2/22/2015 First Sunday in Lent The text for today is Mark 1:9-15.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The season of Lent began Wednesday, and can you believe all the hype? Radio stations started playing all the Lent carols weeks ago and I’m so sick of them by now! Entire aisles in the Wal-Mart stores have been selling all the Lent decorations at sale prices since the Epiphany! And the kids won’t stop bugging me to go and visit Lenty Claus at the mall, dressed in his purple suit and handing out ash to all the repentant girls and boys.
The commercialization of Lent has got to stop. This is supposed to be a sacred time of preparation and confession, drawing us closer to God as we look forward to Easter and the celebration of resurrection and new birth. And now our schools are cancelling their Lent Breaks, calling them instead some generic term like “Spring Break” or something. I mean, really! We all know that people take that week in order to refocus on the spiritual disciplines, fasting, praying the daily office, and deep study of scripture. Let’s just call it what it is.
It just seems like this time of year is so frantic, all the Lent parties to go to, all the Lent concerts and special events. How are we ever going to get to them all? I’m not even going to have time to go out and buy any new Lent clothes. We also need a new sprig of hyssop to hang in the front hallway. And when are we going to find time to decorate our Lenten Tree? We’re never going to have the house ready for the Holy Week Homes Tour!
Join me in decrying the secularization of Lent! Remember the rationale for the period of time. This year, let’s not give in to the consumeristic pressure we always feel, but rather remember the Lents of days gone by, when times were simpler. Consider home-made Lent cards instead of store-bought gifts. Do you really need to make that fourth dozen of Tenebrae cookies, or will three dozen suffice? Remember, Lent isn’t Lent until it happens in your heart.
What I just read was a rather odd piece that Andy Bryan who is a minister in Springfield, Missouri placed on his blog, Enter the Rainbow. If you are like me, then what you just heard makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s like a slap in the face when it comes to Lent. For let’s face it, we don’t treat Lent like Advent. Lent is a dark time. It is a time when we come face to face with the reality that we are sinful creatures. We pray prayers of confession and ask for forgiveness. We dive into spiritual practices and give stuff up or add spiritual stuff to our lives. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to the secular world, which would have us rather consume than give anything up. It seems that the world around us loves celebrating a birth but when it comes to death and resurrection, well we’ll just call it February. For the world doesn’t want to do what we are called to do for these 40 days. It would rather have us pay attention to college basketball, or to the Easter bunny and Easter baskets. Spending time in preparation in order to get ready to accept once again the gift of Christ’s death and resurrection just isn’t appealing to the world. So the world tempts us to push Lent aside, to forget about the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus, and go directly to the celebration of Easter.
Now when it comes to dealing with temptations, and going for the crown without the cross, there is no one better at it than Jesus. Jesus’ first day on the job begins as he is driven out into the wilderness and struggles to make the right choices as he is tempted by Satan for 40 days. Jesus’ time in the wilderness is our model for Lent. As with Jesus, Lent is a span of forty days of preparing, reflecting, praying, readying ourselves, knowing the hard path that comes and anticipating the joyous Easter celebration that follows. In our hurried world, we may be tempted to use Lent as nothing more than a countdown to Easter. But if we give in to this temptation, then we will miss the opportunity of experiencing the depth of God’s love for us shown by the suffering and death of his beloved son as well as skip over the process of looking inside of ourselves, and letting God remake us. We will miss out on the blessing that is Lent. So let us not give in to the temptation. For, temptation blinds us to other possibilities and has us looking at the season as nothing more than sack cloth and ashes.
The story of the businessman who is driving home from work one day and sees a Little League game in progress says it well. He decides to stop and watch. He sits down on the bleachers and asks one of the players, “What’s the score?” “We’re behind 14 to nothing,” the child answers with a smile. “Really,” the man responds. “I have to say you don’t look very discouraged.” “Discouraged?” the boy asks with a puzzled look on his face. “Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t been up to bat yet.”
When we are tempted to give up Lent we limit the possibilities and Lent can turn us into pessimists. But Jesus shows us a better way. Jesus stands fast when tempted to put aside his Father’s wishes and he confidently takes on the challenges he faces as he is driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit for forty days to slug it out on his own. “No one will know.” “No one will blame you in your condition.” “Just this one time, it can’t hurt.” Like a mosquito buzzing in your ear, temptation calls to him but Jesus pushes these thoughts away and holds tightly to his purpose and his faith.
But we are not Jesus. When it comes to taking up the cross, doing God’s will and even keeping the season of Lent, temptation usually wins. We may have the power Christ had to say no, but it’s hard to pull out those cards in the moment. Jesus knows this so he teaches us to pray, “lead us not into temptation.” For when we are led into temptation, temptation usually wins.
We are not Jesus. If we were, we would not need the redemption and forgiveness of God. We would not give in to sin and the darkness it can cause in our lives, in our relationships, in our world. But we are weak, and need the gift of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. So let us follow Jesus’ lead, knowing that we can never follow him perfectly. And let us keep the season of Lent by giving thanks to God that Jesus was led into temptation to show us the way out. May we not be tempted to bypass Lent for Lent is about the cross, and through the cross of Christ we are saved. Focusing on Christ and what he endures for us, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.