Lent 1 March 1, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell

LENT 1  Year A

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

Lent is a time for getting down

to the bare bones of things.

 

And so our liturgy

is stripped to the bone:

 

A simple wooden processional cross.

 

A font that baptism’s waters once overflowed –

now empty, dry.

 

And near the font, where

Easter’s Paschal candle

and the urn of

gold-gleaming baptismal oil resided –

emptiness.

 

Near the altar bare branches form

a stark tracery of the floral abundance

they replace

and foretell.

 

Our music settings are simplified . . .

 

 

We’ve buried the word we love to say,

that resurrection word . . .

the one that begins with A,

or sometimes H . . .

(depending on which spelling you use,)

and ends with “yah”

 

and there is silence.

 

You could almost say

Easter has departed this space

for a time . . .

 

except, of course,

that the living Word of God

still speaks to us here,

and the Body and Blood of Christ

still feed us here,

and we, the Assembly, still gather here,

the living Body of the Risen Christ.

 

But in these Lenten liturgies

we deliberately create

a small, spare wilderness,

an emptiness,

an absence,

a space of sparseness,

in which there is little

to distract us from encounter

with God.

 

 

For Lent is a time

of reckoning:

of self-examination

that cuts to the bone –

 

Who am I?

Who have I been?

Who does God desire me to become?

 

And what does it mean to follow Jesus

in all my being and becoming?

 

Most of the time

our over-stuffed lives provide

convenient refuge from these questions . . .

 

Even as we ruefully acknowledge

the unhealth

of our calendar- and device-

and social media-driven existence,

 

isn’t it sometimes a secret relief

that there is

little space,

little silence,

little time,

to experience the emptiness

that brings us face to face

with ourselves

and the living God?

 

Sometimes life events force us

into that uncomfortable emptiness,

ready or not.

Lent dares us

to choose that emptiness,

to enter willingly into that stillness.

to welcome that space

once a year . . .

for 40 days,

 

to fast from whatever serves

to distract us

from getting real

with ourselves and God.

Who am I?

Who have I been?

Who does God desire me to become?

 

And what does it mean to follow Jesus

in all my being and becoming?

 

 

Seven weeks ago,

on the First Sunday after the Epiphany,

we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism,

heard God lay claim on Jesus:

 

“This is my Son, the Beloved,

with whom I am well pleased.”

 

What did Jesus know about himself,

how did he understand himself

before those words were spoken . . .

and after . . .

 

 

As a boy, growing up in a small,

impoverished village,

as a man, a worker in wood and stone,

who loved a good dinner with friends,

as a Jew, practicing his religion?

 

Did he gradually awaken

to the divinity within?

 

Did God’s words at his baptism

open his mind and heart

to the full realization of it?

 

Next stop,

the wilderness,

 

like the mountaintop

of last Sunday’s Transfiguration,

a liminal place,

a thin place,

 

where, separated from the

familiar surroundings

and activities of everyday life,

one is likely to notice

the living God

or

the lurking tempter.

 

And the voice of the tempter that says,

“Quick, let me fill that void

with that which is meaningless.”

 

 

In the wilderness,

the austere, beautiful, desolate Judean desert

a carpenter-stone mason from Nazareth

wrestled with the mystery of his life . . .

 

and wrestled with the whispering, probing tempter

who would steal his life,

divert him from God’s purpose

his purpose,

and

lead him down the garden path

to ruin.

 

For what would it profit a man,

the tempter might have said,

to be the Son of God,

if he failed to use it

to his own advantage . . .

to satisfy his every hunger,

to exploit the power that came

with the title.

 

In the dark of night,

when the only glimmer of light

came from the cold stars high above,

was Jesus shaken by the weight

of what God

had laid upon him?

 

Were these his questions, too?

 

Who am I?

Who have I been?

Who does God desire me to become?

And what does it mean

in all my being and becoming

that I am God’s Beloved,

God’s Son?

 

For the Spirit had led Jesus

to the wilderness within,

where the struggle

with self and tempter and God

takes place.

 

And Jesus,

the Son of God

who was also human as we are,

did not run for his life

from the struggle,

 

back home to Nazareth,

to family, friends, food and drink,

work and play –

to anything that might fill that void.

 

He stayed for his life,

 

waiting on God in the wilderness,

calmly quoting Scripture

to the increasingly exasperated tempter,

who, in desperation,

quoted Scripture in return:

“he will command his angels concerning you . . .

on their hands they will bear you up.”

 

 

But,

to no avail,

and so the tempter

gave it up and “left him” . . .

 

When Jesus returned from the wilderness,

he was intent on the mission of God’s kingdom,

willing to give himself completely

for its fulfillment,

even if he was not yet aware

of the totality of self-emptying

that would require.

 

Lent invites us

to stop

running for our lives

running through our lives,

to be quiet

and still

and empty . . .

 

to sojourn in the austere beauty

of Lent’s wilderness

where there is nothing to distract

us from the encounter

with ourselves.

 

And, of course, the tempter,

who may sneak in as well,

ready to offer all kinds of trinkets

to fill up the emptiness . . .

 

 

But in this wilderness place

of self-examination

God is there already,

God who waits for no particular time

but is always with us,

for with God

now is the opportune time,

now is the day of salvation.

 

God who knows our weaknesses,

and says

“You are my Children, my Beloved . . .

You are of great worth to me,

great value,

and I love you.”

 

And when we see with sorrow

how we have

dishonored that worth,

diminished that value,

and rejected that love –

 

We repent.

 

We repent and discover the treasure

that is greater than the glory

of anything the tempter may offer,

 

greater than

all the kingdoms of the world:

God’s compassion and forgiveness.

 

For God is mighty to save.

 

Enticements and temptations

are revealed for what they are,

their worthlessness apparent

in the light of God’s love.

 

 

There is a necessary solitariness

to our keeping of Lent,

like the wilderness solitude of Jesus,

 

but it is an aloneness

in community and communion with others.

 

We journey through Lent together,

the whole Church,

gathered around Jesus,

just as the first disciples journeyed

with Jesus

from the mountain of transfiguration

to Jerusalem and the cross . . .

and beyond, to resurrection.

 

The destination of our pilgrimage:

the Great Vigil of Easter,

our feast of joy and delight,

of transformation

and new life in Christ . . .

 

 

When our ornate Ethiopian cross

is dangled with signs of resurrection,

our new Paschal Candle burns bright

in our midst

 

when our Font spills over once again

with baptismal water,

and fresh Chrism glows golden again

in its urn –

 

When flowers explode into fragrant blossom

all over the place . . .

 

When voices and instruments

make extravagant melody . . .

 

When we, God’s renewed and rejoicing people,

bring new members into the Church,

the Body of the Risen Christ,

through the waters of

the over-brimming font.

 

Today

we will enroll

James

as a candidate for Holy Baptism

at the Easter Vigil:

 

A Christian in the making he is,

entering his final period of preparation,

soon to be our brother in Christ.

 

God is about to lay new claim on him.

 

He is an explorer, James is,

embarking on the great adventure

that is life in Christ.

 

A sign among us

of the movement of God’s Spirit

ever renewing the Church.

 

A reminder to us

of our own baptism.

 

An encouragement for us

as we journey with and encourage him.

 

With us,

he’ll be asking Lent’s wilderness questions:

Who am I?

Who have I been?

Who does God desire me to become?

 

And what does it mean

in all our being and becoming,

to be God’s beloved children,

sisters, brothers, siblings

of God’s beloved Son?

 

When James makes his baptismal covenant,

we’ll be renewing our own.

 

 

Together with him, and

with Christians around the world,

we will commit and recommit ourselves

to being an Easter people:

sisters, brothers, siblings of the Risen Christ –

 

intent on the mission of God’s Kingdom:

willing to give ourselves completely

for its fulfillment,

no matter what that giving may require.

 

 

Lent is a time for getting down

to the bare bones of things.

 

Therefore, let us celebrate the Feast.

 

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