Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a season of forty days leading up to the Easter celebration. It’s an opportunity for us to take a look at our spiritual life and see where we’ve missed the mark. It’s a chance for us to examine our sin and vices and repent. I’m confident there are times we know something in our spirit is out of order, but we avoid addressing it. I was asking a group of preschoolers the other day. “What do you know about Lent?” This four year old said, “I don’t know, but I really want to have Mardis Gras again.” He sums how many people might feel about Lent. We’d rather have a party. We’d rather not deal with reality. We’d rather not deal with the sin and vices that have worn a groove in our character. When our sin and hurts go unaddressed, our actions can come out sideways and we can hurt people. We are off kilter because we have not addressed our pain, struggle and wounds. We need to travel the terrain of our hearts and open it up to God’s healing mercy. It’s kind of like weighing in on a scale.
Lent is like a weigh-in for your soul. Do you know what I mean by that? Think about what the experience is like to get on a set of scales, especially in January after the holidays. You walk in the bathroom in the morning. Your feet are cold from the tile floor. You stare at the scale. You’ve been avoiding this moment. You approach it and it just stares at you. You exhale and you gently step onto the scale. You’re nice to it. You wait a moment. You let it adjust and calibrate. You look at the numbers. You step off. Then you take off your socks. And gently step back on it. You look at the numbers. And then you ask, “honey, do we need new scales?” This is a moment of truth when you face reality. The scales are honest.
Lent is a similar time for souls. Lent is a season for us to weigh-in on our souls. We deal honestly and squarely with our life and spiritual well-being.
In today’s scripture, we learn about Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. He’s preparing for his public ministry. The number forty has significance throughout the Bible. Noah, his family and the animals were on the ark for forty days as God cleansed the earth of sin through a flood. I have to be honest. If our family had been on a boat for forty days together, I’m not sure if there would be less sin in the world or more. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before crossing over into the promised land. It was a time of testing. They complained against Moses and even wished to return to the land of slavery than to live in this place of wilderness. Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days.
It’s interesting to me that Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. He didn’t choose to go there. He wasn’t being punished. God was preparing Jesus for his public ministry. At this point, Jesus had not healed one person. He had not delivered his first sermon. He had not eaten with one tax collector.
God leads him into a dry and barren place. At the conclusion of these forty days, the devil tempts Jesus three times. The first time he tempts him with bread. Jesus is famished. Jesus quotes scripture that “man does live by bread alone but by the word of God.” The second time, the devil tempts him with power. He promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will simply worship the devil. Once again, Jesus resists. Lastly, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple. He tells Jesus to throw himself down. God will surely send the angels to catch him. Again, Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
In these moments of temptation, Jesus is experiencing the depth of his humanity. Like us, he felt what it’s like to be tempted with physical appetites of food. He felt what it was like to be tempted to quench a thirst for power by compromising his beliefs. He experienced our human desire for glory by outrageous feats even if it meant putting God to the test.
Jesus understood our humanity. He was perfect despite those temptations. In these next forty days, it’s my hope we can acknowledge our humanity, our weaknesses and our sin. Here’s the difference between Jesus and us. We’re not perfect. Acknowledge your humanity is the first step to restoration. Jesus came to redeem it.
What’s been your worst personal moment during COVID? I have had many and I thought I’d share a recent one with you. A part of me is cautious about opening this part of me to you, but I thought it might help you know that you’re not alone.
In November and December of 2021, we had really regained our footing as a church. Our worship services were filling up again. New people were checking us out. Wednesday night dinners were back to capacity and I could soon envision us relaxing our COIVD protocols. I had optimistically pointed to the brightness of 2022 in a sermon. As we approached the New Year, I had even quoted Taylor Swift (to the eye-rolls of my children) that “I’m feeling ’22.”
Then along came Omicron. It was early January of this year. The Omicron variant was raging at this point. Half of our congregation had COVID. Three of our preschool classes had to quarantine. We had just learned that our local public school would be going virtual for the first week of the new year. And I have two elementary aged children. Our worship attendance did a nose dive. We decided to delay the return of Wednesday Night Suppers. I came home that night angry.
I was really angry. Like bad anger. It was dark outside as I pulled into the driveway. Blair and the girls were home already. I parked. The anger was so fierce that I needed to do something dramatic. So I grabbed my keys out of my pocket. I wound my body like a baseball pitcher and I hurled them as hard as I could into the night sky. They slammed against the side of the house. With my follow through I knocked over the metal charcoal starter and it clanged throughout the neighborhood.
I felt better but guilty. I picked up my keys and the plastic electronic key to the Prius was not there.
I walked inside and my daughter was on the couch.
“Dad, what was that noise?”
Blair heard it too and she followed me outside. She instinctively knew. She heard the bang of the keys. Katie comes outside with us.
“Dad, what was that noise?”
I said, “My keys broke.”
Blair steps in, “Sweet girls, it’s time to get ready for bed.”
I followed my daughter inside and poured a tall glass of water and I cooled off for a bit.
I walked back outside and Blair is on her knees using her phone as a flashlight.
I said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s smashed. I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s going to cost us $400 to replace.”
“Was it worth it?”
Then she shows me the key. She had pieced it back together.
She said, “Well, I found a piece here and over there, but none of them were cracked.”
(I thought about throwing it again).
She continued, “I just need a little duct tape to hold this little piece together.” She showed me it still worked as she unlocked the door.
I said, “Wow. I’ve lost my touch.”
I went back inside and helped put the kids to bed and kissed them goodnight. I took a shower and put on a clean undershirt. I reached to set the alarm and felt the duct taped Prius key on the nightstand. As clean as I had felt from the shower, my heart still felt more like the duct tape.
Saint Augustine once defined sin as a disordered love. He didn’t believe sin was necessarily loving the wrong things. He believed that sin was often loving the right things in the wrong order. Our love is out of order. In these next forty days, we have the opportunity to examine where our love is out of order. But the good news is that Jesus came to put our love for God back in the correct order.
When we reorder our love, God restores us. Lent is a season for God to restore.
How many of you have ever witnessed Michaelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City? It’s gorgeous. I was interested to learn about the restoration process of these beautiful paintings. In the 1980’s, the Vatican decided to have them restored. There was structural damage to the roof and some of the ceiling had been chipping away. There was a lot of controversy around the project. Many of the art historians desired to restore the chapel because the paintings were dark and they believed by cleaning it you would be able to see its full beauty and color. The paintings were still beautiful but they were quite drab.
The critics of this process believed Michaelangelo didn’t care much for color. They believed he had painted the depictions of the Bible somber on purpose to reflect the times of medieval life. The Catholic church was experiencing hard times from the Reformation. They believed he chose drab colors for a reason.
The restorers used sponges and began to clean it over a ten year period. In some places the dirt was embedded deeply into the fresco and the workers worked extra hard to remove it. Underneath the dirt and grime were some of the most beautiful hues and colors the world has ever seen. Michelangelo’s painting had become dingy because of the suit from the smoke of altar candles burning over hundreds of years. Underneath the grime was life and light and beauty. One art restorer said that the restoration process “revealed unexpectedly brilliant colors.” It’s a good depiction of Lent. As God restores you and reorders your life, I’m confident God will reveal the unexpectedly brilliant colors on your souls.
Lent is a forty day period for God to reorder our love and cleanse us from the dirt on our souls. Underneath is beauty and goodness.
In Preschool chapel last week, our children’s minister, Caroline Enright was reading the kids a passage from Psalm 51. She asked them, “What does it mean when we say, ‘create in me a clean heart?” And Elizabeth Reed, one of the children, said, “It means we all have some clean in our hearts.” We all have some clean in our heart. You all have clean in your hearts. It’s my prayer you might witness it’s unexpected brilliance. Amen.