Journey to Wholeness – Lent 1

“Journey to Wholeness: First Steps”

This morning we begin the Lenten journey toward wholeness we will be traveling together for the next six weeks. Lent is the liturgical season that begins on Ash Wednesday, when ashes are marked on foreheads with the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” The opening ritual of Lent invites us to meditate on life’s brevity, and this invitation to consider one’s dustiness goes back to the story of Creation from Genesis. In Hebrew, the word for Adam is closely related to the word forearth or ground. Therefore, when we read in Genesis that Adam was formed from adamahwe are being told that the first human is essentially a dust creature, an Earth creature. Lent then, is a time for contemplating our mortality as earth creatures, as well as a time of redemption and renewal. This year we begin our journey with several readings.

Mark 1:9-14
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

Mechthild of Magdeburg, 13th century Germany“The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest nor happiness in other things. It must lose itself in love. By its very nature, it must seek God, who is love.”

Howard Thurman“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

Frederick Buechner:In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness, where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves…

When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore? If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less? Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember? Is there any person in the world or any cause that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for? If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are, but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” Or so I’ve come to believe.

Our theme for Lent is “Journey to Wholeness,” and each week we will consider different aspects of Jesus’ journey, relating them to our spiritual journeys. Some of us will also spend time in small groups considering “journey” this month, and “wholeness” next month.

This week we consider the first steps of Jesus’ journey to wholeness, beginning with his baptism in the Jordan, followed by a wilderness sojourn to prepare him for what was to come. As we know from the familiar story which appears in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, before Jesus began teaching and healing and sharing the good news of God’s love, before he understood and set out to do what he was supposed to do with his life, simply put, he went into the desert to figure things out. He was on a sort of vision quest: time spent alone, completely unplugged without anything or anyone to distract you, so that you can see who you really are and what you should do with your life. We are told Jesus spent forty days and forty nights on his vision quest, which really just means he spent the amount of time it took for him to accomplish his purpose, to wrestle with who he was and how to live. When he emerged, he was clear on his identity: a child of God; of what he was supposed to do: share the good news about the power of Sacred love; and he was clear on how he was supposed to do it: in loving, compassionate, and peaceful ways.

This is the traditional story to open the season of Lent, even though you won’t find Lent itself mentioned anywhere in Scripture. The word Lent comes from an Old English word meaning “to lengthen,” and in our part of the world, Lent comes at the time of year when the days are finally beginning to lengthen, despite current evidence to the contrary. The light is slowly lengthening, day by day, and is overcoming the darkness. As daylight increases over the next few weeks, it can serve as a reminder that this season is about helping the light to grow, both figuratively and spiritually within us and through us. As Jesus moved toward greater light and awakening during his time in the wilderness, Lent can offer that to us as well. Certainly we could embark on a spiritual journey or quest any time of year, but there’s something about this season – when we know spring is coming, even in the midst of all this wind and rain and cold. After such a long hard winter, we want things to literally lighten up. We want to be lighter too, unburdened from the heaviness of such a long, dark winter, both climate-wise and spirit-wise. During Lent, it can be comforting to know that there are other people joining with us on this journey, helping the light return to fill us and shine through us. I like to think of Lent as a lengthening of love, if you will – and as each day gets longer and lighter, little by little, we too can be inspired to make expand our love.

The rituals involved in the observation of Lent encourage us to consider our lives, not the day to day parts of our lives with the unpaid bills and grocery lists and work stress and piles of laundry and kids to drop off at gymnastics, but the holiness of our lives, the miracle of our very existence. The true purpose of Lent is to wrestle with our own brokenness, to be honest with ourselves in ways like those questions posed by Frederick Buechner in our earlier reading. As we reflect on our tendency to be self-centered and short-sighted, Lent asks us to consider what in our lives we are willing to give up in order to live and love more fully, and encourages us to turn our attention to ways we can help let more light shine – just as Jesus did. The Lenten season, you might say, has two main components to its practice. One is “to face the ashes” in coming to terms with our mortality, the brevity of life. The other is to renew our spiritual life by rediscovering ways to increase and share the power of light and love.

Where does light need to grow within you? How can you share the light and love of the Sacred? I invite you to take a moment to think about how you want to let that lengthening light in, to expand your love. While you are thinking about this, Bob and Mary Beth will pass out pieces of paper and pens to you. When you are ready, take your paper and write a word or a phrase that reflects a way you can let in the light and lengthen love during Lent: peace, kindness, paying it forward, unplugging, connection, mindfulness, patience – whatever you come up with. Don’t write your name – just write a word or phrase and make it legible so someone else can read it.

Now take a moment and think how you will accomplish this word or phrase. Make it specific – I will say hello to a stranger every day. I will stop buying Lattes and donate the money to a worthy cause. When on social media, I will only post or comment in positive ways. Or, I will take a break from social media altogether, and spend that time journaling or taking a walk with a friend. I will meditate for 5 minutes every morning. Whatever seems to fit for you this year. Think about it in terms of how past years, maybe you have given something up for Lent – this year, you will do something proactive to become the light and love of the Sacred.

When you’ve settled on something, write it on the paper, and then fold paper in half. When everyone is done, we are going to pass our papers to someone else. Don’t unfold it, don’t look at it at all right now. Put the paper you now have safely away without looking at it. When you get home, take it out and read it. Now you know how someone else in this community intends to open herself or himself to light and lengthen their love during this Lenten season. Please consider taking on one more practice this season – every day think of that person, whose identity you don’t know, and hold them in your heart, as you will be held by another person here. You will never know who is holding your intention – we’re not going to do a big reveal at Easter. Just hold them and their intention in your heart and know that this is what New Covenant Community is about – holding one another in love as together we help the light grow.

Let us pray – Light of the World – reach out to us in our anxious scurrying and hold us close in this Lenten season: make us attentive to those things that keep us from living with you and with our neighbors on this earth, and sharing your light and love. Amen.