A couple of years ago I got to the Lenten season and I decided that I would do something a little bit different. I was going to give something up for Lent.
I don’t normally give up something up for Lent. It just has not been part of my piety growing up, but that year some of the youth were raising awareness about childhood poverty and hunger. And some of them encouraged me to give up an extra treat to help me be more mindful of those who rarely ever get to have the extras of life.
It’s hard to say “no” to a well-intentioned youth.
So that Lenten season I decided to give up the little extra of ice cream.
Now truth be told when I made this decision to give up ice cream for Lent, I was living in in northwest Ohio and the Lenten season was a cold season…so I was giving something up…for the kids…but I didn’t think it would be that hard…. Ice cream in chilled temperatures and all.
So I gave up ice cream for Lent…oh and because it is easier to discipline yourself when your entire family is in on it, I convinced my loving husband Erik to also give up ice cream for Lent.
We convinced ourselves that it would feel really good to give something up and to be aware that not everyone around the world can enjoy the great delicious creamy treat that i scream, you scream, we all scream for…ice cream.
I love ice cream. And when I was living in Ohio there was a local ice cream maker called Toft’s. Their creamy, delicious goodness put Turkey Hill and Oregon Dairy to shame. (just saying). Toft’s…they put cream and angel goodness into their ice cream. And they should because they charge you an arm and a leg for it too. It’s so delicious.
But we were giving it up. No ice cream for Lent. For the youth…and those kids around the world who didn’t get extras in life.
The Tuesday before Lent began Erik and I ceremoniously gobbled…finished…up all the ice cream in our house. That’s it. No more for Lent.
And so Ash Wednesday began and I felt good about my decision to give up things like ice cream, the things that people around the world cannot so easily enjoy and Ash Wednesday came. I got ashes on my forehead. I remembered that I was dust and to dust you shall return. I felt good about my decision, my Lenten discipline to give up ice cream and to remember those who cannot so easily enjoy this creamy delicious Heavenly desserts.
And on Thursday we went on our weekly shopping trip to the local grocery store and we walked past the freezer aisle and they’re in big signs plastered over the freezer was Toft’s Ice Cream Sale. Buy 1 and get 2 for free! Did the CEO of Toft’s know my Lenten discipline? I was so mad. OOh! Why did I have to give up ice cream!
Temptation comes in specialized forms.
I think we have all encountered temptation at one time or another. The cans versus the shoulds. Some are little temptation like 3 for 1 ice cream and some are larger ones like keeping promises true after so many years.
We face them everyday–it’s part of what it means to be human.
And some days the temptations come when we’re strong and ready for them and other days we’re knee deep in the pile of bad decisions before we realize that we gave into those temptations.
Have you ever noticed that the temptation of Christ happened right after Jesus’ baptism–the holy waters were hardly even dry before he was thrown into the wilderness of unknown, surrounded by any number of beasts and demons. If you think faith and following Jesus will remove you from the wilderness–sorry! It’s in the wilderness that we often grow and gain wisdom and are given a chance to depend on God to lead us and guide us.
Also back to that temptation of Jesus, have you noticed when the temptation occurs? It’s not at the beginning of his journey when he’s just heard the reassuring words “You are my beloved” from him heavenly Father–NOPE the temptation comes when Jesus is most vulnerable, hungry, tired, exposed, human.
The temptation story speaks more to Jesus’ human perspective…yeah sure he could have done some ‘Son of God’ ninja move on Satan and been out of the woods…or wilderness…in a flash…but this was an important step in the story of Jesus because he’s my Savior and your Savior…and it’s important to me to know that my Savior has experienced and been victor over the pangs of hunger, the loneliness of isolation and the question to his very own identity and being. I need this savior because I’m hungering and searching and questioning my own place in this world every day.
When Biblical scholars look at the temptation story, they see a reflection not only on our own lives, but how it reflects with the very prayerful conversations that we have with our Almighty Father.
The prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us–the Lord’s prayer–praying to our one heavenly Father to provide our daily food and sustenance (especially when we’re in the wilderness of hunger), to forgive us and lead us out of temptation.
But when we pray to our almighty Father for forgiveness and guidance out of temptation, what are we REALLY praying for?
It could include the tempting moments of a scrumptious bite of ice cream…but more likely this prayer is speaking to the deep temptations that drive a wedge between God and us and a wedge between you and the people around you.
What are the deep temptations that the evil one draws us into? What are those temptations that we desperately need the saving grace of God from which we need to be delivered?
Some religious folks may be quick to point to certain manifestations of temptation–to lust, to drugs, to the sensationalism of violence in the media and a whole cadre of other items…but what is the ROOT temptation that we face that lead us astray?
What if the deepest, darkest temptation that haunts us on a daily basis is the lie that we are not beloved of God?
Follow me on this one…
We are made in the image of God, and God’s very message and desire is in us. Or as God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah
I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people.
We are God’s beloved. All of us.
A few generations ago astrophysicist and astronomer Carl Sagan launched a thousand ships of the imagination when we declared that we are all made of starstuff. We share a commonality with the cosmos and we aren’t that different from each other.
And I would push and say that we are all made of Godstuff. Made in the image of God for the delight of God. All 7 billion of us on this little planet in this beautiful place of the cosmos have been made with Godstuff.
And you and I as Christians follow the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. And so we are given this great commission to use this Godstuff for good. To be lights in the world, to witness to our Savior’s work, to share our gifts and to be blessings as God has blessed us. To follow the Son of God’s command:
My commandment is this–to love one another just as I have loved you.
And the great, deep, dark temptation that the evil one tries to lead us into is to believe that we are not all made of Godstuff. One lie that we are told over and over is that we are worthless and no good. That we’re not enough and never can be and are a waste of space. You are Godstuff. You are part of the psalmist’s poem when he exclaims:
The earth is filled with the loving kindness of the Lord.
All around us is Godstuff.
We are God’s beloved. All of us.
And that means when you are taking communion you are taking in Godstuff and being filled with the grace of God and when you are taking communion with the one next to you, you are near Godstuff, or when you go to school tomorrow and sit next to a classmate you are sitting next to Godstuff, and when you are texting another you are communicating with the stuff of God and when you’re watching the news and seeing someone on tv that you are watching Godstuff or when you are in despair from someone who makes you hurt that somehow you share with them the very being and image of God.
Even those times when it is so hard to remember the shared commonality. We are all made in the image of God. We are made of Godstuff.
Here’s the other lie…the lie told to us by the evil one that we are not all made of Godstuff. That somehow only some of us are in the image of God.
As soon as we refuse to see through the lens of God’s love, we use titles that are not Godstuff…we use labels like “the other”, “them”, “the enemy” “not us”.
When we do this…when we are tempted by the evil to deny that we are all made in the image of God…we are lying to ourselves.
We are God’s beloved. All of us.
Perhaps that is the great temptation. And so as followers of the one who we call the Christ, Jesus–Son of God, Savior to you and me…can this be our daily prayer?
Can we together pray to our Father to provide us with daily bread–the kind that goes into our bellies and the bread of Christ that enters into our souls?
Can we pray for forgiveness–for the times when we really mess up and can we pray for the presence of God’s spirit to forgive those who’s screw ups affect us?
And together, this Lenten season, can we pray to our loving Father to lead us away from temptations that dehumanize and dismiss folks around us?
Can this Lenten season be one where as followers of Jesus, we listen to his command “love” and to live it fully? You are Godstuff, live fully into your identity and love as God loves you. Amen