The Lenten Season

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by Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy

“‘Evil can enter our lives when hard decisions need to be made, and we encounter it most strongly in those areas where we are weakest, in our desire to serve ourselves first, through greed, excessive pride, divisiveness and prejudice, gluttony of food and material possessions, the desire to control others, cowardice, faithlessness…”

v9Not long afterward Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. v10As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. v11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”v12At once the Spirit made him go into the desert, v13where he stayed forty days, being tempted by Satan. Wild animals were there also, but angels came and helped him. – Mark 1:9-13

Every year, the Church celebrate the Christian Passover through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. Lent is a time provided by the Church, which from ancient times was a period for the preparation of candidates for baptism. It is also a period for the whole Church to prepare for this celebration through
repentance and renewal of faith, and receiving the mercy and forgiveness of God. The journey to Easter begins with the sign of ashes (imposed on foreheads during Ash Wednesday), an ancient sign, speaking of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, and marking the penitence of the community as a whole.‘Let us therefore observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the Word of God.’(BCP,p.173).
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The Lenten Season started last Wednesday with the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of the faithful. This is the first Sunday of Lent and the gospel reading appointed tells us of the episode in Jesus’ life on earth which puts us on focus on our faith journey: our baptism and the temptations we encounter along the way. Differing from the other gospel writers who started their accounts on Jesus’ birth, Mark immediately embarked on the beginning of our Lord’s ministry with John the baptizer’s announcement of his coming (Mark 1:1-8), followed by his baptism and his temptation in the desert.
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In five verses, Mark provides us two critical settings which launched Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming the Good News. First, his baptism, revealing him as the anointed one of God, is the starting point of all.Jesus’s baptism is an act of humility. In his baptism, he consents to be counted as if he were a sinner, along with everyone else.The baptism is also an affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah and also empowered and gave him all the authority from the Father to execute his messiahship, the anointed One to deliver God’s people to His kingdom. Mark describes a second setting, one that flowed from the first and provided empowerment for the rest of his ministry of preaching the Good News, healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising the dead. Immediately after his baptism, “the spirit drove him into the wilderness” – a separate place, far away from the hungry crowds that would follow him in the months ahead. “… he stayed forty days, being tempted by Satan.”This was the only place and the only sustained time he would have to wrestle with the forces that work against the will of God.
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It wasn’t a choice for him to go there; it was a godly necessity. The Spirit drove him into the wilderness, not like a chauffeur in a limousine, but drove him like a cowboy prodding a steer. Before he could begin work as God’s beloved, Jesus had to face hard realities – he had to prepare for the test that would eventually ensure his obedience to God, even unto death.The test involved beating down temptations to follow the ways of the world instead of the pathway to God, temptations to give in to the seductive powers that work against love and grace. Though alone, Jesus was comforted, in the form of angels, by the same Spirit that announced him as God’s beloved and that required his 40-day test in a dark place of ultimate danger.
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“And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts…” (Mark 1:13 KJV). We too have our own wilderness experiences. In these various kinds of wilderness experiences, we, too, struggle against the wild beasts of our times and our lives. When doing so, we can learn from Jesus. In the wilderness, he encountered all the evil that there is – because he found it in himself, in his own humanity. For in every human being lies the best of God and the worst of evil.In Matthew and Luke, “the tempter” or “the devil” tempts Jesus to:1. Create bread out of stones to relieve his own hunger2. Leap from a pinnacle and rely on angels to break his fall.3. Kneel before Satan in return for all the kingdoms of the world.

Jesus’ temptations follow three patterns that are common to all men. The first temptation concerns the lust of the flesh (Matthew 4:3–4). Our Lord is hungry, and the devil tempts Him to convert stones into bread, but He replies with Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. The second temptation concerns the pride of life (Matthew 4:5–7), and here the devil uses a verse of Scripture (Psalm 91:11–12), but the Lord replies again with Scripture to the contrary (Deuteronomy 6:16), stating that it is wrong for Him to abuse His own powers. The third temptation concerns the lust of the eyes (Matthew 4:8–10), and if any quick route to the Messiahship could be attained, bypassing the passion and crucifixion for which He had originally come, this was the way. The devil already had control over the kingdoms of the world (Ephesians 2:2) but was now ready to give everything to Christ in return for His allegiance. But the mere thought almost causes the Lord’s divine nature to shudder at such a concept and He replies sharply, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13).
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In the wilderness, the aim of the tempter was to move Jesus from faith in God to doubt. The forces that work against God also press us toward selfishness and away from love. Jesus resisted temptation by keeping himself connected to God. And that is exactly how we can resist the beasts of our lives, how we can overcome the evil that lurks within us and the sin that is a part of us, all that lingers in the midst of our humanity.We resist, as Jesus did, by staying connected to God through the power of the scriptures and prayer and the sacraments, and through regular self-examination and confession, through repenting of our sin, accepting God’s forgiveness and leading renewed lives. By these means we defeat evil and overcome temptation.
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Just as Jesus’ time in the wilderness came after his baptism, so does ours, as our Christian formation continues to flow from that foundation.Self-examination during Lent comes as essential reappraisal in the midst of our journeys in faith and takes form in our baptismal renunciations. As we promise at baptism, we commit to turning away from “all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God” that “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.”The beasts that we encounter in our wilderness reflect the power of evil that is real and active in our lives. If we dare become self-aware, we see it, hear it, feel it. It is a power that gets inside us and an influence that comes from outside of us – a force that draws us toward what is wrong. It is personal, because it deals with each of us as a person; deals with each of us individually in our darkest and most trying moments.
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‘Evil can enter our lives when hard decisions need to be made, and we encounter it most strongly in those areas where we are weakest, in our desire to serve ourselves first, through greed, excessive pride, divisiveness and prejudice, gluttony of food and material possessions, the desire to control others, cowardice, faithlessness and many other forms of selfishness that draw us from the way of God.
Above all, the temptations we fight are destructive. Satan’s beasts find a way to poison and harm what is good and loving in the world and in our lives. The evil that works in us is our enemy, seeking to grab hold of us to work against God and against our brothers and sisters whom we hurt when we give in to such powers. Evil also works against us individually, eating us from the inside out, like a cancer.The temptations that Jesus met in the wilderness are also our temptations, drawing us to a selfishness that prevents us from showing love and respect to others, pressing us to manipulate the world into the form that we want rather than that which God intends’.(sermonthatworks.com).

The power of God’s love can help us resist the temptations and defeat the beasts that dwell among us. From our baptism, we gain the sign that marks us as ‘Christ’s own forever’. Our success in resisting evil, turning from our sins into lives renewed in love, moves us beyond our time in the wilderness. And as recipients of the Good News Jesus proclaims, we are empowered by the reality of God’s kingdom that has come near, and can become a people, who, with God’s love, can transform the world.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect, First Sunday in Lent, BCP)
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