Thursday, March 7, 2019

A Meditation for Lent 2019

Matthew 4:1-11
After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written,  'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"  Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Theme:  Lent is 40 days of preparation to ready us to share in the Passion of Christ----Holy Week, His Death and His Resurrection.  Through disciplines of prayer, self-examination, self-denial, repentance, and almsgiving (mercy gifts) we prepare to turn from our self-centered life to one that is centered upon The Other (God) and others. 
[The word Lent is apparently derived from the Old English Lenten, which means "lengthen."  It refers to the lengthening of the daylight hours that occurs in the northern hemisphere as spring approaches.  It is in this period of transition from late winter to early spring that the season of Lent falls.]
 Introduction:
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent.  We will walk with Jesus in our own 40 days of self-examination and testing that will reveal to us the state of our spiritual health.  Are we following Christ wholeheartedly, or half-heartedly, or with no heart at all?
For most of my religious life, Lent has not been my favorite season of the Christian year. Anything that directed my attention  to “testing” was an alarm to flee in avoidance.  Testing made me feel isolated, alone, and exposed my defects and failures.  Who’s eager to look at such an inventory of failures and defects?  That is just asking for guilt and shame.  
Yet, we can enter this season of “testing” or self-examination courageously, because we go into it with Christ.  Just as the Gospel lesson this morning reminded us that Jesus…”was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  We too are led by the spirit of Christ to be tested in the wilderness of our devilish cravings that expose our predilection for narcissism and idolatry.
I recommend that we enter this season of testing clinging to Jesus’ invitation and promise: Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29-30)
Therefore, let us begin our Lent with the assurance that we journey during these 40 days in the company of Jesus who will not lead us into temptation and will deliver us from evil; even the evil of our own hearts.
I. The Testing
During these 40 days, now at the outset that this is not a period in which there is any kind of heavenly rewards and punishments implications.  Lent is not a time for taking on the burdens of guilt.  In fact, it is a time to unload guilt, sins, behaviors, and turn around and go in the direction of selflessness and service to God and mankind.
Another, caveat, Lent is not to see God as testing our humanity by aliments, or any kind of afflictions, or natural catastrophes, or disasters, or any human evil inflictions.  
As we lament all the human evil and natural calamity, allow me to assert that in no way is God the author of so much suffering for human kind. 
Our own self-inflicted self-centeredness is the only focus of our repentance, a turning around or turning from, a life consumed by our own cravings for self-satisfaction. This is the testing of Lent.
II. Jesus’ Test
We hear this morning in the scripture reading that after the 40 days of prayer and fasting that Jesus was hungry.  Very hungry!  Famished! 
The Tempter challenged him, “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread and eat.   Jesus answered, “Man does not live my bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Although Jesus is craving food; but does not fall of the trick to prove that he uses his status as the son of man and of God for his own convince or to give himself any privileges uncommon to all of us. 
In other words, Jesus knows that his life, and ours, is in the hands and care of God.  God secures our happiness and supplies all our needs.  We are not self-made men and women, boys and girls.  We are God’s children.  We belong to Him.  And to Him alone do breathe and we live and have our being.
How about ourselves.  Do we keep this focus?  Do we keep this trust and faith in our Father?  Do we really believe when we pray: Give us this day, our daily bread?”  Or do we think that we will make for ourselves, cake, or donuts, or pastry?
No, we live by the creative word, promises of our Heavenly Father.  That is our daily test, not only during Lent.
III. Testing God and Overthrowing Him
The other two tests that Jesus faced in today’s Gospel lesson were to test and see if God would save him, if he threw himself off the temple.  And finally, the Tempter, wanted to make a deal with Jesus that if he would bow and worship him, he would give Jesus all the powers of the kingdoms on earth.  
Again, the Tempter, challenged Jesus with, “If you are the son of God”, prove it.  Take advantage of your privileged position.  Or take my offer to give up the powers of Heaven, for the powers of earth.
These are also our tests daily.  Some of us think that as Christians that we have special privileges and immunities from adversity in this life.  Jesus, warns us not to put that idea to the test.  For God does not test us in such a way; nor, will he respond to our attempts at one-up-manship.
We are also tempted to grab for the satisfactions and pleasures and privileges that wealth and power in this world can give; not realizing that these quickly pass away.  It is tempting to forfeit eternal bless for temporal treasures and pleasures.
How is our 40 days of testing unfolding during our Lenten journey in the wilderness of our lives?  
Conclusion
Testing, temptations, turning around, such are the contemplations and meditations of Lent.  For sure this is a gloomy business.  Now, I see why I have not been eager to do” Lent” during most of my life.
Yet, the good news of this season is that the spirit of Christ leads us into it.  We under take these testing’s in the fellowship of Jesus and our fellow spiritual Lenten pilgrims.
Therefore, I can do Lent as long as I know that I hold hands with others, and the other.  That is the wonder, the miracle of giving up self-centeredness.  We find togetherness!  And that is much better company than what I can offer myself.
When I was very young.  I slept with an older brother.  I often cried for him to leave on the light, because I was afraid of ghosts. It was his fault that I was afraid. He always told me to hurry to bed before the ghosts grabbed me.
Therefore, there was a need to leave the light on.
Finally, my brother, Donald, would tell me hold his hand in the darkness, and then no ghost could catch hold of me.  
So, with lights out, I held his hand.  He was right!  No ghosts every caught me.
Lent and its testing goes much better when we walk in the wilderness together with Christ and with a fellow Christian disciple.
Amen.
Calendar for Lent, Easter, Day of Pentecost 2019

March 6           Ash Wednesday
March 10            First Sunday in Lent
March 24.           Third Sunday in Lent   
                            Combined Chinese/English Service

April 7           Last Sunday in Lent        


April 14              Palm Sunday.  [Combined Service Eng/Chines]

April 18          Maundy Thursday   Agape Feast and Foot Washing
                      Combined Eng/Chinese Service   7PM

April 19       Good Friday Noon Combined Service (12PM) 

April 20       Easter Vigil at 8PM.    [Combined Service]

April 21              Easter     0930 AM   
                           English Congregation Easter Brunch
                         11AM, and 1PM Easter Eggs 

April 28             2nd Sunday of Easter

May 5               3rd Sunday of Easter      
May 12.            4th Sunday of Easter 

May 19            5th Sunday of Easter

May 26             6th Sunday of Easter       [Combined Service]

June 2             7th Sunday of Easter

June 9                 Day of Pentecost         



June 16                  First Sunday after Pentecost    Trinity Sunday


Calendar for Lent, Easter, Day of Pentecost 2019

March 6           Ash Wednesday
March 10            First Sunday in Lent
March 24.           Third Sunday in Lent   
                            Combined Chinese/English Service

April 7           Last Sunday in Lent        


April 14              Palm Sunday.  [Combined Service Eng/Chines]

April 18          Maundy Thursday   Agape Feast and Foot Washing
                      Combined Eng/Chinese Service   7PM

April 19       Good Friday Noon Combined Service (12PM) 

April 20       Easter Vigil at 8PM.    [Combined Service]

April 21              Easter     0930 AM   
                           English Congregation Easter Brunch
                         11AM, and 1PM Easter Eggs 

April 28             2nd Sunday of Easter

May 5               3rd Sunday of Easter      
May 12.            4th Sunday of Easter 

May 19            5th Sunday of Easter

May 26             6th Sunday of Easter       [Combined Service]

June 2             7th Sunday of Easter

June 9                 Day of Pentecost         



June 16                  First Sunday after Pentecost    Trinity Sunday