First Sunday of Lent- "Our Lenten Journey"
Sermon: “Our Lenten Journey”
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. It is a season that lasts for 40 days leading us up to Easter day. Many of us gathered this past Wednesday for the imposition of ashes on our foreheads. Ash Wednesday, it is called. It marks the beginning of Lent, where we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. The first Sunday of Lent almost always includes the Scripture describing Jesus’ temptation by Satan; and the sixth Sunday (which will be Palm/Passion Sunday) will describe Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his subsequent passion and death. It’ll take 40 days to get to Easter—but not counting Sundays. Sundays are considered “little Easters” in our midst. So that the penitential spirit of Lent would be tempered with joyful expectation of the Resurrection.
In Luke’s narrative, Jesus had just been baptized—a voice from heaven above declared him “beloved” and the Spirit descended on him like a dove. After such an outpouring of affirmation by the Spirit, one would never have guessed what came next. Jesus being led straight down the path to be assaulted by the devil himself! And the setting is the wilderness.
This wilderness is not pretty. It’s not full of nature, with lots of green and trees and plants to explore. It’s also not just sand, with rolling hills and desert. Rev. James Howell gives us a clearer picture of the wilderness near Jericho. “[It is] rocky, [with] daunting cliffs, caves, the haunt of wild beasts…people avoided the place, believing demons and evil spirits [were] there.” Jesus was led into this place!
Isn’t this quite a twist? I often think, don’t you, that if the Spirit is leading us, well, surely the Spirit is leading us to a “better” place or situation, or choice in life. I can’t imagine the Spirit leading me into something unpleasant! But sometimes the Spirit does what we need, whether we know it, or not!
Lent is a time of testing for us in a small way, as we recognize the greater sacrifice that Christ has made for us. Many people choose something to give up for Lent; others choose to take on a Lenten discipline of daily prayer, or reading of the Scriptures, and so on. Some fast from food, others from social media. Some take on prayer, others take on a daily commitment to give something of theirs away each of the 40 days. There’s no prescription—it’s whatever God lays on your heart, if you’d like to try it. Why would we do this? We’re not Jesus—we’re not strong enough to endure all that he did for 40 days in the wildernesss. How can it help us, for example, if we choose to fast on every Friday of Lent—or fast from “some device or vice” for 40 days? Whatever one participates in, in the form of a Lenten fast, whatever that may be, the fasting reminds us that our deepest hunger is not for “bread alone, but for every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”, as it is written in Deuteronomy. If a Christian chooses to fast, it’s not to be miserable, but to discover our hunger for God, our dependence upon God.
Now, if you choose to do this, you’ll need to know this important little bit of information! Let’s say you decide you’ll be giving up chocolate for lent. Remember, every Sunday is a little Easter—so you can have a piece of chocolate. J
Lent is a season to help us think harder about what our Christian lives mean. I remember when I was in college, we had a dinner gathering, only when I arrived, things were not like they had always been. I was given a name tag with a colour on it, and I was to sit at the table marked with my colour. I did. And it was nearing 7pm and I was so hungry. I noticed the ‘green’ table got pizza delivered to them. It smelled delicious! The pizza came complete with plenty of sodas to wash it down. I noticed the ‘red’ table had beans. They were using their utensils to eat. I didn’t see any drinks at their table, other than water. And my table, the ‘blue’ table, we were served rice, but there wasn’t enough cutlery to go around. So, some of us had to eat straight out of the bowl. And what was the leader of our college group trying to do? See how we responded. Was the pizza table so engrossed in their meal to notice that those around them had little to eat? Or, were they just relieved they sat at the pizza table? Did those who didn’t have enough cutlery share with others at their table? (Mind you, this was pre-covid). This experiment was long ago now, and I can’t remember how it all turned out. But, I do remember, I never got any pizza. And I was stunned that the leader left it at that, and didn’t pull out from behind closed doors enough pizza for all. I was left hungry.
Good or bad? You decide. All I know is that it was a pretty good lesson for me. Having little that night made me think about others less fortunate than me in a way I had never thought through before. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about times in our own lives when we feel like things aren’t going our way. They’re certainly not ideal, or pleasurable. She writes “that hollowness we sometimes feel is not a sign of something gone wrong. It is the holy of holies inside of us, the uncluttered throne room of the Lord our God. Nothing on earth can fill it, but that does not stop us from trying. Whenever we start feeling empty inside, we stick our pacifiers into out mouths and suck for all we are worth. They do not nourish us, but at least they plug the hole…temporarily.
To enter this Lenten journey, nothing too small to give up. Even a chocolate bar? Are you hungry? Well, is it really that bad to be a little hungry? Are you lonely? What is it really that you are going through? Try sitting with the feeling, and instead of fixing it--see what you find out—and then whatever it is that is holding you down…just tell the devil to get lost.” And let God meet you in that place.
In other words, don’t soothe your immediate need…sit with it…learn from it.
Jesus responds to temptation, not with brains or muscle…but with Scripture!
Ephesians 6:17 says, “Jesus was ‘armed with the sword of the Spirit.” But, as we know, living the Christian life is more than just ‘quoting’ the Bible…one has to live it. Jesus is our ultimate example. We may not can ‘imitate’ such courage and strength, but in our own small way, maybe we can sacrifice something in a way that might draw us closer to the one who holds us in his hands.
Do you ever think about the temptations that Jesus faced, and wonder how he was able to fend them off? I mean, Satan did sort of zero-in on the things that were dear to Jesus’ heart—bread for the hungry--power over the nations--protection from danger. All good things. All you have to do Jesus, is worship me. And they’re yours—immediately. You or I might have said yes, maybe? Jesus says no.
Elsewhere Jesus does these things…he creates bread to fed thousands. He tells his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood. He indeed claims to be Lord—the ruler of all, and for every knee to bow and every tongue to confess. He indeed seeks to be saved from death, and is, at Easter.
Why not when Satan offers—at such a global scale where everyone can see immediate results?
One scholar writes, maybe, Jesus seems to like things small. Local. One to one. Intimate. “Even when he orders up lunch for 5,000; he does it just for one meal, so they’ll stay and listen to him preach! He doesn’t open a food bank for all Galilee to be fed every day, doesn’t petition Rome to change laws about bread distribution, he just feeds his twelve followers, and tells them the bread is his body. He doesn’t promise to make you or me into a saint overnight, he just says, alright, let’s start with chocolate, maybe together we’ll change the world.”
What we do with this Lent may be small in comparison to our Lord, but it’s a start. It’s a beginning. And Jesus promises to be with us through every step. He knows, after all, temptation at its worst.
There is a quote from Thomas Merton, that I think is so powerful. Listen to this:
“The devil is no fool. He can get people feeling about
heaven the way they ought to feel about hell. He can
make them fear the means of grace the way they
do not fear sin. And he does so, not by light but by
obscurity, not by realities but by shadows.”
Remember, Jesus’s tool when facing the devil…Scripture! He is not fooled by the wiles of the devil. Jesus, after all, is the one who does the heavy lifting here. He’s the one who wrestles with Satan for 40 days in the wilderness and winds up on a cross. We give up something for 6 days a week (not including those ‘little’ Sundays)—not even a comparison. God does all the work in our salvation, while we in response offer much less, in comparison. It’s called: Grace.
Let this season of Lent…these 40 days…be a time to “remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves.” This is a time to cleanse the soul, and prepare our hearts for spring, and the Easter joy. Lord knows, we need it.
So, let’s follow Jesus, again and again, in a thousand small ways daily. That’s what Lent—and finally the church—are all about. Amen.
 Barbara Brown Taylor.