HOW GOES THE JOURNEY?
Lent is a quiet meditative season. For the Christian, it takes you on a slow journey between death and life. I hear that you will be studying on Wednesday evenings the events between Palm Sunday and Easter and reflect on their meaning.
Lent for me is also a time of spiritual house cleaning. It always begins with the ashes on my forehead with the words, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” I am a finite creature who was born into a world that is separated from God. Everything that is born, lives a life cycle and then dies.
But it is also a time of hope. The ashen cross also reminds me that I am an eternal child of God and a brother of Jesus, who is my redeemer who is freeing me from the powers of sin and death.
Today we encounter the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Spirit led him to be baptized in the river Jordan by his cousin, John the baptizer. There he says he is one with us by getting baptized into the human condition. One day he is going to suffer and die on a cross and experience the joys and sorrows of being a human being with us.
There is also an eternal side of his baptism represented by the Spirit saying to him as he comes out of the water; “You are my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Let’s stop and reflect for a moment about what this might mean for us. All of us are children of God and in the waters of baptism we discover that and realize a relationship with God that will never end, no matter what we experience in life. Most Lutherans are baptized as infants to emphasize there is nothing we can do to earn a relationship with God, it is a gift. It is even more binding than our relationship with our parents. They are connected to us in this life, God is connected to us forever.
But that is but the beginning of the story. Jesus is immediately driven into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. In Matthew and Luke we are told the temptations Jesus faced.
They come when Jesus is famished. He has been fasting for a long time and the devil trying to define him says: “If you are the son of God command these stones to become bread.” Jesus would not let the devil define him even when he was hungry and tired. “People shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
I would like to believe Lent each year is our time not only spiritual house cleaning but also rediscovering what God wants our relationship to be. First, God defines who we are, not the world. There is a freedom in realizing that. Oh, has that helped me in every life situation. It started when my mother decided I was to become a medical doctor, make lots of money and then take care of my parents when they retired. Secondly, in every congregation I have ever served there have always been those who felt appointed to tell me my identity in that place. I am a child of God given unique talents and abilities. I must seek God’s direction in every place I serve to discover who I am and will be in that setting.
Next, each one of us has abilities, but they must be used by the direction of God, not just for our desires.
Each year during Lent it is time for a searching self-appraisal to discern how I am doing. I need to take time to celebrate where I have been growing as a servant of God, and where I need to seek God’s help for new life direction.
We change and grow over the years, as do people’s reactions to us. When I was a young man I went camping, led recreation at Vacation Bible School, and served on the volunteer fire department and rescue squad. It was then we brought into this world our two children, who are both beyond the age of 50 now. We did the best we knew how and often sought the Lord’s direction when they were growing up, especially when they were teenagers. That was during my 30s and 40s. I am now 80. I haven’t figured it fully out yet, but I do know I will not be recreation director at VBS, serve on a volunteer fire department and rescue squad, and pray I will not raise any more teenagers. But I do know this. It is likely our daughter will one day become our caregiver. She is already trying on that role.
But there are things I can do better now. I think I have enough experience to be a parish pastor, preach sermons from my life experience of God in the mess we often find ourselves. I didn’t plan it this way but through my education and life experience I have discovered the ability to help folks when they are facing the issues of life and death.
As you do a searching appraisal of yourself, what are you discovering? Remember start with you are a beloved child of God, so beloved Christ died that you might be freed from the powers of sin and death. In baptism you were given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide you. But God is a gentle soul when dealing with our self-identity. God rarely forces the Lord’s will on us but is there to be a central part of our life if we but open our heart.
Let’s begin the sacred journey of Lent trusting God will lead us in our spiritual house cleaning that we might be truly prepared to celebrate Easter. Amen.
Sermon on February 21, 2021, by The Rev. Bernard Hess for Saint Michael Lutheran Church.