How is your soul doing today?

Welcome to the First Sunday of Lent. As we all know Ash Wednesday began the penitential season of Lent. It's a season in the church year which provides a time for reflection and repentance. The reciting/singing the Great Litany reminds us of our infirmities, petitions, and intercessions. All this helps us to focus what it means to live in a different way. We are being called upon to see ourselves God's way. Not like a light that has grown dull and cloudy, but like a light shining brightly on a hill for all to see. The Season of Lent is a time to do some interior spring cleaning. It is longer than the Season of Advent because we need this extra time not just to do but to be. To be willing to listen to the silence of the heart and mind together, calmly, purposely, trusting God in the silence of time. We are encouraged to use this time to develop a living relationship with Jesus by observing these 40 days of Lent. One Sunday morning I was asked by our own Dalton Downs, "How is your soul today?" This question took me by surprise, and I realized this is a question we all need to ask ourselves from time to time. Here I was greeting everyone, smiling and talking with them; but then I realized there were others in that same line who had come to church hurting, looking to find God's love, support, direction, healing, and forgiveness. You see, Lent is a time to ask: "How is my/your soul doing?" "Where am I in a relationship with God, my family, my friends, those who I work/worship alongside? Have I been more of a person of the world than a person of God? Have I gotten too busy for my family, whether work, retirement, or at church? Have I gotten distracted, forgetful, neglecting my responsibilities, putting things off, or saying to myself " I'll get to them later." Lent should not be a chore but a time of renewal and rebirth. Thankfully, we don't have to begin our relationship with God from scratch. Lent is a time of renewal, to renew our connection with God. We all experience hard times, those dry and stale times in our life. And what do we do, we put off praying, we put God on the sidelines, ignoring his wisdom and council, and doing it our way. "My ways a better than you ways says the Lord". Lent is an opportunity to restructure our life, to reorient our thinking and putting God first, by making space and time for him in our lives. By putting God first in our thoughts is to be. Now, this may sound very strange to you, but ask yourself what does it mean to be? This is most likely the most difficult devotional activity we can do because it is intangible. We cannot see it, feel it, taste it, or even touch it. It is all done by keeping the mind clear of any thoughts usually for a certain period of time. We have all heard Fr. Tom speak about this and what a difference this makes in his life, and what he has learned through the practice of Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is a way of listening to God and not letting anything else get in the way. These 40 days of Lent are a way to begin/deepen a life-long practice of being with God on a daily basis. I believe that there are many ways we can keep our date with God without making it more complicated than it really is. Now, you may be asking yourself, "Where do I fit 20 minutes of quiet time or more in my busy day? How do I pay attention and stay focused? How do I concentrate and put my mind on "hold" in order to be in God's presence? How do I silence the chatter that is always going on in my mind?" For me breathing in and out helps to control anything that pops into my mind. Since I am trying to keep my mind clear of any thoughts, any breath I take in I see myself breathing in God's presence and breathing out any errant thoughts. For some, a word like Abba, or Jesus clears the mind, maybe even imagining a sailboat, the chatter sails into your mind and just as quickly sails away. Now, you may be asking yourself, "Where can I do this?" Anywhere, any time of day, when you find yourself waiting, walking, sitting, standing, any kind of procedure where you must lie still, tune out the sounds and be. "Be still and know that I am God." "Pray without ceasing," as Paul reminds us. Make everything you do a prayer to God. You can experience this in the quietness where ever you want, your home, outside or anywhere you do your devotions. Today's lessons bring to light the accounts of how sin entered the world, and how sin has become part our life, what we think, what we say, what we do, what we don't do. In the reading from Genesis this morning we encounter two themes. The first encounter is that God gives the responsibility of the Garden to Adam, with one exception, not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; and the second encounter is the serpent tempting Eve to eat of the Tree of knowledge, and then sharing the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge with Adam. The underlying message is that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God they became responsible for their own actions by what they were doing. When caught they immediately blamed the other. This is why we are here today as we begin our Lenten journey, our innocence was lost in the Garden, yet out of that experience, we were given the wisdom to grow in knowledge, to function as part of God's creation in the world. God has given us this gift of wisdom to decipher between good and evil, right and wrong, between taking responsibility for our actions or blaming others. It is a story of growing in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of ourselves in today's world. It is a story of taking God's Word over ours. In the Gospel reading from Matthew Jesus is confronted by the devil three times in the wilderness right after his baptism. It was and is a time when he was, and we are the most vulnerable. God's voice declared that Jesus was his beloved Son and that he was well pleased with him. Jesus was hungry after being out in the wilderness for forty days yet he did not break his fast. He did not yield to the temptation of testing his Father in Heaven, and finally, he let Satan know that the Kingdom he was offering did not belong to him but to God only, and he is the only one we are to worship and serve. Lent is a time when we can experience, or even understand, those times in the desert when we feel helpless and alone, vulnerable to our thoughts and emotions. Yet it is a time where we as people of God can go to find refuge and encounter God. It is a time when we, at our very worst, can discover God through our helplessness and doubt. It is here in the wilderness that God is with us even though we feel there is no end in sight, all we see is dryness in our lives; yet in the midst of the desert, there always seems to be oasis' in the middle of nowhere. There is always restoration and resurrection although we don't see it at the time, because our faith was shaken, and hopelessness haunts us. This is what Satan wants for us to give in and to give up. Satan wants us to abandon our faith in God and surrender to the influences around us. God is there even when you don't feel his presence, the desert is that internal struggle when silence is not dryness but a time to listen, to discover God's wisdom in the midst of that dryness, and to be renewed in the face of adversity. Lent is a time to reflect back on our dry times and to see where we were, and where God is taking us. If you find yourself in the midst of the desert right now look for those oasis' in life where God is. The barrenness and dryness won't go away, it gives us time to pause, to know this time in the desert will end, and we will come away with new insights and a better understanding of God's wisdom in our lives. To many of us, Lent is a time for repentance, discipline, and preparation. It is a time when the emphasis is more about sin, confession, and ultimately redemption. It is also a time to prepare for Easter and the joy of what God in Christ Jesus has done for us. Psalm 32 which we read today is a favorite of mine, its message is one of hope and joy. It is here in this Psalm David confesses his sin of adultery. His rebellion is forgiven and his sin is wiped away. David acknowledged that when he refused to confess his sin he was miserable. His sin held him down until he did something about it. He couldn't hide it from God anymore, he had to come clean and admit what he had done. With that realization, God wiped his slate clean forever. Because of his understanding of sin David wanted all of God's people to confess their rebellion and sin against God. David recognized that God is our refuge, who protects us from the many temptations which surround us, and delivers us from all our temptations. God will guide us through all the ways of our life, and he will watch over us forever. The joy comes when we obey him and our hearts are true and pure. May you have a holy and fruitful Lent. Amen