We have begun our journey of Lent. We slowly turn toward the Cross of Jesus during these days ahead, which eventually turns into the empty tomb. So many Christians want to skip this time of year and get right to the chocolate bunnies and cream-filled eggs, but you cannot have all of that without some preparation.
As you heard me say on Ash Wednesday, Lent is that time of preparation. We prepare ourselves Spiritually for the events that will come in a few short weeks. We had a similar time of preparation before the birth of Christ, but Lent is stricter if you will than Advent.
But what is Lent all about? It is not just about giving stuff up or wearing purple; Lent is about facing temptation and trying to overcome it with the help of God. And that is what we hear about in the Gospel from Luke today.
This passage takes us back to the start of the public ministry of Jesus. He has just had his encounter with John in the Jordan, and now, before he gets started, he heads off into the desert alone to prepare. He will spend the next 40 days alone, with nothing to eat, facing temptations and being tested. But notice one thing: the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert. The Spirit leads Jesus there but does not drop him off like he is at summer camp. No, the Spirit stays with Jesus and helps him face temptation.
The first temptation is on of the body, hunger. Luke writes that Jesus ate nothing, so I can only imagine how hungry he is. Jesus is tempted. Turn this stone into bread. Jesus answers, “a person does not live by bread alone.”
Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence not as a punishment but to assist in life’s other temptations. In the early days of the Church, Lent was a strict time of abstaining from rich foods. Many still celebrate Shrove Tuesday, but I fear it is more out of the idea that we have a party rather than what it was intended to achieve.
Originally, Shrove Tuesday was meant to use up all the things that we would not eat during the time of Lent. Rather than throw them away or just let them rot, the faithful used these items up so when the feast began, the slate was clean.
There is the spiritual understanding that if we can control what goes in our mouths, we will have the ability to control what comes out. So it is not supposed to just be about giving up this or that; it is about changing behavior.
By tradition, Orthodox Christians strictly fast during Lent. The strict fast means no meat, no dairy, and no oil. So they become vegans for 40 days. I know many people who follow this rule very close, which in the end, are the same people as when they began the fast. In other words, it’s not just about giving up; it’s about taking that deep dive within to make a substantive change.
Many folx associated with this Church, and many folx listening struggles with addiction. We pray each week for those facing that daily struggle. Overcoming addiction is not just about giving up what one is addicted to it is about changing the behavior and taking that deep dive inside for correction. There is also an appeal to a higher power for help in all of this.
Jesus is next faced with the temptations of worldly riches and power. These temptations come at us in small and subtle ways. As Christians, we are called to live a life that runs counter to what the culture wants us to live.
The world around us wants us to be successful, drive a luxury car, live in a big house, wear expensive suits. And there is nothing wrong with any of that. There is nothing wrong with success or being rich, but what does it take to get there? Who do we have to step on or step over to reach that goal? And how far are we willing to compromise to make all of it happen? The temptation is always about what is next.
I have said this before, and I am sure I will repeat it Jesus was not against the rich; Jesus spoke harshly against the stingy. Jesus spoke against those who had two coats whilst their neighbor had none. It’s okay to have two coats, but it is not okay to have those two coats if your neighbor does not have one.
As we sit here warm and safe, Ukrainians are hunkering down in subway tunnels and watching their homes being destroyed. Right now, Ukrainian men are leaving their families to go off and defend those same families, making the painful choice to leave them behind in those same subway tunnels. The United Nations Committee of Refugees has estimated that over 1 million people have fled Ukraine to escape the horror of war.
Last week, President Biden said that sanctions would not only be difficult on Russians, but the sanctions would be difficult on all of us. For several days, people were waving Ukrainian flags and posting pictures of sunflowers. But now that sanctions are starting to make a difference here, it is all about higher gas prices and not getting avocados from Mexico. Really? Sometimes the selfishness of Americans astounds me.
Yes, the last couple of years have been difficult on all of us, but we are not hiding in subway tunnels and watching our homes being destroyed by a mad man bent on world domination. I am okay with paying more at the pump and not having avocados if it means a family in Ukraine can sleep at night without the fear of being killed by some rogue Russian maniac.
As Christians, we are being called to think about someone other than ourselves, not to impoverish ourselves to help others but to be concerned about them and help them with more than just our thoughts and prayers.
Do we really need all those coats, shoes, hats, cars, houses, etc.? Can we give to help another who has nothing? Scripture tells us that your heat is where your treasure is. In other words, we care most about what is important to us, and if we care more about our stuff than we do about people, we should be taking a good, long look at that and why we believe that.
In the translation, we use the prayer that Jesus taught us we say, lead us not into temptation. As we can see from this passage today, it is not God who leads us. God does not lead us into temptation; God is with us during those times of temptation.
I have spoken before about my work after a disaster has struck. While sitting with someone who has just lost everything they have, I am asked, where was God? God is right there in the midst of it all. Regardless of what the TV preachers say, God does cause bad weather, earthquakes, or even wars. God does send bad politicians or even good ones, don’t blame God for all the bad stuff going on in the world that falls squarely on us. There are no promises in the bible other than the promise that God will never abandon us no matter what.
Jesus went into the desert for 40 days; God did not abandon him there but was with him every step of the way. Sure, it may feel like we are alone, and the world may be crumbling down around them, but God is there.
Last week I came across an internet post from one of the bishops in Ukraine. The bishop said, and this is a summary, that the clergy were taking the Church to where the people were. There were images of people gathered in tunnels with clergy praying and providing sacramental ministry to the faithful. Just this morning, I came across a picture of a Ukrainian Army Chaplain officiating a wedding in the field. Even amid war, there is love. When the world is crumbling, God is there in the midst of that crumble. Jesus suffered just as we suffer and will NEVER abandon us.
What are your temptations, and how can help you overcome them? God will not wave some magic wand and make them disappear; you have to do that hard work. But God will be there with you as you go through it.
I am going to leave you with the words of Paul. Paul sums up how much God loves us, and it is vital that we understand this. So many voices in the world say that God does not love this or that or because of this or that you are a sinner and God does not love you. Do not listen to those people, do not listen to me, listen to Paul.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”