In the wilderness of these days, I find myself tempted to retreat from the world around me. The pandemic has trained me too well in the arts of isolation. Hunkering down in the safety of my home, venturing out into the world only when it is absolutely necessary, is a skill we have learned all too well. These past two years, so many of us have been privileged enough to enroll in a sort of master class in avoidance. Home-schooling in the protection afforded to us by accident of our birth. Even when we do venture out into the world we are protected by masks, vaccines, and the sure and certain knowledge that if the worst happens there will be doctors, nurses, medicines, and medical systems to restore us to our splendid isolation. A few weeks ago, we were filled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation about lifting of the restrictions which have for the most part protected us from this virus. Then as if we needed reminding, angry truckers, together with some other really, really, angry people choose to vent their collective anger for all the world to see. Hootin and a hollering for weeks on end, not even the frigid cold of our nation’s capital could disperse them from the media which only seemed to feed their anger and inspire our weary citizenry to shrug in a collective sort of “meeeh,” as we did little more than will them to go home. And then, in typical Canadian style, we moaned only a little when our liberties were suspended as collective police forces joined together to shoo the angry people from the streets so that so that the rest of us could, as we are wont to say, “Have a nice day.” We thought, at last, we can get back to the business of returning to normal life. Spring became the object of our longing, as we anticipated our return to the way things used to be. And then, as if on que, the drums began to beat. Louder and louder the drumbeat of war reverberated strongly enough to disturb our foray back into the world.
As news of a madman’s quest for more invaded our splendid isolation, we began frantically doomscrolling. A habit we have picked up during the worst of the pandemic, when we scrolled and surfed our way through the endless bad news of infections and death. Consumed by this wilderness of war’s ability to excite while eroding our mental health, the temptation to fast from the news rises in me, threatening to send me scurrying into a retreat from life in the world. The bombs continue to explode. Women and children are fleeing for their lives while partners, fathers and sons are called up to resist. Buildings shatter. Children die. World leaders stumble and mumble their way across our screens offering little hope and even less wisdom. Nobody knows what to do, except hunker down for a long, protracted war.
It took the arrival of Ash Wednesday, with its annual reminder of our mortality, to move me beyond my longing for life to return to normal with the realization that life has never been normal. Human life is always lived in the shadow of death. So, tempted as I am to retreat into the all too familiar comfort of splendid isolation to fast from life in the world, the knowledge that I am dust and to dust I shall return confirms in me that, as WAR rages, this LENT is NOT the time for fasting! Life is far too precious to be squandered by giving into the temptation to retreat from life.
There is a hibiscus in my kitchen bursting forth into bloom, reminding me that spring will come. Spring will come even to Ukraine. For now, we must bear witness in this wartime wilderness to the reality that spring will come. So, it is fitting that on this First Sunday of Lent, the gospel which is offered to us is the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke’s version of Jesus sojourn in the wilderness. As always, the gospel is found beyond the words on the page, for the story is a metaphor – meta meaning beyond and phor meaning words. This story of Jesus sojourn in the wilderness, where he encounters his own temptations, is a metaphor, in which the gospel, the good news is revealed beyond the words.
“Jesus returned from the Jordan filled with the HOLY SPIRIT, and she led him into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the devil. Jesus ate nothing during that time, at the end of which he was famished. The devil said to Jesus, “If you are GOD’s OWN, command this stone to turn into bread.”
Jesus answered, “Scripture has it, “We don’t live on bread alone.’”
Then the devil took Jesus up higher and showed him all the nations of the world in a single instant.
The devil said, “I’ll give you all the power and the glory of these nations; the power has be given to me and I can give it to whomever I wish. Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and it will all be yours.”
In reply, Jesus said, “Scripture has it: ‘You will worship the MOST HIGH GOD; GOD alone will you adore.’”
Then the devil led Jesus to Jerusalem, set him up on the parapet of the Temple and said, “If you are GOD’s OWN, throw yourself down from here, for scripture has it, ‘GOD will tell the angels to take care of you; with their hands they’ll support you, that you may never stumble on a stone.’”
Jesus said to the devil in reply, “It also says, ‘Do not put GOD to the test.’”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, Jesus was left alone. The devil awaited another opportunity. Luke 4:1-13
This is the Gospel we are given with which to contend with our wilderness on this the first Sunday in Lent, the eleventh day of war in Europe. I am tempted to see the personification of evil in this story, not as the devil, but as Putin. Even though I know that the Devil, or Satan, they are mere personifications of the evil which lives with in me, within all of us. I long to point to those who are inflicting war on our sisters and brothers in Ukraine and to point to their actions as satanic, so that I don’t have to contend with the evil which lives in me. The evil which inspires me to return violence with violence.
Lately, I have come to understand evil not as some external force, but rather as the product of my own innate instinct for survival; an instinct which has served our species well in the process of evolution. When I reflect upon the teachings of Jesus, I can see his revolutionary understanding that our instinct for survival has taken us about as far is it can. Jesus understood that violence begets even more violence. Even though he himself was tempted by his own demons to given in to his baser instincts in order to acquire riches, power, and glory, Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness revealed to him that such sacrilege was not the way to achieve what he understood to be the basilea ton theon, the kin-dom of DIVINITY, the Realm of the DIVINE, the place where justice and not violence is the means to achieve peace. Tempted to sacrilege. Now, by sacrilege I mean sacrilege as it is defined by John Philip Newell, “to try to take possession of the sacred to us it for one’s own ends rather than to reverence the sacred.”Our temptation to sacrilege is an evil which will fail to bring in the basilea ton theon, the Realm of the DIVINE, where justice is the way to peace. Our evolution is contingent upon our ability to co-operate, to come together for the good of the whole. Without cooperation our species cannot survive. The kin-dom of DIVINITY will only be ushered in when we resist our desire to possess the sacred for ourselves and learn to reverence the sacred, which is a fancy way of saying that justice for all is the only way to peace.
I confess that the sacrilege upon sacrilege which is being heaped upon the people of Ukraine tempts me to despair. I despair for the lives being wasted. I despair for the unnecessary suffering. I despair that this violence will lead to a massive escalation of violence. And when I finish despairing for others, I despair for myself. For what can I possibility do to resist this violence? How can I possibly enjoy the easing of pandemic restrictions when my sisters and brothers are facing such peril? How can I even entertain the joys of Spring when children are suffering so? How can I begin to taste the feast that life is, when so many lives are being lost? My despair tempts me to retreat from the world, return to my splendid isolation, pull the covers over my head and just weep. It is all I can do to remember that human life is always lived in the shadow of death. From dust we can and to dust we shall return.
In that dusty desert all those centuries ago, I wonder if Jesus’ was tempted to despair. Then I remember what Jesus did when he confronted his own demons. Jesus resisted the temptation to take what was sacred, his one beautiful life and use it for himself. Jesus resisted the temptation to sacrilege and reverenced his life by living. Living a life of resistance during the first century, under the oppressive violence of the Roman Empire was not easy. The challenges of ushering in the basilea ton theon, the Ki-ndom of DIVINITY, the life of embodying justice by being LOVE in the world, by resisting violence and reverencing life, these are the challenges of evolving into the peace we long for. Co-operation, coming together for the sake of the whole has never been easy and I suspect that in our lifetimes it may become even more difficult. But if peace truly is what we long for, there is no way to peace except the kind of justice which fosters co-operation among, people, tribes, and nations. It is a daunting task. A task that no single one of us can achieve. That’s the point. There is work which needs doing and we are the only ones who can do it and we can only do it together.
Peace is our life’s work! As WAR rages, this LENT is NOT the time for fasting! We must feast on LIFE! We have been hunkering down long enough. Spring is coming. We must leave the isolation of our despair. We must feast on life! Here and now, in this moment in time, we are called to spring forth into the fullness of life. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. In the meantime, there is LIFE to be LIVED. Each and every glorious day living moment by moment, not spiraling off into despair for our future. Living in this moment, this is our daily bread. We cannot hide away from the world any more than Jesus could hide away in the desert. We must bear witness to this war and to the suffering of our world. But we must not give in to despair’s temptations. This is no time to fast from LIFE. This is the time to resist the temptations of the evil which exists in us and in our neighbours. We must resist, each one of us must do what we can, whenever we can, as often as we can, in all the ways we are able. We can begin by resisting the temptation to hide from what is happening in the world. We need to strike a balance between doomscrolling and bearing witness to our neighbours suffering. This is the least that we can do. But there is more, so much more that we can do. We can embody the LOVE which is DIVINITY by living fully, LOVing extravagantly, and being all that we were created to be.
I remember years ago, when I was first learning about Lent, our pastor encouraged us to, “Fast, Pray, Give.” Fast Pray Give! So, if you must fast, fast from despair. If you pray, pray with your whole self, roll up your sleeves and let your actions be your prayer. And for the sake of our world LIVE. LIVE fully, LOVing extravagantly, being all that you were created to be. Life has never been normal. We always have and we always will live our lives in the shadow of death. This makes LIFE all lives SACRED, and we reverence our lives by embodying LOVE with all of who we are. This means living each and every precious moment which is offered as pure gift to us, for this is our daily bread, given to nourish us for the work, the challenges, the joys and the sorrows of being LOVE in the world.
Spring is about to burst forth in all its glory, here and in Ukraine. Let us reverence the sacredness of our Ukrainian sisters’ and brothers’ suffering by bearing witness, and resisting sacrilege wherever, however, and whenever we can. It will not be easy to follow Jesus to our Jerusalem. Living fully is never easy. But along the way even Jesus feasted, rejoiced, as he lived fully. I have no idea what springtime looked like in first-century Palestine. But I am absolutely convinced that Jesus would have embraced the beauty of the lilies of the field as they burst forth in splendour. Just as surely as I am convinced that we must not fast from the splendour of this one beautiful life with which each of us is blessed with.
Now more than ever we must feast, pray, and give. Feast on life, Pray with your lives, and Give extravagantly. As war rages, do not fast from life. Now is the time to resist our temptation to despair. Now is the time to Spring Forth into our one blessed, glorious, gift of LIFE, as we do what we can, when we can, however we can, as often as we can, let us do the things which make for peace in our world. Spring Forth to embrace the beauty of the lilies of the field, or the splendour of a blooming hibiscus as it springs forth to remind us to: Live fully, LOVE extravagantly. And be all that we were created to be. Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.
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