February 17, 2013
Here, in this space where we gather,
My hope is that each is touched by the Sacred — Not by my words,
But through the compassion shared.
May THE Light of life be yours.
FIRST READING: Excerpt from: Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion
by Richard J. Foster and Gayle D. Beebe
“The active life begins with love of neighbor, which is expressed in concrete acts of service. Whether you teach an illiterate person to read, feed the hungry or clothe the poor, every act of kindness is the beginning point of our life with God.
The second level is the contemplative life. Here we begin to turn inward in a reflective state. Having started with love of neighbor, we now focus on learning to love God as the source of all earthly loves, with the Holy Spirit as our teacher. As we turn inward from the outside world, we begin to understand what motivates us, what leads us to God and what takes us away from our deepest longings. The theological virtue of hope develops on this level.”
SECOND READING: Luke 4:1 – 13
(from Eugene Peterson’s The Message)
Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights, he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry. The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.” For the second test, he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours, in all their splendor, to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.” Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.” For the third test, the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?” “Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.'” That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.
I really enjoy the texts from our Sacred Scripture that try to simplify the message for us. What I find disturbing sometimes is when well-meaning people try to complicate the message. This text, the story of the temptation of Jesus is, of course, a story intended to express a point that the man, Jesus, dealt with the same issues that we face all the time. The story expresses, in very picturesque language, the difficulties or struggles that anyone who is trying to live for the sake of others is going to face.
These are the three “P’s” that have been the downfall of many great men and women and many average citizens as well. They have caused scandals that have rocked nations and brought kings and conquerors to their knees. This simple story about Jesus just wants to say that he faced the same difficulties. Literally, I assure you there was no rock about to be turned into bread, there were no winged creatures waiting to catch him as he stood upon the pinnacle of the temple, and there was no “Devil” whisking him about in the sky showing him the far flung kingdoms of the world. But there were and are inner struggles.
The story is told now, at the beginning of Lent, to encourage some self-reflection. If the lives of the great and prophetic religious teachers of the world are to be the models for our lives, if the reading of and learning from the teachers of “The Way” are to be our life guides; then intentionally pausing for a time to reflect and even meditate on our own life choices is a good thing.
Lent suggests a time to do just that.
The forty days of Lent are designed after the forty days of Jesus’ own reflective time away in the wild, a euphemism for that reflective time of soul-searching into the ‘wild of our inner selves’. It is always a good time to do self-reflection. I know people who make a conscious effort to do it around the beginning of each year. I know people who use their birthdays as a time to pause and reflect. Employers call it an annual review, teachers call it parent-teacher conferences; we have lots of ways and many different times that we pause to reflect and think about where we are and compare it to where we want to be. In November, we had a gathering of about thirty people from Hope and we began a process of reflecting on where we are as a church and we will continue that process at a meeting here on March 9th -10:00AM to further the exploration about where we want to go, as a community of faith working together. Where are we and where do we want to be?
Lent suggests an intentional time to do that. Over the years, it has become steeped in tradition and liturgy that sometimes begins to be done as rote behavior and the meaning of it all gets lost. Whether it is translated as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, it all means the same and is, in tradition, a day when all the fat, sugar, sweets, alcohol and other various luxury items are completely consumed so the home does not contain any of life’s “extras” for these forty days of reflection. So, if we were to spend the time becoming more reflective, on what might we reflect?
There are, I think, three things suggested in this reading upon which the downfall of most people can be attributed to — they are: Possessions, Power, and Prestige, the three P’s. I think the story simply wants to suggest that Jesus had to confront the potential abuse of all three as do all of us. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with any of them but it is allowing any one of them to overtake our life that has the potential to lead to a downfall — IF. . .our desire is to live for the sake of others first. These things become the evil — lurking in the background ready to, as the text says, “Come back another time” — waiting for another opportunity.
In seeking to make the world a better place, what we are really after in life, all of us, I think, is an opportunity to provide for ourselves, seek justice for others, and live in peaceful coexistence within the world around us — at least that’s what the teachers of the world great religions offer us. The passage calls us to be contemplatives, to think about our lives and our community and reflect on where we are and where we are going. THAT is what Lent is all about.
How does a longing for possessions get in the way of our being available to help others? Jesus is hungry. He has a longing for some ‘thing’ and strives to satisfy the longing but rather responds with the words, “Man does not live by bread alone.” We need more than ‘things’ to satisfy our inner hunger. Reflect on that for a while these forty days. Unlike what the Verizon commercial says, bigger is not always better.
How does power keep us from serving others? How often have we seen great powerful people end up using that power to harm, to oppress, and to keep people from exercising their freedoms? Power is a dangerous thing. Jesus had it and used it to transform the world by empowering people, compassionately healing hearts, and striving for wholeness. Power inappropriately used is bullying and there is an epidemic of it. You don’t have to be a Hitler to oppress people; you can be a playground bully or a corporate raider.
The great religious teachers of the world have cast off any attention being drawn to themselves and have sought only to have attention drawn to the Holy and Sacred. Prestige calls attention to ones’ self and Ash Wednesday and Lent are about humbling oneself before all that is good and right and just in the world around us.
Henri Nouwen said, in his book The Selfless Way of Christ, “Our true challenge is to return to the center, to the heart, and to find there the gentle voice that speaks to us and affirms us in a way no human voice ever could. The basis of all ministry is the experience of God’s unlimited and un-limiting acceptance of us as beloved children, an acceptance so full, so total, and all-embracing, that it sets us free from our compulsion to be seen, praised, and admired and frees us for … the road of service.”
We are accepted by all that is good and right and through some time of intentional self-reflection can also consider how possessions, power, and prestige might or might not block us from being better members of the community of faith which we call our own.
We are on a journey and Lent is a good time to make that self-assessment.