Last year, I failed at my Lenten practice.
I am actually pretty good in the mornings. I just really hate getting out of my bed, so I end up staying there long after my alarm. So, last year, I made it my practice to get up at 6:30 every morning.
I lasted a week. It didn’t help that Marc and I like watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report in bed. Sometimes I slept through them, most of the time I stayed awake.
When I finally declared my failure to keep my Lenten discipline on facebook, my preacher cousin responded, “Maybe there is something holy about failing at your Lenten practice. You are learning your inadequacy to do anything without God.”
I was happy to accept that. It was certainly a better conclusion than, “my duvet is just so cozy.”
Every year we begin the season of Lent with a version of the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, this immediately follows Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. In his baptism, Jesus’ identity is confirmed. He is the Son of God, beloved, pleasing to God. It is important as we begin this time of examining ourselves to follow Jesus’ example, by starting with the question, “Who am I?” It is easy to get caught up in the things we have done and what we have left undone. Remember, friends, that we are not a list of what we do right and what we do wrong. God does not see us as a list, but as beloved children. Who are you? You are God’s beloved child, pleasing and beautiful. As we enter this season of examining ourselves, remember that nothing you have done or could do will separate you from God’s unconditional love, and you will always remain beautiful and loved in the eyes of God.
Not losing touch with who we are is so important, as it was important for Jesus as he went into the time of testing in the desert. He started with the overwhelming assurance from the voice of God.
Most would agree that this time of testing was a time of learning, strengthening and assurance for Jesus. When we read or preach these passages, we usually focus on the temptations themselves, temptations to feed our own desires, to seize power, to test God’s protection. This morning, I would like to focus rather on the promise of God’s provision. In each of these three tests, Jesus leans on scripture from Deuteronomy, where our first reading comes from this morning. The law requires the first portion of the harvest be set aside and sacrificed to God at the temple. As part of the sacrifice, the farmer recites his story, a way of claiming who he is. His ancestor, Abraham, was in exile in Egypt where he was born and the nation of Israel grew. In Egypt they prayed to God for deliverance. He continues,”The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land–a land full of milk and honey. So now I am bringing the early produce of the fertile ground that you, LORD, have given me.” He recites the story of God’s deliverance to remember how God provided for God’s people.
Jesus’ experience in the wilderness is an echo of the journey of the people of Israel…40 days of flood, 40 years in the desert, 40 days in the wilderness. These are all times in our faith story when the people were at the edge of their survival and God provided and saved them. God saved them from slavery in Egypt, captivity in Babylon, from hunger as they wandered through desert by providing manna. The stories of the wilderness are about God’s overwhelming grace to us. The whole of our story is of God reaching out to us, providing for us, walking alongside us.
Three temptations, three answers, but all the same answer. God provides. The first test is a basic one and, I think, actually, the hardest. You are hungry. How can you think? How can you pray? What kind of God can command such devotion when your insides are cramped with hunger or, even worse, you can’t even afford to eat? Or most basic instinct is to eat. Yet, at the end of 40 days of not eating, Jesus can still dig deep into his tradition, down into his relationship with God, and remember that while we need to eat, we have far more needs. And God provides for them all.
Imagine the test of Lent as an essay. The question would be, “Do you rely on God to heal your wounds, provide for you, lean on God when you are at rock bottom? Or do you rely on your own strength? Provide examples.”
When we challenge ourselves, change our ordinary routines by giving something up or taking something on, we are testing our side of our relationship with God. Jesus said, “Do not put your Lord God to the test.” We are not testing God, we putting ourselves through a test.
Do we fall to distraction by the physical needs of this world, worrying more about what we shall eat, or what we shall wear than those in the world who have nothing to eat?
Do we strive for a full and deep relationship with God as much as we strive for success, money and appreciation?
Do we truly believe that God hears and answers our prayers, open to whatever response God offers?
Do we see God’s presence in the people and created world around us? Every day? How much do we miss as we go about our day?
There is a difference to this test, the test of Lent. We generally take on a test to evaluate our own strengths, to prove ourselves.At Lent, we don’t test our own strength, but our faith. God is not testing us. God does not require proof from us, because God already knows our hearts and continues to pursue us with love. The test is not of our strength, but the openness of our hearts.
Let us pray,Holy Lord, as we enter this Lenten season, we are reminded of our weakness and our need for your strength. … We ask for your presence in our wilderness wanderings. May your hand guide us from the arid land of sin into a land flowing with milk and honey— a land made rich and abundant by your saving love. Amen.
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