Nurtured in Prayer
In Luke, Jesus was baptized just before his time in the wilderness. After his baptism, Jesus was praying and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice from Heaven came saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3: 21-22).
And then Luke inserted for us Jesus’ genealogy, starting with Joseph, going back to Boaz, Jesse, and David, and back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the way to Adam. We hear these names and remember God’s activity in their lives. These are his ancestors’ stories that Jesus would have remembered from his mother and from the rabbis. We remember these themes in the prayer of Thanksgiving we say over the water of baptism:
When nothing existed but chaos,
You swept across the dark waters and brought forth light.
When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,
You led them to freedom through the sea.
Their children you brought through the Jordan
To the land which you promised.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,
Nurtured in the water of a womb.[i]
Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led through the Jordan and into the wilderness for 40 days. As the days of fasting wore on Jesus became thirsty and hungry, weak and vulnerable. The temptations he faced went far beyond something inconsequential. He was tempted by another voice and another narrative. Jesus was tempted to forget his truest identity: who he was and what he was to be about. The devil lured him with—bread, power, trust, and scripture. Good people are tempted by good things. It took care to hear the twists and nuances. In the barrenness of the desert, with wide open space and time, they were exposed. These may have sounded like easier ways to accomplish his work—but they were not rooted in the Holy One. And they did not involve him entering the powerless corners of the world: coming alongside, teaching, washing feet, asking questions, sharing dinner, suffering with, defeating evil, and resurrecting. Jesus faced and finally resisted anything that drew him away from being his truest self.
John Scotus Eriugena, taught in 9th century Ireland, taught that Christ comes to reawaken us to our truest nature. . . At the heart of our being is the image of God, and thus the wisdom of God, the creativity of God, the passions of God, the longings of God. Grace is opposed not to what is deepest in us but to what is false in us. [Grace] is given to restore us to the core of our being and to free us from the unnaturalness of what we are doing to one another and to the earth.[ii]
In our baptisms we ask:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
Reject the evil powers of this world,
And repent of your sin?
Luke says that Jesus emerged from the desert filled with the Holy Spirit and power. He stood in the synagogue and read and embodied those ancient words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then the people got so angry they wanted to throw him over the cliff. But Jesus walked through them and kept going. The time in the desert gave Jesus clarity and strength.
Remember our baptisms:
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
To resist evil, injustice and oppression
In whatever forms they present themselves?[iv]
In our devotional for the first week in Lent, I appreciate Sarah Are’s list of sins to repent from: holding ourselves to impossible standards, ignoring our beauty, certainty, fear, perfection, busyness as a sign of self-worth, and the notion that creativity is a luxury. Could we repent of the comfortable silence that privilege makes possible? Could we lesson sin’s grip? Could we be daring and free? Could we plant roots like a redwood, and a spine like a sunflower?[v] The devotional writers ask us not just once, but weekly, what could we be letting go of? And what do we need to be cultivating in Lent? And the devotionals don’t give small spaces for our answers, but two blank pages for each question, each week in Lent. Open space and time.
The authors of our devotional are four millennial women who met at Columbia, the Presbyterian Seminary in Atlanta: Lisle Gwynn Garrity, Sarah Are, Hanna Garrity, and Lauren Wright Pittman. They call their curriculum ‘A Sanctified Art.’ Their devotional guides us into scripture of the lectionary, art to contemplate and color, poetry and journaling—all invitations to commune with God in prayer, to listen to the stirrings of our heart and God’s heart and face what tempts us away. There will be opportunities three times a week, to share our reflections with each other: during Sunday School with Esther and Catherine, and on Tuesdays at 1:00 P.M. with Sue, and Wednesdays at 10:00 A.M. with me. In addition, our choirs will lead us in prayers on Sunday mornings, and several faith leaders will share about their ‘Rhythms of Prayer,’ on Tuesday nights.
You will see throughout the church today, barren branches, and peace cranes. Our Lenten classes will give opportunities for you to write Lenten prayers inside the birds.
For this week, Lisle Gwynn Garrity created this picture of Jesus in the wilderness that she titled Resist.[vi] What might we need strength to resist this Lent? I placed this in my prayer place and found myself drawn to the eyes of Jesus. In the desert heat and the looming distractions, his eyes emanate a deep peace. His gaze led me to prayer beyond words, to breathe deeply of such Holy Presence. In the frenzy of our lives and the oppressive injustice, how saving it is to return to the eyes of Jesus, and to draw from abiding Presence. In so doing, we can be a calming presence, with our families, with our churches, with our workplaces, with strangers, and in the company of those who drive us crazy. We are invited to meditate day and night and be like trees whose roots, reach deeply, even in the desert, to find the water, and grow and extend shade and fruit, for the healing of the nations.
Hear now this blessing, by Jan Richardson for the beginning of Lent:
Beloved Is Where We Begin
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.Do not leave
who you are:
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from the scorching
or the fall
of the night.
But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
whisper our name:
Let us enter Lent, by remembering baptism. Let us remember God’s activity from ancient days. Remember God’s leading and nurture. We pray as Jesus taught, ‘lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.’ We are made in the image of God—wise, creative, and passionate; and return to our truest selves. We dwell prayerfully in the love flowing between our Triune God, humanity and creation. Read scripture and reflections, gaze at art, sing and listen, color and journal. Let go of fear and the need for certainty. Cultivate courage. We are part of God’s ongoing life-giving work. Together we are the Body of Christ, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ We are the hands and feet of Jesus; that resist evil, oppression and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves. Amen.
[i] The Baptismal Covenant I, The United Methodist Church, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/the-baptismal-covenant-i
[ii] 9, J. Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation.
[iii] The Baptismal Covenant I, The United Methodist Church, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/the-baptismal-covenant-i
[iv]The Baptismal Covenant I, The United Methodist Church, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/the-baptismal-covenant-i
[v] Sarah Are, “Letting Go,” p. 8, 2019 Lenten Devotional Cultivating and Letting Go, A Sanctified Art LLC, sanctifiedart.org
[vii] 96-97, Jan Richardson, Circles of Grace