Sunday, March 05, 2017

Loving Lent!

25 years ago this week while I was in my second year as a Resident Minister at the University of San Francisco I tried to write some poems for the students I lived and worked with — and one in particular that responds to todays Gospel reading. Now be kind… I was only in my forties and I was writing so that the sense of the season might speak to people in their late teens and early twenties.

The Gospel for today starts ...

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

And here's the first of my Advice for Three Tests in the Wilderness:

Part One
So you’re hungry in any desert
And somebody comes ‘round hawking junk food;
Spiritual tim-tams, high calorie cola, ice cream.
I scream Wait for the wheat, wine and water,
Contemplate complex carbohydrates, nourishment is coming,
Living Bread is on the way.”

Here’s a question: Do you ever yearn for the perfect diet? When I was young in California there was a liquid diet called Metrical, three cold cans a day and the fat fired off. Since then we've have Jenny Craig and  Lite and Easy and all sorts and conditions of ways to waste excess weight away — and I am one of a number of friends who have lost and gained many pounds that way.

But Jesus just says no to the magic of food, and yes to a larger issue of of how we share and consume in community. For food means company, not just company for dinner, but many, different people in a common cause. For what we eat and drink has been touched, gathered, lifted up by workers in the fields, harvesters, processors, moved by ship, truck and train to market with many hands holding, refining the food from the land; bringing it all together. All this before it comes to the table to be broken and shared.

And Christ opens his arms, his full life saying, “This is my body, this is my blood!” Jesus says I am willing to be known in this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation. This bread and wine are means of my love to you, but I mean to love you everywhere, in everything, in everyone!

Here’s the second temptation from Matthew’s Gospel:

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

And the second stage of my poem from 1992:

You have achieved a sensible diet
When some dude advocates practising spiritual bungee-jumping
without the rope, leaping freely into the possibilities of God.
Avoid this test. You didn’t design the course,
Appropriate pop quizzes will arrive in time, and
The final exam must be lived through to be believed.

Now a personal confession: I used to think it would be really nice to get out of here alive, sometimes I still do, But Jesus doesn't, and that always stops me, makes me want to work it out differently; and here I quote from Walden by Henry Thoreau:

“Let us settle ourselves and work and wedge our feet downwards it through the mud and slush of opinion and prejudice and tradition delusion and appearance… Through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, to we come to a bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality say, this is, and no mistake; and then began.”

And to quote a sermon I wrote in the early nineties.

“The cross is reality, with no mistake, about the limitations and the struggle the death that come with being human. It is a sign of finitude and flesh and blood and it is also a picture of what happens to a human being when that one cries out too loudly over the inept inequities of a corrupt society and the transactions of a dishonest people. It has many shades and forms and we can see it on our TV screens every day.

“But just as the cross is the deepest truth about who we are, so it is the deepest truth about who and how God is and how and where God will meet us. And the good news is that we see the cross with a double view. It is both a dead end and an opening door, which work together to change not less than everything. For Jesus has died on the cross, and if we take up our cross, if we move to meet our endings, our limits, he will be with us in our dying. And Jesus Christ is alive, raised from the dead, and when we go beyond what we know of our limits, into the greater realm of unknowing, the farther reaches of our unfinished journey, we will meet him and he will bring us to his final freedom where, as St. Paul writes, ‘what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.’”

Here’s the third Gospel temptation:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

And the third level of my poem:

He is willing to negotiate. Can set you  up with a franchise;
Oh, powerbroker, Glory-monger, Spiritual Stretch limousine driver!
To reply, just say No. He’s faking it, The guy is small change.
While the all-powerful is making ready to give you
No less than everything as a gift.

Let me finish with a hopeful question: Isn’t it interesting that we see death as the end when it’s actually in the middle? You see Good Friday and Easter are really a coming attractions for the greater glory of living a life that is larger than any death we can see from here. Remember it might take forty days to live through Lent and get to the dead end, but then we need fifty days and a whole new season post resurrection to rise to the occasion of living as a Pentecost people, learning to live and move and have our being day to day on this horizon of eternity. And how do we do serve that larger reality to which we are called? Very simply, I think, and only day by day by day.

We’re working with this in the Lenten series starting tonight at 7:30 in Purbrick Hall (to which, by the way, all of you are most cordially invited) We're spending the next five weeks pondering five marks of love that prepare us for living and loving this larger life: Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure. and how they has to do with diet and death and doing right day by day by day in light of this great and costly promise to which we are called. Again, I hope you can come tonight.

My San Francisco poem ends like this:

Take comfort,
Be Fed,
Continue on the way.

But Matthew sees a wider vision, he writes: “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. Others sources even add “wild animals” as well.

In any case, it’s not a chance you’d want to miss. Have a wonderful Lent!

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