Entering Lent

March 10, 2019 Lent 1

Luke 4:1-13

The first spring following my families move to Richmond brought grandiose plans of a wonderful thriving garden in the backyard of the parsonage. Vern came over and tilled the ground for us and by the time he was completed, we probably had at least 200 square feet of space for a wonderful garden. We marked the garden all out and planted seeds. We put a fence all the way around the garden so that the many rabbits roaming around the yard would stay out. Since it was the first year, it required a lot of tender loving care to weed it and water it. The weeds seemed to like the water much more than the plants did. Then we went on vacation!

We came home to an enclosed jungle! Okay, maybe it was not quite that bad. I still manage to harvest some radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and even a bit of lettuce. The corn did not turn out. Neither did the watermelon or cantaloupe. We would try again the following year and scale it back a little. Last year we decided that it was just too much work! It takes a lot of patience to prepare and cultivate a garden. There are many challenges and temptations that come along the way.

On this first Sunday of Lent, Jesus enters the wilderness. He is tempted and holds fast in his faith. During this season of Lent, you are going to be asked to let go of the things that weigh you down and to cultivate those areas in your life that bring growth.

The temptations that are waved in front of Jesus’ face this week are very powerful. They are temptations that pull people into power that is hard to let go of. What if we could turn a stone into a loaf of bread, or simply anything to feed ourselves? Could this be a blessing to those in countries that have the constant threat of famine. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days! He had to be hungry. I am sure the thought of a loaf of bread would have made his mouth water.

Imagine standing on the highest peak wherever you were and being able to see off in the distance for miles and miles. What if someone promised to you that it could all be yours if you just turned away from God and turned your worship towards evil, idols, or even material possessions? Does not sound too far from the truth for some today, does it? How quick we are to turn away from God for something that is newer, brighter, or shinier.

The third temptation of Jesus is the promise of invincibility. This seems to come to us more often when we are young and stupid! Now, don’t try this at home, but one attempt at this for me was when I thought I could run across the pool cover on my parent’s pool in the middle of winter. I may have been trying to show off for the next-door neighbor, and fortunately, I got all the way to the other side before my foot just barely broke through the ice frozen on top.

It is these temptations that Jesus walks away from after fasting for 40 days. He lets go of them so that he can move forward into the ministry that God is calling him to. A ministry that had been established from the very beginning of time.

Many people have used Lent as a time to fast from something as a discipline. I encourage you this year to let go of something. Not just for Lent, but for good. It could be something that distracts you away from God. A great definition of to let go is to relinquish your grip on something. As we do so it provides us the opportunity to return to God.

While Jesus let go of the temptations after his 40 days in the wilderness, it was also a sign of growth. His time of fasting in the wilderness revealed his great faith in God the Father which prepared him for his ministry ahead. A ministry that would lead to growth in his disciple’s faith as well.

Unlike me trying to cultivate a garden, Jesus was much better in cultivating a faith that laid the foundation for all of us to follow. The term to cultivate usually is used in farming as I am sure many of you know. We can also use it to refer to our lives and today to our faith. To cultivate means to prepare and then foster growth. To cultivate also means to labor, care for, study, refine, or encourage. All of these can relate to our faith and its growth as we draw closer to God this Lenten season. It takes work and we must be intentional.

As you noticed, there is also room for you to write on the doors what you are going to cultivate over these next forty days. After his time of testing in the wilderness, Jesus let go of the temptations and cultivated his faith as he drew closer to God.

How are you going to draw closer to God this season?

Let us pray. Lord, we return to you, asking for forgiveness this season of Lent. In this time of preparation, may we be guided by the Holy Spirit to let go of those things that weigh us down and be drawn to those things that cultivate our commitment to you. Amen.

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Repent and Return

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March 1, 2017 Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

At one time or another in our lives, we will manage to screw up. We will make mistakes because we are human! We forget to love our neighbors as ourselves because we are human. We sin because we are human. While the gospel lesson is full of great nuggets, I am going to turn to the Psalm. In the Psalm, we encounter the mercy and grace of God.

If you didn’t know, the Psalms are prayers and songs lifted up to God through the various psalmists that they are contributed. In Psalm 51, rather than the author speaking from a point of righteousness, he speaks from a point of repentance. Many of you are familiar with the story of King David and Bathsheba. While we lift up King David as a great example of leadership, he commits adultery with Bathsheba, and then had her husband Uriah killed. There is at least a couple of commandments that King David has managed to break at this point. It is in this that Psalm 51 is attributed to David in the midst of his sinning.

We enter this season of Lent with much going on in our lives and in the world. We sin daily and the world around us is not any different. We are left wondering how we are to react to those that differ in opinion from us. We are left wondering if we should look beyond ourselves and care for our neighbors because our consumer culture gives us the message that we should focus on our own personal needs. We are still reeling from a contentious election cycle that does not seem to be getting better anytime soon. In the midst, we are left to wonder where God is in everything that is happening.

In the Psalm we pray for Gods presence with us. God is present to witness our sins, as well as the sins of the world. God is present when we fail to reach out to our neighbors with love and compassion. God is present in the midst of turmoil, death, and doubt. The thing is, we cannot fix any of it on our own. We cannot wave a magic wand and making everything better. We cannot say just the right thing to get everyone to be sociable to one another. In this knowledge, we turn to Psalm 51 and pray. It may even sound familiar, as we often sing it when our offerings for God come forward.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

These next forty days are not going to be much different than the last forty days. We will continue to sin. Death and destruction will continue to happen around the world. In the words of Psalm 51, we have a prayer asking for a fresh start. A prayer asking to be made new. A prayer seeking to be washed clean of all our sins. A prayer to remind us of the greatness of God and the glory of Christ to bring salvation to the world.

In the ashes, we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. They represent our finiteness in this world. In the meal we share, we are reminded of the grace and love of God that comes to us, as sinners, seeking forgiveness and grace freely given.

While the world around us might not change much in the next forty days, may we be changed in the Word of God and the meal we share together. May we repent and return to the Lord, our God.

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love. Amen