Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lent 1 C - Feb 14, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Magliula, OHC
Lent 1 C - Sunday, February 14, 2016

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Christ in the wilderness
The temptation narrative, a version of which we always hear on the First Sunday in Lent, is not presented as something that Jesus taught, but rather something that the narrator, Luke, tells about Jesus, and asks us to consider for ourselves. This passage puts us in mind of Deuteronomy (6-8). There we see the Lord putting the people of Israel in hard circumstances and testing what’s in their hearts. The first danger Israel faces amidst its new freedom from bondage in Egypt is the complacency of believing that God is no longer necessary to protect them from hunger and hostile threats. For us, seeing life apart from a covenant relationship with God, can be a far greater temptation to spiritual forgetfulness than any danger or hardship. In the parallel between Jesus and Israel, his response is faithfulness and obedience, and Israel’s is not. Looking toward the end of Luke’s Gospel we see another parallel in the Garden with Jesus and the disciples. Here Jesus’ faithfulness to God’s will is embraced contrasted to the unconsciousness of the disciples’ sleep.

These are tests to see whether even good things can lure Jesus from a focus on God’s will or can lure believers into following a more comfortable and convenient messiah. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ Passion and ministry the meaning of Jesus’ baptismal commission unfolds, recalling the three tests he has undergone. Though he refused to turn stones into bread, he does feed the hungry. Though he refused political power, he proclaims God’s empire of justice and peace. Though he refused to jump off the temple to test God’s care, he goes to the cross in confidence that God’s will for life will trump the world’s decision to execute him. Luke assures believers that Jesus is not separated from God’s love, for the Spirit fills him at the end of this episode as well as at the beginning.

A popular notion in Lent is that we give up something. Perhaps what we need to give up is our tendency to minimize our Lenten discipline and to make a concerted effort toward greater intentionality and receptiveness to God’s grace. As discouraging as it is for those of us who delight in instant gratification, conversion is best understood as a process, not an event. If we choose in the Lenten journey to be intentional and receptive, we will encounter a faithful God who leads us, like Jesus, not only into the wilderness but also through the wilderness.
Intentionality and receptiveness require mindfulness. Mindfulness is the simple practice of being present to one thing at a time. It’s living in the present moment. Such a pattern gives value to each activity and helps avoid taking things for granted. It’s being aware of the little and large things around us, encountering the naked reality of each and experiencing its unique energy.  It gives rise to an attentive openness and wonder that gives birth to gratitude. It’s also the willingness to be vulnerable and to be acted upon, helping us to discern that life is God’s gift, even with its difficulties and uncertainties, helping us see that within the work, relationships, and challenges of life are moments of wonder, beauty, and mystery, opening us to awe and gratitude. More often than not, wonder and gratitude are the threshold to love. 

Every relationship begins with presence. Being present to God is not static. It’s a mutual presence. God is continually offering invitations. God is always there present to us within. But as Augustine says, we are not present there to God, nor to ourselves. He wrote: “You were with me all along in my search and I was not with you.”  Learning this presence is the point of the desert experience. Baptismal life is a concentrated training toward this presence. It involves one’s whole being and consciousness. What is pushed out of consciousness cannot be transformed. Inner peace can only come by owning up to what is least peaceful within us. 

We have to show up and experience God in order for the bonding to begin. This simple act allows listening to take place at many different levels. We’re tempted to use prayer as a time for thinking, in the hope it will be productive, but prayer is not for thinking. It’s a time for presence. Thinking is an integral part of human nature, but it is not our highest and most essential activity. The purpose of prayer is not intense self-reflection or progress in our spiritual life so much as an opportunity to be present and alert to God and others. It helps us to see more honestly. Picture prayer as the landscape of our personal relationship with God.

It reminds us that our primary vocation, as human beings, is to enter into the very life of God. It changes our consciousness so that we see into the deeper meaning of what is going on within and outside of ourselves. It drives us to become more fully engaged with life in the same way that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness and then into the lives of those around him. As we intentionally place ourselves in God’s presence, we eventually discover that we are becoming rooted and grounded in divine love, seeing ourselves through God’s eyes, carrying the love we experience into every aspect of our daily life, even now in the midst of our yet to be completed humanity.
Trusting in mystery is not easy. It’s more about faithfulness than progress, submitting ourselves to the influence and power of the One who loves us without conditions. As we die to being in charge of our own life, we discover who we really are. This is what the death of Jesus can teach us. He did not have to die to show us the nature of God’s love. His life did that beautifully. He took the risk of love knowing that it might lead to his death. It was love that led to his crucifixion. It was the authenticity of his life that led to his death, and in that death we glimpse the extent of God’s love for all. When Jesus invites us to die to ourselves he’s exhorting us to live this kind of intentional loving authenticity. Jesus’ death doesn’t change God’s mind or heart about us; it changes our minds about ourselves.
In the season of Lent we are invited to embrace an intentional way of life. For forty days we follow the example of Jesus, led by the Spirit in the wilderness to be tested. The Spirit doesn’t just drop him off in the wilderness to fend for himself; the Spirit continues to abide with him enabling him to grow stronger as he discerns his identity as God’s Beloved. The Spirit’s anointing of Jesus in baptism and his faithfulness to God amid testing, constitute Jesus’ preparation for his mission. Being chosen and anointed in baptism was not sufficient preparation for Jesus, nor is it for us. We must be tested, often by being led to places of hunger, loneliness, and despair. Only then do we learn dependence on God, who graciously provides for all our needs in all of life’s seasons.  +Amen

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