Back To Basics

This is the day that the Lord has made and raise your hand if you’re ready for spring!

Here is this morning’s sermon!


Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Back To Basics

When I was in high school I remember going to a party on a Friday night during Lent.  There was a ton of food, including a table filled with all of the fixings for tacos.  At one point during the party I walked downstairs and saw a friend of mine holding a plate full of food and staring at a clock on the wall.  She wasn’t eating; she was just staring.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“Waiting for midnight,” she answered, as if I was supposed to know what that meant, without looking away from the clock.

The second hand ticked around and around until the clock finally struck midnight.

“Ahhhhh, FINALLY!” my friend yelled as she grabbed her fork and started shoveling food into her mouth.  “I cannot believe they served tacos on a Friday night during Lent!  What were they thinking?” she mumbled in between bites.

Suddenly the pieces started to come together for me.  She was Catholic; Catholics were not supposed to eat meat on Friday nights; there was meat in the tacos.  But because the clock had struck midnight, TECHNICALLY it was no longer Friday and she was free to eat as much meat as she would like.

A Lenten loophole – clever!

I am sure there are plenty of former Catholics that can appreciate my friend’s Friday night Lenten predicament.

The season of Lent has meant and continues to mean something different for different religious traditions.  Here are some of the Lenten rituals I have observed and learned about over the years.

No meat on a Fridays.

Giving something up.

(In the earliest centuries) one-meal-a-day fasting.

Omission of the word (shh!) “Alleluia” during mass and worship services.

Purple vestments and paraments during worship.

Abstaining from meat, fish, eggs and ‘lacticinia’.

Taking something on, whether it be trying to establish a new habit, reading through a Lenten devotional or working on an outreach project.

Baptism and Catholic Catechism.

A focus on the penitential nature of the season, with a renewed commitment to meditation and confession.

In the past, Protestants have not typically observed Lent using traditional rituals.  Growing up, I remember acknowledging the season with liturgical colors, scriptures and worship music, but was never encouraged to give anything up or told that I could or could not eat certain foods on certain days.  In a way I was almost jealous of my Catholic friends – in my adolescent mind, the rituals that they took part in just made Catholicism seem a lot cooler than Protestantism.

We are, however, starting to see a shift; more and more Protestants are craving some sort of intentional acknowledgment of the Lenten season.

It is fitting that we continue our Lenten journey this Sunday morning by recalling the story of Jesus in the wilderness.  While the earliest celebrations of Lent involved of a two or three day fast, these days most churches acknowledge a forty-day Lenten season that extends from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (excluding Sundays).  These forty days remind us of the forty-day period that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil.  Luke the Evangelist, records in his Gospel:

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. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”[1]

There is something so telling about the fact that Jesus was driven alone into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  He was not living within the comforts of civilization; he was not standing on a crowded and hectic city street or surrounded by the support of his family, friends and community.  He was alone in the wilderness with only the basic necessities to sustain his life; he was by himself with only the Holy Spirit to sustain his strength and his faith.

Jesus could not seek safety in an extravagant temple or take part in a religious ritual in order to resist the devil.  He was alone in the wilderness with only the Holy Spirit to give him strength.

Have you ever felt as though you were alone in the wilderness?  Did you feel as though you were completely alone?  Or did you feel as though the Holy Spirit was giving you strength?

The Gospel of Luke is structured in a way that puts an emphasis on the presence of the Holy Spirit.  This story immediately follows the story of Jesus’ baptism, where the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove as Jesus prayed and the heaven was opened.  The Holy Spirit stayed with Jesus throughout his time in the wilderness and then was with him as he returned to Galilee and began his ministry.

And now we recollect this story at the beginning of our own forty-day journey through Lent, a journey where we, too, may turn to the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance.

I read something this week that said, “Lent asks us to consider what it means for us to live out the faith that we hold in our hearts.”[2]

There is a distinct difference between living out our religion and living out our faith.

If you think about it, the rituals and the customs of Lent – the dietary restrictions, the penitence and the call to “give something up” – have absolutely nothing to do with our faith, simply our religion.  Religion is something that we, as human beings, have created and it is something that has evolved over time.  These rituals and traditions (and the decision to take part in them or not take part in them) have been developed and evolved by people.

Faith, on the other hand, is something that is inside each one of us.  Faith is something that is unique to every person.  Faith is a personal expression of an individual’s relationship with God.  Faith is what carries through those moments when we feel alone in the wilderness.

I think we are starting to see more people acknowledge Lent because of their faith and not because of their religion.

At a time when mainline Protestant churches are declining at rapid rates, the observance of this ancient and antiquated season appears to be on the rise.  I believe that Protestants, too, want to connect to God and engage their faith throughout the forty days of Lent.  I think perhaps the world has gotten so crazy that more people are starting to think that Lent might give them an opportunity to pause and regain some balance in their lives again.

Each one of us walks into this Lenten season from a different place, but we all come ready and wanting to connect to God and to find deeper meaning in our lives.  We all come to get back to the basics of who we are, both as individuals and as people of faith.  We all come to sit in the quiet and in the emptiness of the wilderness.  We all come seeking strength from the Holy Spirit.

This morning’s Epistle comes from Paul’s letter to the Roman people.  Paul writes:

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

While Paul was not talking about Lent or Easter when he wrote this letter, in a way it does speak beautifully to the notion that everyone can find meaning during the forty days of Lent.  “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” Paul said, but there is also no distinction between Catholic and Protestant, Baptist and UCC, Methodist and Lutheran, old and young, recent convert and lifetime believer, spiritual and religious.  The door is open to all who seek God’s guidance and strength.  Lent is a journey for all to take.

We may not get driven into the wilderness for the next forty days, but I do think we have a lot to learn from Jesus’ time there.

Throughout this Lenten season, I would encourage all of you to go back to basics, to think about who you as a child of God and a person of faith and to strengthen your spirituality.  Take part in rituals and customs, but think first about why you are doing them and how they will draw you closer to God.  Do not be afraid to journey into the wilderness, to sit with the discomfort of what it means to be tempted.  Do not fear weakness or loneliness, but seek strength and comfort from the Holy Spirit.  Pause often over these next forty days – walk humbly, gracefully and prayerfully.  Breathe often.  Be intentional in your actions.  Live simply.  Do not look back at traditions of the past, but forward to what will feed you in the present.  Open your eyes and see this Lenten season as an opportunity to regain your balance before Easter.

Blessings through your Lenten season.

Thanks be to God!  Amen.

[1] Luke 4:1-4, NRSV
[2] Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Page 39

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