Follow Jesus into Lent
“….he was famished. The tempter came….”
On Wednesday we began the penitential season of Lent. Lent is a time when we are invited to examine ourselves, repent, pray, fast, and read scripture. The period is 40 days (excluding Sundays), which parallels the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and praying.
Each of you has an index card. I want to give you one minute right now to think about how you might spend these 40 days… how you might examine yourself, repent, pray, fast and read scripture. You might follow the Society of Saint John Calendar or journal Meeting Jesus in John. Lots of people give up chocolate for Lent. Many people are giving up single-use plastics for Lent. Many of us take up a discipline such as reading one of the Gospels. One year I gave up buying anything beyond food. This year, I feel like God is calling me to express gratitude while I am engaging in menial tasks, memorize some verses of scripture, and Eric and I are doing one intentionally kind thing for each other each day and thanking each other.
What will you fast from, what discipline(s) will you take up, how will you examine yourself and repent this Lent?
You may have already thought of something, but if not, I want to give you 1 full minute right now. Write down in a word, phrase, or picture how you will engage in lent this year.
When Jesus finished his 40 days of fasting and praying in the wilderness, the text tells us that he was famished and…. it was at that point, the point at which Jesus was depleted that he was tempted by the Devil.
Isn’t it true that when you are down, when you are depleted that is when you are tempted the most? Isn’t it true that once you give up chocolate you want it more than anything? You seem to see it everywhere.
Jesus had fasted from food for 40 days and the devil’s first temptation is food. You’re hungry Jesus, why don’t you eat a little. You know you can turn anything into food… why not try it.
As you engage in Lenten discipline you may find yourself tempted more than ever. And this is why penitential seasons like Lent can be so powerful. When you take up a spiritual discipline in Lent whether it is fasting or reading scripture, you will be so tempted and unlike Jesus you might fail at times…. But the more you can push through and resist the temptation to give up and give in, the stronger you become in resisting temptation generally.
This is the spiritual discipline of Lent – the act of building up our resistance to temptation.
Lent is a time when we voluntarily go into the wilderness… In Lent we voluntarily fast or take up a new discipline…
But isn’t it true that life sometimes involuntarily throws us into the wilderness when we least expect it… Isn’t true that life sometimes forces us to fast or take on new responsibilities that we would never want.
Those who have been laid off suddenly experience a dramatic decrease in spending. They no longer can sustain the lifestyle they once knew. They have to operate on so much less and give up so much.
Every caregiver of a loved one who has suddenly fallen gravely ill finds themselves with a whole host of new tasks and responsibilities. Your life and work and family responsibilities keep going, but now you also have to schedule in doctor appointments and do all the things your loved one used to do.
Life sometimes shoves us into the wilderness out of the blue and we find ourselves deprived, stressed, and famished.
And these wilderness places of deprivation are not always born out sorrows like job loss and illness. Sometimes we find ourselves deprived in a blessing. Any new parent will tell you that they are so deprived of normal human functioning. Most parents of a newborn lack sleep and barely are able to nourish themselves.
And then there are simple, incredible blessings like planning a small event at church like say the Apple Festival or getting ready for a family birthday party. These are awesome blessings that shove us into a wilderness. We find ourselves running around, forgetting to eat or hydrate properly. We have normal life and now suddenly extra tasks on top of all that.
Even in the midst of great blessing, we can find ourselves in a wilderness place… depleted, exhausted, even famished.
And the devil, satan, evil, the shadow side of life whatever you want to call it… does not care what is depleting you. The devil is an equal opportunity employer… It does not matter if you are depleted because you are voluntarily fasting during Lent or if you are deprived from a job loss or exhausted from a new born… Whenever you are depleted… whenever you are famished, that is when the devil comes lurking around to ensnare you and tempt you with an easy way out.
“I know it’s been hard losing your job. Why don’t you just take that last paycheck and go to the casinos.”
“Jesus I know you are so hungry… why don’t you just eat…you are so hungry, go ahead. You know you can do it.”
But what does Jesus do? With dry cracked lips and a stomach hardened by near starvation, Jesus half delirious from the hunger and the heat of the wilderness replies to the devil:
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The devil tempts Jesus two more times and Jesus resists each of these temptations… then our text tells us that Angels came to restore Jesus and Jesus goes on to heal the sick, preach to crowds of people and… at one point along the way we find Jesus ministering to a woman at a well who has been shamed by her community, Jesus’ disciples approach him. “Jesus, you have been ministering so much. You haven’t eaten for days… eat something.”
Jesus responds to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”
Jesus voluntarily went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days, he voluntarily became famished and resisted temptation there. Now as temptation came lurking again in the midst of life, he was able to resist it again.
We build our immune systems this way don’t we? We expose ourselves to a bit of the flu so that our immune system can work up a good system to fight the flu when we really encounter in real, everyday life.
But there of course is a critical difference between the flu shot and Lent. We are not giving ourselves a dose of the devil to build up resistance in Lent. We are giving ourselves a dose of God. We are voluntarily depriving ourselves, examining ourselves, taking up a new discipline. We are voluntarily becoming a bit famished so that when we are tempted, we learn to turn to God.
The whole point of spiritual fasting is to turn your mind toward God.
Many of you have signed up to fast and pray for Jane Flader. I have heard that some fasted from food, others fasted from TV. The point of this kind of fasting is that when you normally prepare food or watch your show, instead you sit and pray for Jane Flader. Then later when you feel that hungry or miss that relaxation you get from watching a TV show, you think again… pray for Jane Flader.
The point of voluntarily becoming famished is to… in many ways help us learn our utter and complete dependence on God. When we are comfortable sometimes it is hard to see our need of God. But when we are hungry… suddenly we realize how utterly dependent we are on God even for this breath I am taking now.
When we walk into the wilderness voluntarily and famish ourselves voluntarily, we learn to turn to God in the hunger pains and turn to God when tempted. We learn to turn to God in all things… and this builds our spiritual immunity….it builds up the strength of our faith. And we all need this because we know that even the blessings of life have in them at times wilderness places, places of lack.
So, I invite you to follow Jesus this Lent. Look at what you have written down. Take time before you receive communion today to decide how you are going to follow Jesus this Lent into the wilderness. Ask Jesus to help you maintain it, to help you get back on track when you tempted, to help build your faith because our Lord knows we need strong faith to make it through the wilderness places of this life.
I invite you now to stand with me… we stand in part to show our respect and to show that Jesus calls us to follow him as his friends… and as we stand I invite you now to affirm your faith in the one who went deep into the wilderness for us… who sacrificed everything to show us that God is better and stronger than an temptation….to show us that God is truly the only way forward and through the wilderness places of life.