LENT I, 2017 St. James, Higganum
Lent is about the wilderness and the desert.
I would suggest that we are always on the verge of the wilderness.
Even when things are going along pretty well, we are—all of us—one phone call away from a desert place.
Your best friend’s phone call about a sudden divorce.
The doctor calls to say the biopsy is inconclusive…could you come in…
The call from your boss about downsizing….
It’s the nursing home on the phone about your mother.
The veterinarian’s call about why your dog seems so listless.
A call from your brother that your nephew is going into rehab for the second time.
The call from a friend that a man you’ve known for years has been arrested for having child pornography on his computer.
A call from a neighbor you trusted asking if you’d sign a petition against the new Muslim couple down the street.
The Teacher’s call that a child in your daughter’s fourth grade class is killed by a drunk driver.
The high school guidance councilor’s call that your son isn’t in school today “again”…..
It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. It can be as simple as the phone call from the mechanic about the funny noise your car or when your plumber doesn’t answer about your broken furnace when it’s 10 degrees.
Maybe I just happen to be in a profession where people tell me about pain and loss and fear and confusion and anxiety and dread a lot. Maybe that’s it. But maybe not.
It may just be that we are all—each one of us—one call away from the wilderness of life. Maybe we’re all just one piece of ‘bad news’ away from the desert and the wild beasts.
I think we mostly live on the edge—you and I—between what we cling to as ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’ and what we dread and fear and hope and pray will never happen.
We are all—I suspect and imagine—one phone call away from the Lent of Life.
So, this season we have entered smeared with the ashes of mortality, is not foreign or strange or alien to us. It may even come as a relief to be in the “liturgical desert”, the church-year “wilderness” rather than the Lent and suffering of our day-to-day lives.
Jesus is driven into the desert after his baptism by John in the River Jordan. He is driven there to be “tempted”, to be “tempered”, to face tribulation and trial.
And all of us, I am suggesting, are one phone call from being there with him. Some of us already are wilderness dwellers, desert travelers.
TURN STONES TO BREAD, Satan tempted him. And he could have, surely he could have, but he chose to reject the quick and easy fix and to remain hungry in the emptiness of the desert.
THROW YOURSELF DOWN AND LET GOD SAVE YOU, is the second test. And though he could—surely he could—he would not. He chose to remain in the pain and loneliness of the Wilderness.
I WILL GIVE YOU THE KINGDOMS OF EARTH IF YOU WORSHIP ME, is the Devil’s last ploy. But Jesus would not trade his frailty for Ultimate Power. He would not avoid the anxiety and lost-ness and danger of life’s reality.
What Jesus chose to do was simply this: to remain human. God had chosen to take on human flesh and God would not back-away from knowing the suffering of human beings. So Jesus stayed resolutely HUMAN, for love of us.
I’ve talked to a lot of people. But a few years ago I talked to a woman whose desert and wilderness was so deep, so profound, I could not imagine it. We had prayed together, had communion together, and cried together and I had been feeling less and less able to ‘help’ her in any way that would matter.
“What should I do, Father?” she finally asked me. “What is going to happen to me?”
I had no idea, so I told her, “God knows.”
I fully expected her to rise, painfully, from the chapel of St. John’s Church where we were talking, and slumping under her burdens to limp back out to the world that had treated her so cruelly. But after a few moments, she raised her head and her face was almost transfigured, in a way I’ll never understand, into a beautiful visage. Tears—different tears—were flowing down her face and she smiled for the first time and, because of that smile, I realized she was years, decades, younger than I had thought.
“He does KNOW, doesn’t he?” She asked. “God I mean. God does know what I’m going through.”
I had to admit that in my theology, at least, God did know every bit of her suffering—all her trials and tribulations. God knows the desert and wilderness full well.
Still smiling, she stood with surprising strength and gathered her belongings and walked like the younger woman she was toward the door.
She stopped and looked back.
“God KNOWS,” she said. And then she left.
And God had tasted her tears of despair and her tears of hope. And God’s tears had flowed as well. For love of her. That much I know—though little else.
Lent is the Season when we can realize that GOD KNOWS and tastes our tears and sheds tears for us as well. For love of us.
Lent is about the tears God sheds for love of us.
God weeps with us—and FOR us—because God knows the pain of being human.