|Date:||February 29-March 1, 2020 First Sunday in Lent, Cycle A|
Here we are again at the start of our Lenten journey. So do you know why the Church gives us this special season every year? I know I ask this every year but I had several conversations this past week that remind me that a lot of us don't know why we do Lent as a Church. There are a still a lot of us who think it is a time of personal strengthening of our faith, kind a spiritual boot camp to get us in shape for celebrating Easter. While that is a piece of it, it leaves out the most important part of Lent which is the communal aspect. Our faith journey is never me and God; it is always God and us. The origins of Lent are in the anticipation of the new members joining our community. This Sunday afternoon from our community we are sending Todd Matta to the cathedral for the Rite of Election. Todd will celebrate the sacraments of entering into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter season. For the most part all adults coming into the Church celebrate their sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil or soon after for the candidates for full communion. Lent is a forty day retreat for the Catholic community to get ourselves ready to be worthy to receive these new members. All these people looking forward to their entrance into the Church have gone through a process called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or RCIA. This process can also take a year or more. We can hardly ask these new Christians to go through all of this if we are not living our lives as we are asking them to prepare to.
And if we need any reminders why we need this retreat, today's readings are quite clear why: because life is full of temptation. And for the most part, giving in to those temptations diminishes our attempts to live as Christians. The tempter has not changed his message; he has simply updated it so that it stays appealing to us in every age.
Someone once said that at the heart of every sin was anger that we are not God. Isn't that the temptation the serpent offers in the Genesis story? You can be God. God just wants to keep you suppressed, keep you under his thumb. When we hear it stated so plainly, it is easy to resist. But the tempter is not that stupid. He is a very clever marketer and salesman, isn't he. But what do turning stones into bread, jumping off the temple, and worshiping the tempter have to do with you and me?
If we were to write the story of Jesus' temptation today would we be able to see through the tempter's sales pitch?
The tempter took Jesus aside and said, "Jesus, you really need to concentrate on making a living, you know. This God stuff is OK once a week but the rest of the time, think about the mortgage, the kid's college fund. And don't forget food on the table, medical coverage, the car payments. You don't have time to think about creation and love and God and why you are here and what life is all about." And Jesus said to the tempter, "No those things are not ends of themselves but should be the means that we love one another and help God finish creation."
So the tempter took Jesus to the nearest Church and said to him, "Jesus, look around at this world. It is so full of evil, hunger, pride, war, violence, moral depravity. What can you possibly do about all that? Only God can do anything about it. All you need to do is go to church regularly, try to keep all the commandments, and wait for the Messiah to come again to fix everything up the way it should be." But Jesus said to him, "From the very beginning, God has revealed to humans that they are to be his instruments of finishing the world. My very existence as a human being reveals so clearly that God did not create humans to wait around for something magical to happen to finish the world. He has given us humans everything that we need to love this world to completion."
Finally the tempter took Jesus up to a corner office high up in a large corporation's world headquarters. "Look at this. This is what it's all about. Think of how much power you would have if you made this much money and controlled a large part of the economy, and had all these people working for you. Newspapers would want to know what you think about all sorts of things. Politicians would vie for your support. You can get anything you want done by just telling someone to make it happen. All you have to do is devote all your energy and time to business. What else is going to give this success?" Jesus said to him, "The only way to true happiness and success is to become what God has made us for. To be a unified community of people who care for one another and for the world so that it can become the paradise my Father in heaven has destined it to be. Worship God alone."
Lent is our time to renew our resistance to the serpent's temptations. We need to become the community that Todd thinks he is joining. That's not easy. It requires time and energy and work. That's why the tempter's words are so convincing to us. He offers us the easy way out. But is it that easy? Who here thinks they have achieved all peace and happiness that can be had by following the tempter's path? Or does the Genesis story tells the truth: buying into the tempter's story brings pain and misery.
We are called by our baptism to be a holy priesthood, a consecrated nation, a community who live our lives in such a way that people around us see what is true, and see that the tempter's story is a lie. Don't let this Lent slip by us without changing us. Forget giving up candy or TV or extra helpings of dessert. How about spending 15 minutes a day praying together as a family. How about reading the Bible for the same amount of time we would normally watch TV at night? How about making a conscious effort each day to forgive someone for something you normally would get mad about. How about trying to find one person each of the six weeks that you can help with some of the gifts that you have been blessed with? You get the idea. Why don't we use this Lenten retreat to become more the community that Todd is working so hard to be part of. Or are we going to buy into the tempter's story?