On Ash Wednesday, I used a quote from the author & Anglican, Evelyn Underhill, to help us think about our Lenten discipline:
“Lent is a good moment for such a spiritual stocktaking; a pause, a retreat from life’s busy surface to its solemn deeps.”
We often get caught up in the busy surface of our lives and Lent is there to help us stop, and plumb our solemn deeps. Traditionally, the church has called us to do this through fasting & self-denial, through giving alms, by a renewed emphasis on praying and studying of Holy Scripture.
We get to our depts. Not solely focusing on our needs, but to ask what God expects us of in our world today. And by doing the hard work, of fasting, giving alms, and praying, we are preparing ourselves for when the road gets rough, when our lives are not all sunshine and daisies.
"Real prayer begins with the plunge into the water." Evelyn Underhill makes this observation in a 1928 retreat and repeatedly affirms that risk is an essential component of healthy spirituality. She attributes much of the beauty of Christian life to the interplay of risk and trust and warns against an insistence on constant comfort. (Donyelle McCray)
Such an idea that going to our depths involves risk and trust in God is good for us to consider as we remember the temptations and tests the Jesus endured in his time in the wilderness.
As we heard in today’s story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus lived in the wilderness for 40 days, he ate nothing, he was alone, and he was famished…and the devil came, when Jesus was in a rough patch, longing for food and company; the devil was ready to tempt him.
If you are the son of God…the devil knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows he is the beloved, but it is a test, with Jesus at his weakest. Fix your hunger, Jesus. Use your power. Turn these stones into bread.
“One does not live by bread alone.” Says Jesus.
He could have it done that on day one, use the power, but it is about faith and Jesus refuses to give in. Then the devil led him to place where he could view all the nations of the world.
Worship me, all this is yours to rule. You would be king. Think of the power, prestige, you’d have it all!
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Says Jesus.
He is not interested in the power to rule, Jesus would tell us that he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Then the devil led him to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem…
Look it here, right here, go ahead and jump, it says in the bible, “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.'" Its all in there. Just do it!
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus answered him.
Even with the devil using scripture, Jesus doesn’t fall into the trap, he does not need to show he is the beloved, he knows it. When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
When he was at his weakest, in a tough time, Jesus knew the devil would be back to tempt him again, to test his resolve; and it is just as true for us.
Lent is a time of risk for us, because we can either stay on the surface of ourselves, not plumb the depths, and lose ourselves in the tests and temptations of our world; or we can risk going deeper, being challenged by our creator and our savior to live lives that may be different, may be challenging, may be a whole lot richer than what we are living today. For we don’t know what our future lies…
Bob Simpson, a retired UCC pastor, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Over a four-year-period, Bob and his wife, Anne, wrote of their life together with Alzheimer's in their remarkable journal, Through the Wilderness of Alzheimer's: A Guide in Two Voices. Bob died in 2011.
The wilderness is the central image of their life with this devastating illness. Anne writes: "The process of watching my beloved husband deteriorate is painful, lonely, and immensely sad. I cannot deny it; I have spells of depression and self-pity. I have days when I am so frustrated that I go into the garage and sit in the car with all the windows rolled up, so I can scream without being overheard. I can see the losses, the bad side, the half-empty glass."
Bob writes, "I have good days now. If I think about the past, I get sad. If I think about the future, I'm scared. I only have the present. Today is the only day I have to live." But while their wilderness experience has certainly tested their love, it has also deepened it.
"I'm not angry with God," Bob writes. "I believe God is here, somewhere. There is a purpose. I am beholden to find it." After four years of living with her beloved's Alzheimer's, Anne, the devoted caregiver, writes that this wilderness "is familiar now. We have a map of where we have been; we can see ahead to the next bend in the path. We have come this far, mumbling and complaining sometimes, wanting to return to our old life. Yet, we are stronger for the rigors of this passage and we are learning to travel light. We cannot determine our pace or our final destination; we cannot make straight the path. But if we trust God to guide us, we know we will continue to be nourished by the manna of unexpected blessings." (Connections, 2011)
The wildernesses and deserts of our lives are those unknown and terrifying places where we struggle to make our way as a result of circumstances beyond our control or our own mistakes and sins. But it is in those deserts and wilderness places where we may discover the Spirit of God, especially when we have taken the risks, done the hard work for our souls, and put our trust in God. This Lent, the Spirit calls to each of us from our solemn deeps, through fasting and prayer, giving alms and study to discern what God asks of us to make of the time we have been given.
May we plunge right in this Lent and re-center our lives with new hope and renewed vision from the depths of our lives through our Lenten spiritual practices as we continue our journey to the joyful and blessed Easter. Amen.