Sunday 6 March 2022: Lent 1
Christ enters the wilderness
Deuteronomy 26: 1-11; Romans 10.8-12; Luke 4: 1-13
Context: a Eucharist in a varied congregation, with a mixture of ages
Aim: to enter the spacious place God has prepared for us
We all have moments when things change and afterwards nothing is the same again - and yet the implications of this takes time to understand. In our Gospel reading, we see this happening for Jesus following his Baptism, when ‘full of the Holy Spirit Jesus is led by the Spirit in the desert where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil’.
IDENTITY AND VOCATION
Who am I? and What am I here for? These crucial questions about identity and vocation are ones Jesus now faces in the desert and we will often face too.
After the assurance of his heavenly Father’s voice at his Baptism: ‘You are my Son, whom I love, with You I am well pleased’ the wilderness is where Jesus will clarify and define the Kingdom he wants to build in the hearts and minds of people.
Forty days alone in the wilderness will take Jesus to the limits of his physical endurance and strength. Exhausted and hungry he will experience deep despair, and in his mental struggle with temptation, he will face the reality of evil. But it will also become a place of transparency and spiritual clarity which shapes the priorities of his ministry.
Jesus will face subtle temptations in his mind all probing and doubting his identity beginning with ‘If you are the Son of God’ then prove it. Prove it by turning stones into bread. Prove it by leaping from the temple roof to impress people. Prove it by bowing down before the throne of power, greed and popularity making them the signs of your Kingdom. But secure in his identity and assured of his Father’s love Jesus resists these temptations and clings on to his vocation.
ENTERING THE WILDERNESS OURSELVES
On this, the first Sunday in Lent we are invited to enter the wilderness through the doorway of our imagination: are we willing to receive the vocation God has prepared for us and then to put it into practice. To encourage us in this Rowan Williams says: ‘the journey into the desert is a journey into a particular kind of spaciousness.’ Lent invites us to pause and enter into a spacious place where we are no longer dominated by our anxieties, our agendas, or our lack of contentment.
Our Christian faith is a gift that has wide open spaces waiting to be explored and enjoyed. The spiritual life is not a religious box designed to imprison us; nor is it like a set of religious plates we desperately keep spinning in the air whilst becoming exhausted. Rather it’s about God revealing a spacious place within our minds and hearts where we can face ourselves and be released from the fears which entangle us; and where we can listen and hear the gentle whisper of God’s love saying: ‘you are my child whom I love.’
This is the paradox of the desert as Jesus reveals from his own experience. The barren and unpromising desert turns out to be a place of discovery, growth and freedom.
Something of this can be our experience too this Lent if we are willing to enter the inner desert place marked by simplicity and stillness. For in this place, we shall become secure about our identity and more aware of our vocation.
HOW CAN IT BE DIFFERENT THIS LENT?
Finding the still and spacious place within ourselves will not be easy because we fill up our inner space with whatever we assume is important or which we cling onto tightly. Our usual problem is that our minds are crammed full of our plans, memories and disappointments leaving little space in which God can comfort and refresh us.
We know the temptation is always to rush onwards and upwards and not really notice the things around us in creation, in worship, or in the faces of other people and because we are not still, we can miss the meaning of it all.
Instead, we are itching to move on to the next thing, searching for something else or trying to find something better. Not convinced of our own identity we cling to the opinions of others and try to be someone else.
So, can this be different for us this Lent? Will we let it become a season for inner reflection and spiritual growth; a time for understanding our vocation and for facing those fears which overshadow us? If so, then instead of trying to give something up for Lent we shall receive a gift that truly is worth having.
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