Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Reflections on the First Sunday in Lent, Year C: Facing Tradition and Temptation


Will you keep the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? I will, with God's help..." (BCP, p. 304)
St. Peter's began a preaching series in Lent, focused on the Baptismal Covenant. Placing that in context with our Lenten readings is a challenge our preachers embrace and by God's grace we will see some interesting and challenging work done from our pulpit and on this blog as the weeks unfold. Taking on the baptismal covenant questions is a central focus for us on two levels: the first is that we are increasingly aware that we are here in the Body of Christ as a people who seek to "walk the talk" of the Good News of the Gospel; and the second is that we (appropriately in Lent) must acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do in reforming ourselves to purpose as the Body of Christ.

A lot of popular culture has sought to inform our faith, and to inform people about our faith, that frankly misses the mark. More on that "missing the mark" stuff next week when we talk about repentance. For now, let's acknowledge a couple of central points that we glean from this past Sunday's readings:

  1. We are not all that, and in fact we are pretty far from where we would like to be in relationship with God; and that goes back a LONG way. In our tradition, sin came into the world through Adam and Eve. The first of us, these were the ones who stepped out of utter accord with God's will. Some call it fallen, others the literal first fruits of creation being given freedom to choose God or not. Our deepest roots affirm that our story is one that begins with a fall and unfolds with a call to repentance, redemption and ultimately salvation in the person of Jesus the Christ.
  2. Being a people who hear the good news of salvation gives us two things to do, immediately: the first is to embrace the change of living that comes with being lifted up and to also invite everybody else into that transformation. Some catches attach, though, and come from what we learn in our tradition--change in another cannot be coerced (see Adam and Eve!) and God is committed to the LONG GAME of restoring ALL things to union and communion with the Creator.
Our daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and lifelong walk with each other and with God is a continual summons to be formed and reformed. We never stop learning and growing in Christ. The greatest cost to becoming confident in that redemptive work means being willing to release the certainty that dangles in front of us like so much low-hanging fruit. It would be so easy to attempt to conform God to our expectations, rather than to seek God's desire for us. Why? Because then we would be able to step away from the challenge to do justice that conforms to God's agenda and not our own. Because then we would be able to define God as abstract, distant, and lacking immediacy, Because Jesus can be cast as an historic, "good" person and not a present figure who presses us to get up, go, proclaim, serve....be challenged and transformed.

Keeping the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers is not as easy as it looks. It's both essentially and MORE than gathering, learning, eating and praying. It is also an overt and mindful embrace that our lives are not livable/sustainable without being in relationship with God and with each other. Like food and air, without community we are dead things.

With community, though, we are challenged, and stretched. We are confronted with the fact that there is baggage we drag around in life that cannot be packed for our trip into the greater kingdom of God. We have to unpack our prejudices and fears. We have to unpack our apathy. We have to unpack our reactivity and our willingness to embrace division of any kind. We have to unpack our desire to not be touched, stretched, altered and transformed by God's radical love. That's a lot of stuff to let go of as we seek to get our journey underway.

In it's place, and in alignment with the promise we affirm above? Solidarity in community. Embracing the truth that we are all works in progress and are never finished until God calls us home to completeness, we commit to the teaching that we are first servants to God and then proclaimers of the justice, hope and life made available to all in the person of Jesus.

Then, when temptation arises, we are as well-defended as Jesus himself is in the wilderness. We do not live just on bread alone, we repent when we put God to the test and we start to take baby steps toward putting real and true trust in God.

How will we do this?

With God's help.

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