Embracing Lent 

Inspired by Debie Thomas’ Article Human and Hungry on the website Journey with Jesus

 

Genesis 3:1-13  (GNT)

       3 Now the snake was the most cunning animal that the Lord God had made. The snake asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?”

          2 “We may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden,” the woman answered, “except the tree in the middle of it. God told us not to eat the fruit of that tree or even touch it; if we do, we will die.”

          4 The snake replied, “That’s not true; you will not die. God said that because he knows that when you eat it, you will be like God and know what is good and what is bad.”

          6 The woman saw how beautiful the tree was and how good its fruit would be to eat, and she thought how wonderful it would be to become wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, and he also ate it. As soon as they had eaten it, they were given understanding and realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and covered themselves.

          8 That evening they heard the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid from him among the trees. But the Lord God called out to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden; I was afraid and hid from you, because I was naked.”

11 “Who told you that you were naked?” God asked. “Did you eat the fruit that I told you not to eat?”

12 The man answered, “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

13 The Lord God asked the woman, “Why did you do this?”

She replied, “The snake tricked me into eating it.”

 

Luke 4:1-13 NRSV

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of     bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”        Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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 protect you,’  and     ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

 

 

 

Two months ago we celebrated the baptism of Jesus. We remembered that Jesus, at his baptism, heard the words that he was loved and precious and God’s child.

And we remembered that God loves us like God loves Jesus…and that we too are loved and precious and God’s children.

And to remember our baptism and our identity I took oil and anointed the foreheads of all in the congregation who came forward, saying out loud. “You are God’s beloved.”

It was and is a moving experience to hear the words that God loves you, to be anointed with oil as a sign of what God has already done, and is doing, and will continue to do…that is anoint or baptize you in the Spirit.

I hope you felt loved and precious because that is what you are…

But today we enter Lent. We enter the wilderness with Jesus. And we journey towards the cross and towards our own death.

It is pretty heady stuff.

 

You are God’s beloved and yet you are going to have suffering in life and you are going to die.

 

That is what Jesus faced as he entered the wilderness: The truth that he was loved and precious and a child of God; and the truth that he was mortal and was going to suffer and going to die.

 

Job struggled with it too. You see it is one thing to understand that you are loved and precious whenever things are wonderful, and you are financially secure, and when you and your family are healthy and relatively conflict free, and when you have some respect and/or status, if not with the world, at least with family and friends or work.

….but it is another thing altogether to understand that you are loved and precious and God’s child, when your world is falling apart, or when you are poor or hungry or sick or dying of some disease, or when you are alone or abandoned or betrayed or in conflict.

 

Jesus went alone into the wilderness to learn how to experience love, not only when things are good, but when he is hungry, when he is insignificant, and when he is vulnerable.

 

Jesus is offered three temptations to walk away from the lesson that he is loved and precious even when things are tough.

 

And maybe they are invitations for us, to think more deeply about our identity as children of God, even when the road is tough for us, and we are hungry, or feel like nobody or when we are suffering.

 

The first temptation is around the temptation to turn a stone into bread.

Haven’t you ever heard a critic of God or religion or Christianity ask something like: Why does God allow so many people and children to go hungry and even die of starvation?

I myself have wondered that. Maybe you too have wondered that.

I think it stems from a faulty understanding of God and how God works in this world…

but at another level if God did intervene to feed all the hungry, then we would stop being a human world.

 

The devil tries to tell Jesus that if he is God’s child then he shouldn’t be hungry.

But hunger is a necessary part of being human.

 

When you don’t eat for a while you get hungry. Hunger is the sign that you need to do something to nourish yourself.

If you didn’t get hungry then ostensibly you could starve to death and not even know that you were starving.

In inviting Jesus to magically stop his hunger, the devil is inviting Jesus to deny his incarnation, to deny that he is fully human, and that hunger is an important part of humanity.

 

The tradition was and is in some parts of the church to give something up for Lent. Chocolates or sweets, or meat…or alcohol… or some habit… like smoking…

Maybe in a modern day and age it could be television or Facebook or texting.

We Presbyterians haven’t been big on giving things up for Lent because we associated that more with Roman Catholics and Presbyterians for the longest time often did the opposite of what Roman Catholics did.

 

But maybe in Lent we sit with our hungers, our wants and our desires and examine them closely and let them be our teacher.

What do you hunger most for in the world? Friendship, intimacy, financial security, respect, a family, fun, health or God?

 

And if you hunger for something, is there a hunger beneath the hunger?

Is the hunger for wealth about security in an insecure world?

Is the hunger for friends about loneliness?

Is the hunger for family related to the loss of a good family, or the need to heal from bad family dynamics?

 

And if we can identify our hungers, what does it mean when we pray and they don’t magically disappear?

 

Hunger teaches us we are human. Hunger teaches us that God is more parent than Santa Claus.

And just as a parent cannot and does not give you everything you want and desire, so God like a loving parent cannot and does not give you everything you want or desire.

And just like a parent loves you and prepares you to go out into the world and make your own decisions, so God instead of magically taking away your humanity loves you and helps you to make your own decisions.

 

We can be loved and hungry at the same time. We can be loved and sick at the same time. We can be loved and dying at the same time.

So the bread that God gives us is the love that no matter who we are, where we are, no matter how hungry we are… God cares for us and loves us and invites us to care and love…

And that bread of love is the bread of love that could change the world, and if everyone ate that bread of love…we wouldn’t have to worry about the world being physically hungry because we would love each other enough to share physical loaves of bread with each other.

 

The second temptation is around fame or one’s ego. After showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world the devil promises him glory and authority.

I think I saw on the news a few days ago that Kylie Jenner set the record for the world’s youngest billionaire at age 21, and if you don’t know who Kylie Jenner is, it probably says something about your age, or that you are not much involved with social media.

They televised random comments from young woman who adore and admire the beautiful, powerful and famous Kylie Jenner.

And so the devil suggests to Jesus that to be child of God and loved, means that you should be successful, you should be powerful, you should be somebody in this world.

Can you be the child of God and go unnoticed?

There is in certain parts of the world and in certain Christian theologies the idea that if you come to Jesus, Jesus will reward you. If you give financially to Jesus, Jesus will give you more. If you are faithful to Jesus he will fix your marriage, get you a better job, heal your illnesses and make you a somebody.

I think that is called the American Dream which was defined by James Truslow Adams in 1931 that “life should be better richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”

The reality is that life is not better, richer and fuller for everyone and social class and circumstance of birth do make a big difference in this world…

And so can you live with the reality that even if you are discriminated against, even if life is poorer, or worse, or you are sick, or dying, or you are considered a nobody by the world, you are still loved and a child of God?

And if we can understand that, then the response is for us, to love those for whom life is worse, or poorer, or less fulfilled, or sick or dying or hungry, because they are our brothers and sisters. They are children or God.

 

The third temptation is about Jesus’ vulnerability..

God will command his angels concerning you to protect you…on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

 

The implication is that if you are God’s child then God will protect you from all harm.

It is such an enticing lie. How often do we pray for God to keep our children safe? How often do we pray for safe journeys, for God to heal and protect?

We want so much for this to be true… that, because we are loved, therefore God, you should not let anything happen to us and especially to our loved ones.

 

But Jesus rejected this supernatural protection, even if he could have had it, because he chose a cross instead. He chose humanity instead. He chose vulnerability and weakness and suffering and even death.

 

All of us are tempted to want supernatural protection instead of bleeding, aching, suffering and dying.

 

But Jesus teaches us to embrace our humanity, embrace weakness and embrace vulnerability, because when we can do that, we can embrace other humans, we can empathize with others, we can identify with the suffering and vulnerable, we can be healers to those who are broken, suffering and dying.

Because the real healing we all need, is to know we are loved and cared for… that we are understood and listened to… and there is someone who will be there for us no matter what.

 

The first humans were tempted to try and be like God? Jesus was tempted to not be human?

 

Today we enter Lent. Some think it is the penitent time to ask forgiveness for being human.

Yes we ask forgiveness for things we do wrong, but not for being human.

Lent is about embracing our humanity. Embracing our hunger. Embracing our insignificance. Embracing our vulnerability.

Let Lent teach us what it really means to be a child of God.

Amen.