Let Lent begin, we ask today. Let the season of Lent mark our hearts and souls as we journey the 40 days of contemplation and preparation to the joyful celebration of Easter.
Let Lent begin! Let us consider this world and our wilderness of temptations. Let us consider our choices and challenges. And let Lent begin with the words of the old prayer: lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
It happened just a couple of weeks ago, on a fine Friday evening as I remember. But it happens all the same, and it is hard to separate one occasion from another. We were at a restaurant. A rather nice restaurant. Not a fast-food in and out place, but a slow food sit and stay place.
Most of the meal was behind us. A nice grilled chicken or it might have been salmon. Coffee and the check was now in front of us. When the waiter appeared at our table, he said: “Kindly allow me to tempt you with a little dessert!”
Well, the desserts weren’t exactly little or few. And they weren’t cheap either. But as the waiter, a nice young man with a haircut that completely hid his horns and left hand on his back probably hiding a red suitor pitch fork…. As this nice young man truly tried to tempt us, we heard about the different tempting options. There was of course the carrot cake which he described as “sinful”. Next, he highlighted the crème caramel which he labeled “irresistible”. Then there was the choice of the Bavarian Torte which he offered under the heading of “obscene." He concluded his tempting presentations with the obligatory brown thing known as “death by chocolate” which he told us was “surely to die for!”
So I choose a little something. As a good Lutheran accompanied by 4 forks. Twelve dollars and several seconds later, the dessert was gone… the fine young waiter was gone… and we were gone… still wearing a silly regretful grin as if to say: “We didn’t really need that… but boy it was gooooodddd!” Sinfully, irresistibly, obscenely, almost to die for!
We all know this. There are so many temptations out there. So many possible and impossible choices. And we are only humans, aren’t we? Simultaneously saints and sinners. And we all have our weaknesses, don’t we? Starbucks' tempting Caramel Macchiato Coffee, Dunkin' Donuts, In-and-Out Burger, Danish Licorice, Belgian chocolate, or shoes!
We all have points of vulnerability where our armor of steel and will power are both attackable and indefensible. We even talk about desserts as sinful temptations and shopping malls as tempting places. But is this what the Bible means by temptation? Not really, and maybe sort of. What happened to Jesus in the hot desert of wilderness and temptation was more serious and fundamental than desserts or Danish candy. But it is the same basic instincts of sin, temptation, choices, and consequences.
In our Gospel this first Sunday of Lent we are confronted with temptations, choices and challenges. Immediately after his baptism in Jordan, Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness and confronted with three major temptations and the fundamental question if he would choose the glorious crown with or without the painful cross.
We are here now, on our way into the season of Lent. We are not sent emptyhanded or alone into the wilderness as Jesus has been there before us--and he will be there with us.
Choices and temptations befall on us all. Pain and hardship mark the days of this life of ours. We live in a time of increasingly deep divisions and hostility. We divide along racial lines, political lines, worship lines, religious lines. But listen again to the words of Paul today as in Romans he reminds us, what a gift of grace it is that as we travel through this wilderness and face all these temptations and choices-- all people stand equally before God. What a gift of grace it is when we remember and believe the promise of the cross that Christ bore: the promise that grace comes for all: “For there is no distinction between Jew or Greek; the same Lord is lord of all and is generous to all who call on him….”
There are many temptations. Physical temptations, we can eat, drink, indulge in, enjoy, but that might end up ruining more than the pleasure gave us. The season of Lent is our time to humbly confront our temptations and our choices, that might lead us astray and away from God and our neighbor.
Temptations, that focus on my own well being and totally overlooks the other and others. Temptations, that give in to the pleasure of the moment but forgets the consequences of tomorrow. It can be the dessert, the alcohol, the drugs, the overdraft, the infidelity, the lie or the deceit.
We do probably not agree on what are the most sinful temptations in life, but as Jesus showed us in the sand of the wilderness as the Tempter tried to test his to grasp the power, the glory and the kingdom for his own sake. As this story tells us, we do know that some temptations might ruin our relation to God, to our neighbors and ourselves. Temptations that pull us away from the will of God.
One of the most beautiful Danish hymns is in fact the shortest in our Hymnal! Not your very typical 16 verse long-winded Danish, it has only two short verses.
Written in 1938 by the poet-pastor and the resistance fighter Kaj Munk, sitting in his parsonage in Verderso, and painfully aware of the temptation to choose to follow a powerful man, but through Jesus Christ found his firm faith in the strong God, that despite the strong and powerful evil enemy, still is the strongest.
Let Lent begin!
Let Lent begin! The forty days before us called Lent are like no other. It is our opportunity as Christians and believers to take time to contemplate on our faith and to confess our faith; it is our opportunity to resist temptation and bad choices.
It is a struggle. It was a struggle for Jesus--a struggle he knew and shared with us. And it is a daily struggle for all of us as we too live in a wilderness, where evil is ever before us. Yet, we too have the Spirit of God guiding us and breathing courage into our souls. We too are not alone when we confront evil.
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
Let our Lenten Journey begin!