Sunday, February 17, 2013

What if you know you are the beloved?

Judean desert, photo by Alexey Sergeev
Today's sermon is based on today's gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Lent: Luke 4:1-13

Here is the sermon:

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Have a seat.

It’s time we had a little serious talk about Lent.

Last week we were up in the thin air on the mountain at the Transfiguration with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Everything was shimmering and dazzling.

But today is Lent, the most serious season of the church year.

Here is what I want you to do about Lent this year: I want you to relax a little, ease up on the guilt, ease up on your worries, and take things a little slower and a little more simply.

All of which is to say: I want you to take Lent seriously like you never have before.

I want you to start every single day of Lent with a prayer – I learned this prayer from New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson. Here goes – repeat after me:

“I am the beloved of God.”

I want you to repeat that to yourself every single morning in Lent. Let’s do it again:

“I am the beloved of God.”

And I want you to start every single day for the rest of your life with that prayer.

“I am the beloved of God.”

I want you to say that enough times that you really believe it.

And then I want you to ask yourself a question every single day for the rest of your life: How does this make me feel to really know I am the beloved of God?

If you really know this – really believe this about yourself – that you truly are the beloved of God – where is that leading you in your walk with God?

And then ask, what is blocking you from walking on your path with God?

That is the reason for serious self-examination in the time of Lent.

What needs to change for you to live fully into being the beloved of God?

Where have you turned away from the path God would have you take? What is in your way?

Lent is a season of penitence. This is not about fake, sappy piety, but about having an honest conversation, at your deepest core, with God about where you are called to go and how to get onto that path.

That makes Lent a season of change, sometimes radical change.

If you want to give up something for Lent, give up whatever stops you from taking the next step on your path with God.

Is it an unhealthy habit? Or a distraction?

Give up being too busy to smile. Give up being too busy to pray and to listen. Or how about giving up being afraid to hear the small still voice telling you that you really are the beloved of God?

Find a way to simplify, slow down, lighten up, and discover again what really matters in life. Be generous like you never have before.

Do not simply withdraw into your own personal Lent, but look for the beloved of God in everyone you meet.

And that makes Lent something more than about us as individuals. Lent is really about all of us walking this path together.

If we can embrace a Holy Lent that is both inside us and beyond ourselves, maybe we might see that the hunger and pain of the world is ours, too.

That is why we open our doors to ministries like PACEM when we host women who are down on their luck, and have no other place to sleep to get out of the winter cold.

It is why we are involved in IMPACT, a coalition of 26 congregations in Charlottesville that is tackling the knotty systemic issues of homelessness and unemployment.

We do these things not just because they are good to do, but because we are connected to each other in this world as the beloved people of God.

The fact that Lent comes in the middle of winter is no accident. Maybe we need the chill of the air to remind us to be a little closer to each other.

Lent is the long season into the valley of Good Friday. Easter is coming, but not yet.

Nor is it an accident we get this strange story today from the Gospel of Luke. Like much else in Lent, the story is designed to shake us from our comfort zones.

Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, is led away from the refreshing waters of the River Jordan and into the desolation of the desert where he has a frightening vision of the Devil.

He is tested by the greatest temptation of all: Power.

He is offered the power to turn stone into bread; the power to rule every kingdom; the power to stay unharmed if he falls from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Each of these tests has Jesus hovering above the world like the Greek God Zeus.

He can fix everything if he will stay above it all – and above us.

The ends will justify the means, or so the devil argues.

But Jesus rejects all of it.

Instead, he chooses to be down here, with us, in the griminess of the world. He chooses to be with us especially in those moments especially when we feel the most powerless.

He defines both his humanity and his divinity by being with us in the Valley of Lent – not hovering above us.

And then Jesus does one more thing: He invites us to walk out of that valley, as hard as that walk might be.

He invites us to know – to really know – that each of us is truly the beloved of God – always and forever – every single day of our life. AMEN.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

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