“There comes a time”
Feb 22nd, 2015
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25 and Mark 1:9-15
Today we enter the liturgical season of Lent, this stretch of forty days leading up to Easter. For many of us we have come to understand Lent as being a time when we are to give up something so that we may in some way share in what we imagine must have been the suffering and temptation that Jesus experienced during those forty days that he was in the wilderness. We give up chocolate and suffer its absense and even when that Equal exchange, 70% dark chocolate with mint flakes bar is calling out to us, we remember our Lenten commitment and do not succumb to the temptation of it.
Now while giving up chocolate, or coffee or alcohol or whatever it may be can be a really good and healthy practice, doing so, I is not really what Lent is all about. In my mind, Lent not really about solidary in suffering and temptation. Nor, in my mind, does Lent really have to do with needing to change something about ourselves so that we will be more acceptable to God which is also another way we often think about Lent. Like Lent is a self improvement time to make us worthy to receive the gift of new life with Christ that is coming on Easter morning.
Instead, I have come to understand Lent as a time to reconsider relationship. It is a time to ask ourselves “Am I in? Am I committed to this? And if so, “am I living into this relationship with my truest, fullest and most authentic self?”
But before we go any further, let us pray. Holy One, open our hearts and our minds more fully to your word for us today so that we may grow in love of you and in love of each other. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
It is informative to remember that Lent was first observed in the Christian communities of North Africa in the first centuries of the Common Era as a time of forty days of formation for those feeling a call to convert to living in the Way of Jesus. For the forty days before Easter, seekers would be set a part. They would dress all in white and engage in a very intentional and rigorous time of learning, praying, and engaging in spiritual exercises, that would culminate on Holy Saturday with their baptism into faith and an all-night vigil of prayer until the dawning of Easter morning. Lent was time to deepen the “Yes” to living in relationship with God.
Now while Lent may be a Christian observance, this needing a time a part to come fully into an understanding of one’s self and one’s relationship to God is also found in the Hebrew Scriptures. During the time of Moses, the book of Exodus tells us that the Hebrew people spent 40 years in the wilderness as they came to know themselves as people of God and not slaves of Pharaoh. Forty years for them to live into their belovedness, that they were blessed and were to be a blessing.
And our scripture passages from the book of Genesis comes right after Noah has spent forty days in the wilderness of those flood waters, held by that ark, that seed of new beginning.
So it is no wonder that Jesus also needs 40 days. It is no wonder that Jesus also needs time. As he came up out of his baptismal waters, and with his blessing of belovedness upon him Jesus steps out on the far side of the Jordan into the wild — land not fenced in by obligation, responsibility, not pressed by too much to do and too little time, not blocked by too many towering snow banks or confined by slippery sidewalks.
No Jesus crosses over the Jordan into a wide open space where there is there is room to wander around in the vastness.
I am captivated by imagining what were those forty days in the wilderness like for Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is very sparse on details. It is almost as if the time in the wilderness for Jesus was such a private time, such an intensely personal time for Jesus that Mark discretely shuts the door and waits for Jesus to take all the time he needs before stepping back into the narrative saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
But somehow I imagine that during that time in the wilderness, Jesus traveled deep into the heart of his heart and came to know himself for who he truly was. I imagine he came to know, to take into his flesh, the belovedness that was pronounced upon his baptism. Somehow in that wilderness, beloved became who he knew himself to be and not a goal of who he thought he should become. It was from this place of belovedness that Jesus was to live. This place of a deep Yes! to God to be in relationship with God with his truest, fullest and most authentic self? Jesus was to go on from place of Yes in the wilderness to live a life so centered in the love of God that that love would flow freely from into the lives of all he would touch.
We too need these 40 days. Our lives are so busy and so cluttered and every day we seem to hear more messages of our own inadequacy and failings than we do of our belovedness. I was talking to a friend of mine this week who was telling me that his spiritual director gave him homework for this first week of Lent and it was that he was to write down every morning and every evening three things that are an expression of his belovedness. Three loveable things about himself. Can you imagine how hard that would be? Jot down a half a dozen failings or inadequacies, no problem. But belovedness, well that feels impossible.
So, we need this time. We need this — our 40 days in the wilderness. We need this time of Lent to remembering and to reckon. We need this time to journey into the heart of who we are and to the blessing of belovedness that we will forever find there.
So, how will you spend this time?
Certainly yes, give up chocolate, but can you also take up a practice that will help you to quiet your mind and dwell for a time in your heart so that you may hear again the whisper of belovedness that you will find there? Maybe you get up a half hour earlier and spend it in silence, listening to your breath and a whisper of belovedness. Or perhaps your practice could be to open the newspaper and pray over the headlines, listening deeply to where your heart may be connecting with the hurt and needs of the world. One practice that we are inviting you into is to pray for each other. Amy will say more about this as we enter our time of prayer later. What ever practice you take up this season, may it lead you deep into the wilderness of this time and deep into the belovedness which is the center of our being – the belovedness from which our Yes to God and to all of creation arises.
I want to lift up one final thought that comes from the Genesis passage today and that it that during this time of Lent it is not just a time for us to once again move into that “Yes” from the depths of our being to God, but a time when God too reaffirms God’s relationship with us. Relationship afterall is between dynamic, living. We do not say “yes” to an immovable, distant, detached God. The God of the genesis passage this morning is anything but that. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, God is the “Most Moved Mover.”3 The God of the genesis passage is yearning to be in relationship with humanity and all creation. Listen to these beautiful words.
“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” When Noah and his family and all the creatures of the world emerge from the arch, in this re-creation story, this story of renewal, God is there with open arms, and a simile as wide as the sky, ready with a big God’s “Yes.” Yes to living in relationship with us for all time.
May these forty days bring a Yes to our lips as well. Thanks be to God. Amen
Thanks be to God. Amen.