Let me begin this morning by asking you all a series of questions. I don’t expect an answer, just that you would consider the questions. Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? If so, how are you doing with it? It has now been a little over 6 weeks. Have you slipped away from those great intentions?
When we make a resolution, we start out with great intentions and plans: perhaps beginning a walking routine, starting a membership at a gym or purchasing a weight machine, treadmill, bike or stepping machine. Or was it stopping smoking, drinking cokes or McDonald’s Hamburgers? The question is, are you using the exercise equipment as a place to hang clothes? Have you given in and slipped back to the old habits that represent your old self? This is not about trying to make you feel guilty!
How about for Lent? Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. Many people give something up for Lent or perhaps pick something up. In preparation for Easter Day.
When asked in his Sunday school class what he was going to give up for Lent, one small boy said, “I’m giving up liver. I hate liver.” Probably not the right idea.
Did you fast on Ash Wednesday? Have you ever made fasting a part of your Lentin Discipline? When you fasted, how did it feel? I remember when my kids were growing up, it seemed as if they were going to die if they didn’t eat immediately after they woke in the morning. Wendy especially, would say, “I’m starving!”
I typically try to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent. This year, on Ash Wednesday I served as Deacon at the 12:00 and 5:30 services. One of the duties of a deacon is to set the table, preside over the table and to do the ablution’s (wash the dishes) after everyone has received communion. Typically, it also includes consuming the remaining host and drinking the last bit of wine left in the chalice. At the noon service there was quite a bit of wine remaining. I had 2 options, pouring the remaining wine in the Piscina, a small sink in the sacristy where the blessed wine would go directly to the earth instead of the sewer, the other option was to drink it, for the sake of time, I consumed the wine.
Since my stomach was empty, it wasn’t very long; Joanie and I had just finished hanging up our vestments, and I started feeling rather poorly. When I left the church to return to work, I thought, I need to eat something, it will make me feel better. After all, the reason that I am feeling poorly wasn’t my fault in the first place. My next thought was, what should I eat? Wendy’s double cheeseburger, and some French fries of course! I pulled into Wendy’s and joined in the long drive thru lane. Before I reached the spot with the speaker, you know, the place where you place your order and all responses are completely un-recognizable? I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit, reminding me that if I followed through I would regret it, I would certainly feel defeated shortly after the wonder, and joy of that glorious cheeseburger had been consumed. Instead, I pulled out of the line and went back across Hwy 60 to Walgreens and purchased a liter bottle of water. Very much, Not the same as a double cheeseburger! Even though it wasn’t what I thought I really wanted, it made me feel better, just the same. For once, I didn’t fail! Even though I easily justified the cheeseburger temptation, therefore it wouldn’t have meant failure, right?
In our Gospel lesson today, we heard Mark’s version of the Baptism of Jesus and His journey into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by Satan. We know from the other Gospel accounts that Jesus was not only in the wilderness, He also fasted for 40 days! Think about that for a minute, most of us wouldn’t consider fasting in the first place, it we do, a single day is quite a struggle! 40 days, on purpose? Unimaginable!
In Mark’s Gospel we hear that Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan. “Just when he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart, and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” And a voice came from heaven. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We then read that, that same “Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” So, not only was Jesus out in the wilderness all alone, fasting, with the wild beasts, He was also tempted by Satan! We know that Jesus emerged victorious!
So how about us?
Temptation has been part of humanity since the very beginning. Sin because of temptation started with Adam and Eve.
If we read verses in Genesis earlier than today’s lesson, we read how sin, and violence increased exponentially within the world so much so that God was sorry that he ever made human beings. God wiped everyone out except for those whom God saved with Noah. Even though Noah wasn’t with out sin. God knew that he was a righteous man, Noah was a man that God could work with. He had potential. Noah’s sin didn’t have to define him. How about you and me? Must our inability to overcome temptation and sin define us?
WE all have and battle temptations. We’d like to have that big, beautiful house, that fancy car, the high-paying career, the winning lottery ticket, to be famous, rich or perhaps powerful. These are the big temptations, but what about those that come at us on a daily basis, we’re faced with things that tempt us in more subtle ways. The foods we eat, the thoughts we have, and also in what we truly believe about ourselves, and about God. It’s these areas in which the devil can start to get a foothold in our lives and draw us away from the things God would rather have us keep our minds on.
Our lives are full of temptations. We are constantly bombarded by ads telling us that we just aren’t complete unless we have the latest product to fulfill our wants and desires! Television and movies are filled with examples of sexual relationships outside of marriage, excessive drinking, smoking, drugs, abuse, robbery all apparently harmless and perhaps normal living? They are made to appear even harmless. When we are tempted, and when we give into them we all know that they will eventually lead to trouble, addictions, or simply put. Sin.
In the Gospel we heard that the Angels waited on Jesus in the wilderness.
When I read that, my first thought sure, that’s how he did it. He had the angels! I could do it to if I had them! Then, as I was spending time praying through the many thoughts that might make up this sermon I realized that I do have my own angels, I do have someone with me in the wilderness! At my own baptism I received the Holy Spirit. The heavens were probably not torn apart like Jesus’ However it was a significant event. One that was important to God and certainly to my eternity. From that moment forward, I would never, ever be alone again, never left without the “Comforter” with me. Even though, temptations are all around us, and we give into them sometimes quite innocently. The Spirit will show us and give us the strength to overcome, or perhaps to start again.
I struggle with high cholesterol, and pre-diabetes. I can do a whole lot to help control it by the way I eat, and what I drink. I love Jack Daniels and Coca Cola (never Pepsi), I also love potato chips, crackers, and French fries. Sometimes after Laura and I have been out for dinner, after I’ve had a couple of my favorite drinks, on the way home I begin thinking about what I’m going to eat when I get home. I know the inventory and right where the chips and crackers are in our pantry. Even though hunger has nothing to do with it, I will eat whatever is in there. When I wake in the morning I think the same thoughts, what happened, how could I be so weak, I ate in a healthy manner at dinner. What happened? When I over-do it like this my blood tests convict me at Dr Holmes office when we look at them together.
2 years ago, Laura and I working with a nutritionist. Each year in January we do a cleansing diet. It includes: cutting out alcohol, coffee, crackers, bread, fried food, beef, pork, dairy products, potatoes and many other of my favorite foods for 2 weeks. It is a reset for us and it helps me get things back in order, when I’m doing the fast/cleansing I have found that I do not have headaches and I don’t need my allergy medication. One would think that I would learn from this experience, something about it makes sense. However, slowly, slowly but ever so surely all those things come back into my diet. After all they are all harmless right?
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, I would like to suggest to all of us that we might consider these 40 days as our own cleansing diet. Let us each use these 40 days to reset ourselves and focus more on God and His deep love for every one of us. Whether it’s giving something up that is truly meaningful (probably not liver). We might pick something up, reading scripture, perhaps serving somewhere that we would not normally find ourselves. Something that might help us focus more clearly on Jesus’ sacrifice and especially on the deep love that is ours because He loves us so much that He simply will not give up on us.
Let’s use this Lent to start over again even though we’ve tried in the past and failed, we slipped back into our old selves and old habits.
Lent is our opportunity to start again.
Thanks be to God!