Lent is an invitation.
An invitation to remember this land we were given by God. This inheritance we were gifted. This inheritance that comes from the land. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
We are given the gift of this physical body, this incarnation, this life in this place. We come from dust. We are dust. We are organic matter, sculpted from the very elements of the universe, fashioned by God to live in this particular place in the universe, in these conditions, on this rock we call Earth.
We are tethered to this place because we are of this place, of this earth, this creation. We are land made of its soil and blessed as incarnate, magnificent beings, molded from its organic matter. Called into existence by God as a part of His creation, out of His creation. And because of this, we belong to God.
Lent is an invitation to remember that we belong to God.
This is what Jesus is being tested on in the desert in today’s Gospel.
“Do you belong to God? Or do you belong to this ‘world?’”
And Jesus, being the well-schooled Jew, remembers Moses’ words – remembers the mitzvot, the commandments, found in Deuteronomy.
Jesus remembers that he belongs to God – not as God’s property, for that is how humans understand the earth and the elements, as something to own. But Jesus remembers that he belongs to God as an expression of Love. A beloved creation. And the mitzvot, these commandments given to us in Deuteronomy, are invitations to remember.
The book of Deuteronomy starts with Moses recounting the history of Israel and its long, troubled journey to the Promised Land. And here, upon the entrance into this long-awaited homeland, Moses stops them and he reminds them of their story. And reminds them of their responsibility to one another. And reminds them of the importance of their gratitude for God’s blessing, not because God demands it, but because gratitude is a form of remembering.
“…you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket…You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”
The Deuteronomic Code, the name that scholars have given to the laws found in Deuteronomy, is a code of life. It is a code of remembrance – remembrance of God’s Love for us and our responsibilities toward one another and all of creation because of that Love. It’s a code of reconciliation.
And I have heard it said that the god of the Old Testament is an angry god, a vengeful, mean god. And because God is portrayed in the New Testament as loving, the New Testament god must be so much better.
I disagree. What I read is that the god given to us in the Old Testament, in the Hebrew Scriptures, is one of such deep love. And not just for us human beings but for all of creation. Because this God is constantly calling us back into responsibility with and for one another, constantly calling us to remember.
This God allows us humans who, in our grandiosity and our pomposity, think that we can create a new world order, think that we can master the elements of this earth without repercussion – this God of the Hebrew Scriptures allows us to fail, and fail miserably. This is a God that asks us for a mature faith.
This is a God that keeps waiting for us to get it. And you can almost hear Her cheering in the background… “C’mon, you silly beings, my beloved dunderheads… will you please just open your heart, just a bit? And know how much I love you? So you can stop trying to get love by other means?”
And we do sometimes seem to get it. But then because we get it, because we somehow master some piece of this world, we think we did that. And we did! But we think we did it on our own. We built our life on our own and we owe nothing to anyone else. We think this because we forget.
This land is God’s. This breath is God’s. This intellect, this will, this desire, this drive… is God’s. And this land will return to God when we are finished with it. Our bodies, whether we want them to or not, will be reconciled with God by being reconciled to the earth, to God’s creation.
Remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.
We are in the process of being returned to God. We are always in the process of being reconciled to God. And this is such comfort. Because I know the tendency toward sin in my own life all too well. I know what I am capable of. I may not be capable of murder or of a whole host of other evil acts.
But am I capable of treating someone as less than a human being in an effort to gain, what I think, is my precious autonomy? You bet I am.
Am I capable of judgment? Of sitting in the place of God and deciding who is “good” and who is “bad”? Absolutely.
Am I capable of addiction? Capable of allowing something else to be more important to me than another human being is, more important than God is? Worshipping another idol by buying something made by slave labor in another country? By throwing out a piece of plastic that will end up as a part of the huge floating pile of garbage in the Pacific, or in a landfill just because it is too inconvenient to find a recycling bin instead?
Yes. Yes. And Yes.
And the list goes on.
We are all tempted. We all have responses, reactions, urges… that are harmful – if not to others, than most certainly to ourselves. And when we forget, we get lost in that story that tells us… “this is the thing I have to do… if I don’t do this, I will surely suffer.”
And so, I need to push them away
Or I need to find something new to do
I need to be seen as special
I need to show how smart I am
I need to do everything for myself and not trouble anybody
I need to be needed
I need to be told what to do
I need to be right
I need to be in control
And just like that, we’re seeking love in ways that aren’t real and we’ve actually become the author of our own suffering.
And, yet, on my better days, I remember that God loves me so fiercely that He would let me fail again and again and again if it meant that I would eventually learn to stop creating my own suffering – that I would eventually learn to accept that I am loved beyond my own belief and have no need to judge anyone else or create boundaries or any of the other things that separate me from God.
On my better days, I remember to seek and serve Christ in my fellow humans so that I might move from a place of love instead of a place of disdain and exhaustion.
On my better days, you see, I am able to remember that Jesus sits with me in my lonely desert of temptation – as a guide, as a comforter, as a friend.
God sent this image of Himself – this Christ in human skin made from the same earth we are made. God sent this Christ to us so that we might know, not think, but know… how desperately God loves us and wants us to remember that we are His and bound to one another by this precious Love. So that we “together w the Levites and the aliens who reside among us, shall celebrate with all the bounty that God has given us.”
God is always calling us back home – all of us. And this is what the invitation to a Holy Lent is about.
How is God calling you back home?
What is getting in the way of you knowing that you are a wholly loved, precious creature of God?
What beliefs do you have about yourself, about other people? What behaviors are you displaying that lead you away from God? That prevent you from taking that first fruit of the ground and giving it to God?
This is the work of Lent.
And this is the work of our ministry together as baptized members of the Body of Christ. Because if God’s Mission in Christ is to reconcile all of creation, then we, as the Body of Christ, as beings of this creation, are called into that same Mission. And so what is preventing us from participating in God’s reconciling work?
We, as individuals, you and I, must focus our efforts during Lent to discover how God is calling us back home to be resurrected into a new creation at Easter.
And we as the Body of Christ, as this corporate Body called church, must focus our collective efforts on discovering how we are called to participate in God’s Mission of reconciliation. How are we called to remember whose we are?
So, there is personal work and corporate work.
Because Moses stops us here at the beginning.
And Moses reminds us of our story. And reminds us of our responsibility to one another. And reminds us of the importance of living a life in gratitude for God’s blessing, not because God demands it, but because gratitude is a form of remembering… that we are incarnate, magnificent beings of creation made from the elements of this earth, this dust.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.