good that we can create of our own accord. It is a season of trusting God, waiting for God, and being open to God intentions for us. Lent enables us, however harshly, to be Christ’s followers in our day. These are rarely easy, glee-filled exercises.

This season of penitential solitude is often shrouded in the sufferings of our own personal tribulations as well as those of the people near us. Our response should recognize that suffering is embedded in our human nature. We can’t and shouldn’t oppose it. Rather, we need to find God’s presence and our faith in and through it.

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. May God transform you and may you be born anew in the midst of the unknowable but blessed adventures of your Lenten wanderings

Blessings Along The Way - Jim+