Our Gospel lesson for today begins with the familiar story of Jesus being tempted by the devil. As we walk this Lenten journey, it’s easy to get caught up in what “we” are doing: what we are giving up, what we are taking on, what spiritual practice we might try. All of that is incredibly important. However, it is not really the focus of this season. The focus of this season, as it is in every season of the church year, is Jesus, not us.
I wonder if when we talk to each other about Lent and what we are doing, if instead of talking about ourselves, we try to talk about Jesus; how we are getting closer to him, what we think about our relationship with him and with others as we pray through these 40 days.
As I think about the various kinds of disciplines that we all might take on, what occurs to me is that those disciplines show us that what we seek, what we hunger for is Jesus. Here’s what I mean: Let’s say that someone thinks they should “Give up” sugar for Lent. I would ask why they think that’s a good idea. Hopefully, that person knows themselves well enough to know that perhaps, sugar is a comfort to them; that perhaps when things get tough they reach for something sweet; and that’s not a bad thing necessarily. Hopefully, the person can begin to see that one of the ways that they want to have Jesus in their life is as a comforter. Perhaps as they go through these 40 days without their usual comfort of sugar, they can begin to see that it is God whom they long for and perhaps begin to reach out to God in that way, thereby creating a deeper, more meaningful relationship. One thing that I know about almost all of us, is that we aren’t always very good at relationship building, and that includes our relationship with Jesus. What’s important to remember, is that if there IS a difficulty, it’s because of us, not Jesus. That can be a difficult thing to work through because so many of us carry hurtful baggage that is connected to the church. Jesus isn’t the church. The church, and I mean the whole church is a tool that we use to get closer to God. Both a huge blessing and a huge problem with the church is that it is run by people; frail, sometimes selfish people who aren’t able to see clearly. Community is important; even Jesus surrounded himself with a community to support him in his ministry; but as with any human relationship, we can get that wrong. We can hurt each other in the name of Jesus because for some reason we think it’s the right thing to do. One of the reasons I think Lent is important is because it involves the community AND the individual. This season invites us to look inward at our dark places both as a parish and as individuals. Hopefully those reflections feed each other so that we can become individuals who have a deeper, more centered relationship with Jesus, which then makes us a parish that is more ready to act in the world as Jesus would have us act. We all get tempted to not act even when it’s clear that we should. It’s often easier and less trouble to take the easy way out. I am sure that Jesus was tired and hungry and the thought of bread probably made his mouth water. Yet in all of the devil’s temptations, Jesus acted in faith, knowing that the devil’s promises were short term fixes. Jesus was able to stay focused on his relationship to the Father, and stay focused on what he was doing as God incarnate. Jesus also trusted the Father to be able to provide him with what he would need during this time, because of the deep relationship he had with the Father. Sure, getting fed, having power over the empire in the moment, would have been easy; but it also would be soul crushing and it would not have accomplished what he came to earth to do. Jesus’ faithfulness got him through the trial in the desert as well as the temptations afterwards. Having faith isn’t always easy, and acting in faith certainly isn’t. Jesus knew what he came to earth to do and he was confident that the Father would help him.
I hope that we can all find ways to walk this Lenten journey that will help us to see where our souls need to connect to Jesus. In those disciplines and in that self reflection, I pray that we can trust in him to bring us through whatever trials and temptations we might suffer. Trust takes time and work. Hopefully we will take the time and overcome whatever baggage we carry that is keeping us from having the relationship with Jesus that he is willing to have with us. May we all find rest for weary hearts and souls.
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.