First Sunday in Lent
LUKE 4:1-13 (see below)
(some of this material was previously used here)
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Today we begin a journey together. Today we look toward Resurrection Sunday, but we do not do so with the stare of triumph and the voice of the victory song. No, we begin this journey with a serious and steady inward gaze at the state of our own heart. Lent calls us to stare without flinching into the depth of our soul, seeing what really resides there.
And when we look, what do we find? Often we find sloth and sin and the triumph of the false-self. Often we find in ourselves those things we like least about who we are. Often we see those things we wish were gone from us.
THE LENTEN JOURNEY
This means a heaviness resides in LENT. This means LENT comes to us with the heaviness of the carried cross. LENT, a word which denotes springtime, can be viewed therefore as a season of spiritual spring-cleaning. It is a season for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with the Christ, and our service to him.
If we seriously pay heed to the forty days of LENT, therefore, we will find ourselves patterned after Jesus who, as presented in today’s text, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty-days of fasting and temptation prior to the onset of his public ministry.
That is, Jesus in the desert leads us to a pattern that we ourselves must repeat. Jesus in the desert leads us to a time of serious heart-preparation. And, Jesus in the desert leads us through a time of personal soul-searching and an honest, clear-eyed assessment of the state of our relationship with the GOD who is there, and who is not silent. Here, in the desert of our own hearts, Lent offers us a season to renew our practices of Christ-likeness.
LENT, therefore, reminds us that we are not our own, that we were bought with a price and that we are called to glorify GOD with our bodies and with our lives.
LENT reminds us that we are not to become weary in well-doing, and that we will reap the the peaceful fruit of righteousness if we do not faint.
LENT reminds us to keep our eyes on the Christ, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, and that we are to do likewise.
LENT reminds us that we must run this race with endurance and patience, looking to the one who is the author and finisher of our faith.
And LENT reminds us that we can do all things, but only through the Christ who strengthens us.
THE LENTEN CHALLENGE
How, then, do we make a good LENT? How do we do this serious heart-preparation and this clear-eyed assessment?
The traditional practices associated with the Lenten season are
the denial of the self,
sharing our resources with the other,
and learning a simplicity of life.
These practices cause an ancient wisdom to come rushing toward us, a wisdom that enables us to remove the emphasis from the self and place it where it actually belongs, on the Christ and on the other.
In short, LENT is about self-sacrifice and the way of the cross, frequent words addressed to the Christian believer. But still, this is hardly a message most of us would naturally embrace because those false internal scripts running by habit inside our hearts defend the false-selves we have constructed for our own ego protection. That is, we are afraid to let go of this false-self, this selfishly driven ego. We are afraid to discover just who it really is that inhabits our own hearts and minds.
What should we do? How do we find victory and overcome this false-self? How is it defeated, or better said, how is it healed? For, only in this healing will we discover the true person inside whom GOD desires to bless, and to use to bless others.
There is really only one reliable way to move toward the healing here described, a healing that is a life-time in the making. We must decidedly follow Jesus into the solitude of the desert so as to be alone with GOD and with self. This journey is exceedingly difficult in our world because we are experts at distracting ourselves to death (with apologies to Neil Postman).
We heap to ourselves things and gadgets and time-consuming trinkets which enable us to passively marvel at the world without an inward thought! I’ve often said from this pulpit how I dread the day I am asked by the Almighty how I used this great and most precious gift given to me -- my life. And I have to say, “Well...I watched TV...”
Again, what should we do? and What does it mean to follow Jesus into the desert? Clearly, the key is aloneness, a solitude of heart and reality. We must somehow find ourselves alone and in silence. We must somehow overcome distraction. We must somehow overcome the desire for ego-protection and selfish-preservation.
CLEARING SPACE IN OUR LIVES FOR GOD
What we are describing here is nothing less than true prayer, which occurs only at the impulse of divine grace. GOD enables us to pray.
True prayer is the clearing space in our lives so that we might focus on GOD without distraction. And I grieve over what I am about to share with you, but the solitude and silence I am here describing takes chunks of time. A five-minute quiet-time before the LORD has value, but it cannot -- apart from a direct work of grace -- bring us the healing and Christ-likeness that GOD desires for us and that we desire for ourselves.
I’m sorry, but this is the truth.
However, let us assume we have said yes to the impulse of GOD’s grace, and we have found time for the Almighty. This means that we have also overcome the temptation to run, the temptation to put anything and everything between us our false-self. OK, what then?
As we begin the practice of quietness and solitude, and then each time we set aside ourselves before the LORD, we begin by offering a simple request for healing and for a renewal of ourselves. Something alone the lines of the ancient Jesus prayer I have found very helpful:
LORD Jesus Christ,
Son of the Living GOD,Have Mercy on Me a Sinner
We then sit in quietness and silence, and suddenly and inevitably we will be confronted with the false-self. Scenarios and stories will come in the flash of the emotions that surround these seductive daily life-events:
- Someone hurt us -- we dream how we’ll get them back.
- Someone excels us -- we plan how we’ll try harder and show them.
- Someone we love doesn’t love us -- we despair; we are lost.
- Old temptation scripts come to us; those things we grasp to find comfort and courage -- we remember them with shame or desire or plans...
These are the elements of the false-self, and the longer we sit the more these patterns emerge. But, unless we are able to recognize them for what they are -- an insidious encrustment hiding our true-selves -- we will merely find these musings business as usual, even in our quiet time, and we will play along.
Obviously, there is nothing magical about the Jesus prayer, but as those false scripts emerge, breaking apart and rising before our mind, and as we are confronted with the depth of our own...should I say it...our own depravity, the encounter will increasingly call forth from us the need for forgiveness and cleansing. Here is the value of this ancient prayer.
It is also important to say that we should expect nothing much more to happen in this solitude. No voices, no visions, no revelations. Just more and more ego-junk surfacing before us. On occasion the LORD will offer insight or hope, but this is not the goal. Instead, most of the time it is a choice of quietness and a constant movement of heart toward a focus on the LORD. But, over time, as we practice this quiet focus day-in and day-out something happens that we discover only as we look back. We begin to notice something. We begin to see an unusual response to the same tired, old, challenges and problems, a more Christ-like response. And we are amazed. We become thankful.
Remember, we have no control over what has gone before, or what will come. This present is the moment we have, and by GOD’s grace we have what we need to find healing and wholeness and humanness.
So, here’s the question: What better time to begin this journey, or a journey renewal, than the Lenten season? What better time to find our way to the LORD’s love and healing than this time set aside in the church for just such a journey?
May GOD’s grace enable us to offer him the focus of desert silence and aloneness. May GOD’s grace empower us to practice without fear the facing of our false-selves. May GOD’s grace bring to us heart-healing and a daily Christ-likeness.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.