Manuscript – Invitation to Lent

Invitation of Lent

The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd; March 9, 2014 |:| Mark 4: 1-11

Welcome to the first Sunday of Lent. We invite you to sit in the vastness of this season. Entering a deep history. A history bathed in prayer and lined with spiritual practices. The Spirit is welcoming you to this time of prayer and reflection – to pause and receive the gift of Lent. A gift that frees space in our lives for 40 days and 40 nights  to move further into the halls of Lent, to a deeper sense of spiritual and communal awareness. Much like walking into an old library with years of history to be examined, we walk in Lent recalling the stories of our ancestors and ourselves. As we make our journey through Lent we are invited to begin with the story of what followed Christ’s own 40 days and 40 nights of prayerful fasting.

An invitation to witness your character in new ways. A season of receiving the gifts of spiritual practices; receiving practices which speak to your soul in such a way that deepens your connection to others, self, and the Spirit. Through the various spiritual practices taken up this Lent we are invited to self-reflect on the moments when we are faced with temptation, choosing to turn to it and why that might be. It also allows us to realize temptations do not define or control us. It is God’s grace which defines us and with this knowledge we are free to stay true to our character and call as disciples of Christ.

“Central to each of the challenges that Jesus faced is a single question: To what extent will he trust God to be God and to be himself?” This the question from where we examine our story and process the reflective work of Lent. You see, “Lenten penitence engages the dark places in our lives that we may come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them! It is not about guilt. It is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us all, about the amendment of life and new beginnings.”

Freedom to know one’s self can be a jarring experience. Sometimes it can be easier to view lent as a season of viewing ourselves as horrible people who strive to appease and unthankful God than it is to view this season as a grace filled one. A grace filled season reminding us that we are connected to all of humanity by the dust from which we came and shall return. Guilt is easier than grace because when we move through Lent guided by guilt it is easier to throughout the invitation of spiritual practices Lent offers and not reflect upon our story. Yet, if we allow ourselves to be guided by grace during this season when temptation arises and we respond by accepting temptation we are reminded that God is giving us the chance to move deeper into the grips of grace, learning more about ourselves and who God has created us to be.

In the moments of temptation we are reminded that God does not leave us but is there with us. Allowing us to draw strength from our creator, the vast ancestors of our faith, and the incarnate God who knows the difficulties of facing temptation but staying true to one’s character.

Within these 40 days and 40 nights limber up your spiritual muscles and lean into the spiritual practices which guide you well. These are the practices that our souls turn to when we experience great pain or are faced with temptation. In the Gospel text today Christ’s character is seen in the temptation. To have shown his divine power could have easily been done, turning stone into bread, sending angels to his rescue, and gaining all worldly power. He did not do that though. He recalled the wisdom of his ancestors, drew strength form his fasting, from his prayers. Christ had to the power to show his divinity but held true to who he was, the Son of God – fully human, fully divine, the incarnation of God.

As followers we are invited to live into the fullness of ourselves, created in the image of God. To admire Christ is not what we are called to follow. We are invited on this journey to respond gracefully to ourselves when temptation captures us. It is an invitation to learn about our character and deeper into the various spiritual practices which strengthen us to respond differently to temptation the next time around.

Unlike the story we see in Matthew, our temptations do not always have an identifiable tester. Our temptations resemble those that Screwtape and wormwood offer in C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. “Each one of us, however, understands the temptations Screwtape and Wormwood offer: pride, vanity, selfishness, and apathy. These are just as dark as Jesus’ temptations, and perhaps even more so, because most of the time they do not come with a face.” A visible enemy to defeat.

Our lives are met repeated with temptations driven by our insecurities and fears. How deep the holds of temptation can go when we don’t name our fears and insecurities. If we don’t know what fears drive us to doubt ourselves, doubt the healing work of God, doubt the transformative work of communal life then how can we expect ourselves to know any other way to respond than to give into the masked fixes temptation offers.

The invitation to know oneself – fears and all – is scary work but it leads to freedom. Freedom to state one’s insecurities without being defined by them. Freedom to know where fears guide us to temptation’s edge without going over because we have found ways to respond differently. Freedom to admit the unending flow of God’s grace is what strengthens us to forgive others who have harmed us and forgive ourselves when we bring harm to ourselves.

With Christ’s story of temptation he was tempted three times to reveal his divinity: first by proving it through the miraculous, second by proving it through spectacle, and third via political power. Christ rooted himself in spiritual practices and it provided him with strength to remain true to his ministry without trying to prove his divinity through these temptations. He knew himself well enough to not need to prove himself by the tester’s ways.

As a church community we are invited to a season of personal and communal reflection. Examining who we are, in the deepest of ways. Learning what spiritual practices speak to our souls – they may differ from person to person, so use this time to find spiritual practices which connected meaningfully to you. Examining what temptations have come our way in the past and why those temptations connect with us and why who chose to respond the way we did. Lent has been steeped in decades, upon decades, up decades of prayer. Enter into this prayer filled season, joining in with your own prayers. Prayers to know yourself more earnestly. Prayers to tap into the fears you have and name them. Prayers to allow yourself to grow further in God’s grace. Prayers to be patient with yourself as temptations arise and you may respond by turning to temptation or turning away from them.

As we see with Christ’s story of temptation – spiritual practices are not a magic remedy to an easy life. Scripture has Christ being tempted by the Tester directly after his 40 days and 40  nights of fasting. Spiritual practices to not guard us from temptations coming to us but what they do allow for is for us to identify temptation and draw upon the practices to give us strength to not give into temptation.

Lent is not a season to perfect ourselves or the practices we have found to be meaningful for us. It is a season to graciously learn from your life story and grow further in community with your church, God, and self. For when these 40 days and 40 nights have come to an end we do not leave these spiritual practices at Lent’s doorstep to only be picked up the following Lent. This is a season which is a catalyst for the remainder of the church calendar.

How sweet a time to enter into. A time without guilt to examine self and our relationships to others and God. Joining the history of those who have gone before us, offering our prayers and practices to enrich the halls of Lent even more.

You are invited this Lenten season to receive  God’s grace in new ways as you practice spiritual disciplines which give life to your soul and strengthen you for the temptations of life. There is no guilt to this season, only grace. Freedom to learn more about your character and relationship to God. Freedom to name your temptations and strength to turn away. What a beautiful invitation that allows each of us to build God’s Kingdom in all that we do.

Will you receive the invitation of Lent this year? I hope you will and I hope you allow yourself the space to join your ancestors, learning from them, growing into the disciple Christ calls each of us to be.

You are invited. You are called. You are forgiven. God in peace this Lenten season.

Amen.

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