Lent 2011–Sunday, March 13

Gardens—Lent I.

After this weekend’s news of the
earthquake and tsunami in Japan,
and all the aftermath,
we have been asked by Lutheran
Disaster Relief, the ELCA, and our church leaders
to pray for Japan. I know that
all of you are already doing that.
In fact, I was thinking that this morning
should be entirely dedicated to praying for the
victims of the disaster—not only
the human ones, but all creatures,
even the land which has been so severely damaged.

Last year, at this time,
we were praying for Haiti.
We’ve had experience, all of us,
in responding spiritually and materially in times of crisis,
whether the crises are personal, or communal,
national or, in this case, international.
We return today, to that common ground
of prayer, of beseeching God for help and comfort,
in the midst of things we do not understand.

Lent is a season that brings us back
to the beginnings of our faith.
We look at the origins of our human condition.
This week-end’s earthquake and tsunami
bring us up against the uncertainty we all
share as human beings, and the struggles
we face to create lives of meaning and beauty.
Such times test us.

We hear two tales of temptation this morning.
One is particularly painful, the story of Adam and Eve
in the garden, and their failure to listen to God,
or rather, they listened,
but failed to act in the way God directed.
Their actions reverberated out into history—
condemning humankind to a condition of suffering,
according to the biblical writers.

The second story of temptation is Jesus’ own
spiritual wrestling in the wilderness
against temptations to certain kinds of behavior:
what we could call the misuse or abuse of divine power.
His shelter in the struggle against the tempter
is the Word of God—each time.

Three times, Jesus renounces the devil and
each of his temptations.
We ourselves make similar renunciations
in our baptismal vows,
three times at the baptismal font.
Jesus’ resistance to temptation,
to the tempter’s invitations, opens up a space for us
to resist temptation as well.
His successful resistance
opens the door for us for new possibility.

Both stories concern our relationship to God,
asking, who is God for us?
Our answer to that question
shapes our response to the demands of our life.
In the Genesis story, you could say,
Adam and Eve chose to try and become like God,
to become divine beings, and they test
the limits of their own capacity.
If you keep reading in Genesis,
after Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree,
and suffer their terrible experience of shame,
late in the day, in the early evening,
they hear God walking in the garden.
God calls out to them, “where are you.”
But Adam and Eve are hiding.
They hide from the responsibility of their actions.

In the desert, Jesus faces the temptation
to become God without God.
It’s a similar temptation to Adam’s and Eve’s.
The devil tempts Jesus to live outside
the boundaries God has set, to usurp God’s power
for himself—to live as a tyrant, really.
And Jesus takes refuge in God,
instead of hiding from God,
Jesus finds shelter himself in God’s Word.
The Psalm says it beautifully:
“You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”
Afterwards, Jesus is no longer alone in the desert,
but angels come and minister to him.

During this season of Lent, each Sunday,
we’ll retell our sacred history as human beings
in relationship to God,
as the biblical writers understood it.
We’ll have a chance to reflect
on our human condition—we creatures,
created in God’s image, often separated from God
by our own decisions to turn away.
Our sacred history is all about our
capacity to break faith with God,
and God’ refusal to break faith with us.
God reaches back toward us,
to gather us in—to call us back into communion,
to call us back into relationship.

The question God asks in the garden, “where are you”
is a good question for Lent.
The season invites us to consider:
Where are we in relation to God?
Even though we know the outcome of this journey
on the road to the cross and resurrection,
as we travel this familiar path,
we might make new discoveries about our faith,
and our life with God.
All the readings this season will ask us to become more conscious
about ourselves in this profound relation to our Maker.
Repentence, return, as the biblical writers teach it
is about right relatioship.
The Hebrew word for this process is turning: is Teshuvah,
The Rabbis speak this way about it:
“there are three prerequisites for turning:
eyes that see, ears that listen, and an understanding heart.
If you have all three, you are ready to turn and be healed.”
(after Isaiah 6:10; See page 129, in the Mazor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1972)

Turning toward God in this sense is about healing:
God’s healing for us, and our active participation
in the task of mending the world,
of helping to heal the brokenness we see.

On Ash Wednesday, we read Psalm 51.
The center of the Psalm is a prayer
to carry with us this season:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
When I asked the children on Ash Wednesday
what “restore” meant, one of them replied,
“it means to put things back in place,
where they belong.”
That’s a wonderful answer—restoration,
to get put back where we belong.
Lent restores us—think of it as spiritual healing,
for the soul, where we are cared for,
bathed in baptismal waters, fed spiritual food,
healed by forgiveness, gathered into community.
ministered to, as Jesus was, by angels.
Salvation means wholeness, health,
and it begins here and now, in this life.

Lent is about restoration and wholeness.
We know the end of the story,
we know the resurrection will come.
But each Lent, there are new things to learn,
for life is always presenting
us with new challenges, new invitations.
We don’t need to invent reasons to repent and turn to God—
life will bring us to that turning—that strong seeking.
We’ve been deeply concerned already this Lent,
by news of a terrible disaster.
Such events turn us even more deeply toward God,
and with compassion toward our suffering neighbors.
Our quiet morning here in Cape Ann
with birds calling, and the earth beginning
to green, is a long way from the devastation
we’ve heard about.
Nevertheless, we can keep
the people of Japan close to our hearts,
pray and respond, and ask for God’s help.
I will close, this morning, with a prayer for them.
Let us pray:
Gracious God,
Your word of peace stills ‘the storms that rage in our world.
Turn our eyes to your mercy in this time of confusion and loss.
Comfort those who mourn
the loss of loved ones because of the earthquake
and tsunami. Bring healing to places that know devastation.
Restore them, O Lord, and hold them in the shelter of your peace.
Let your love be known through
those who work to bring order in the chaos.
Help us to shoulder the burden of suffering,
and show us ways we can help.
Make us bearers of the hope that can be found in you
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
(prayer adapted from ELCA resources).

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