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Lent 1 February 14, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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LENT 1  Year C 
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, February 14, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
 
Lent is a time for getting down
to the bare bones of things.
 
And so our liturgy
is stripped to the bone:
 
A simple wooden processional cross.
A font that baptism’s waters once overflowed –
now empty, dry.
And near the font, where
Easter’s Paschal candle
and the urn of gold-gleaming baptismal oil resided –
emptiness.
 
Bare branches form
a stark tracery of the floral abundance
they replace
and foretell.
 
Our music settings are simplified . . .
we’ve buried the Word we love to say –
          the one that begins with A . . . l l e l . . . you know what I mean.
 
and there is silence.
 
You could almost say
Easter has departed this space
for a time . . .
 
except, of course,
that the living Word of God
still speaks to us here,
and the Body and Blood of Christ
still feed us here,
and we, the Assembly, still gather here,
the living Body of the Risen Christ.
 
 
But in these Lenten liturgies
we deliberately create an emptiness,
an absence,
a space of sparseness,
in which there is little
to distract us from encounter
with God.
 
For Lent is a time
of reckoning:
of self-examination
that cuts to the bone – 
 

Who am I?
Who have I been?
Who does God desire me to become?
 
And what does it mean to follow Jesus
in all my being and becoming?
 
 
Most of the time
our over-stuffed lives provide
convenient refuge from these questions . . .
 
Even as we ruefully acknowledge
the unhealth
of our calendar- and device-driven existence,
 
isn’t it sometimes a secret relief
          that there is
          little space,
          little silence,
          little time,
     to experience the emptiness
     that brings us face to face
with ourselves and the living God?
 
Sometimes life events force us
into that uncomfortable emptiness,
          ready or not.
 

Lent dares us
to choose that emptiness,
to enter willingly into that stillness
to welcome that space
once a year
     for 40 days,
to fast from whatever serves
to distract us
from getting real
with ourselves and God.
 
Who am I?
Who have I been?
Who does God desire me to become?
 
And what does it mean to follow Jesus
in all my being and becoming?
 
 
Five weeks ago,
on the First Sunday after the Epiphany,
we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism,
heard God lay claim on Jesus:
 
“You are my Son, the Beloved,
with you I am well pleased.”
 

What did Jesus know about himself,
how did he understand himself
          before those words were spoken . . .
 
As a boy growing up in a small,
          impoverished village,
as a man, a worker in wood,
          who loved a good dinner with friends,
as a Jew, practicing his religion?
 
Did he gradually awaken
to the divinity within?
 
Did God’s words at his baptism
open his mind and heart
to the full realization of it?
 
 
Next stop,
the wilderness,
 
like the mountaintop
of last Sunday’s Transfiguration,
a liminal place,
          a thin place,
 
where, separated from the
familiar surroundings and activities of everyday life,
          one is likely to notice
                   the living God
                   or
                   the lurking tempter.
                  

And the voice of the tempter says,
“Quick, let me fill that void
with that which is meaningless.”
 
 
In the wilderness,
the austere, beautiful, desolate Judean desert
the carpenter from Nazareth
          wrestled with the mystery of his life . . .
 
and wrestled with the whispering, probing tempter
     who would steal his life,
     divert him from God’s purpose
              his own purpose,
     and
     lead him down the garden path
              to ruin.
             
For what would it profit a man,
the tempter might have said,
to be the Son of God,
     if he failed to use it
              for his own advantage . . .
     to satisfy his every hunger,
     to exploit the power that came with the title.
                            
         
 
In the dark of night,
when the only glimmer of light
          came from the cold stars high above,
was Jesus shaken by the weight
of what God
had laid upon him?
 
Were these his questions, too?
 
Who am I?
Who have I been?
Who does God desire me to become?
 
And what does it mean
          in all my being and becoming
                   that I am God’s Beloved, God’s Son?
 
 
For the Spirit had led Jesus
to the wilderness within,
where the struggle
with self and tempter and God
takes place.
 

And Jesus,
the Son of God
who was also human as we are,
did not run for his life
          from the struggle,
back home to Nazareth,
to family, friends, food and drink,
work and play –
to anything that might fill that void.
 
He stayed for his life,
waiting on God in the wilderness,  
calmly quoting Scripture
to the increasingly exasperated tempter,
who, in desperation,
quoted Scripture in return:
          from the psalms,
          “he will command his angels concerning you,
                   to protect you.”
 
But,
to no avail,
and so the tempter
gave it up
“and departed from him
          until an opportune time.”
 
 

When Jesus returned from the wilderness,
he was intent on the mission of God’s Kingdom,
willing to give himself completely
          for its fulfillment,
     even if he was not yet aware
                   of the totality of self-emptying
                   that would require.
 
 
Lent invites us
to stop
running for our lives
          to be quiet
                   and still
                             and empty . . .
 
to sojourn in the austere beauty
          of Lent’s wilderness
where there is nothing to distract
us from the encounter
with ourselves.
And of course the tempter,
          still seeking the opportune time,
          may sneak in as well,
          ready to offer all kinds of trinkets
                   to fill up the emptiness . . .
 
 
But in this wilderness place
          of self-examination
God is there already,
God who waits for no particular time
but is always with us,
          for with God
          now is the opportune time,
          now is the day of salvation.
 
God who knows our weaknesses,
and says
“You are my Children, my Beloved . . .
You are of great worth to me,
great value,
and I love you.”   
 
And when we see with sorrow
how we have
          dishonored that worth,
          diminished that value,
          and rejected that love –
We repent.
 
We repent and discover the treasure
that is greater than the glory
          of anything the tempter may offer,
greater than
          all the kingdoms of the world:
     God’s compassion and forgiveness.
 
For God is mighty to save.

Enticements and temptations
are revealed for what they are,
their worthlessness apparent
          in the light of God’s love.
 
 
There is a necessary solitariness
to our keeping of Lent
like the wilderness solitude of Jesus,
but it is an aloneness
in community and communion with others.
 
We journey through Lent together,
          with the whole Church,
gathered around Jesus,
just as the first disciples journeyed
with Jesus
from the mountain of transfiguration
to Jerusalem and the cross . . .
 
 
The destination of our pilgrimage:
Holy Week and the Great Vigil of Easter,
our feast of joy and delight,
of transformation,
          resurrection,
                   new life in Christ . . .
 
when our ornate Ethiopian cross
is dangled with signs of resurrection,
when our Font spills over with baptismal water,
our new Paschal Candle burns bright
in our midst
and fresh Chrism glows golden again
in its urn –
 
When flowers explode into fragrant blossom
all over the place . . .
 
When voices and instruments
make extravagant melody . . .
 
When we, God’s renewed and rejoicing people,
bring new members into the Church
          the Body of the Risen Christ
through the waters of
the over-brimming font.
 
Today,
we will enroll
          Lee MacClellan and Liz Steinke
as candidates for Holy Baptism
          at the Easter Vigil:
 
Christians in the making they are,
          entering a period of formation,
          soon to be our sisters in Christ.
 
God is about to lay new claim on them.

They are adventurers, these two,
          embarking on the great adventure
                   that is life in Christ.
 
They are signs among us
          of the movement of God’s Spirit
                   ever renewing the Church.
 
They are reminders to us
          of our own baptism.
 
They are encouragement for us
          as we journey with and encourage them.
 
With us,
they’ll be asking Lent’s wilderness questions:
          Who am I?
          Who have I been?
          Who does God desire me to become?
 
          And what does it mean
                   in all our being and becoming,
                             to be God’s beloved children,
                                      sisters and brothers of God’s beloved Son?
 
         
When they make their baptismal covenant,
we’ll be renewing our own.
 

Together with them, and
with Christians around the world,
we will commit and recommit ourselves
to being an Easter people:
sisters and brothers of the Risen Christ –
intent on the mission of God’s Kingdom;
willing to give ourselves completely
for its fulfillment,
no matter what that giving may require.
 
Lent is a time for getting down
to the bare bones of things.
 
Therefore, let us celebrate the Feast.