The season of Lent [began] Wednesday, and can you believe all the hype? Radio stations started playing all the Lent carols weeks ago and I’m so sick of them by now! Entire aisles in the Mega Mart stores have been selling all the Lent decorations at sale prices since the Epiphany! And the kids won’t stop bugging me to go and visit Lenty Claus at the mall, dressed in his purple suit and handing out ash to all the repentant girls and boys.
The commercialization of Lent has got to stop. This is supposed to be a sacred time of preparation and confession, drawing us closer to God as we look forward to Easter and the celebration of resurrection and new birth. And now our schools are canceling their Lent Breaks, calling them instead some generic term like “Spring Break” or something. I mean, really! We all know that people take that week in order to refocus on the spiritual disciplines, fasting, praying the daily office, and deep study of scripture. Let’s just call it what it is.
It just seems like this time of year is so frantic, all the Lent parties to go to, all the Lent concerts and special events. How are we ever going to get to them all? I’m not even going to have time to go out and buy any new Lent clothes. We also need a new sprig of hyssop to hang in the front hallway. And when are we going to find time to decorate our Lenten Tree? We’re never going to have the house ready for the Holy Week Homes Tour!
Join me in decrying the secularization of Lent! Remember the rationale for the period of time. This year, let’s not give in to the consumeristic pressure we always feel, but rather remember the Lents of days gone by, when times were simpler. Consider home-made Lent cards instead of store-bought gifts. Do you really need to make that fourth dozen of tenebrae cookies, or will three dozen suffice? Remember, Lent isn’t Lent till it happens in your heart.
I tip my hat to Andy Bryan who is a minister in Springfield, Missouri who wrote this on his blog, Enter the Rainbow. It is hilarious to contrast and at the same time sad what we do during December compared to what we do these 40 days. The world around us loves celebrating a birth but when it comes to death and resurrection, well we’ll just call it March. The truth is the secular world doesn’t want to do what we are called to do for these 40 days, they would rather pay attention to college basketball.
Let’s face it, Lent is a dark time. It is a time when we come face to face with the reality that we are sinful creatures. We pray prayers of confession and ask for forgiveness. We dive into spiritual practices and give stuff up or add spiritual stuff to our lives. It doesn’t make sense to the secular world who would rather consume than give anything up. What is all this preparation for anyway? What is the point? The Easter Bunny? Easter Baskets? Really? Santa Claus does a much better job promoting his gig at Christmas. A time of preparation, of cleaning out your soul, in order to get ready to accept once again the gift of Christ’s death and resurrection is not appealing to the world, and it is hard enough for us, the faithful, to do it.
Today we receive the temptation of Christ according the Gospel of Mark. I’ll say it once again, Mark is the reader digest version of the gospels. Here in these 6 verses Jesus is baptized, tempted and calls his first disciples. It is a crazy speed that Mark is going here, but that is the part of the journey we are on today. Matthew and Luke give a little more indebt picture to Christ’s temptation. They go through a little dialogue between Jesus and Satan. Satan gives Jesus three tests and Jesus passes them all. Here in Mark’s gospel all we get is, At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Which one is more challenging? Which temptation story is scarier?
For me it is Mark’s version. All we know that happens to Jesus is that he is taken out into the desert and tempted. He was out there with Satan, wild animals, and angels. That is all we know but it also gives us a great picture of what temptation is really like.
Temptation is hard to deal with in a group. Youth ministers spend lots of time talking about peer pressure. We all know that teenagers are very susceptible to being pulled into sin when they are around their peers. We tell them that they need to stand up for what they believe in and not to fall into those pressures. That is easy when compared to the temptations that many of us adults then have to live with later in life. The hardest temptations are the ones that come to us when we are alone.
Why is Alcoholic Anonymous so popular and so effective? Because it puts people who are dealing with the same temptation in the same room and they offer one another support. Leave those same people all by the selves, alone to fight off the urge to drink, and many will fall into their temptation. But you don’t have to be an addict to know this. Think about what we do when we are alone. We tend to be who we truly are when there is no one else around. There is no one around to hold us in check, no one to tell us that it would be a bad idea. All we have is our mind and our thoughts and 9 times out of 10, temptation wins.
In Christ’s case though it didn’t happen. Jesus is out there in the wilderness for forty days to slug it out on his own. The wild animals were around him, calling to him to give into his wild side. “No one will know.” “No one would blame you in your condition.” “Just this one time, it could hurt.” Like a gnat in your ear temptation calls to him but Jesus pushes these thoughts away and deals with temptation perfectly.
We understand our human condition though. We understand that for us temptation usually wins. We have the power Christ has to say no, but its hard to pull out those cards in the moment. Christ knows this too because he taught us to pray, “lead us not into temptation.” Because when we are led into temptation, temptation usually wins. It is better for us not to be around it because our sinful nature can be too much for us. When we are alone with our sin, sin usually takes over. But thank God, Jesus Christ handled it better than us.
Bishop Will Willimon writes, “I love reading our children a wonderful story so beautifully illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are. It’s about a little boy who, in the dark of night, is confronted by the scariest, ugliest wild creatures that one might imagine. He eventually confronts the beasts, stands up to them, and makes them his friend. I didn’t have to ponder why my children loved this story. It was about those dreaded figures that terrify children when the light is turned off and they are in bed, and playthings in the room take on an ominous, spectral form. To confront those nocturnal fears, to stare them down and make them friends, this had to thrill their young hearts.”
Yet when we, as adults turn off the lights, when are in the darkness, all alone, we understand what the shapes and noises are in the room. We are left with deeper monsters to deal with. “She will never know I looked at that web page, it was only this one time.” “I know we cannot afford it but I really do need it.” “One more drink, just to take the edge off and to relax after a hard day.” What is the scariest is that when we are alone and temptation sets its eyes upon us, we are the wild beasts. We are the monsters in the darkness. Thank God, Jesus was lead into temptation to show us the way out.
And all God’s people said…Amen.