At the beginning of the season of Lent each year, we return to this story about what happens to Jesus after his baptism, when the Spirit leads him out into the wilderness. Who does Jesus meet in the wilderness? (the devil!)
Now our cultures have all kinds of ideas about what the devil might be like, but there isn’t much about the devil in our scriptures. We don’t know if Jesus really saw the devil with his eyes, or if the devil was more like a dream, or what the devil might have looked like, or if the devil could have looked at all like Susan, who read the part of the devil in our scripture lesson. We don’t know if Jesus really heard the devil with his ears, or if the devil was more like a voice inside his head, or what the devil might have sounded like, or if the devil could have sounded anything like Susan.
What we know is that the devil tempts Jesus three times. He asks Jesus to prove himself by turning stones into bread, to fill his own belly; to jump off a high place, to test God; and to worship the devil, to gain power over the whole world. What does Jesus say to these temptations? Does he agree to do them, or not? Jesus says no, and he says no by quoting the Hebrew scriptures. When Jesus has hard choices, he remembers what he knows about God and God’s ways.
I don’t know whether anyone here has ever felt like the devil was whispering in their ear, tempting them to do something. But I do know that we all have to make choices, and that those choices can be hard to make. How can we learn more about God, how can we get closer to God, so that we’ll make better choices?
In this season of Lent, we’re invited to choose a practice that will help strengthen our ability to make good choices. We’re invited to set an intention, to make a change that will help us know God and God’s ways more deeply. Perhaps we could try something that might help us become less anxious, less selfish, less judgmental, less isolated. Perhaps we could try something that might help us become more peaceful, more generous, more gracious, more connected. We’re invited to try something new: just for 40 days. Maybe it’ll become a habit we love and keep doing. Maybe we’ll never do it again. But almost certainly, we will have learned something about ourselves and about God by trying it.
Each of us is invited to choose a practice, to make a change in our individual lives. And all together, as a community, we’re trying a change as well, in our space. Did it feel a little strange coming in today? Was anything surprising? I wonder if you notice anything that is different in our space today. What is different?
- There is purple fabric hanging in the air!
- Our platform and our table are in the middle of the space.
- Face new directions in our seats; see each other more, and the organ and windows more
- We may not always see the face of the person who’s speaking or leading.
There are also a lot of things that are the same. What is the same?
- Walls are the same
- Same Furniture
- Liturgy, the way we worship is more or less the same
- The people!
- God, the reason we gather is the same
This way of setting up echoes the design of the ceiling. It’s an extension of the most ancient pattern of Christian gathering, which was around a table. It may help us feel closer to each other, or even closer to God, as if we’re wrapped around with care. Like anything we try for Lent, this may be something we love — and it may be something that we never do again. Regardless, I hope we learn something from it, about ourselves, and about God.
The imagery that we’re using this year for Lent is from the life cycle of butterflies. Butterflies can inspire us as we consider what it might mean to change. And the most dramatic change in a butterfly’s life happens when it’s inside the safe walls of its chrysalis.
So, this season, I am imagining that God’s forgiveness and grace and love is our chrysalis. God is our safe container, within which we can risk change. We have some chrysalises, made on Ash Wednesday, on our table. The curve of our chairs, the sweep of the fabric above our heads, may also help us think of the wrapping around love of God.
Change is hard. It’s hard to choose to change, and it’s hard to face changes we don’t have a choice in. But we’re not alone. Not even Jesus was alone. When he begins his public ministry, in each moment of his transition, God is there: in a spirit like a dove, in words of blessing; in the wisdom of the scriptures; in visiting angels. God is there, wrapping around Jesus to give him support as he dares to do something new.
Please pray with me: God, help us to feel your strength surrounding us, holding us, hugging us, grounding us, as the world changes, and as we choose to change, to become closer to you. Amen.