Sunday, February 17, 2013

1 Lent

February 17, 2013

Luke 4.1-13

+ So, I really do need to know: did you all really miss me while I was gone on vacation? Well, you know I missed you all, of course. In fact, last Sunday I was going through some major St. Stephen’s withdrawal.  I don’t know if that makes a good priest or a sick priest.

But, for me anyway, it’s very good to be back. Vacation was a good thing this year, but it was also a bit eye-opening, shall we say. I can’t help but be reflective a bit on vacation. And this one was particularly reflective. Because my hosts had to work a few of the days I was there, I had some time to myself. I was able to borrow their convertible sports car and tooled around the coast by myself a bit.  Doing so, I found myself looking back over this past year since vacation last year and there were some major changes in my life. There have also been some major set-backs this past year, not the least of which was of course some pretty big health issues. I of course suffered a car accident, as well as a  concussion from a fall, and my ulcer. I realized that I am still dealing physically with all of them.  Well, I’m not in my thirties anymore, so of course that makes me think.

As I was thinking and as I was pondering the upcoming season of Lent, I made a pretty major decision in my life. No, it’s not anything major that will affect St. Stephen’s or anything like that. Rather, it’s more of an admission. Or, shall I say, a confession. It’s Lent, after all. My confession is just this:

I have become—a vegetarian.

I actually should say, I have become a vegetarian once again. I have been a vegetarian on-and-off many times over the past twenty years. In my mid-twenties, I was a very strict vegetarian for five years. Five very good years. But with my health issues this past year and realizing that I needed to make a fairly substantial change in my life—well, there it is—vegetarianism. I think it’s especially good to make such a change at Lent.

Our Gospel reading for today is especially a good one for making a change like this.  In our Gospel reading for today, we find Jesus telling the Devil, in no uncertain terms,

“One does not live by bread alone”

He also says some other very important things. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” and “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

At first glance, we might find these confessions a big vague—at least in relation to our regular day-to-day life.  But, there is, of course, so much wisdom in what Jesus is telling the Devil.  

Do not live by bread alone.

One of the things I think most of us find so hard to grasp—especially those of us from a more Protestant background—is this conception of fasting and abstaining from certain foods.  This season of Lent is the prime time for us to look long and hard at our eating practices. I am not necessarily encouraging everyone to be a vegetarian. But I am, of course, encouraging all of us too look at our eating habits and think about them. For most of us, myself certainly included, we simply eat without giving a second thought to what we’re eating and why.

Certainly we have doctors who tell us this is one of the leading causes of a good many of our health problems in this country.  When we realize how high the rate of obesity and related illnesses are, we know that food is a major factor in our lives and in regard to our health and longevity.

In the face of that, this quote from Jesus resonates.  In the desert, the devil tempts him.  Jesus has been fasting and is no doubt extremely hungry. Someone has to be pretty hungry to tempted by stones. The devil seems to say to him, You have the power.  Turn these stones into bread and you can eat. And Jesus certainly could have done just that.

But Jesus knew that this was the time for him to abstain from food.  This was the time to remind himself that what gave him sustenance was not the bread that goes into his physical body, but rather what sustained him spiritually.

And that is important for us. It is important to look at what eat physically. It is important to remind ourselves what sustains us spiritually.

When we look at issues like obesity and eating disorders, we realize that there is often a psychological reason for our abuse of food.  We do eat for comfort.  We do eat physically thinking that it will sustain us emotionally.  And when we do, the fact is, eating loses its purpose.  Eating for sustenance. Eating for health. Those are thrown to the wayside. Eating becomes a way for us to sooth ourselves, to focus attention back on ourselves.

A time of fasting is a time for us to break that habit and to nudge ourselves into realizing that what should be sustaining us spiritually is the spiritual food we receive from Jesus.  It is important to ask ourselves, what really gives us comfort? Whatever it is, that is what we should be clinging to when we need to comfort.  Yes, we need physical food. But we also need more than physical food. We over-depend to some extent on our physical food. We eat more food than what we need more often than not.  And we eat sometimes without being mindful of those who are not able to eat.

While we eat more than we need to sustain us, there are those who do not have enough food to sustain themselves.  And it is important for us, as followers of Jesus, as followers who follow Jesus out into that desert, to be mindful of those who are not able to turn rocks into bread, who do not have an abundance of food from a supermarket with shelves and shelves of food, or from refrigerator that overflows with food.  There are people who do not have the luxury of eating to soothe themselves, to comfort themselves with food.

For us, if we have to use physical food to help us emotionally, something is amiss. Something is wrong. The challenge become finding that balance. And that balance is found in our spiritual food. It is found in our spiritual sustenance.

We fast during Lent to show that we are not using food for personal, self-centered gain. We fast to show that we really depend on spiritual nourishment, and that without spiritual nourishment, we are not whole.  We fast during Lent also to remind ourselves of those for whom fasting would be a luxury.

I once had a relative that used to fast every time she really wanted something important from God.  Fasting has nothing to do what we do.  We cannot manipulate God and make God do what we want—by fasting or by anything else we can do or say.  None of us are in the position to do that.  And if we could, even if God could be manipulated, I’m not certain we would truly want to serve a God that can be manipulated.

Fasting is about turning away from ourselves for a while, and focusing on God and others.  That is the gist of what we hear in today’s Gospel reading. Self-denial, fasting, giving up something for the sake of our spiritual growth ultimately to help us draw closer to God and one another.

Now, I have to be clear, self-denial is not self-hatred. It is not a time to beat ourselves up for some failure we have done. It is not a time to feel bad ourselves or to be ashamed.  God, who loves us so fully and completely, doesn’t want us to do that.

Self-denial is about turning from self-idolatry. It is about tuning away from thinking we are the centers of our universe. It is about turning away from that belief that it is all about the all-mighty ME. And we all do that. We all build ourselves up and make ourselves into something we aren’t at times

Lent is a time for us to realize that we must turn from an inordinate love of self and refocus our love on God and on others.  This is what Lent is really about.

“You shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus tells the Devil—and us.

Rather, let us feed on that Bread from heaven. That bread we share here at this altar. And that bread we carry with us into the world. Carrying that Bread into the world, let us share it with others in love.  Let us share it, and in sharing it, let us fulfilled and made whole.




Prairie Political Ponderings said...

Congratulations, Jamie! I hope that you will join us at our next potluck! I will have to schedule one, just for you! What are your favorite foods?

Prairie Political Ponderings said...

P.S. This is Kathleen, ha! :)