Are you ready for some Radical Reimagining? We are here, together, in a familiar place: The beginning of Lent. Forty days and forty nights. Together, we have an opportunity once again to listen, really listen, to stories that are so familiar that, if we don’t stop and pay attention, easily go in one ear and out the other. How many times have we heard the story of Jesus tempted by the devil, whatever your understanding of the devil may be? How familiar is the verse which states, “one does not live by bread alone”?
But each Lent, we are invited, perhaps challenged, to reimagine our faith. To rethink what God’s presence in our life means. To retrace the steps of Jesus’ life, his teachings, his healing, his sermons and prayers, and of course, those moments leading up to the cross, the empty grave and the revelation of Christ in our midst.
The routine is familiar – maybe too familiar. We gathered here… together… on Ash Wednesday to kick off the journey. Some of you may have given up something – traditionally it is meat, but I’ve known people who have given up soda, chocolate, or potatoes – for Lent to symbolize Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. Why do we take the time to do these things? What difference does it make? How does all of this help us to understand what it means for us to be disciples, followers of Jesus, in the 21st century?
All too often, the reason why we do all of this stuff, is hidden from us, veiled. In the familiarity of the routine, we fail to see God jumping up – right in front of us! Take, for example, the cross. Each week, every week, year after year, the cross is before us. In this place, this sanctuary, the cross becomes a symbol blending into the stones and wood of the sanctuary. This familiarity veils the underlying, radical reimagining that Jesus calls us to. Our comfort and security hides what it means to follow Christ.
It happened here, in the sanctuary, just last week. During the Time with Children, Rebecca held up a fist-sized rock she had painted. As she talked about the Jesus rock scavenger hunt project in which the youth will be participating each Sunday through Lent, searching through the church for this rock on which an image of Jesus on a donkey has been painted, Rebecca mentioned that the Jesus rock would be making its way to the cross—arriving here on Easter. One of the kids sitting right here said, “where is the cross?” To which Rebecca responded with a gesture to this cross… here… in the sanctuary right before us each and every week.
And so, this morning, we reflect on the veil. That which is hidden right before us. Concealed. Covered. That thing that conceals, or disguises, that which is so close to us, but through which we cannot fully see. A veil can create anticipation, such as a veil over the bride’s face. A veil can shield us from something too wonderful to see. For example, just last week the bible passages reminded us that Moses needed to cover his face with a veil after talking to God as he brought the tablets down from the mountain, for his face was shining so intensely that the people in his community were afraid to go near him.
A veil can hide danger. In real life and in movies, there is unending chaos which occurs under the veil of darkness. On a foggy morning, the thick cloud on the roadway veils the road before us.
A veil can also hide that which we desperately need to live. The thick veil of our busy-ness hides God’s presence from us as we rush off to work, get the kids to basketball practice, music lessons, and run to the grocery store to buy food for dinner. The sometimes tear-filled veils of loneliness, illness, or pain, turns us inward. Overwhelms us. The dark veil of hopelessness covers God’s love as we watch the endless images digitally flash before us on the T.V. screen of destruction, hunger, homelessness, illness, joblessness, and environmental disasters.
We are conditioned into thinking that here, in the deceptive, veiled orderliness of our contemporary culture and communities – that it is here we can settle into a place of security. Certainty. Comfort. Here, rules and regulations exist. Borders are erected. Jails are built. Roads are constructed to smooth our travels. Grids are built to transport energy. Here, in community, there is order. Understanding. Control.
But in the desert – in the desert there can be no veil. There is a nothingness which emerges from the bare reality of the dryness. A thin place, where the border between earth and heaven ceases to exist. In the desert, the breeze is bare. At 0% humidity, nothing separates you from the touch of the wind on your skin. Even if it is 100° outside, you do not sweat. The air brushes against you, and absorbs any moisture instantly.
In the desert, plants are not large bushy, branching things, bursting with leaves and providing a comforting canopy of shade. In the desert, each plant finds its own niche, with sharp, prickly edges accenting their determination to live. In the utter silence of the day, small tracks in the sand hint that there is life nearby. Footprints of the four-legged and two-legged creatures that come forth in the coolness of the night. And above, as the hot, glaring sun sets, stars burst forth with unimaginable brightness, appearing close enough to touch.
No, in the desert, there is no veil. In the desert, you need to be prepared. Prepared to reimagine what it means to live. Prepared to understand the land, live with the land, the scarcity, the closeness of God.
It is into this place, that Jesus is drawn. After he is baptized in the River Jordan, it is the Spirit that leads him into the desert. A place that we would consider barbaric, wild, untamed. It is here, where Jesus turns to fast, reflect and pray. It is here that he encounters that thin place. A place where the temptations of the world are bared against the Word of God.
Here, in the dialogue between Jesus and the Tempter, we learn what the cross before us is not. Here we learn that the Good News that Jesus brings to us is not a gospel of prosperity.
- And that here, hungry for life, it is not plentiful morsels of bread that save us.
- Here, it is not the acquisition of power, control, or land that we are to worship.
Here, in the desert, with the veil of our world pulled back, we learn that, as Nicole Johnson writes, “The cross is not about excesses of fame, fortune and power,” (Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, Year C, pg. 127).
No, it is here, in the deserts of our lives, where a radical reimagining of what it means to be human in relation to God can be born. Jesus shows us that it is here, from the bareness of the desert, something new can emerge. Here we can experience a radical reimagining of our faith. As Belden Lane explains, “the place of death in the desert becomes the place of miraculous nourishment and hope, while the order and social stability of Jerusalem leads only to the chaos of the cross”(Solace of Fierce Landscapes, pg 44).
The chaos of the cross. From our places of comfort, have we clearly seen it? Are we in our own Jerusalem? Our own time of turmoil? What has been veiled, what has been hidden, from our eyes? What do we need to pull aside and reveal?
As the service ends today and we move from our “in here” time to “out there” lives, I invite you to take a Kindness Word. A part of our Lenten Project this year will be Kindness Rocks, of which you will see and hear more in the upcoming weeks. If you were not here for the Ash Wednesday service during which Kindness Words were shared, you are invited to pick up a Kindness Word today. Take one of the “rocks” from the basket that will be set up in the gathering space as you leave. Find a word that “sparkles” for you… or take a risk and reach into the basket without looking, letting the word find you. We will be exploring together ways through which these words can guide us in the weeks ahead.
Put the Kindness Word in a place you will see it. On the kitchen table. On your desk. In your car. Watch for the ways in which it reveals something new for you.
But at the moment, we are here. We are just at the beginning. The beginning of Lent. The beginning of the journey to the cross—and beyond. We are at the early stages of seeing where God is leading us.
Here, along the edges of our lives, a rebirth can emerge. Can we grasp it? Here, Jesus enters the desert, that place in which the Holy cannot be veiled, and shows us that there can be, there needs to be, a radical reimagining of our lives.
Take time during this season of Lent to look around. May the unseen be revealed. May you find a way, a word, a faith practice, a Holy Reimagining to guide you. To guide us. What do we need to pull away to fully see the God in the wilderness?
How is God radically reimagining the Good News in our midst?
May THAT be revealed. Amen.
Reflection on Luke 4:1-13 offered on March 10, 2019