“Rediscovering Who We Are: A Vulnerable Trust”
Luke 4: 1-13 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ March 10, 2019
One of the conversations going around at this time of the year is: ‘so…what are you giving up for Lent?’. And the answers can be quite interesting and somewhat revealing. I’ve heard of people giving up coffee and chocolate, alcohol or smoking or some other pleasure that they enjoy for the coming 40 days. I have heard of still others giving up dieting, exercising and moderation ~ but I’m sure they are joking with me. And I’m always fascinated in the timing with Tim Hortons’ annual ‘Roll up the Rim to Win’ contest when their coffee sales are threatened by people’s Lenten moderation and they find a new way to entice customers to come (or perhaps I am just being suspicious). To be sure many people engage in a careful and disciplined practice at this time of year and Lent continues to provide fertile soil for our spiritual growth as Jesus’ people.
As we gather on this first Sunday in Lent, I would like for us to examine this practice of ‘giving up’ things for the Lenten season, lest it gets lost as a simplistic practice and we lose its tremendous depth and possibility for spiritual growth. Lent is not simply about giving something up for 40 days ~ giving thanks that we get a break from the 40 days each Sunday ~ and arriving happily at the Easter morning finish line, all ready for an Easter Egg hunt. Lent is a period of spiritual practice where we take upon ourselves a deeper receptivity to God’s grace; it is a time to gain a deeper awareness of God’s presence; it is a time to open ourselves up to the mystery of God with us. For many, giving up something is an action that creates space for God to enter our lives. Giving up chocolate, for example, might be that trigger that is set off for us through the day ~ when we have a chocolate ‘craving’ ~ that becomes a time that we might turn to God in prayer…have a moment to reflect on God in our life…have a ‘God-moment’ (if you will). The spiritual practices in Lent, as I view them, all distill down to being deeply and personally intentional in our faith. And the spiritual practices that I have seen and engaged in are quite wide ranging: being intentional in offering fellowship, in seeking repentance, in offering prayer, in scripture meditation, in acts of piety, in acts of justice. Lent is a time for personal spiritual growth and as we are each wonderfully unique in our creation our spiritual disciplines are, and should be, wonderfully unique as well. The question we are each called to ask is ‘how do I need to grow in faith this year?’ / ‘what will enrich my spiritual journey?’ / ‘how will I turn toward the light?’ Theologian Scott Jones in his recent book: The Evangelistic Love of God and Neighbor observes in his work of faith development that it is a ongoing process, not an event. We all have this wonderful opportunity in our lives to grow deeper in our faith, closer to God, richer in our understanding of the One who gives life, depth and meaning.
And that might sound wonderful and make sense as we take our first steps along the Lenten path, but I have a deep-seated suspicion. I would like to propose, because I know I sometime feel this way, I would like to propose that we are afraid of Lent. Our aversion to Lent stems from a fear of ‘going deep’ and to pass by this wonderfully rich opportunity to journey in the wilderness region of our lives. And why do we do this? My suspicion is that there is some often unexamined fears that live in each of our hearts. We are afraid. We are afraid that God might not provide…so we continue to rely on the ways of the world. We are afraid that God might not provide…so we go it on our own. We are comfortable with our faith on our terms…on a Sunday morning…yet we become uncomfortable when Lent calls it to spill over into the other 6 ½ days of our week. I think that there are fears inside each of us that are important for to examine as we commence this season. But here’s the thing…and this is good news: all of the fears that we hold are ones that we have allowed the world to place in our psyche. Psychologists have proven that you and I were born with two, only two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Every other fear we have come to develop…every other fear is one that we have allowed to enter through certain situations and events. Fears of spiders, snakes and sharks ~ all developed over time. Fear of Dad’s burned cooking or a talking to from Mom ~ all developed over time. Fear that we are not beautiful…or loveable…or not enough ~ all developed over time. What I think we need to do in order to enhance this time of faith growth, is to reclaim who we are ~ walk deeply in faith in this time~ and boldly enter into our Lenten time of wilderness temptation
So, what are your fears? What are your temptations that limit you from fully entering into Lent? They likely fall into one of three categories: that is what the three temptations given to Jesus are all about. The first temptation is about fears of provision…of survival…of having enough. The tempter says: “if you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Recalling the commands in Deuteronomy, Jesus answers: “It is written, ‘one does not live by bread alone’”. Can we rely upon God, and have the faith to know that God will provide? To know that what God provides is enough? The second temptation is our quest for power and authority. Leading Jesus up a mountain and showing him all the kingdoms of the world, he says: “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 counters: “worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him”. What is it that we worship? Money? Power? Worldly authority? Finally, the third temptation is for protection. Looking down from the peak of the temple, the tempter says to Jesus: “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 responds: “do not put the Lord your God to the test”. Do we test God? Do we believe God provides enough? The tempter represents every worldly power that attempts to play on our fears and seeks to take us away from placing God at our centre. The world tells us that we do not have enough…enough bread…enough of this…enough of that. And we live in fear. The world tells us that we need more power and authority and so we seek to dominate and control. And we live in fear. The world tells us that we need more protection and so we lock our doors and windows…we lock our hearts and our minds. And we live in fear. Yet, these fears have all come through the temptations given to us in the world. Lent is a time for us to rediscover who we are and walk into lent with a vulnerable trust.
It is interesting to note that one of the functions of this text is to present temptation as something even Jesus had to deal with. It functions as a teaching for his followers to see how he responds. Jesus does not allow the tempter’s fears to become something that will occupy his soul. He responds time after time in faith: “One does not live by bread alone… A second time: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him …A third time: Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. For Jesus to have said yes to temptation would have required him to say no to God…to say no to the way of God…to say no to an idea of God’s Kin-dom. Jesus says no to temptation; he says no to these fears from entering his soul and he follows God in faith. And over time, we come to realize that the spiritual depth and power that Jesus comes to have for life and ministry is made possible through the faithful ways that he comes to respond to trials, to trouble, and to testing. It’s also important to remember that Jesus does not go on this journey alone. He is not dropped off in the wilderness alone. The Spirit continues to abide with him, enabling him to grow stronger through the season and to launch into his public ministry.
And so, as we peel away all the layers and examine what lies at the heart of this spiritually rich season, it is a call to living a vulnerable trust in God. The questions is: can we put the fears of the world that have grown in our hearts, minds and souls aside and truly rely on God to provide. Can we live simply…relying on God for bread…relying on our faith to carry us…relying on God to catch us? It is not only Jesus who goes into the wilderness for 40 days, it is also you and I who are invited. Can we have the faith to follow and rediscover who we are. Let us walk with a vulnerable trust ~ trusting in God’s provision ~ walking into this season.