Sermon for First Sunday in Lent
Sunday, February 17, 2013
We’ve all seen those pictures of Jesus. Nice, calm, serene. Not wanting to upset the apple cart. Just getting everybody to be nice to each other.
But then Jesus says something that makes your hair stand on end. “Give everything you own to the poor and follow me.” Uhhh, what? “Love your enemy.” Excuse me, Jesus? “Forgive others for as many times as it takes.” Jesus, you can’t really mean that, can you?
In today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke, we read about one of Jesus’ most controversial and impossible deeds of all time: he took forty days off work. Forty days! I mean, who can just tell their boss, “I’ll see you in a month and a half. I’ll be off praying in the desert.”
And I don’t know about you, but I have trouble finding forty minutes that are free. Sometimes it seems that even forty seconds are precious. And here’s Jesus, knocking off for forty days to spend time with God. That’s nuts. That might be the hardest thing Jesus ever did for us to mimic. And the situation isn’t getting any better.
There has been a steady trend in the American workplace for the last generation. American workers are taking fewer vacation days. And when we do go on vacation, we are still plugged into our email accounts and Facebook updates; we still take calls from work on our cell phones. Americans do a terrible job of getting away from it all.
We succumb to the temptation to fill our lives with more stuff, more work, more responsibilities. We stay at work rather than take a vacation day. We answer that one last email before bed instead of spending time with the family. We look at the text message that came in, because we just can’t stop thinking about it.
We in the church aren’t much better about it. We pile on more things. More ministries, more groups, more stuff. Rarely does the church actually provide a time that we can just be quiet, be unplugged, and be away from it all.
Satan came to Jesus and tempted him in the wilderness. Satan tempted Jesus with power and authority and might and comfort.
Satan tempts us too. But Satan usually doesn’t come to us with hooves, horns, and a pitchfork. Satan comes to us with our to-do list. We are tempted with that inbox with pages of unread emails. Satan tempts us in the guise of another Facebook status update, one more Tweet, one more quick text message that turns into yet another pressing priority. This is a temptation because it fills our lives and distracts us from what is holy. All of the sudden, we are “making time for God” rather than “making time for work.” It’s all backwards.
And then Lent comes around and smacks us in the face. Wham! On Ash Wednesday, we spent a long time on our knees during that service. And today, as you will have noticed, the service is different. It’s quiet in the beginning, we kneel, we reflect. We take an extra moment to pray and to be with God. Even if it’s only an extra forty seconds. Lent is a blessing from the Church. Really, it’s an excuse and a reminder to slow down, to listen, to be with God.
Typically, this is where the preacher begins to rail against the evils of email. To denounce the iPhone and Facebook. This is where most sermons would exhort you to cut yourself off, and retreat into the wilderness with Jesus. Become a hermit! Pray in silence for an hour every day! But that’s not this sermon.
See, I think most folks read this passage about the temptation of Jesus as a bad thing. He goes off into the wilderness and is tempted by Satan and it’s awful and miserable and all of that. But read this text carefully – who drives Jesus into the wilderness? Is it the devil? Is it Satan? No! It’s the Holy Spirit! Jesus is led into the wilderness precisely because he is filled with the Holy Spirit.
And I believe the Holy Spirit can work through the very things that tempt us. God is clever enough to take the temptation to stay busy, and make our busyness a time for holiness. Yes, the Holy Spirit can work during your busy lives.
Take the iPhone for example. Many of us live and work and breathe with this thing in our hands. It’s my connection to you, through Facebook, Twitter, email, and text. Now, this could be a bad thing. This little device could come to rule our lives by distracting us away from God.
But instead of throwing away your iPhone because of its busyness, use your iPhone to connect with God. Download the Prayer app. It’s produced by the Episcopal nuns and sisters of St. Clare. And it’s their digital mission to help people like you and me, with very busy lives, to pray with their iPhone. That’s right. Nuns with iPhones. Only in the 21st century.
Give the Holy Spirit and your iPhone, and your life will be changed.
I know that for others, you have to sit at your computer all day long. I don’t know what it is: spreadsheets, presentations, documents, email. Or all of the above. Don’t look at that time at your desk as an evil. Don’t let Satan trick you into thinking it’s all bad. Rather, use that time for holiness. Go to the website for St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York, and you can listen to their beautiful choral and organ services of prayer and praise. Right there, in the midst of all your busyness, you can find a little holiness.
Give the Holy Spirit your laptop, and your life will be changed.
In other words, I am not asking you to spend forty days in the wilderness in order to become holy. I am not telling you to throw away your Blackberry or to disable your Facebook account. Rather, I’m saying that those things, which can be temptations to step away from God, can also be avenues to grow closer with God. Give the Holy Spirit an inch, and your life will be changed.
Don’t believe me? Ask anybody who participated in our Drive-Thru Ashes. Who knew that something as mundane as a parking lot could become a sacred space? Who knew that something as ordinary as a Ford Explorer could become a temple for the Holy Spirit?
See, the real temptation from Satan is to make us think that things like iPhones and email, parking lots and pick-ups, cannot be sacred. That since they are from this world, they cannot be holy. That’s the temptation. And that’s a lie.
We know the truth. We know that it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness for an intense time of prayer. We know that the God who created all things, can use all things. We know that the Church can use Twitter to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. We know that lives were touched by the Lord Jesus even as they sat in their car last Wednesday.
In our lives of incredible busyness, we could tempted to think that since we can’t escape into the wilderness for forty days, we cannot lead holy lives. Don’t fall into that temptation. You can lead a holy life – sitting at your desk, looking at iPhone, driving in your car. Give the Holy Spirit everything: your email, your Facebook, your Twitter…your life. Fine. You can’t carve out forty days to be with God. That just means that you have to spend every day, every moment with God.