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First Sunday in Lent | Rev. Vicki Kemper
It is no wonder we are tempted to run away from Lent, when it begins with stories like this: Forty days in the wilderness, eating nothing, tortured by temptation, weakened and famished but ultimately resistant and true.
Here we go, this common understanding tells us: It’s time to follow Jesus to the cross. If Jesus did it, you should too. Yes, Jesus’ 40 days was simply an expression meaning “a long time,” but we’ll make it a season of 40 actual days, not counting Sundays. Jesus went without food, so we’ll also commit ourselves to doing without; we’ll fast, we’ll give—hey, that’s it: we’ll give something up!—we’ll deny ourselves, we’ll confess our sins, repent, and adopt some sort of spiritual discipline, all in the hopes of becoming better people, all the more aware of how far we fall short.
You’d think our salvation was up to us. You’d think spiritual transformation is something we control. You might think Lent is nothing more than the Christian version of New Year’s resolutions.
You might even think the wilderness is a bad place to be, or that life is a series of temptations, that we’ll be judged on how well we resist them.
You might think the Christian life is all about what we do and don’t do, a grand test, a matter of great earnestness and dull piety. In the worst-case scenario, you might even think God wants us to suffer.
As I said, it is no wonder we run from Lent. It’s no wonder we find it hard to trust God. It’s no wonder we resist Jesus himself. It’s no wonder we forget Jesus’ good news of a God who is head-over-heels in love with us, news of extravagant mercy, economic justice, spiritual peace, and life abundant.
Given the ways of this world, it’s no wonder we forget about God. Given the ways of this world, it’s no wonder we can hardly imagine the kind of love God has for us. Given the world’s injustice and our own brokenness, it’s no wonder we’re much harder on ourselves—and on each other—than God could ever dream of being.
Given all that, it’s no wonder we succumb to the same temptations that Jesus resisted.
We believe the lie that we do not have enough—and so we worry and hoard; we work ourselves to the bone so that we can get more; we consider ourselves self-made people; we forget about the poor, the hungry, and the homeless.
We believe the lie that we ourselves are not enough, that we are not worthy of love—and so we strive for power; we hold on to privilege; we abide inequality and injustice; we spend and work and diet and dress to impress; we buy into the deceit that success is about having more and doing more. And we succumb to the myth that we must earn love and success by being good enough, beautiful enough, hard-working enough, agreeable enough, likable enough, thin enough, cool enough, wealthy enough, tough enough, smart enough, relevant enough, self-sacrificing enough, even faithful enough.
And finally, we believe the lie that we can cheat death—and so we do all we can to deny it, delay it, and protect ourselves from it, even as we let our fear of death rob us of life.
All of those lies are real, all of them are powerful, and all of us struggle against them much of the time.
But I don’t believe they should define our lives or our faith. I don’t believe they should shape our reality. And I don’t believe resisting temptation was what Jesus’ time in the wilderness was about, ultimately.
Sure, he would have been weak after not eating for a long time. Certainly, he would have been vulnerable to all manner of temptation. But surely that is not the point!
I believe Jesus went to the wilderness to be with God.
Yes, of course, he was famished. But he was also rooted in reality, steeped in the Spirit, practiced in prayer, lost in love, and grounded in God.
And that is the wilderness experience to which Lent calls each of us: to give up our striving and let go of our guilt and shame. To live under God’s mercy and claim the Spirit’s power. To surrender to God’s love, and to ground our lives fully and joyfully in God, understanding that God is in all and for all, that God is the very ground of our being.
Lent invites us to give ourselves over to the journey. To honor our quest for meaning. To heed the wonder of creation, the frailty of humanity, the potential of dust and the holiness of dirt. To search for God and grope for God, to find God and fall in love—and never be the same.
Lent is not meant to be a joyless slog to the cross, but a recharging and deeper grounding of a love-fueled revolution that is sure to get us in big trouble with the powers that be.
Yes, when we are grounded in God we are better equipped to resist temptation—but I wonder if that is not simply an outward manifestation of an inner transformation. When we are grounded in God—through prayer, attention, contemplation, and the humble intention of following Jesus—we are more fully ourselves, the God-partners and love-instruments God created us to be.
When we are grounded in God we will, perhaps, be less likely to fall prey to the lies of empire. We, like Jesus, will become less concerned with getting enough and more focused on giving enough. Where others see only loaves and fishes, we will find a feast. We will strive not to get power but to share it. While others base their lives on merit and argue about what is fair, we will follow Jesus and ground ourselves in the God-reality of gratuitous favor and affirmative justice for all. Instead of trying madly to deny death, we will ground ourselves in the new, abundant life that God promises and delivers.
In God we live and move and have our being.
In God we live and move and search and grope.
In God we live and move and have enough.
In God we live and move and know ourselves to be enough.
In God we live and move and know God in all and through all.
In God we live and move and know healing and wholeness.
In God we live and move and know life everlasting here and now.
In God we live and move; we get lost and then found.
In God we live and move; in God we receive love and love in return.
In God we live and move and love.
In God we live and move and are overcome with joy.
Thanks be to the Ground and Source of All That Is.