engaging in a holy lent

A sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, March 6 2022

The temptation of Jesus Christ in the desert, in the wilderness, by the devil, is a pivotal piece of our faith journey, and always greets us here at the beginning of Lent. It is the very first thing that Jesus’ faces in his ministry after being baptized by John. It’s not teaching. It’s not healing. It’s not a miracle. It’s a test of his own faith. It’s a question of his own commitment in the face of temptation. It’s a question of his own strength of faith to trust in what God has asked of creation up to this point, and the knowledge that Christ has to rebuke the devil at each temptation with a word of scripture to match the temptation or challenge offered.

The temptations of the devil are recognized as challenges to Jesus’ faith.

This is not an uncommon experience for those of us who follow Jesus.

We have all faced challenges to our faith, whether by those who think our practice of Christianity is too liberal or too welcoming, or who think we are crazy for belonging to a church at all in 2022.

Some of us have faced a crisis of faith in our lives, when we’ve been rocked to our core, whether through a challenge, a giving in to temptation, a question left unanswered, a dark moment that we struggled to move past.

Perhaps you are still at a crossroads in your faith, not sure where you fall, even as you come to church every Sunday (or at least as many Sundays as you can manage).

There are temptations in our world to turn from our faith.

Temptations to worship something other than God.

Temptations to put our faith solely in our own abilities without any reliance on our community, without any reliance on the strength of God at work in our lives.

Lent stands before us in opposition to those temptations.

Lent stands before us in response to our crises.

This is why we begin Lent every year, here, with Jesus in the wilderness. 

Fasting and praying for 40 days as we ourselves embark on fasting and praying for 40 days in preparation for what is to come.

Lent affords us an opportunity every year to name what is holding us back from a deeper, fuller expression of our faith.

Lent affords us an opportunity every year to make a commitment to following Christ in the way of love.

Lent affords us an opportunity every year to recommit to the faith that we have in Christ, that through Christ, through God, all things are possible, that through this relationship and the strength we receive in our faith, all things are possible, including turning down every temptation of the devil.

Here at St. Stephen’s we have a special opportunity this upcoming Lent to lean into the opportunity that is afforded in this season, to lean into the call we receive in this special set-aside season to respond like Christ in preparation for the ministry that Christ is to lead, a ministry that we are called to live into in our own lives as followers of the way.

Over the next several weeks we will engage in a special offering of spiritual formation called Revive for Lent.

Over these sessions we will talk about our own spiritual stories and engage in the process of learning and creating space for deep prayer, to connect us to God, to connect us to our faith, to connect us to one another and the global church, especially in this time and season of the world.

Our journey together in this program is an opportunity to connect with the Christ that we find in the wilderness today.

A Christ that teaches us the importance of a personal relationship and prayer practice with God as a foundational piece of our faith.

A Christ that teaches us that the ability to pray, even when led out into the wilderness to fast for 40 days, affords us the opportunity to connect to God, to connect to the strength that is a part of our faith, a strength that can turn down every temptation offered to us by the devil himself.

I hope that you will join us these next several weeks to engage in this practice of prayer, connecting and reconnecting to the power and strength that can be found within.

Even if you cannot join us for this program this year, that doesn’t mean you still can’t make a commitment today to set aside even 10 minutes a day to simply and intentionally connect with God.

This can be accomplished through sitting in a quiet space and opening our hearts to God and the movement of the Spirit at work in our world and in our lives.

This can be accomplished through intentionally pausing and listening to a piece of music that connects deeply within your soul and inviting God into that space to be with you.

This can be accomplished through listening to an online prayer offering, like the daily podcast releases by Forward Movement where they offer prayers for both Morning and Evening Prayer, every single day.

However you choose to create this space, I encourage you to do it this Lent in response to the call that we receive today from Christ, in response to the example of faithful life that Christ models for us today in the wilderness.

When we live into that call that we receive today, when we live into that example of a faithful life from Christ today, then we are practicing the Holy Lent that we are invited into on Ash Wednesday.

It is a challenging call.

It asks us to carve out space and time in a life that is already full to bursting.

It asks us to honor the old saying attributed to different theologians across time that if we’re too busy for an hour of prayer that means we need to set aside two hours for prayer.

While an hour or two in prayer would truly be formational, even transformational, for most of us, going from no dedicated prayer time to 10 minutes of dedicated time each day, is just as transformational.

And, it’s a lot to ask to go from none to every single day.

So, let’s make the commitment here, together, today, that we will go from zero to 10 minutes at least…three times this week. And, if we’re already at 10, perhaps we push it to 15 or 20 minutes three times this week, just to see what happens.

If we agree as a congregation to engage in this together, this week, and recommit next week, and carry this practice through the season of Lent, I wonder what change that would bring about for us as a collective whole?

I wonder what differences we would see in our lives of faith?

I wonder how our priorities in our own lives and in the life of this place we call church might change or be reinforced?

I wonder what temptations of the devil we would be able to collectively face and turn down.

I wonder what temptations of kingdom that the devil puts before us would we be able to say thanks but no thanks, knowing that our collective strength of faith can build a kingdom far greater through our relationship with one another and with God.

This is our challenge and call as we enter into this season of Lent today with Jesus out in the wilderness, facing temptation, and turning each one down through a strength of faith that is modeled for us to follow.

I invite us all into the practice of a Holy Lent as a collective church that chooses to follow Christ’s model in the wilderness and lean into this set-aside season to focus on our own strength of faith, finding that strength through our connections with one another and with God through our practice of prayer and learning and growing together as the collective body of Christ we call St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

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