Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lent 1B

What are you giving up for Lent? That’s the question of the day, isn’t it? What you’re giving up to share in Jesus’ 40 day desert fast?

That’s where the whole “giving something up” thing comes from. Folks read the story in today’s gospel about Jesus going into the desert to fast for 40 days and thought that it might be a good way for us to find ourselves in his story by fasting for the 40 days of Lent.

But, of course, not everyone’s going to book 6 weeks off work to go sit on a rock in the woods and pray. People aren’t going to go without creature comforts, much less bare necessities for a month and a half. In fact, if you did I’m sure your family would start to worry about your neural functioning.

So, Christians, through the centuries, did what we did to most church rituals that made us look crazy or caused discomfort: we house-trained it. At first it was no food on Fridays and Wednesdays. Then it morphed into no MEAT on Fridays and Wednesdays. But then came the Wednesday night chicken wing special and folks said, well, maybe we’ll just have meat-free Fridays. Now...?

Now...people give up chocolate, coffee, beer, something fairly minor, just to get in the spirit of Lent rather than create some real discomfort in their lives.

But recently, the wheel has turned in the other direction. Some folks now take something ON rather than give something UP during Lent. To them it feels more creative, pro-active, positive, like they’re giving something to the world instead creating more negativity. Contributing rather than taking something away.

Some people use this time to volunteer at the Food Bank, to learn to play piano, figure out a new computer program, visit people are care facilities. And usually, people carry on with what they’ve started long after the tomb is found to be empty. “There’s enough suffering in the world,” they say, “Why would I want to create more, even just a little.”

Good point. God knows there’s enough suffering in the world. Why would we want to go looking for more, even if it’s just a small discomfort? Isn’t it just a throwback to the mediaeval times when suffering was seen as a good in itself? And anything pleasurable or positive was seen as pulling us away from God?

While we don’t wear hair shirts, or those spiky rings around our legs like the Opus Dei do in the Da Vinci Code, the ideas run through our Lenten fast, or at least it could look that way. That suffering connects us more deeply to God, and that any suffering, self-imposed or not, makes us more faithful followers of Jesus.

Do we really want to go back to that? Do we really see God as desiring our pain in order to be free from the evils of this world?

I don’t think so. I think Christians have it backwards when we think that way. The point isn’t that we share in Jesus’ suffering, the point is that Jesus shares in our suffering, and brings hope and healing with him. We don’t have to go looking for pain and suffering, pain and suffering is part of life in a fallen world. It`s already there.

So, perhaps our Lenten discipline comes out of our lives, and Lent simply shows us how much healing we need, how much we need to know that the tomb will be empty at the end of it all.

For some, your Lenten discipline is grief, Maybe decades old grief you wish you could forget or grief fresh and raw. An open wound, a sore you can’t stop scratching.

Maybe for you it’s a marriage hanging on by the slimmest of threads, and you’ll wonder if you can look at your partner with the same love and commitment that you shared that day when you stood before God and family promising to stay together until death parts. Or maybe you know it’s the end, and you’re just trying to manage the best you can.

Maybe it’s job insecurity, financial stress, and an uncertain economy.

Maybe it’s loneliness. You can’t remember the last time you connected with another person, someone to share your day with. A friend, a partner.

Maybe it’s addiction, failed dreams, an out-of-control kid, parents who just can’t hear you, Maybe it’s a disease you’re afraid will eat you from the inside out.

So what’s YOUR Lenten discipline? You’re the only one who can answer that question for yourself. But I’m guessing that you probably know what it is.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not discouraging you from giving something up for these 40 days. I think giving something up or taking something on mirrors the suffering that life gives us. These 40 days are a way to remind us that our stories and Jesus’ story connect. That we find ourselves in God’s story of life and salvation, but God wouldn’t tell that story if our story wasn’t filled with suffering and death.

Like the Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness while he was still dripping from his baptism, the Spirit drives us into the world more deeply, a world of temptation, of hunger, of disease, of death.

But as Christians, we know the 40 days will end. Like the people of Israel finding the promised land after 40 years of wandering through the desert, like Noah finding dry land after 40 days and 40 nights cooped up with the animals in the ark, like Jesus being given food after 40 days in the wilderness, we will find our home, our hungers will be satisfied.

After these 40 days, we will look inside the tomb where Jesus was buried and find it empty. And then we can remember the resurrection in our lives. We can hold on to the promise that God has not and will not abandon us. We can trust that God will lead us out of whatever wilderness that we find ourselves in.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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