HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
Readings: Gen. 9:8-15/1Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: Mk. 1:12-15
As we enter into this Lenten Season, we begin a time of reflection and repentance. We reflect upon those things that take us away from God and then strive to gain his repentance for that distance. When we move away from God, it means that we move away from that which connects us to God and His creation and go searching for it in other places. We will go online to look for it, but all we see is visual pollution. We will show our desire to belong by putting bumper stickers on our cars or those magnets along the back, but more often than not what we get from others is disappointment and disdain. Sometimes we will look to sports for a connection, and for a time there is some connection. But after a while the conversation becomes so detailed and complicated that those connections get too heavy to bear for someone who just wanted to enjoy the game with a favorite team. When we try to act in the place of God, God will allow us to do so. But when that moment comes, the perks of being God do not come along. And as we move away from him we find that our stability, our family, our community and even our personality goes away and when we see ourselves in the mirror, we can’t even recognize our own reflection.
When Jesus was called into the desert, he understood that same sort of desire that we all strive for: that connection with God and his creation. Even though he was the Son of God, Jesus felt those desires and despairs during his time on earth. He understood that as he studied the scriptures. He would have read about Noah and the Flood. He realized what His Father did to the world when he allowed the waters to cover the earth so only a few would survive. He looked at the world around him and saw the factions that had taken control over the Children of God: The Priests, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, even the Roman occupiers of the land had influence over the minds and thoughts of those of whom God had chosen for his own. The Israelites had lost their focus; their identity of what it meant to be in covenant with God. And perhaps Jesus, being all man as well as all God, was feeling it as well.
No matter which Gospel is read that Church year (Matthew, Mark or Luke), the First Sunday of Lent is always the same story: Jesus’ call into the desert where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. This year, the Gospel is from St. Mark. While the other two Gospels go into great detail what happened during this time, all Mark states is that Jesus was driven in the desert and tempted by Satan. What sort of temptations could Jesus have in the desert? We believe he went out to prepare for what was going to happen when he began his ministry. The Spirit wanted him to connect with his Father, but what was going on in the world was beginning to take its toll. Satan tempted him with other thoughts and ideas as to how his ministry was to be. Satan wanted him to be an earthly Messiah, not a spiritual one.
Yet despite all of his efforts, Satan could not break that connection between Jesus and His Father. In fact, I believe it made it stronger. How? By remembering his connection to God through the covenant God had with his children. After the Flood, God spoke to Noah and established a covenant with him, his descendants and all the living creatures on the earth. God promised never again to destroy the earth. As a sign of this covenant, God placed his bow in the sky whenever the rains came. While today we understand how a rainbow is conceived, it is comforting to note that no matter how divisive we are with ourselves, and even with God, Our Father in Heaven will not deliberately destroy his creation. It was for this reason that the Spirit called Jesus into the desert; to get an understanding of these feelings and how to deal with them as he was to begin his ministry. The covenant God made with Noah now becomes the covenant Jesus makes with his descendants.
How we deal with those temptations in our lives is just as important as to how Jesus dealt with his. While our temptations (we could just call them “enticements”) can cause us to move away from God, they also move us away from being ourselves in a world that is more focused on small-group conformity rather than universal community. We can be ourselves in community rather than having blind obedience to small-group extreme orthodoxy. When we take a step back from the enticements of belonging, we can view the acceptance of that which we are already apart: Children of God. And no thought or person or group that moves us away from that, no matter how close they seem to be to it, can take that away from us. We just have to have the patience to see it, accept it and embrace it with our whole heart, our whole mind and our whole soul.
This journey of discovery and acceptance of connecting to God is highlighted in the lives of those who are in religious orders. In the Benedictine Tradition, for example, they take vows of poverty, celibacy, obedience and one other vow: a vow of stability. This vow is one that commits the person to one community. They focus on their salvation while resisting all desires to move from one place to the next and entrust God’s mercy to live in community with those who know them and be accepted as they are. It is an interesting concept that could be used in the world today. How often are we moving from job to job or place to place because they just did not fit who WE are rather than we getting along with THEM? To be sure this is something worth considering during this Lenten Season. To be stable means we know WHO we are, WHAT we want and WHERE we want to be. Our Lenten reflections will help us in that regard so that when we see the error or our ways, our repentance from going astray from God will be genuine, life-giving and connected. We should never have to be looking for a connection to God. We already have one. We just have to have the stability to find it.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK