Sermon for Year B, The First Sunday in Lent
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
February 22, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Jesus is driven out into the wilderness -- that is, the desert.
He has “the wild beasts” on one side of him and angels on the other. Bad news and good news.
He is animated by “The Advocate” (the Spirit) but is tried by “The Accuser” (Satan).
He is tempted -- Mark doesn’t say by what -- but he prevails.
And then John is arrested, and Jesus suddenly finds himself
With his heels gunning out of the starting blocks.
What’s the very first thing he says or does?
He shows up back at home, proclaiming the good news, and saying,
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
Repent, and believe in the good news.”
Jesus always seems to be on point;
He always seems to know precisely who and what he is to one degree or another;
But here we see someone who is fresh from the benefit of his own experience,
And who clearly has something important to say.
I grew up on the plains, in a small town, nowhere near any desert.
I have never lived in any desert for forty days, much less a week.
In fact, I’ve always tried to get out of whatever desert I was in by sundown.
I have just had to rely on what others have written.
(If you have had an interesting desert experience,
You should tell someone about it at coffee hour.)
But what I do know is that the desert makes you focus down
On only those things that matter the very most;
It sweeps away anything trivial.
The desert is a fine place for one to be at war with oneself.
“Tempted,” to me, means to be confronted by one’s own worst impulses.
So we’re given this assurance this First Sunday of Lent:
That as we move through this season, and are tested beyond what we think is possible,
So too has Christ been besought by similar trials: deprivation, hunger, thirst, and pain.
And all our various addictions coming up, and us not just thoughtlessly feeding them --
Or instead, giving in to them and feeling bad about it --
Life becomes quite basic when we strip away some of what we think we need.
In Jesus, God becomes solidarity with the human condition and all things created.
Where we struggle, we can take comfort that God has been there, too.
It would be tempting to say,
“If Jesus was tempted in every way but didn’t give in, then what’s wrong with me?
Why can’t I get my act together? Ah, but he was without sin, so why should I even try?”
Actually, life is “try.”
We live in a Western culture and we have a Western mindset.
We tend to think in discrete, binary categories of good and bad, black and white.
We like to put things in silos and piles -- “this is this,” “that is that.”
We’re either behaving or not behaving, performing or not performing.
And we assign moral character to this or that,
So that if we happen to not be performing, we think we’re bad people overall.
It’s hard to move past this kind of dualistic thinking.
What can I tell you? We don’t have to be slaves to it, and that is very good news indeed.
We can just follow God by chasing after the path that Jesus has established.
We can stay at it, and when we stray off of it, get back on it.
Life is really about trying.
Not about always being good, or never being good enough.
Or other people never measuring up, and can’t you see, that’s what’s wrong wih the world.
A lot of religion will take you down that road before you discover it leads nowhere.
In fact, it’s about trying.
If we stay stuck in these other simplistic categories, then we miss the whole journey.
So, too, the journey to God is about trying,
And that’s what moves us out of our stuckness.
Not, “Oh, well, I tried once today when I got up and it didn’t work so I give up,”
But just constantly resetting ourselves and throwing out expectations
About perfection and performance,
And loving ourselves and the world and embracing God anyway.
Because there isn’t anything you can do in this old world to make God love you more.
God loves you totally; God already knows you aren’t perfect
And in Jesus has decided to bet the house on you anyway.
And that might seem foolish, right? -- why go all-in on a pair of twos? --
But then we realize and remember that God is God,
And if in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and compassion God wants to bet on us,
Then that’s God’s business and God’s good news for us.
But it helps us to stay oriented, to remain focused and grounded in what we’re doing.
In other words, it helps us to keep trying. To maintain energy and effort.
And to want to be in loving and eternal relationship with God.
Much of conventional religion wants to make it harder than it is.
Wants for this to become some kind of contest.
Lent is not about how you measure up, or don’t.
It’s about naming and stepping past the obstacles that keep us from God.
And it’s about holding the whole thing lightly
When time after time, we keep getting in the way of ourselves.
For in a sense, failure is assured.
What can we do but ask for forgiveness, get up off our knees, and keep at it?
For who among us isn’t sitting in some kind of a desert of the soul this morning?
Who among us isn’t tested and tempted?
And who among us, when we stop and add it up,
Isn’t being ministered to by angels at this very moment?
That’s how much God loves us in spite of ourselves.
You are each and all God’s most deeply beloved and cherished.
And that’s good news for today,
For which I am so glad.
Take heart. Be of good cheer.