First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
March 10, 2019
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
What is waking up in the morning like for you?
I used to love watching my kids wake up after a good sleep. Even before their eyes would open, they would start to stir. Maybe a little hand would stretch up over their hair-tussled head, their little fingers reaching for the invisible day, almost reaching for the possibilities before there was awareness of them. There might be a gentle role to one side and then a full body stretch as their eyes opened and they started to take in the vision of a new day.
On the good days it happened that way. Those didn’t happen all the time. A lot of times there would be moaning and groaning and whining, sometimes crying and mad dashes to the bathroom.
That’s the kind of awakening I do more these days. But, every once in a while, I am gifted with the restful awakening that allows me to unfold into the day like a flower opening to the morning warmth.
Think about this morning, or any other morning and what was it like, that first moment of awakening from slumber.
Do you awaken suddenly and jump out of bed, all clear-headed and ready for the day?
Do you awaken slowly, becoming aware of your surroundings a bit at a time, perhaps a little fuzzy?
Are awakened by something outside of yourself, children, animals, traffic, an alarm? Or is it your own body’s internal clock (or something else) that stirs you from slumber?
Morning is just one time that we awaken on a regular basis in our lives. But there are other times. Times when we slow down and reflect on life and faith and the world around us that might be an awakening as well. Awakenings are those times that we become alive to something. Maybe it’s something that’s been before us all along but we awaken to it’s significance. Maybe it’s something completely new.
Sometimes we use the word “awareness.” When we become “aware” of something it’s usually because we are noticing something outside of ourselves that has caught our attention. Awareness is a head thing. Awakening is an internal shift. Awakening is soul work. It happens from within. It’s as if dawn breaks upon our soul to let new light shine upon something we’ve been asleep to so we can see it new or differently. We come out of rest into awakening. We move from a sense of slumber into a state of awake to that which is around us.
The more I reflect in the story of Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, I come to see it as a time of awakening. He’s awakened to the reality of his identity. He’s awakened to who is and who he is to become. He’s awakened to the forces and demands around him.
Jesus’ awakening in the wilderness comes really early in the story of Jesus. It’s the second big event of his adult life, right after his baptism, where, as he arises from the muddy waters of the Jordan River, his face is open to the heavens and a voice declares his divine lineage. A dove descends – the holy spirit fills him and he’s off to the wilderness—to his awakening.
It’s an awakening of who he is, his power, his influence, his call, his mission. It’s an awakening to the demands that will be before him and the source of the spirit that will sustain him through it all.
We usually use the story of Jesus in the wilderness as a paradigm for sacrifice. It’s where we get the practice of giving something up for Lent. Jesus didn’t eat for 40 days, let’s do that! When we go about it that way, the wilderness journey of Lent starts off with starvation. I’ve always thought it was odd that we would talk about Jesus starving himself for 40 days and then we sing the closing hymn, listen to the benediction and rush upstairs to sit around tables and stuff ourselves with cookies and cake during coffee hour.
For years, the church has presented Lent as a time to suffer. To endure temptation. To go hungry. To fend off some of those habits that aren’t good for you or the world. Or, if that doesn’t work, how about starting something that is good for you or the world. Over the years I’ve given up chocolate, caffeine, and candy. I’ve taken on exercise, silent meditation, and devotional reading. Now, I’m sure that I benefited from all of those for a short time but, today, I still drink coffee, hoard chocolate and am a sucker for a candy jar. Our bathroom scales can attest to the exercise regimens that tend to die shortly after Easter. I own a variety of half-finished devotional books and I don’t even bother anymore with quiet, navel-gazing meditation. It just drives me nuts.
But awakening. I do that every day. So do you. I know what it’s like to open my eyes and take in that first breath of consciousness. It’s a real live paradigm that I’ve been doing my whole life so there’s not a lot of habit forming that has to happen – other than being intentional about realizing what it is that God might be trying to awaken me from and to.
And that’s where Jesus’ journey into the wilderness can be a new paradigm for us. Not the paradigm of sacrifice and suffering that we’ve lifted up for so many years, but a paradigm of awakening. As he journeys through these temptations, Jesus is awakened to his self and how he lives into who he is. We see Jesus awakening to his identity as the Bread of Life that gives life in ways that even the most amazing whole grain bread from the best bakery cannot. We see Jesus awakening to his relationship to and with God. We see Jesus awakening to his power and how easy it would be to misuse it.
What if we were to shift from a paradigm of suffering to one of awakening? What if we looked at Jesus’ journey in the wilderness as the story of him awakening to his God-given identity and then carried that paradigm into our own faith journeys?
Who is it that God has created you to be in this time in your life and in the world’s history to which you might be awakened?
What is it that God may be calling you and empowering you to be or do as you awaken each day? What needs are you being awakened to? What gift within yourself are you being awakened to use?
Who is it that cares for and with you that you may be awakening to in new ways?
Lent is so much more than 40 days of self-denial and sacrifice. It’s a time of awakening. Just like the season of spring unfolds (eventually) around us, Lent can be a time where our identities as followers of Jesus unfold or awaken within us so that we can more fully live into our identity as disciples.
So, I invite you, or perhaps Jesus does, to embrace this season of awakening. To let yourself stretch and reach out to the possibilities of what each new day will bring. Let your soul unfold and reveal to you, and to the world, your identity as a follower of Jesus. Let your eyes open slowly to the world around you and take in all that you see: the beauty, the wonder, the needs, the hope, the passions and then go forth to be a part of it. For in doing so, there is life.
Awaken to this journey of Lent.