February 13, 2005

Sermon: St. John's, Beltsville

February 13, 2005

1st Sunday of Lent, year A

Good morning. It is a pleasure to worship with you this morning and to celebrate the ministry you have with and for young people. I have the joy of visiting parishes all across our great diocese each year. I am sorry that it has taken me two and a half years to get to St. John’s, but unfortunately, I rarely make visits to parishes with healthy and vibrant youth ministries like yours. I am more often visiting those that really need my help. So, it is indeed a great pleasure and honor to be with you this morning. I am always comforted by the presence of young people from St. John’s at diocesan youth events. I have grown to trust the leadership abilities of folks like Lynn Abe and Natasha Ryals. If I gave out a volunteer youth leader award, Mary Abe would have gotten twice by now. Her dedication and willingness to help has made my job much easier. I know that you all know what a saint she is, but I wanted to tell you that other people believe that too.

Well, enough of the feel-good stuff. This is Lent, right? We have to talk about heavy things like Sin, Death, Penitence. It’s almost like we should talk about Lent in a Darth Vader voice. The deacon at my church growing up used to jokingly scold us as kids for laughing during Lent. “It’s Lent,” Jack would say. “You aren’t supposed to be happy!” And then he of course would break out into laughter.

But it really is Lent. Despite that we celebrated Christmas was only a few weeks ago, it is now time to turn our focus to those places in our lives where we miss the mark, where our relationship with Christ needs to be strengthened and renewed. We take this time seriously in the life of the Church because we take the resurrection of Christ seriously. The deeper we examine our own life and the more we work do to improve our relationship with God, the greater our joy will be on Easter when we celebrate Christ’s greatest triumph.

I sometimes think that the lessons on the first Sunday of Lent are really cruel, especially the Gospel. Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel is about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. And every three years, we get to hear about Adam and Eve, the serpent and the forbidden fruit. I don’t have to tell you what happens next, right? We all know that part of the story. Stories about Sin and Temptation.

The story of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness is one that might seem hard for us to relate to, but when you get to its core, it is the story of each of us. The tempter, as today’s Gospel calls him, comes to Jesus and basically offers him three options: become a miracle worker, show himself as God, or liberate the Holy Land from the occupying Roman army.

Jesus, with more strength and fortitude than you or I will ever know, resists those things to become who he was meant to be: the Chosen One of God, sent to be the redemption of the world’s sins.

This, my friends, is the story of Jesus being tempted to become who he is NOT. Can relate to the story now?

Every day, we see advertisements and entertainment sending messages that who we are isn’t good enough. We have to eat this food, use this make-up, workout at this gym, drive this car, live in this neighborhood, drink this beverage, wear this line of clothing, switch to this wireless company—and your live will be complete. We will be happy and fulfilled people. We all know, or at least I hope we all know, that this is a great un-truth. Having all the “stuff” in the world will not fulfill us. I wish I had time rattle off the stories of how advertisers work to hook children as young as a year old into a cycle of brand-loyalty that they hope will last their entire life. Surprisingly, Nickelodeon Enterprises is probably the greatest offender in this category, followed closely by Sprite and the Coca-Cola family of beverages.

At some point in all of our lives, we have been tempted to be someone we are not. I would dare say that most of us have given in to that temptation at least once (probably more!) and have had to deal with those consequences. For the majority of young people, there is someone they know, maybe not necessarily in their circle of peers, though, who has the latest what-ever (clothes, car, watch, hair-style) that somehow makes them feel incomplete. It can be a major temptation, but one that most young people face on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

And you know what, I’m sure for a surprising number of adults, the same holds true with co-workers, friends or family members.

But as Christians, we are called to a better way.

Living your life for Christ, becoming who you were meant to become at your baptism, is where the fulfillment comes. It won’t come overnight, it might not even come by the end of Lent. But my hope and prayer for each of us today is that during this Lenten season, we will discover who we are in Christ and live the life that Christ intends us to live, and BE the people God has called each of us to be.

I want to leave you with this prayer. It is titled “A Modern Affirmation of Faith” and was written by the high school Sunday school class at my home parish in Knoxville, TN, in 1988:

In a world shadowed by fear and greed,

In a world where science would save our bodies and reduce our souls;

We nonetheless believe in all that resists the formula:

The bird’s celebration of morning light,

The summer landscape at dusk,

All the kept promises that are spring flowers,

The friends and family who love our best selves and our worst,

In baptism and all other affirmation of all life’s mysterious possibilities,

In all victories which defy mathematics,

In all rich lives given to enrich other lives,

In all selfless sacrifice.

We believe in God the Father Almighty and His Son, Himself, Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

And we pray for the perpetual triumph of light, wonder and love by the grace of the Holy Spirit.