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First Sunday in Lent: But Lent

“But Lent”

“I would love to become the kind of person who makes sure the dishes are done every night so she can wake up in the morning to the peaceful welcome of a clean kitchen. 

“I would love to become the kind of person who replies to every email the same day it arrives and keeps a neat, nearly empty inbox.  (Me too…I have more than 14,000 emails in my account!)

I would love to become the kind of person who never picks at her cuticles or bites at her lips or chews at the insides of her cheeks until the dentist gives her a lecture about it.

“But Lent is not for trying to become someone I am not. It is for honoring the person I already am. 

“My wholeness. My integrity. My belovedness. And so, in this holy season, I will not strive for self-improvement. I will not seek to create new habits or to break the old ones. I will not squeeze myself into impossible expectations guaranteed to leave me angry and disappointed when I fail. 

“Instead, I will do nothing but breathe, receiving the quiet gift of every inhale and every exhale, receiving it even when I am too busy or distracted to notice. Somehow, God is present in the breath, in the breathing. And from time to time, if I simply stop trying, I may be given the grace of knowing it.”

I thought her words were lovely and go right along with this years focus:  ENOUGH!  We aren’t perfect and we can’t “bootstrap ourselves” into a perfect life!  Hopefully not, but we might even find ourselves falling into the trap of thinking God requires perfection of us. T hen we end up falling continually short.  

Instead, we are to embrace the imperfections of life and faith, of being incurably human, and live!  Beloved, whole with integrity.  Because our ordinary lives can be holy – they ARE holy!  And maybe we too can simply know and experience that God is present in the breath, in the breathing…

As I studied today’s scriptures, I realized that one way of reading them is seeing them as proclaiming who the people are.  The Israelites and Jesus are rooted in who they are as God’s beloved.   They trust (well at least the Israelites do at this moment) that God hears and acts. They trust in God for their identity and future!  The Israelite’s identity is rooted in God saving them from Egypt and their journey in the wilderness to the promised land of milk and honey.  They recite what is actually a significant liturgy — their lives were not perfect!  They were enslaved but God heard and brought them out from their oppression and they are so thankful and celebrate, making sure that, even those who don’t have land like the Levites and the aliens, are included too!  

And how about Jesus?  Well, the devil attempts to sow mistrust in Jesus — you may go hungry, you do not have enough, how do you know God is trustworthy?  But Jesus trusts God and the scriptures he uses give voice to that trust — for his identity and his future. 

I think there is a link between trust and temptation — to the degree that we trust, temptations of the world have little appeal.  But when we are insecure, afraid, mistrusting THEN we think “Oh, I’ve got to take matters in to my own hands….”  

If we truly get whose we are, then these Holy, ordinary lives of ours are beautiful and precious, even as they are not easy, pain-free or perfect!  If we trust God for our identify and future, then we are free to live without the constant striving, the perpetual climbing up the ladder, the exhausting pursuit of everything…

Instead we can breathe, we can embrace the truth that we are good enough.  Our faith is good enough.  Like Jesus, we can embrace that the vision of life that the tempter dangles in front of you is not the vision of greatness that is the right one!  

St. David lived in the Fifth Century in Wales and there is a quote that survived from his last sermon: “Be joyful, keep the faith and do little things for God.”  We don’t have to be famous, powerful, rich, brilliant, or the best at anything…just do little things.

Kate Bowler has a devotional entry titled “Small things, great love” that I read this week too.  In this reflection, she shares the story of her Mennonite church’s organist who always showed up…even the week after her husband died because ‘she was on the schedule.’  It wasn’t a huge earth-shattering act of great love but Kate named it as a small act of great love. 

Kate goes on to discuss Saint Therese who lived in the 19th century in France and who, I didn’t know this, is the saint of small things…Therese, realizing she would die, lived her life not with great deeds but by scattering flowers and loving well. Posing this question, she asks us to ponder: What if scattering flowers and just showing up is how we love well?

Remember the mustard seed…. When we feel that the small things we do make little difference or that our faith is too weak, we need to remember that small seed…The kingdom of heaven starts from such small beginnings…

In closing, let us hear Kate’s prayer for the courage to love small:

“Dear God, 

“Bless me with radical love, inventor of love.  And may that love overflow onto, into and through me.  Flood me with your kindness, generosity, and compassion, so that I may be your hands and feet in the world.

“Help me to remember that love isn’t always in grand gestures or extravagant gifts but in the small faithful acts.  Help me to remember it is in showing up, in the work behind the scenes, in doing that which won’t get us recognition.  The one who is the first in and last out.  The generosity of time, resources, spirit.  The one who leaves flowers in her wake.  This is the long faithfulness that can change the world.

“God bless me in this Little Way, to be able to do small things with great love. Once small action at a time, until it’s a bridge—with a spa that reaches from my little life to Yours with each act of love.  And when I screw up or forget or grow weary, bless me with the courage to begin again.  

“Loving and loving again.  Being changed by your love and transforming the world one little act of love at a time.  MAY IT BE SO. Amen.”