Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
RCL – Lent 1 B – Sunday 01 Mar 2009
Well here we find ourselves in lent. And what are we going to do about it? If we were musicians reading a music score the word Lent or Lento would have a very specific meaning. Its an indication of tempo - of speed. Specifically it means a slow speed... a very slow speed, just one notch up from dead stop. The tempo of lento can very easily put us to sleep. Another place we regularly encounter a tempo that might fairly be called Lento is driving in heavy traffic. Things start to slow down and then you’re creeping along at 5 to 10 miles an hour... and thinking things like “at this rate I’ll get home next year...” To be honest, when I’m stuck in traffic going Lento, my thoughts often turn downright nasty. Its easy to nurture rage at 5 miles an hour. Lento, Lent - its either too slow to hold our attention or too slow to endure... yet here we are in Lent. The reading from Mark’s Gospel has its own interesting tempo - Lento is a marking that Mark would not be familiar with. He whisks us along at a speed that might more accurately be called Presto. Jesus is baptized, a voice from heaven says “You are my son” and immediately Jesus it driven to the wilderness by a spirit. Presumably that drive did not involve the frustrations of heavy, slow, lento traffic... Forty days Jesus is in the wilderness facing hardship and temptation - one after the other. And then at break-neck speed Mark brings us back to Galilee - John the Baptist has been arrested and Jesus is proclaiming the Gospel. The season may be Lento, but Mark is a little out of season... So lets savor the wilderness a bit - we know more about it than Mark is telling us. Jesus is tempted with a challenge to his identity - if you are really the son of God prove it - turn these stones to bread. Jesus it tempted with death-defying thrills - jump from the top of the Temple in Jerusalem and let the Angels protect you. Jesus it tempted with power - I will give you all the kingdoms of earth - all you have to do is worship me... As we dial our tempo back to the snails pace of Lento, looking at these three archetypes of temptation in slow motion can be very rewarding. First look at the sequence. Jesus is baptized and then the temptation begins. It would be ever so nice that when we are baptized into the body of Christ our temptation would end... That would make it so very easy to be a follower of Jesus. But Mark is letting us know that the hard work only begins with baptism. To follow Jesus is to face temptation. John Wesley pointed out that as people grow in faith they must necessarily face more temptation. You can not make choices for good without know the alternative choices. The more you choose to walk in the light, the more you have be aware that you could also walk in darkness. It goes with the territory. So temptation is just going to be an ordinary and ongoing part of our walk with Jesus. The nature of the temptations Jesus faces are worth examining. So you’re God... change these stones to bread. Surely there could be no harm in Jesus showing off by changing stones into bread. How is that different than changing water into wine? Or making the blind see? But there is a fundamental difference. Jesus throughout the Gospels uses Godly power to accomplish good. The temptation here is to use Godly power just for the sake of power... just to prove a point - there is no greater good. The sick are not made whole, the hungry are not fed, the downtrodden are not lifted up. Jesus is tempted to use Godly power just because he can. That is a temptation we all must wrestle with. Sometimes it is very tempting to exercise power just because we can... just because it feels good. But power for the sake of power is never satisfied. It always craves more power and it will never tolerate opposition. It is the road that leads to tyranny. Worship me and I will give you control over the entire earth... That is a power most of us really don’t aspire to and really couldn’t handle. But Jesus surely could have handled it. With power over everyone couldn’t Jesus have made us all act really good? Wouldn’t this be the fastest way to build God’s kingdom - avoiding all the messy stuff and just cutting to the chase? Couldn’t Jesus have used this power to end wars? To make health care universal? To stop governmental corruption? To make poverty history? ... couldn’t thousands of years of misery have been avoided? It’s a temptingly easy short cut. Except we would no longer be human with human free will. We would no longer be choosing to follow God - we would simply be doing what we were commanded to do. We would have a facsimile of paradise, except we would all be slaves. But that other temptation - throw yourself from the highest point of the temple and let the angels rescue you. That is, I think, the temptation that is most with us. Its only a little distance away from give us this day our daily bread... Having faith that God provides sets us free to take risks that faithless people could not take. Faith in God allowed Martin Luther King to walk faithfully among angry, hate-filled crowds. God is not calling us to risk-free, safe living. This temptation is not about taking risks. It has more to do with carelessness... Go about our lives with not too much worry and trust in angels to keep us from splattering on the ground. As a nation, for example, we have an energy policy that basically assumes some type of Godly rescue - before we run out of oil, hydrogen fuel cells will be perfected... or bio-fuels from seaweed or some other god from the machine scenario. We take clean fresh water for granted even as large parts of the earth, even large parts of the United States, face increasingly severe shortages of safe drinking water. Vast parts of our mid-west are subsiding as we deplete underground aquifers for the sake of irrigation. Our strategy seems to be that God will provide a miracle before we run out of water. We are throwing ourselves from a high tower and trusting angels to catch us in the nick of time. It is a careless and selfish way of living that is extremely tempting because it requires so little thought. A comfortable life free of temptation - that is not what the good news of the Gospels is about. A life where God does the hard work and we stand by and watch - that’s not in the Gospels either. A life where we get to share the pain of the injured, the sorrow of the grieving, the shame of the outcast - that is in the Gospels. We also get to share the joy of the joyful and ecstacy of those who know God - it is a profoundly beautiful way to live. Most of all it is a conscious way to live. God calls us to be conscious of God in us, in our neighbors, in strangers, in all of creation; Conscious of the demons that walk beside us - or that perhaps we carry on our own backs. There is a play by Charles Tanner - founder of the Covenant Players. It is perhaps the worlds shortest play. It features a couple walking into a museum. As they start their tour, one says to the other “Don’t stop to look at anything, or we won’t have time to see everything.” That’s the entire play. The tempo of our post-modern world mesmerizes and anesthetizes us. Lent calls us to a tempo that lets us be conscious of God and of God’s creation.