by Rose Lester on February 25, 2007
First I want to thanks for the opportunity to give the message today. The last month has been very enriching for me as I have lived with this scripture almost non-stop. I highly recommend it. Each day I would get more and more insights as I viewed the scripture from many different perspectives and many different focuses. Everything I read or heard or studied seemed to be applicable. The challenge then became to see which of the many things I had thought about was most essential and that I supposed to share. Threaded throughout my talk are quotes from Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk , a social activist and a pioneer of inter-religious dialogue. I have been receiving daily quotes from his writings for the last month.. Many of the reading fit quite well into my sermon topic so I have included them throughout my talk.
About 15 years ago I got a birthday card from my father. This was not unusual. He almost always sent me a card. There was usually a check inside. The standard greeting was there. However the words my father had written touched me to the core. I had always known with my head that my father loved me yet I often felt like I was a burden, a worry, a disappointment. He never said it but that's what I thought and what I felt inside. This particular year he wrote these words, "Oh all the people in my life, you are my greatest blessing". I am still not sure why this impacted me so much but I burst into tears and still get tearful today when I say it.
I think it was because I finally fully received what my soul had been longing to hear and I believed it to be true about myself, that I was indeed a blessing, not just to my father but to my heavenly father as well.
Likewise when Jesus was baptized by John he had a powerful personal experience at the river Jordon. It wasn't the knowledge of scripture, laws, teachings but with the spirit of God's love that shook his world upside down. He heard and absorbed fully the words, "You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." In other words, "You are a blessing." What he does next is quite interesting. He responds to this experience by going to the desert. He didn't go to the synagogue to offer sacrifice, or sign up for the seminary, or go study the torah, or debate theology, or found a new sect. He went to the desert. There he purified his connection to God and was transformed. I am going to reflect on three aspects of Jesus' time in the desert and look at the lessons they have to teach us today.
One of my favorite childhood memories is listening to the radio with my grandmother. In the evening when the work of the day was done, we'd get in our nightgowns and turn off the lights and I would crawl into bed with my grandmother and we would turn on the radio. There were no other distractions. We would always show up for our favorite program at the proper time and listen intently for the story to unfold. This leads me to the first lesson of this scripture. In order to receive God's, we have to prepare ourselves, both our outer and inner environment. These are some of the preparation that Jesus made.
Set your intention – Jesus had this powerful experience and his intention was to perfect himself in love.
Rituals and Sacred spaces can be helpful. Create an altar in your home.
Stay awake, aware and present. Merton ~ "To keep ourselves spiritually alive we must constantly renew our faith. We are like pilots of fog-bound steamers, peering into the gloom in front of us, listening for the sounds of outer ships, and we can only reach our harbor if we keep alert. The spiritual life is then first of all a matter of keeping awake. We must not lose our sensitivity to spiritual inspiration. Be able to respond to the slightest warnings that speak, as though by hidden instinct, in the depth of the soul that is spiritually alive." Have you ever missed a TV program because you fell asleep half way through it?
Give it time – we want instant communication. It takes time to develop a deep and lasting relationship with God. (example of our impatience with the internet connection.)
The second lesson to be learned in this scripture is about purification.
Sometimes on those old radios it would be hard to get tuned into the right channel. There would be a lot of static but we would continually adjust the dial and then do our best to hear the voices of the story we were listening to. Sometimes we had to strain our ears really hard to pick out the voice that belonged to our story. Once Jesus put himself in a supportive environment, he preceded to burn away all that was not of God within him. He sought to be the perfect expression of God in human form. We are told that he spent 40 days in the desert. It is my understanding that the number 40 means the completion of things. So it could have been 40 days or even longer. We can only guess how he spent those days but it is my sense that he spent the time in prayer and meditation, perhaps talking to himself and his inner conflicting voices, in struggle within himself as he tried to keep himself connected constantly with God. And in the process he was tested by his lesser thoughts and desires. If you have ever tried to meditate or keep your mind focused on one thought you know how hard it is. Our mind just likes to wander. Some of the truths that I think this scripture teaches us are as follows.
. One of my favorite radio shows was Father Knows Best. The story was always similar. The children would get in some kind of predicament, be tempted to do the wrong thing and when they couldn't solve the problem they would finally go to their father and he would have the perfect solution which would make everything turn out okay and the children would be wiser and there was a sense that they would be able to manage their life better in the future. This brings me to the last lesson of the desert: Possibilities. Jesus left the desert a different man than when he went there. He spoke with a new authority, and clarity that he did not have before. He had opened to the new possibility for his life of being a blessing to the world. He was transformed and empowered by his conscious and intentional contact with God. He now had not only head knowledge but heart wisdom. Much of the rest of the new testament focuses on what Jesus said and did. But what I think is more important is how he was being. The following are some qualities of being that I think Jesus demonstrated upon his return from the desert and are lessons for us on the power of possibility.
It was Jesus' bliss to show people the way to God. It was his bliss to tell people about God's love. It was his bliss to serve God even when it led to the cross. Remembering God through preparation and purification not only prepares our hearts for Easter, it means that the possibility of Easter is already here, available right now. Jesus showed us how to have a perpetual Easter by staying open to God's love. In preparing for this sermon, I think I finally got the deeper meaning of lent and the disciplines or sacrifices and penances that are suggested. I always approached lent from a place of guilt. We were sinners and we were supposed to give something up or do something difficult so we would be good enough to receive the risen Christ on Easter. I now believe that the purpose of lent is simply another opportunity to open ourselves as fully as possible to God's love. In this scripture, Jesus gave us a template for a personal and transformative relationship with God. This is not a once in a life time task but an ongoing discipleship. As the scripture says, the devil backed off for a little while until a more opportune moment. That critical inner voice that tempts us to be less than who we are called to be, that keeps us from living a life of love, keeps us from believing that we are a blessing never completely goes away. It is always there when fear sneaks into our thinking. Our connection to God's love is like the battery of our cell phones, it needs to be continually recharged to stay alive in the sprit of love. Lent gives us an opportunity to do this. To Remember God – To Please God – To Trust in God - To open fully to Love.
David and Sherry sing:.
If We Only Have Love
From Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living In Paris
If we only have love then tomorrow will dawn
And the days of our years will rise on that morn
If we only have love to embrace without fears
We will kiss with our eyes, we will sleep without tears.
If we only have love, love that's falling like rain
Then the parched desert earth will grow green again
If we only have love for the hymn that we shout
For the song that we sing then we'll have a way out
If we only have love we can reach those in pain
We can heal all our wounds, we can use our own names
If we only have love we can melt all our guns
And then give the new world to our daughters and sons
If we only have love then Jerusalem stands
And then death has no shadow, there are no foreign lands
If we only have love we will never bow down
We'll be tall as the pines neither heroes nor clowns
If we only have love then we'll only be men
And we'll drink from the Grail to be born once again
Then with nothing at all but the little we are
We'll have conquered all time, all space, the sun, and the stars.
(Clay hearts were handed out while the song words were read. Reach in without looking and select a heart. Each heart is a unique combination of colors and layers and blending as are each of you. Carry this heart as a talisman on your Lenten journey to remind you of God's incredible love for you.
For a closing prayer I want to read Thomas Merton again. As I read this imagine for a moment Jesus coming back from the desert at the edge of town and saying these words as he reenters his life. Imagine too these as your words.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with m,
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.
~Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude