Rev. Elder Hector Gutierrez
The season of Lent always brings me fond memories. On one hand, the ritualistic experience of the religious community in which I grew up practiced, to some extent, exaggerated penitence such that it even required us to stop listening to music or watching television during the 40 days and even to stop bathing during the Holy days. Yet on the other hand, I also experienced the most liberating seasons of Lent with my parents. While I still lived in their house, they never imposed the demands of the church. Instead, they taught us that Lent was a season of re-commitment to all humanity. They taught us to share what little we had with those who were less fortunate than us. This was at times something that was complicated yet very enlightening, because we were always members of the lower middle economic class. I am convinced that it is through them that I learned that I had to return to the Christ in our brothers and sisters. It was through my parents that I learned that losing myself and my life in the struggle for justice and solidarity, for the truth and the life, for the respect for the rights of all, is what gives meaning to being human and Christian.
It has always been interesting for me that in Luke 9:18, Jesus asks what seems to be at first a very human question to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Yet, at its core, it is a profound spiritual question. I believe we are still being asked to wrestle with this same question as we address this Sunday’s text. I believe Peter’s answer grasps the larger context of the question as he answers Jesus of Nazareth, “The Christ of God.” As the Messiah, Jesus shares with his disciples that he must suffer the cross, die and be resurrected, through which the glory of God is to be revealed.
I see the journey of what is to happen in Jerusalem, Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, as an exodus story for us through Jesus, a new Moses. The witness of Jesus’ prayer, suffering, commitment, death on the cross, and resurrection is a new exodus journey for the early disciples and for our present community. In following Jesus on this exodus, we are not making a meaningless pledge but a vow to live a life in constant solidarity with the consistency of the radically inclusive Gospel.
Luke’s emphasis on the prayer life of Jesus, between the activity of Galilee and the ascent to Jerusalem, highlights for us the importance of prayer in the Christian life. Jesus models for us, not a formulated prayer with empty words, but words offering up our daily life experiences, of commitment, of constant struggle, of achievements, of frustrations, and of future plans, in order to bear witness to an authentic relationship with God.
For me, the Transfiguration is a prophetic vision of what is to come — in essence, a “reverse eclipse” — a light in the middle of the night. As we are transformed, dying to ourselves, our lives become the light of Christ in the middle of the night for those who are searching. It illuminates a whole new meaning to life and death! It makes comprehensible the wonderful reflection of Hélder Câmara who writes: “One who has not a reason to live, has no reason to die.”
Transfiguration, transformation, is to say, “this is what awaits us.” It illuminates for us that offering our life for the sake of the holy work, of the holy exodus of the gospel, is worthwhile. The process of transforming and changing makes sense to us because we have a firm rock, a foundation, in one that does not change and ensures our fruitful life, the “Crucified and Risen One” (J. Sobrino).
It is not that God desires that everyone should die literally, as God is the God of life, not of death. We are called to be transformed, as there is nothing more life-giving than losing yourself to unconditional love, because God is that love. God desires us to offer daily our life of unconditional love as a sacrifice in the work against the lies of injustice, violence, and selfishness that attempt to trap those who live on the fringes of love. We are to offer our life of unconditional love as a sacrifice to those whose exodus for life may involve traveling through death and resurrection. Ultimately what matters is living a life of unconditional love such that God is reflected through it. God’s radically inclusive love is so strong it is willing to die so that others may live — a death that brings life, to so many dead lives…
Rev. Elder Ken Martin
Modern Christians, from the pew to the seminary classroom, love to debate whether the “devil” is real or just an ancient myth. We all know the popular images, from Flip Wilson’s “The devil made me do it” to the ubiquitous presence in contemporary advertising and culture of a red-suited, pitch-fork carrying, forked-tailed, sulpher-breathing creature, selling everything up to and including potted meat products, which have seriously trivialized and may have almost obscured the reality with which Jesus battled in the desert.
What I believe in…whatever we call it…is the reality of evil: a reality that despises God and everything that is good, loving and just. I believe in it because I have stood face to face with it, and I believe in it because I don’t know how else to explain the world in which we live.
The word in today’s text that is translated “devil” is diabolos. Literally, it means “the separator”…something that separates what should not be separated, something that breaks what should remain in tact, something that fragments what should remain unified, something that destroys what should remain whole.
Gray Temple, an Episcopal Priest, writes in his book, When God Comes:
The Saturday before I was to preach on verses referring to the devil, I was standing in my bedroom, musing on the passage, frustrated that I didn’t really understand the reference. So, without giving the consequences much thought, I asked Jesus, “What is the devil stuff really about?” As usual, a whole lot happened nearly at once. I felt myself being coated with the love of God — as if warm oil were being poured all over me, and as though I were being embraced from behind. But almost simultaneously, the very air in front of me seemed to slit open like a curtain, revealing an appalling pitch dark void. As I looked into it, I realized that something alive lurked inside. But the malignancy at the bottom of the pit was vast — larger than the very solar system — and filled with a seething hatred that resembles nothing I have experienced on earth. That impotent raging hatred is aimed at God. You and I are of little interest to it — except that in hurting us it might cause discomfort to God. My initial reaction was abject terror, like a rabbit cornered by a wildcat. But I managed to plunge through the bottom of my terror and discovered a profounder sadness than I’d ever known. It broke my heart that a universe as lovely as ours should contain something so utterly loathsome. I spoke to Jesus again, groping to articulate the insight he’d given me. “When you died on the cross, it was to break the power of that — it was to hurl yourself into the pit, to dare it to take its best shot at you — right?”
“Yes,” he said.
“When you died on the cross, you were really looking over your shoulder at that — weren’t you?”
“Yes,” he said.
It was with this Spirit of Separation, this evil that despises God and what is good, that Jesus contended in the desert. It seems strange to us that God would be leading Jesus into this temptation instead of out of it. But that word has two meanings: it means to tempt and to test. And here is a possible difference: to tempt is to entice someone to do what is wrong; to test is to give a person the opportunity to do what is right. To tempt is to hope for failure; to test is to hope for success.
That is why I am suggesting this experience could be a gift. Because people are like steel. We don’t know what we are made of until we are tested. Every temptation is a fork in the road…it is as much a chance to rise as to fall, to go forward as to go back. God intends to test Jesus, but as always, there was another team on the field. So the outcome is uncertain until the match is over.
These were Jesus’ tests, but they may not necessarily be ours. His were first physical hunger, then making God prove Godself through miracles, then giving in to the desire to have everything without following the path God set for him. While they might not be ours, we can relate to them, can’t we? Here is how they might look in our lives today…first, do we really trust God to provide for all our needs? Then, is our faith strong enough to survive even without proof? And finally, do we accept and celebrate the path God has given us in this life, or do we pretend to be someone else because being the person God created us to be seems just too hard sometimes?
These were Jesus’ tests because they were the things most likely to separate him from God and God’s will for his life. It is up to you and me to discern the recurring situations in our lives that test us.
The Separator said to Jesus, “You don’t have to be the person God wants you to be. It’s too hard and there is an easier way.” But Jesus answered, “I will be who God asks me to be, and I will do what God asks me to do.”
What a wonderful way for us to begin this season of intense personal spiritual inventory…by looking honestly, as Jesus did, at the recurring situations that test our commitment to live authentically and, again like Jesus, to recommit ourselves to being exactly and only the person we were created to be.
Rev. Elder Darlene Garner
Lent is the season of the Christian Year that covers the period of approximately six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. The traditional purpose of Lent is to prepare the believer for the experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During Lent, many Christians commit to fasting or giving up some favorite thing, either as a form of penitence or in imitation of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.
Some Christian traditions begin the season of Lent with a special mid-week service that includes placing actual ashes upon the forehead of the believers, hence the name Ash Wednesday. Many churches conduct the Ash Wednesday service in the middle of the day. The believers wear the ashes on their foreheads wherever they go throughout the rest of the day, a visible sign of their penitence.
Even in Christian traditions that may not actually impose ashes, there is the spiritual practice of giving up something for Lent. Believers are encouraged to fast from, or to give up, something or some habit that brings them particular comfort or delight…like biting one’s fingernails, chewing gum, eating meat, or drinking alcohol, caffeine, or soft drinks. Making such an intentional decision to do without that which brings comfort is a spiritual discipline that believers engage in as an act of personal sacrifice and in the hope that such sacrifice will be pleasing to God.
The tradition in the church of my childhood includes each member of the church being given a coin folder at the beginning of Lent. The folder had 40 slots in it; we were to make a sacrifice by placing a quarter (25-cent piece) in one of the slots each day. By the time the folders were returned to church on Easter Sunday, every believer would have sacrificed at least $10 USD that the church would then usually use for catching up on overdue bills.
Ash Wednesday is upon us once again; it is time for us to consider what — if anything — we are willing to give up for Lent this year. As we think about this thing, it would be good for us to look again to the words of the prophet as recorded in Isaiah 58:
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isaiah 58:4b, 5
It is in the spirit of Isaiah that I wonder, of all the penitent actions that we might take, which of our actions would make the days of Lent 2013 most acceptable to God? What could we choose to give up that might bring holiness to our lives, strength to our church, and peace to our world?
I propose that the choices we make for our Lenten fast could enable us to manifest holiness, strength, and peace not only during Lent but throughout the year. I believe:
Let’s try it, even if only for the next forty days. If we do, we might be surprised to discover the glory that will await us on Easter morning.