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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lectionary Leanings- Fat Tuesday Edition

First Sunday In Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32:1-11
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

It's Fat Tuesday today, Ash Wednesday Eve. Do you have your Mardi Gras inflatable in your yard? Pancake batter ready? Fasnachts on your table? King Cake ready to cut?

We're heading into the wilderness once again. Just this past Saturday we remembered Jesus' presentation in the Temple, and already he's off into the wilderness. Kids grow up so fast these days....

As the years have gone by, there are some things I have realized about these temptations. I
Wilderness. I want Jesus to be tempted. Sometmes I wonder what it might have been like if he had done some of the things satan had suggested- he could of if he had wanted, without a deal.

Ending hunger?
These things sound good to me.

Jesus could have done any and all of these things. It was within his ability. It was within his right. He chose not to do so for the same reason God chose not to use plague or flood this time to make His will known. God had tried those things, and they had not worked. They had not brought everlasting peace or justice. And so God did the only thing left. The greatest thing. God became fully human, submitting to the limitations of humanity and the limitations of the human heart. God sought to conquer us not with power but with mercy, generosity, honesty, and complete vulnerability. The human heart reciprocated this gift with crucifixion, and even that God defeated- not through removing Jesus from the cross but through the power of resurrection. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This week, the wilderness journey begins.

Or maybe, this is a week to talk about satan. I don't think of satan as a being. I think of satan as a way people, faithful people, have tried to answer the question that sooner or later, and usually more than once, comes to call in all of our lives.

Why do bad things happen? How can a world with a loving God allow concentration camps. Tsunamis. Starvation. Cancer. How can this happen?

Satan, tempting people, pulling people away from God helps many people provide an explanation for horror. For injustice. For many people, satan is the answer to that question, it explains the wrongs without indicting God. The problem with this solution can be summed up in a quote someone shared with me. "To personify Satan is to exonerate ourselves." The theological problem with a being satan who incites evil is that it means that we are not culpable or responsible. And we are. Not for tsunamis, but for hunger. For injustice. Even for institutional evils like systematic racism. Individually, collectively.If we personify satan, we eliminate any responsibility we have to confess our sin and doing the work of repentance that only God can make possible.

So. That's what I'm thinking. What's in your wilderness? What's the Holy Spirit doing with your sermon?

Is different from a desert
More cut off
More arid
Closer at hand.

Nothing else is there
Except our doubts
And our wants
And our desire to leave.

There’s only one way out,
To admit that we are there
To be prepared to stay
To lose all fear of being alone.

After we laugh at the liars,
Resist temptation,
Reject earthly power
We are allowed to leave.

~~Elizabeth H. Theofan


  1. I need to have a little homily ready for Ash Wed and a sermon for Sunday...I've written an uninspired draft for tomorrow, and am just ponder Sunday...thinking along the lines from our Ash Wed service, "I invite you into a Holy Lent." What might that mean this year? And unpacking it through the points of the wilderness experience and connecting it to the fact that I am leaving mid-Lent....

  2. Oh, and I'm thinking of using this illustration on Sunday: " Abba Poemen said: "the nature of water is yielding, and that of a stone is hard. Yet if you hang a bottle filled with water above the stone so that the water drips drop by drop, it will wear a hole in the stone. In the same way the word of God is tender, and our hearts are hard. So when people hear the word of God, frequently their hearts are opened to the presence of God." Joan Chittister - First air date January 20, 2002 30 Good Minutes, Chicago Sunday Evening Club, 2002.

  3. I am off-lectionary for Lent (or giving up Lectionary for LEnt if you prefer). THis week I am looking at the question What is the church? SOmehow dealing with the temptation story seems much more...well...tempting.

    WHat I see in the temptation narrative is a vision quest, a time to explore "who am I meant to be?". AFter all the temptations are only tempting if there is good in them. So I ask, what temptations to do good things are leading us away from what we are meant to be?

    --Gord (at the church)

  4. mmmm Gord i like those thoughts there. i too am getting ready for Ash Wed's sermon... and somehow i have to work hard and keeping it apart from Sunday's. one thing at a time...

    but both days include the necessity of addressing that yes we are tempted, we are sin-soaked. what next?

  5. My Ash Wednesday is probably getting snowed out. Fourteen inches of snow is predicted in the next 30 hours or so. Of course. The one year I'm prepared weeks ahead.

    I think I'm kickin' it Old Testament this Sunday (Juno reference) and going with That Garden Story.

  6. I'm doing Gospel with some references to the Old Testament, and tying in some of the hymn "Take it to the Lord in Prayer" - a golden oldie (or as my hubby says, a moldy oldie) talking about our trials and temptations

  7. I loved the poem. I think I'll post it at my place.

    I want out of my wilderness--NOW!
    Can you see why I needed the poem?

    As for satan, whether one believes in a personified being or something else, we MUST take responsibility for our actions. Must! As for me, a few weird encounters a while back made a believer outta me--hmmm--maybe I should use a different term. But we are beings with the ability to choose. Every moment of the day.

    I'm taking the easy way during my last month and not dealing with Lent at all. I continue with Noah!

    But I am absorbing the fact that I will NOT be here for Good Friday, or Easter, or...


  8. Thanks for these great starting thoughts Listing. I'm preaching the temptation this week, but right now I'm preparing for Ash Wednesday service tomorrow - a joint service (No, not that kind of joint...although it might help) with all of the UCCan churches this side of town.

    Also, our DVD player is on strike. Will not work. New Living the Question group starts tonight.


    They actually make inflatable Mardi Gras decorations?

  9. For Sunday I am beginning a Psalm series during Lent. I've never preached from the Psalms, and don't know that I will preach directly out of the Psalm each week or just let the Psalm guide the theme. This week it will be a combination of both, I think. The Psalm has a lot of sin/repentance/forgiveness language, so I'm going to with that. I will probably also read the Genesis lesson and use that to inform my sermon.

    We have an Ash Wednesday service tomorrow, but it will not include preaching, so Sunday's sermon will probably take on a very Ash Wednesday feeling. We have a new-ish service on Wednesday night that has contemplative/creative worship. We are working our way through a Liturgy of the Senses, and this week is the sense of smell. Great for an observance centered around burning! I'm nervous about making our own ashes in the midst of the service in case it doesn't work, so we will instead do a confession of sin including a burning of our prayers as the assurance of pardon (good ol' campfire worship brought into the sanctuary!) We'll still do the imposition of ashes (with pre-burned something bought from a supply store by my predacessor) after the confession, or maybe part of it. Not sure yet if I want to do those together (write confessions, come forward for ashes, leave sin in fire) or separate (write confessions, come forward to burn, receive ashes later). I can make a theological argument for both, so that's no help! Practically, it makes sense to just come forward once. Less moving around is always easier, and more sensitive to wheelchair folks. Hmmm...I'll keep thinking on this. Any thoughts?

  10. Random thoughts - not preaching -going to see our granddaughter instead. Ash Wednesday - they say we are all made of the same stuff as stars - does that mean "remember from stardust we are made and to stardust we will return?"
    re: the temptations - I believe these are the temptations for the church as well as leaders - the temptation to do spectacular things, to get too involved in physical feeding and not enough finding out why people are hungry, to be miraculous so we are the object of devotion rather than pointing to God.
    Thanks for the poem.

  11. While I agree with the need to take personal responsibility for one's own actions, what I appreciate about the personified satan is the acknowledgment that sometimes evil takes on a life of its own. True evil (I am not throwing that word around Bush-style) can sometimes go beyond any one person's actions and become something so powerful as to almost have an identity of its own. That, for me, doesn't excuse the behavior of those who participate in it, but it does admit the power behind it.

    But hey - I'm not preaching on Sunday. When I have, it's often been around a phrase Pastor Dan Erlander uses about the wilderness (for Jesus and for Israel, in their wandering) - it's a place of learning, a "wilderness school," and something is to be learned there which, somehow, can't be learned anyplace else. There's a fine line between treating this carefully and coming off as if you're dismissing the wilderness as God's way of teaching you something (this is the sort of thing people say when bad things happen and it irritates the life out of me), but having been through a few wildernesses myself (who hasn't?) I have to acknowledge that sometimes I've reached the other side and have, indeed, learned something important.

    Best wishes to all the preachers!

  12. Here's a poem I'm using as part of the Ash Wednesday service...from the MCC website.

    Come, Come Whoever You Are
    by Sufi poet Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (circa 1200 CE)

    Come, come, whoever you are,
    Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
    It doesn't matter.
    Ours is not a caravan of despair.
    Come, even if you have broken your vow
    a thousand times
    Come, yet again, come, come.

  13. I love the poem! A new poet for me too look for. Thanks.

  14. sherev- my plan initially was to preach the Psalms through Lent this year, but I think I've chickened out. I've never done it before, and I'm not sure I'm up to it. Maybe next year.

    Blessings on you for taking up a good challenge!

  15. I love the poem, too.
    I spent some time yesterday thinking about where the angels were during the temptation, and today I'm thinking mostly about how Jesus really made a choice to be human in this encounter. I wonder how long he knew it *was* a choice?
    And I always read this story and think about how most temptations are an inner dialogue. What about a Jesus and a Satan who look alike, having this conversation?

  16. And then there's Ash Wednesday, and I do need to write a little message for the service...

  17. Oh Listing Straight ... this is such a good reflection! Hope you don't mind my quoting you on my blog. And, sure hope you'll restart your blog one day.

    Thank you for this!

  18. I'm doing U2 for Lent. Sunday, Bloody Sunday on Sunday: the garden of Eden, total depravity of humanity (using illustrations from Kenya, Rwanda, Cambodia, Kosovo, Germany, slavery and genocide of Native Americans in the US, and, of course, the British massacre of Irish, moving to personal sin) ending with not included in lectionary picture of God making clothes for Adam and Eve out of animal skins. Somewhere, our utter helplessness before sin and evil and God's constant love and grace that saves us.

  19. I did some pretty pathetic blogging about my sermon direction. Hopefully I'll be back on tonight after the kiddies go to bed. I need some more direction before tomorrow since I have a lot on my plate to accomplish then.

  20. Oh yeah, since we were sharing poems appropriate for Lent I found this one (starts on page 3 in this guy's sermon) in the Journal for Preachers in 2006. I had permission to reprint it for my congregation that year, but I also used it (and a prayer that was printed with it in the journal) in worship as part of our liturgy before the ashes. I love it, and will share the poem again this year (without the printing since I don't have permission this time). I didn't read the guy's sermon so I have no idea what it's like. I just googled and found the poem in it.

  21. Hey there, gang.

    No homily needed for Ash Wednesday. I don't preach on Ash Wednesday. Dunno why. And for this Sunday, we are being joined by our Boy Scouts. It should be good...but it means that I am off lectionary.

  22. I like Gord's idea of giving up lectionary for Lent. I'm beginning a sermon series on "Finding the Center," looking at spiritual disciplines and the places we go and the ways in which we seek closeness with God. This Sunday, which is also Boy Scout Sunday, I'm looking at paradise and wilderness - but from a different perspective than the lectionary. The wilderness of the forest was where I first began my encounter with God. I'm reading a book called "The Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv who postulates that many of the problems experienced by children these days may be due to what he calls nature deficit disorder. This is something my DH and I have discussed or some time. Seems and good tie-in with wilderness and Boy Scouts. We know a secret others don't, and all.

    Ash Wednesday - don't know if it will happen or not. We had a big snow, but the sun is out now, so I'm giving it until noon and then will decide whether the service will happen or not. Attendance is usually low anyway, and with the snow, who knows, but I don't want my elderly faithful risking their lives for a midweek late in the day service.


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