Monday, March 6, 2017

We Turned Away and Our Love Failed, But....

1st Lent 2017
Matthew 5, 2017
Temptation of Jesus
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

There is one thing about following the seasons of the church year along with our regular lives. Of coming here together in worship on a regular basis, living together the rhythms of a church year alongside all of the mundane, chaotic, catastrophic and confusing parts of our daily lives. That is so helpful, to me, at least.
We get to start over. And start over. And start over.
We get to re-center ourselves and re align ourselves.

We get Advent. Waiting for the Christ child to come among us. Such joy and anticipation.
Then it is over with and boom we are back to reality and messy houses.
Then we get Epiphany, bright shiny moments of revelation and anticipation.
Then boom we have to flee to Egypt and exile.
And we have to get through the long winter days…
But in the midst of those days are the stories of Baptism, Resurrection, Transfiguration. Moments of renewal and joy and purpose.
But the winter days get long and boring and mundane and, sometimes, depressing…
Just when it can’t get any worse, we get to start all over again with Lent.

Another chance of renewal and purpose and re-centering.

Unfortunately, the church, as it often does, makes Lent into another sludge fest. Requirements of fasting and self-denial and giving up chocolate for 40 days. Eating fish sandwiches at McDonalds, and walleye specials at Culvers.
Ridiculous and burdensome and slightly bizarre practices that are supposed to bring us closer to God but usually just make us feel guiltier about who we are and what we are and in the end, make us want to flee as far from God as possible. So that we don’t have to look on God’s disappointed face as we eat a beautiful piece of imported Swiss chocolate.

Lent is supposed to be a time of re-beginning. Another new year of possibilities. Another moment to remember where we came from, where we are going and finding a path to get there.

That is why we do Lent the way we do here, this year we are reminding ourselves that the journey to the cross is also the journey toward light. By lighting these candles every week and singing a song from a tradition that knows how to journey into Light from Darkness, we are saying no to the idea that Lent is about descending into darkness. Lent is not about scraping the bottom of despair in order to get to some kind of self-understanding.

Lent is about reconnecting with our roots again. The same way Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Baptism and Transfiguration reground us in who we are and whose we are and where we are going. Our purpose, Our passion, Our vision. Our community.

Now, there are times when we do have to get to the bottom in order to come out of darkness into light. That is a separate journey than what we are embarking on as a congregation during Lent.
If you have taken that journey into darkness, you know that it is not something that you would chose to do to prove somehow that you are a better human being.

Jesus journey into the wilderness was not a choice to descend into darkness any more than someone would choose to take on the journey of depression. Jesus didn’t go seeking darkness, Jesus went seeking light. The Light of understanding his purpose, his vision, his passion. His reason for being.

The scriptures focus on the vision quest of Jesus. On the three encounters Jesus has with the Evil One.

When I read this story I always imagine. ALWAYS imagine that the entire universe is holding its collective breath at each encounter between Jesus and the Evil One.

Because each encounter will determine the outcome of the future of the Universe.

Will Jesus stay true to where he came from, where he is going and the path to get there?
Or will the power, the glamour, the glory, the easy path that will not lead to death on a cross win out?
Will Jesus just decide to settle down into a nice rural community life style, make a sensible living making furniture, find a wife and have a few children, pay his taxes to Caesar and get himself to the synagogue on a regular basis.  It would be a good life. He could live out his human existence ignoring the demands of justice and peace in the world, denying people of his gifts of healing and forgiving words, letting them all live with a false sense of a god who is for the powerful and the glorified and the pseudo holy.

And he could die just like the rest of us. Content but with a growing sense that something was missing. That he had somehow missed his life’s purpose.

So the universe holds its breath. Because Jesus seems to be the last hope. God had already sent Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, prophets, preachers, teachers, healers.
God had already said: Love me with all your heart soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. God had already said: let your yes be yes and your no be no. God had already said: care for the widow and the orphan, the stranger who lives within your gate. God had already said, I have written your name on the palm of my hand, I love you, you are mine.
God had already said all of this, over and over and over again.
And the universe watched we turned away, as our love failed.
So here is one more, one final more chance.
God, God came.
Putting aside all glory, all power, all of God’s ownership of the universe. God came.
And God didn’t turn stone into bread, even though God was hungry.
God didn’t test the limits of God’s power even though angels were waiting in the wings to save God.
God didn’t turn to worship the gods of this world, even though God knew that the path would lead God to a cross and rejection from all whom God loved.

And the universe sighed a sigh of relief.

Invitation to the meal…)

And we got the chance to start again. To move toward the light. To hear the stories of how God can live as a human being, a fully challenged and fully human, human being.
Putting aside the glory: taking the role and form of a slave. Teaching us that the first shall be last and last first, that eating with sinners is better than a banquet among the rich, and inviting us to this simple meal. To feel within us the renewing sense of our identity as children of God as we eat bread broken.

To re-center ourselves as the forgiveness of God and the love of God washes over us as we drink the cup poured out.

To know that we are never turned away. Never.
Because one man, one day, after a hard journey said ‘no’ to the enticements of the Evil One and said ‘yes’ to Love.

This is the table of Love. This is the table of Forgiveness. This is the table the Universe has been waiting for.

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