2/17/13, Forty Days of Renewal

Deut. 26:4-10, Romans 10:8-13, Luke 4:1-13

The first image projected on the wall today drew our attention to Lent as “40 days of renewal” rather than the way we have often thought of it in the past: “40 days of repentance.”  With all that has gone on in our world, and in our Church and probably within us during the course of our lifetimes, most of us agree that the need for renewal is self-evident.  Old ways of being and living just don’t work forever.  We might wish we could cling to the past to preserve our identity and safety, but most of us here know we desire both personal and corporate renewal. 

In early church liturgy, the forty days which Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry was called by the Latin word “quadregisema.”   However, in the Middle Ages as sermons began to be given in the vernacular rather than Latin, the term “lent” was adapted from the German word for long, referring to the visible lengthening of days in the spring.  Religiously, this symbol of spring and its new life became a time to remember the events of the past and enter into them in a transformative way.

Our lives are like that, aren’t they?  As each year passes, if we are on a healthy path of human growth and development, we grow and change a little. Nature lives out this transformative pattern before us in so many ways: the changing of caterpillars into butterflies, the growth of acorns into mighty oak trees, the transition of our sweet little babies into two-year-old terrors and six-year-old sweeties and teenage tribulators and on into the long arduous journey of adult seasons of change.  Not to change is to be dying, although one could argue that death is the ultimate transformation.  And that too is part of the journey of Lent.  Lent ends with the cross and then comes Easter: the ultimate transformation of what no longer works into a new form of life.

So each year the season of Lent offers us the opportunity to consider the stories of Christian experience past.  We enter into them with our own present experience of life, asking what is no longer producing growth, where change and renewal are necessary.

 The gospel story set before us today is meant to make us take stock of our present lives as we travel on with Jesus.  The essence of that story is summarized in verses 1 and 2 of Luke 4. “Jesus returned from the Jordan filled with the Holy Spirit and was lead by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days, where Jesus was tempted by the Devil.”

Jesus returned from the Jordan filled with the Holy Spirit. Several weeks ago we talked about how Jesus spent the first 30 years of his life being a rather common person among common people.  His parents brought him up in the Jewish faith, taught him to work with his hands and to serve others in the community.  But then, he was attracted by the visionary words of John the Baptist.  Being baptized in the river Jordan, he recognized the call of God on his life. 

The Spirit takes Jesus promptly from this experience of call into the desert.  For writers of that time, the desert image was a metaphor for a place of testing and transformation.  Luke brings Jesus to this desert place and keeps him there for 40 days.  Again metaphorically speaking, the number forty is applied in many scriptural stories.  It symbolizes the period of time required by God to accomplish a specific work.  (The flood of forty days, the wilderness wandering of forty years, Nineveh had 40 days to repent are examples.)

While Jesus is in the desert, he is tempted by the Devil.  Old Testament Judaism’s understood “the Devil”  not as a personal being but as a psychological presence within a human that is like an adversary or obstacle or accuser in opposition to one’s true self.  It’s the shadow side of our humanity conflicting with our innate desire for good.  We all recognize this tendency in us.  Temptation, defined as the attraction to something opposing that which is good, comes to us in forms that are unique to each person.  What pulls one person off the track might not be the same as that which would tempt another.  That “devil” that torments each of us is not a person but a presence that detracts us from our desire to be wholly God-centered within.

So in this story, Jesus deliberately sets his foot to the path of a new call by leaving that which is familiar- his hometown, his family, his working profession- and taking himself to the place where he will confront the dark side of his own nature.  He has to look at what attractions within his own humanity would deter him from following God all the way to death--- that is, to full transformation into the Divinity within.  Forty days was the gospel writer’s way of saying that God’s work needed to be fully accomplished by facing the opposition, and so it was.  After this episode in the wilderness, Luke continues the gospel story by saying, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee and his reputation spread throughout the region.”

Can you make the connection to your own spiritual journey?  If you are being called to a deeper place in relationship to God, this season of Lent offers you the opportunity to step aside from that which is so familiar. Take the necessary time to face the places within you that are shadowed, the places that prevent the full light of Christ from being expressed in your life.  Only you know what desire for God lies within your heart, only you know what call to new experiences of the Divine you may be experiencing, and it is only you who can face up to what has to change in order for you to be empowered by the Spirit for a new work in the Kingdom.

But guess what?  This Christian life is not all about YOU as an individual!  Lent is not all about YOU as an individual. It’s really about US as the Body of Christ.  It’s the Church that stands at the edge of the desert today, called to be fully the presence of God in this world but desperately in need of a time of re-examination, a time of facing the dark places within that bedevil us and keep us from being all that we are called to be as the Kingdom of Heaven.  We have to take this time to look at what needs to change and then we have to assume the courage and wisdom and power of the Spirit to come back from the desert and take up the work of renewal.

As the Lumen Christi community we are commissioned to be a presence of renewed Church in the 21st century.  Our communal experience of Lent will continue our experiment in transformation of theology, liturgical worship, community support and lives of service. You will notice these changes in some of the words and prayers and music we use during Mass.  You will be challenged in the teaching we engage with Michael Morwood this weekend.  Perhaps you’ll experience a new way of doing Holy Week at the end of our Lenten journey. These may not be comfortable conversations, but genuine spiritual conversion involves both repentance and renewal.  Being convinced that we are already journeying with the Risen Christ, on we go!

 By Sandi DeMaster