Oh my goodness, I love preaching in Lent. I know that sounds weird, but I love just having the freedom to sit with the imperfections of who I am, knowing God is right there with me. Here is today’s sermon!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 14, 2016
Be In The Wilderness
I have a strange confession to make: When I was younger, I was always a little bit jealous of my Catholic friends who “got” to give something up for Lent.
What can I say? I was a born and raised Protestant; the rituals and customs of the Catholic Church were shrouded in mystery for me. My church was so boring; sure, the color of the paraments changed to purple for the Lenten season, but other than that it was business as usual.
(Although I am sure if I was paying closer attention to my pastor, AKA MY MOTHER, there probably was more mention of the Lenten season than I can remember.)
As Protestant, we did not have to give anything up. We were not prohibited from eating meat on Fridays. In fact, I remember one Friday night during Lent when I was in high school; I was at a party and there was a huge spread of Mexican food. While I chowed down on my beef tacos, a Catholic friend of mine stared at the clock and waited for it to hit midnight so it was technically Saturday and she could eat meat. And instead of enjoying not only my tacos, but also my religious tradition that allowed me to enjoy those tacos whenever I wanted, I found myself increasingly envious of my friends that went to churches that made them make such important sacrifices.
(I mean, really, when you are 16, tacos are a really important sacrifice.)
Over the years, however – through both my religious education and my own faith journey – I have learned several things about Lent.
First of all, Lent is actually about more than waiting until 12AM on a Saturday morning to eat beef tacos.
Okay, that one was kind of an easy one.
Second of all, Lent – and the practice of giving something up for Lent or abstaining from meat or alcohol on Fridays – is not just a Catholic thing. Anyone who professes a faith in the Risen Christ and who follows the Christian liturgical year has the opportunity to observe the Lenten season, the 40 day period before Easter, every year. In fact, the Lenten season can be a wonderful reminder to all of us of the sacrifice that Jesus made, of the strength that God gives to us and of the way that Christianity is not just about belief, but also about action as well. We make sacrifices because it is a tangible way to express our faith.
And finally – and, truth be told, this is the one that I am still wrestling with – when we give something up for Lent (or we take something on or we otherwise change something about how we routinely live our lives) we are not doing it so we can complain about it for 40 days, so we can make a big deal about it or so everyone notices and knows what we are doing. We are not doing it so we can get religious credit or so we can make our churches look more spiritually badass.
In fact, I think a lot of Protestant churches moved away from the practice of giving something up for Lent for that very reason. It can become a meaningless ritual; a rule people follow only because they feel guilty not following it.
But that is not why we observe the Lenten season; we observe the Lenten season because it because it gives us the chance to step outside of our day to day existence and look deeply at the lives we are leading and the choice we are making. It grants us the opportunity to reflect on where and how God fits into our lives and the ways that our faith could grow and be strengthened. It makes us think about the sacrifice that Jesus made; and not in a negative, “you have sinned and will never be worthy and therefore must be miserable in your sacrifice for 40 days” kind of way. Lent makes us think about the sacrifice that Jesus made in a “grace-filled, live giving, ‘there is light at the end of this 40 day tunnel,’ guaranteed forgiveness kind of way”.
We go into the Lenten season knowing that it will end with an Easter morning. We make sacrifices knowing that resurrection is coming. We do the hard work that is necessary to better ourselves knowing that, even in our darkest moments, God’s light will still shine.
This is what Lent can be for us, as people of faith, as followers of Christ and as believers of the resurrection. This is what Lent can be for people like me, very happy in my Protestantism, but also curious about some of the rituals of the higher churches.
This morning we heard the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. The Gospel of Luke records that Jesus was led to the wilderness by the spirit and tempted by the devil for 40 days. This story is a powerful witness to Jesus’ strength and deep faith. In this narrative Jesus shows us how to believe in God, how to lean on God for strength, hope and courage during a time of great need and how to remain steadfast in your faith, even when the world around you is not making it easy.
This story reminds us that our journeys through life and faith are not always going to be easy. In the same way that Jesus spent time in the wilderness – isolated, tempted, famished and alone – so do we. In fact, some of us might be there right now.
The beautiful thing about our faith, though, is that it is okay for us to be in the wilderness. We can stay there as long as we need to be.
When I was younger, my mom used to make us all clean before the cleaning lady came every week. At the time, I never really understood the point of the whole thing. Of course, the older I got, the more I understood; sometimes it is necessary to tidy up before someone can come in and do a really deep cleaning.
The good news is that this is not how church works. You can come to church as the most unapologetically, authentically, messed-up version of yourself. You do not have to pretend that you are better than you are when you are here. Perfection is highly overrated and imperfection is a much more realistic sign of grace. You can be in the wilderness and let yourself stay there until you are ready for God to lead you out. This is the good news that brings us new life; this is what is means to live on this side of the resurrection.
Lent is about allowing yourself to be in that wilderness. Now, the thing about our faith – and who we are as human beings – is that this will look different for each one of us. For some of us, being in the wilderness might mean working through something that we are already going through, something that we are struggling with; whether it be a personal struggle, an emotional struggle, a physical or health struggle, a financial struggle or professional struggle. For some of us, being in the wilderness might mean challenging ourselves and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones. For some of us, being in the wilderness might mean trying something new or setting a different goal. For some of us, being in the wilderness might mean giving something up so that we have a tangible reminder, every single day, of this journey that we are one to the resurrection.
Scripture records that when Jesus was in the wilderness, he was tempted by the devil. The devil tried to get Jesus to worship him. The devil taunted Jesus, saying things like like, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread,” when Jesus had nothing to eat and was famished. The devil tortured Jesus, putting him on the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and saying, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here.”
And yet Jesus remained steadfast. Jesus said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus never turned away from God. Jesus passed every test, every temptation. Jesus made it through the wilderness.
And so will we.
The manageable piece of the Lenten season is that there is an end in sight. Lent lasts for 40 days and at the end of your journey, there is resurrection. There are Easter lilies and brass ensembles and baskets filled with candy; all profound reminders of the bold and radical truth that God’s love always wins. We will make it through the wilderness, my friends. This is guaranteed to us through scripture.
The best advice that I can give you today is to simply let yourself be in the wilderness during this Lenten season. Do not rush yourself out of it. Sit in the discomfort of what that might mean in your life. Look into a mirror and stare deeply at the reflection that you see. Use this Lenten season as an opportunity to think about who you are, who you want to be and who God is calling you to be.
But let God accompany you on this journey. The worst part about being in the wilderness is that it can feel very lonely; but, friends it does not have to. God was with Jesus in the wilderness and God is with us as well.
So whether you give something up or take on a practice or work on something you are struggling with in your life – may you find God in the wilderness.
Blessings in your Lenten season. May it be for you exactly what you need it to be. May your journey to the cross filled with hope, strength, love and courage. And may you find your own resurrection on Easter morning.
Thanks be to God!