Sunday, 10 March 2019

Into the Desert, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year C

Deut 26:4-10; Lk 4:1-13
This year I feel particularly ready for Lent. Not ready in the sense of being prepared, but ready in the sense of needing a fresh start.
The word ‘Lent’, as you probably know, comes from the old Saxon word for the season of ‘spring’. The word thus focuses us on the new growth that we start to see in this season:
The daffodils are out, tulips are appearing, buds are in the trees. Life is starting afresh.
Spiritually, likewise, this season of Lent is about new growth.

There is an irony here, however, in that to cause our souls to grow we go into the DESERT
-we go into a place where there is little growth, little water, little nourishment.
Why? Well, we might note that the soul is not like the body, it works differently.
But, both body and soul find their true SOURCE of life in the Lord Jesus.
We go into the desert to go be with Him.
He spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert, and so do we in Lent.

The desert is a place of little food.
In Lent, in union with Jesus, we fast. We “give things up” for Lent -which is a small form of fasting.
We need to go into the desert because the ABUNDANCE of things we experience can DISTRACT us from the Lord.
My chocolate, my alcohol, my TV, my snacks -all these things are good in themselves, but the abundance of them distracts me.
The “noise” of all these pleasures stops me hearing the Lord.
When I deny myself in this season of Lent I QUIETEN my soul.
I reduce that “noise”,
so that as my desires are intensified (as I lack the things that normally satisfy them), my desires might remember that there is a deeper reality that I seek: the Lord.

If this is going to work, then it needs to accompanied by prayer. This is why prayer and fasting go together.
They went together with Jesus in the desert. Even more, do WE need them to go together.
In this season I need to add some extra prayer, even if only small.
Something realistic that I can stick to, but something extra. Something that can make this time in the desert not merely training my desires, but re-focusing them on the only thing that reality matters: God.

Faith and hope need to be part of this.
Our first reading was a creed. It reminded the Jewish people of how God had been active in their lives in the past, how He had led them in the past.
He had called Abraham out of the Chaldees.
He had led Moses and the people out of slavery in Egypt.
For forty years He had led them as they wandered in the desert.
He brought them to “a land flowing with milk and honey”(Deut 26:9).
The church reminds us of this text to remind us that, in Lent, God guides us STILL. He leads us still.
If I am going into the desert, I need the confidence that comes from believing and trusting Him, otherwise the desert will overwhelm me.

Finally, love. Faith, and prayer, and fasting, all this should change me, make me more loving and giving.
And so we give to the poor in the season.

So spring, Lent, new growth.
We go into the place of desert, this place of little life, to encounter in a new way the Lord who is the source of all life.
That removed from the distractions of pleasures, we might find our greatest pleasure: the good God.
Let us go forth in faith and confidence - the land of milk and honey awaits on the far side of that desert.

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