Who are you?
Do you know who you are?
You know your name.
You could tell me what you do all day.
Do you know why you’re in church today?
Do you know what you are doing on this earth?
The iconic image of Lent
is Jesus fasting and being tempted in the desert.
Our own forty days mimic this passage.
What is it about?
Why did Jesus need to go there?
Why do we?
Here’s the set-up:
We have Luke’s version of the Christmas story,
and everything that surrounds the birth of Jesus.
The writer pulls out all the special effects;
Jesus is not just any newborn baby.
Before he is born, the angel calls him king.
A few years later,
he goes to Jerusalem with his parents,
gets separated from them,
and when they finally find him,
he’s in the Temple debating with the rabbis.
Mary and Joseph ask him why he ran off like that.
He answers like a perfect adolescent:
“Duh! Where did you think I’d be?”
He knows, already, where he’s going.
The boy grows up.
Jesus is baptized, and the sky breaks open.
A dove descends upon him,
and the voice of God speaks.
“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
We hear who he is.
Then we hear who he comes from.
The genealogy traces his ancestors paternally through Joseph,
Joseph’s father and grandfather,
all the way back to Adam,
created by God from the earth itself.
The story pivots where we heard today’s Gospel.
Jesus is tempted in the wilderness.
Jesus overcomes the adversary.
Only after that, does he start his ministry.
“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.”
We’re not dealing with circumstances of birth anymore.
We’re beyond the foretold infant king,
the gifted child.
We’re not talking about what might potentially be.
This is the adult Jesus,
fully knowing that now is the time to embrace his destiny.
Fully prepared to test himself,
to listen to the voice that spoke to him in the river,
and to make himself ready for the life he’s being called to.
I grew up in the Northwest.
I grew up with seaweed tangled in my toes,
and mountains rising strong all around me.
I know the temperate rainforest.
I’ve never even been to the desert.
And I’ve been camping and hiking since I was a kid—
but I’ve never been in the wilderness alone
for longer than a day.
I can barely imagine what that must have been like.
He hadn’t eaten in a long, long time.
His body was weak and exhausted.
His mind was open for all kinds of visions.
It was hotter than fire during the day,
and freezing cold at night.
The wind howled, day and night.
Sometimes, that howl carried the voice of God.
Was it comforting, or terrifying?
This is what you do,
if you have the time to dedicate to it
and you want to be close to the Divine.
You go someplace alone.
You strip yourself down to nothing but the essentials.
You fast, you pray,
and you confront your own demons.
Even if it’s dawning on you,
that you are the incarnate Son of God.
Lent has been a season for fasting
since at least the second century.
It was increased from two or three days to 40
by the Council of Nicaea in the year 325.
We’ve been doing this for a long, long time.
In some places,
people fasted from all animal products excepting fish.
Others ate only one meal a day.
Roman Catholics still abstain from meat
on the Fridays of Lent, excepting fish.
Eastern Orthodox Christians still follow a vegan diet
throughout the season.
No animal products at all.
The early Christians connected the Lenten fast
with preparations for baptism.
They fasted, prayed, and studied the mysteries
that they would be allowed to enter into at the Easter vigil.
Penitents, those who were already baptized
but had committed some type of major sin
and been temporarily cut off from the sacraments,
fasted with them.
They also would be welcomed home at Easter.
We don’t have set rules for Lenten observance.
You might choose to give up something;
chocolate or alcohol or Facebook,
whatever it is that gets in the way
of your relationship with God.
You might choose to deepen that relationship intentionally
with a new practice:
journaling, walking, a new form of prayer.
I was on chemotherapy for a year;
I’ve recovered, but my body is not yet strong.
I’m doing physical things:
riding my bike for the first time in ages,
and doing lots of mindful breathing.
For me, it’s about claiming the Resurrection
in a body that was damaged to save itself.
Being grateful for life, and health.
The point is not deprivation for its own sake.
The point is to do what Jesus did,
in our own ways—
to dedicate ourselves to hearing and obeying
the voice of God in each of our lives.
This is the time to re-commit ourselves
to walking as closely with God
as our hearts and minds and bodies ever can.
This is the season to discipline ourselves,
to open our souls to the work of the Spirit.
This is the time to remember who we are
as Christians and as humans.
This is the time to build a shelter in the desert,
to watch and pray as the days grow longer,
to remember the sacrifice that came before the feast.
Choose your own disciplines.
What you do doesn’t matter—
it matters what you do through them.
Try new ones out, as you’re going.
Do what you need to do,
to reconnect with the purpose that God gives you.
Don’t go through this alone.
Share your practices,
so we can pray for each other.
We have to make it through Holy Week,
before we can get to Easter.
We will have the joy of the Resurrection.
We only walked into the desert last Wednesday.
Forty days is a long time.
Can you hear what God is whispering to you?
Do you feel the wind, on your skin?
Sunday, February 21, 2010