I love my snacks. I like just about anything that has salt in it. I like crackers and pretzels and salted popcorn and nuts. I like to go to the pantry and look for my snacks and I do that often during the day. Jan and I laugh about our differences. Jan doesn’t care for all the salt. She prefers the sweet things especially desserts. For me the snacks are one of my guilty pleasures. Or you might say one of my weaknesses. I am easily tempted by any snack near by. The best way for me to avoid snacks is to keep them out of the house. I am trying to change my ways by not eating between meals during Lent
In today’s gospel we read about the temptation of Jesus. Three times the devil asked Jesus to sin and three times Jesus refused. We begin Lent with this reading because Lent is a time when we focus on our sinful nature. We confront our sins. We ask God to forgive us and we commit to living a Godly life. We use the example of Jesus to encourage us. We borrow from a famous saying, “Just say no to sin”.
As I reflected on various temptations this week, I thought about how we often fall victim to the need for recognition. We want to be treated in a special way for what we do and who we are. When our desire for recognition is too strong it is called the sin of vanity. Vanity is defined as excessive pride in or admiration of one's own appearance or achievements. There is a verse in Ecclesiastes that warns us of the sin of vanity, Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher;* all is vanity.” (“Ecclesiastes 12.8) It means that we chase after vanity but it has no value. We get nothing when we do get recognized.
It was just yesterday when I found myself feeling as if I wasn’t appreciated. In the midst of the glorious consecration of our new bishop, I started to fuss. I was standing with two former priests of this parish, Canon Ray Dugan and Canon Harry Way. We were having a nice chat when someone I didn’t know walked up and asked, “Is this the old man’s group?” Now I realize that I qualify as one of the old men but I would prefer that when I meet someone new they try to learn something about me before they put some label on me. I wish that I might have been labeled as a priest, for example. Have you ever been upset when people you know don’t remember your name? Did you think how can they forget me when I have done so much for them? Or have you ever been jealous of the recognition other people get? Have you ever thought what about me? Our desire for recognition can be caused by our own vulnerability, our feelings of not being good enough. Vulnerability makes us susceptible to sin. By the way, I feel very loved and accepted by the people of this congregation and feel quite comfortable with the things we have done together. So please don’t think that because I talked about this issue that I want anyone to come up and speak to me about my time here at this church.
I have spoken about just one example of things that can make it easier for us to fall into sin. I encourage you to reflect on sins that you might be susceptible to during Lent this year. When I go a little deeper into the gospel, I find myself thinking about vulnerability. Jesus had been in the desert for forty days. During that time, he hadn’t eaten. The Bible says he was famished. Jesus was vulnerable to the enticements of the devil. I think Jesus would have been especially vulnerable to the devil’s offer of food. Despite his physical weakness from not eating Jesus remained strong, he did not give in to the devil. Jesus is a good example for us.
What causes you to be vulnerable to sin and the ploys of the devil? We are all different in this respect. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.” (2 Cor 12:7-11) What is your thorn in the flesh?
Paul also gave us two keys for fighting temptation. The first is to not present yourself to temptation. Stay away from situations that can get you in trouble. It is like our advice to young people. Choose carefully the people that you associate with for they might determine what you will do and lead you down the wrong path. And the second is to present yourselves to God. Being in the presence of God makes temptation less likely. The times when we are vulnerable can lead us into sin. But the truth is, we must be vulnerable in order to have healthy relationships with others and to be healthy in our own lives.
I learned that last part on a TED talk this week on vulnerability. A researcher named Brene Brown was convinced that the only answers came from facts. Over several years of research and contrary to her nature, she learned this, “I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness but it appears it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging and of love.” We don’t wish to be vulnerable because it opens us up to being hurt. Brene Brown learned that we cannot selectively numb emotions. If you numb fear and shame and vulnerability then you numb joy and gratitude and happiness.
I believe the answer is right in front of us. When we have trouble with our vulnerability, let us turn to God. Let us turn to Jesus, the one who was human just like you and I. He made himself vulnerable. He was hurt and he felt joy. Let us ask Jesus to help us deal with temptation and help us find joy. Let us turn to Jesus for love and to learn how to love.
This Lent, I invite you to join with me in following a way of life called the way of love. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, speaks about God’s love for us and our need to love God and each other. Based on several sermons, Bishop Curry created a program called “The Way of Love.” It is something like a Rule of Life, a set of things we commit to do all the time. The Way of Love as described by Bishop Curry has seven components. The seven categories are Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest
Each week in Lent, I plan to include some thought about the Way of Love. In the Way of Love the first category is turn, pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus.
In John’s gospel, we hear this,
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
In John’s gospel, Jesus said to his apostles at the Last Supper, John 13.34:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” And then Jesus showed us his love for us in his willingness to be crucified.
Dietrich Bonhoffer suggested that we cannot be successful if we try to create a new law of love. Love doesn’t work that way. We can only love each other if we throw ourselves into the arms of God.
This Lent, let us pause and choose Jesus.
When we are ashamed and fearful, let us turn to Jesus.
In our vulnerability let us turn to Jesus
In our joy, let us turn to Jesus.
Listen to how Jesus leads us to love.
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (“John 15.10)
What better way for us to begin Lent than to search our hearts and admit to those times when we have failed Jesus. We promise to follow the way of Jesus. As we do so, we follow the way of love. May this Lenten season be a fruitful time for you. Amen.