February 26, 2023
Rev. Scott Landis
The period of time from Ash Wednesday to the Triduum or the Great Three Days of Good Friday – Holy Saturday – and Easter Sunday is known in the church’s liturgical calendar as the season of Lent. Depending on your church background you may be familiar with all of these terms OR none of them, as I discovered on this past Wednesday in our mid-week Zoom gathering. There are a whole host of experiences and understandings of this season dependent on whether you were reared as a Baptist, a Catholic, a so-called “main-line Protestant,” or have had no church background whatsoever.
Some folks remembered fasting – giving up much loved items like candy or coffee, desserts, or alcohol for the 40 days – as a means of identifying with Jesus’ many sacrifices. Others “added to” – taking on additional spiritual practices to deepen their sense of spiritual growth in an attempt to draw near to God.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, in preaching on this topic, cited the meaning of the word “Lent,” from the old English word Lenten, meaning “spring” – not only a reference to the chronological season before Easter, but also an invitation to a “springtime for the soul.” Forty days to cleanse the system and open the eyes to what remains when all comfort is gone. Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves.
In short, Lent is a time to “get real” about our faith and our lives as we prepare for the most challenging days of Jesus’ life – including his death and resurrection. The stories we read from books of Genesis and Matthew speak to that.
Both are temptation stories. But the decisions made by the ones being tempted – and the consequences of those decisions are like night and day.
In Genesis, Adam and Eve succumb to the desire to want to be like God – to be as smart as God and thus harness the power of God. Their decision resulted in banishment from paradise – the Garden of Eden – and they had to live the rest of their lives struggling with their mortality – a consequence that has lived with humanity ever since.
In Matthew, Jesus took a different tact. The setting was much more dramatic. He had just been baptized by John. He then entered the wilderness to fast and pray as he prepared for the public phase of his ministry. Just when he was at his most vulnerable, Satan approached him and tempted him with food, the ability to dazzle, and power.
Jesus’ response in the wilderness was different from those in the garden. Not swayed by temporary satisfaction nor the need to have the focus of attention on himself – He knew who he was and whose he was. Grounded in God he saw the temptations of the Evil One as an opportunity to affirm his identity – In God. Not allowing his ego to overshadow his mission, Jesus used this pivotal moment to stand in allegiance with the one who sent him and who indwelled him and that was a force Satan could neither abide nor overcome. [Pause]
As we read these two stories it may be difficult for us to identify with Adam or Eve and probably even harder to identify with the person of Jesus – but the question these stories raise are no less critical to who we are as ones who identify as Christians today. And that, I believe, is what Lent challenges us to do. [Pause]
Several years ago, I was involved in a wellness program of the United Church of Christ called CREDO. It was one of the greatest teaching experiences I’ve ever had in my ministry. CREDO was a wonderful program that brought groups of 30 clergy together for a week-long retreat during which time they had the opportunity to reflect on their: Spiritual, Financial, Vocational, Physical, and Emotional wellness. As they reviewed those basic areas, they were invited to set goals for themselves – a program of improvement – that could help them do a better job in their respective ministry settings.
The program was called CREDO for a specific reason. CREDO can be defined as “belief” or “I believe.” But for our purposes CREDO meant “that which I give my life to.”
I’ve entitled my sermon today CREDO for a very specific reason. I believe the season of Lent invites us to consider that most basic idea or question. What is it that you have given your life to when it comes to matters of faith? [Pause]
I often find that folks become so used to going through the motions when it comes to their participation in church life that that rarely stop to ponder this most basic question. Why am I here? Why am I doing this? Why do I go to church? Why do I keep going? How have I changed as a result of my participation?
Sometimes we lose sight of that. We may become so proud of our affiliation: to Keawala’i, or with the Congregational Church (United Church of Christ), or with Christianity in general – that we have forgotten our real identity – as Jesus reminded – which is to be God-drenched — centered – or rooted and grounded in God. Bathed in prayer. Walking in love. If we are unaware of that or haven’t pondered that for some time – this Lent may be a good time to begin. Not to do so may result in – well, choosing poorly when the temptations come our way. They have and they will.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about our 39th President especially when he was placed on hospice care. Regardless of your feelings of Jimmy Carter as a President, his policies, politics, and programs – he was a man who never made excuses for nor ever lauded his relationship with God. It was so obvious. He never had to. It was so much a part of who he was. With quotes like:“I have one life and one chance to make it count for something.
My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am,
Whenever I can, for as long as I can
With whatever I have to try and make a difference.”
“The measure of a society is found in how they treat
Their weakest and most helpless citizens.”
It was clear that here was a humble man who returned to his Baptist church in Plains, Georgia to teach Sunday School whenever he could. His faith was grounded in God, and it affected his entire life – even when he was in the seat of supreme power.
Lent is so much more than a season on our liturgical calendar. It is a time for us to hit pause. To go inward. To go much deeper than merely showing up on Sunday. To think carefully and prayerfully about WHO WE are and WHOSE WE are and WHY we are here. I hope you will use the season not solely as a countdown to Easter – rather take time each day to do the internal work it invites. What is tempting you or pulling you from faith — taking you away from your life centered in God? What do you need to do to deepen your faith. How might you use this season to reaffirm your relationship with God and realize anew your identity in God?
I invite you to make the most of these days by listening closely for God’s presence in your life.
How is God showing up?
And if you find it absent or slipping away, now might be the perfect time to reinvest in the source of full and abundant life.