RCL Year C Lent 1
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2 and 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13;
Saint Luke 4:1-13
Let’s start with the obvious. The devil’s temptation of Jesus is the temptation of the Son of God or, in other words, Jesus’ divine nature. And, consequently, we are not surprised that two of the temptations take this form: “If you are the Son of God, then do what the Son of God alone can do.” I hope that none of us thinks he can turn stones into bread or leap from the Empire State Building without harm. Our temptations are of a different order. How do we face them? We face them by using the traditional spiritual disciplines.
On Ash Wednesday we heard those solemn words: “I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent,” and here is the list of disciplines, “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” This is not an invitation to do something unusual or extreme or to leave daily life behind. It is an invitation to train ourselves by the classic spiritual disciplines, so that our eyes can learn to see what is already there.
The Lenten disciplines which our Ash Wednesday invitation recommended to us are some of the church’s most tried and true ways of noticing God right where we are. They aren’t the only ways, but they are among the most reliable. That’s why the church asks us to use them every Lent.
Now, if you don’t want them to work, you can do them mechanically. You can do them with your eyes and ears on automatic pilot. Just read a collect at top speed, and check off prayer as having been done. Skip seconds at supper for forty days, and check off fasting as having been done. Let your mind flit over the past week for half a minute before we say the confession in church, and check off self-examination and repentance as having been done.
Keep your eyes and ears on automatic pilot instead of open to seeing and hearing God’s presence, and these reliable old disciplines won’t disturb you a bit. You can keep right on moving, and never hear the Holy Spirit singing to you like a bird fresh from wintering in the South.
Or you can take time and use these disciplines to become a God-watcher. Pray, maybe, by talking to God as if he had spent the whole day right at your side, as if you knew no special church rules, and as if you expect him to keep up his half of the conversation.
Or fast, maybe, on some day when you’ll have a chance to sit down and feel the hollow buzz in your stomach, and then ask what it reminds you of. What else, who else, feels that way?
And for self-examination, maybe, try on the simple questions of a child, things like “How come you lied?” or “Why can’t I be friends with him any more?”
Oh, you don’t have to do those things exactly. Do some other ones if you like. But if you want to become a God-watcher this Lent, get yourself off automatic pilot.
For the next forty days, try taking it on faith: The word is near you, in your heart, in your house, in your neighborhood. And then watch.
Sit quietly, and gently look at the place from which you thought you might have heard a nightingale’s song, until the Presence of God begins to take shape before your eyes. Then you’ll be able to say it for yourself: the Word is near me, on my lips, and in my heart. And it was there all along. Thanks be to God.