Lent 1, Taking Stock Week 1
Sunday February 26, 2012.
Into the Wilderness
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
PRAY: Lord, give us a listening heart.
There is something about being all alone out in a deserted place. Being alone, away from all the usual conversations, demands and rhythm’s of living among others in a place without anything except the sway of the tall trees or the rhythm of the breaking waves or the silence of the vast desert plain is rather defining. There is a certain clarity to life and our place in God’s creation.
For me, whether it has been walking alone on a deserted western beach, or in the vast sandy plains of the western desert, or in a 1000 acre paddock late in the day with the sound of swaying stalks of wheat, just being there seemed to create the space to ponder who I am and where I am going.
If we allow ourselves to be alone in an “alone” kind of place, we will give ourselves the space in our busy minds and fast pumping hearts to get down to the very basic level of being human, and stay there a while to hear what the Lord is saying to us.
Friends, Lent always begins with Jesus. Lent always begins with Jesus being deliberately sent out into the “alone” experience in the Judean desert. He must have felt alone and very vulnerable. It is a harsh desert – even harsher in some ways to our Australian desert. It really is just rocks and sand – no trees. But not flat. Very rugged, very hot.
Immediately after that great moment of affirmation down in the River Jordan with John and the thousands of onlookers, and after hearing audible voice from the heavens saying “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”, Jesus is sent by the Spirit of his Father into this wilderness time.
In this desert experience of thirst, hunger, heat, cold, aloneness, baroness, emptiness, with its experience of Evil and the Evil one right onto him – attempting to interrupt God’s great plan to bring in the new kingdom of grace and hope, Jesus faces this seemingly necessary alone desert time dicing with temptation to give it all up and comes through with renewed clarity, surety of who he is and what he needs to do. Immediately he is engaged in calling people to join him on his clear task to bring in the promised new era of God’s grace.
This is the pattern of Lent. Lent is this alone/solo experience of facing temptations, evil with God’s Spirit attending to us all the way, for the sake of listening to the Lord and his clear direction on who we are and what our task is as disciples of Jesus in this new kingdom we have been placed into by our baptism in the Spirit. Lent is “Taking Stock” of things.
But how do we “take stock”, or how does God show us to take stock of our life in him?
The way of Jesus is there for all to see in that famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. On that grassy slope on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus, the new Moses, the new teacher of humanity, sat down, as all great Jewish Rabbis would do, to announce that his new way, God’s promised new age or kingdom was present in him. Jesus the Messiah announces that in his kingdom things are done in a certain, God centred and blessed way.
It all begins in the heart. Jesus speaks of our heart – where it is and what it needs to be clinging to.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”, he says.
So, the Lent focus is “Where is my heart with the Lord?”
In Matthew 6 Jesus gives us three ways by which we hear more from him and know ourselves and him more fully.
Giving, Praying Fasting – the active ways to listen to his voice for our life now.
All these come from the listening, or are done with that listening heart we have been praying for these weeks.
So, this Lent, would we dare to commit ourselves to active listening of Jesus?
Would we practice the discipline of Giving, Praying and Fasting – all in the posture of listening to his Word for us now – both as an individual child of God called to fulfil our many stations in life (partner, parent, colleague, friend, public servant, farmer, business owner, worker, student….) and as a member of St Petri?
Giving: Jesus speaks of giving to others (especially those in need) without any great show for others to see – but only for our Father in heaven to see. Giving can be giving of money, giving on time, giving of our attention and focus for someone or something to do with furthering God’s kingdom where we work or live.
So, could we deliberately, as an act of listening to and serving the Lord give more time to a friend in need each week of Lent?
Could we give more money to the church in Lent?
Could we give more help or food or goods to a person or community or family through Lent?
Could we take on a small project for LCC or St Petri or ALWS as active of active listen to God and giving to those in need in Lent?
Praying: Could we engage in this prayer Jesus gives every day in Lent in private, morning, noon or night? Could we deliberately give 5 minutes of our day to praying for those we love by name and for anything that comes to us from Sunday worship or the groups many of us are part of? 5 minutes to talk to the Lord and seek his help and direction for ourselves and for this church community?
To make this more tangible – let’s make a commitment to set aside 5 minutes at midday – wherever we are – to either pray to Lord’s prayer or speak to the Lord about things – and again, with no great show – only so that He knows.
Fasting: there is something about our human makeup that links our listening to fasting from taking in food. Somehow, denying our very basic needs (food and drink) for some period of time, with the intention to listen to the Lord and give this act of denial to him in faith and love, heightens our ability to hear. Just ask the Monks, or the spiritual directors or any other person who practices some kind of self-denial in an act of attention and love for the Lord.
Fasting does not have to be onerous. We can fast of one thing for 40 days. We can fast for one meal per week, or per day, or on Sundays. We can leave out one thing that we like – not to beat ourselves up or try and win God’s favour. We already have his favour. We are his free loved children. We don’t fast to gain God’s favour. We fast to listen to him in a clearer way. We fast to follow Jesus’ example in faith.
I wonder whether we can make Wednesday our fasting day – a meal, a thing we like, even an activity we like (TV, for example).
So Lent at St Petri is about “Taking Stock” of ourselves and how we are with the Lord at this time.
The Lord is calling us to give – anything from random acts of giving and kindness, to giving money, to giving time, to giving our skills.
The Lord is calling us to Pray – Midday for 5 mins and then other times as we can fit them in – for ourselves, for others, our church, God’s leading, the poor we know,…..
The Lord is calling us to Fast – Wednesday is fasting day – a meal, a loved thing, all day, giving up something for Him – not to earn anything but to seek and hear and receive good things from him.
In all of these things we are listening to Him.
We are hearing his Word and there is a daily schedule of short readings of his Word to make our own every day. We read his word most days – maybe combine it with our midday prayer or at some other time of the day. Find a chair in a corner somewhere and go there for 2 minutes to read the text….
Friends, begin these 40 days with hope – hope in Jesus and his love on display as we re-tell the story of his walk down the way of suffering.
Begin with hope in God’s word – he will speak as we pay attention in these three streams of the Christian life.
Listen by giving, praying and fasting. He will help us Take stock of who we are and where we are going and we will get to that great Easter Day and be full of joy in a new way!
A blessed Lent to you.