In the Wilderness

First Sunday of Lent
So many moments fold into this one. 
 
A few weeks ago, my friend Shannon Schaefer wrote a stirring post on the baptism of the Lord. This week, we return to that moment in the first Sunday of a new season: Lent. 
 
In Epiphany, the baptism is a birth narrative, as Shannon wrote: “It’s a different kind of birth narrative, wherein the people of the story—past, present, future—are the family to which Jesus is born, and the prophet John becomes an unlikely midwife, handing us the Messiah. “
 
This week, as we begin the season of Lent and set our feet on the path towards the cross, this moment becomes a promise. The text reminds us of this, pointing back to the promise God gave to Noah in Genesis, “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
 
As Jesus rises out of the flood of the Jordan, a voice comes from heaven and declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”
 
On the first Sunday after Epiphany, Shannon noted that “this is the moment of incarnation for Mark’s gospel.” This is the moment when the “Word of God is once again placed in the hands of the prophets . . . the God who entrusts self to human tellings.”
 
On the first Sunday of Lent, this moment takes on a different sheen. It is still the beginning, but now it is the beginning of our path to Easter Sunday when the Word of God will be hanged on the Tree of Life. As a Catechist, I have had the privilege of walking along this path with many people over the last several years. Typically, I come across four kinds of Lenten travelers: those who are actively deconstructing the faith of their childhood, those who are actively reconstructing a child-like faith, and those who feel lost in the despair that so often comes between deconstruction and reconstruction. The fourth type are those travelers who have walked this path before and are returning to see it with new eyes. 
 
As we enter into the wilderness with Jesus, which traveler are you this year? These aren’t one-and-done phases—most Christians I know are usually actively reconstructing, deconstructing, despairing, or seeing anew some facet of their spiritual life. Oftentimes, all four things are going on at once—but usually one will rise to the top for a season. So, how are you embarking on this Lenten journey this year? 
 
As Stephen Fowl reminded us last week, the life of faith is like “an invitation to your own funeral . . . the closer we follow [Jesus], the more we will die.” Stephen goes on to say that “this is the death that leads to true life . . . our lives cannot be one constant demolition site.”
 
So, where are you this Lent? Are you actively de-constructing something which was once the Gospel-truth? Are you caught in the despair that so often accompanies this demolition? Are you engaged in the hard work of picking up the pieces and building something new? Or have you returned from your wanderings in another place to see your faith with new eyes? 
 
However you are engaging this Lenten journey, remember you are not alone. Jesus is in the wilderness with you, and so are we. If the darkness closes in and you feel lost and bereft of all hope, I pray that God will remind you of the covenant made with Noah – that never again would total destruction be visited upon the earth. In your darkest moments when the rain is pouring down and all hope seems to have fled, I pray that you will look up and behold a rainbow. In those moments, I pray that the words of God will come back to you and you will remember that you are beloved. 
 
May the peace of Christ go with you, wherever God may send you. 
May God guide you through the wilderness, and protect you through the storm. 
May God bring you home rejoicing at all the many wonders God has shown you.
May God bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors. 
Amen. 
 
Photo Credit: Luca Galuzzi

Transfiguration

Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 9:2-9

 

“Six days later.” That is a strange way to begin a reading.  If you are at all curious, you are probably asking, “six days after what?” The answer, of course, is found in the previous chapter.  In Mark 8, six days before our reading begins, Jesus has one of his most significant conversations with his disciples.  In that conversation Jesus asks his followers “Who do people say that I am?” After spending so much time preaching, teaching, doing miracles, engaging in arguments over how best to follow God, Jesus wants to know what people make of him.  The response seems to indicate that people think Jesus is a prophet.  Then Jesus asks his closest followers, “Who do you think I am?”  Peter quickly responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Read more

Imagining God’s Reign

Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17 OR Matthew 17:1-9


“Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and imagine almost nothing” – Walter Brueggemann

More than forty years since its first publication, Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination has lost none of its urgency. In opposing the biblically-grounded imagination to what he calls “royal consciousness” – that system of individual affluence, concealed oppression, and spiritual smugness in service to the powers of the day – Brueggemann reminds us that before we can live into the reign of God, we must first imagine what that reign might look like. This presumes, however, that we can sufficiently free our imagination from the narcotizing grip of royal consciousness to recognize and lament our fears, shared suffering, and mortality. “It is the vocation of the prophet,” Brueggemann writes, “to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”

Royal consciousness conspires to numb us everywhere and always, even in this season of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving meant to prepare us for the celebration of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. I succumb to the power of that consciousness when I mistake Lent as boot camp for my weak and wayward will. Not that my will doesn’t need a major overhaul, something that – with God’s grace – would be a most welcome consequence of my Lenten practices. True metanoia, however, depends far more on imagination than on the will. In order to embody God’s word and live into God’s reign, I need the necessary grace to imagine other ways of living, of thinking, and of desiring than the stale and lifeless habits of the dominant culture. Read more

Open to the Work of the Gardener

Third Week of Lent

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

On a quick read, the epistle and gospel readings for Lent 3 may seem to be saying opposite things: Paul wants the Corinthians to learn from God’s judgment of the Israelites when they were in the desert. Jesus seems to warn against inferring that anyone experiencing misfortune is also being judged by God. When the lectionary places together texts that seem difficult to put together, we can see that as an invitation to put those texts into conversation with each other. When such texts are paired together for one of the Sundays in Lent, as these are, we should hope that such a conversation between them might better prepare us to engage in a holy Lent. Read more

Led by the Spirit

First Sunday of Lent
Luke 4:1-13
The dictionary defines marvel (as a person) as one who is wondrously astonishing. With apologies to Captain Marvel, this week’s gospel text reveals one at whom we should truly marvel, and beyond that, one we should follow.

We receive Luke’s version of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness filtered through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And it’s glorious. Read more