The First Sunday in Lent, Year A - March 5, 2017

The Rev. Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

The First Sunday of Lent

Year A

March 5, 2017

The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor



After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written,

'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him (Matthew 4:1-11).



This is probably going to be the hardest sermon I have preached since my time with you.   So bear with me.

The Great Litany we sang at the beginning of our service was the first liturgy to be translated from Latin to English, by Thomas Cranmer.  And it was originally prayed around the perimeter of the parish or village - in a long procession called “beating the bounds.’  It got people out to pray for everything within and beyond their local boundaries - for the church, the village, the world.  For people who had wandered away.  For repentance and forgiveness.  For peace, for enemies, for justice.  

When we pray this litany on the First Sunday in Lent we do the pretty much the same thing:  we make way and clear the way for God to enter into the boundaries of our lives and outside those boundaries – out into to the life of the world, and into what is unknown, unfamiliar, and unexamined in our selves. We ask God to help us step out of the boundaries that separate us from God and one another, yet we also develop new boundaries, new disciplines that bring us closer to God and one another.  We do this throughout the season of Lent.

The tradition of Lent began as a period of final and intense preparation for Converts seeking baptism in the church as they crossed a boundary - from pagan culture to Christian Culture, while establishing new boundaries, new life disciplines and practices.  As a congregation, we are entering into a similar in-between time together – as I prepare to take my leave from you, as we grieve what we will all be losing, as we honor the gift we’ve been given in one another, as we wrestle with what the future will hold.

Right after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, right after he is told he is God’s beloved, he is led into the wilderness by the Holy wander, famished, for 40 days, a number long associated with transition and preparation in the history of God’s people.  Noah, Moses, Elijah, each had 40 day wilderness experiences.  During Jesus’ wilderness time, he is tested by Satan three times to use his power as the Son of God to his own advantage, but Jesus resists all these temptations.  And then, after this struggle, Jesus is “waited on” – ministered to - by angels.  He has endured his time in the wilderness, and returns a different person – teaching, healing, performing miracles.  His identity is renewed and his life is new – as is the gift of life he now can give.

This is what is happening to us. We too, are entering the wilderness, a period of transition that scholars of anthropology call the “liminal stage” or “liminality.”  For those of you who haven’t heard me talk about this yet, the concept comes from the word “limen” which means both threshold and margin.  Liminality means crossing a threshold from one stage or status in life to another.  But it also means being on the “margins,” outside the boundaries of one’s society or community, during the period of transition. 

An example of this is the rite of passage for adolescent males in primitive cultures – in which a young boy would leave the shelter of his mother’s care and enter the jungle with a group of male peers in order to become a young man.  In this process, the boy crossed the threshold from childhood to manhood, yet also severed his bonds, and literally crossed the boundaries, of his community to do so. 

During this “liminal” time, the safety and familiarity of an old identity is stripped away...leaving no identity other than that of the group – all status leveled, all privilege removed. Slowly, a new identity is formed, and a new and different person emerges when these young boys- now turned men – reenter society from their experience in the wilderness.

As a church family, we are entering a liminal time.  And as we live into this, I think it is helpful for us to look back to the other liminal periods in our lives, and maybe learn something from them that might companion us now.  For many of us, childbirth and parenting young children was, or still is, such a time.  For me, seminary was a liminal time.  What have been some of your liminal, wilderness experiences?

For some, Recovery from addiction – either one’s own, or that of a loved one, has required living on the margins of our usual environment long enough to cross the threshold from one way of life to another.  The death of a spouse, a divorce, the loss of a career - all these experiences catapult us into a liminal, in-between time.  A time where we stand on the boundaries of ‘life as usual,’ a time where and old identity is relinquished and a new identity is formed.

As we begin the first week of Lent, we make the transition from Epiphany, when Jesus is revealed in all his glory, toward Holy Week, when we walk with Jesus to the cross, and see in his death and resurrection the ultimate purpose of this revelation.   As a community, we will make a transition from being a congregation long grown used to the loving, trusting, pastoral relationship you and I have shared, to a time of ending that relationship as it currently stands, letting it go, letting it die in a sense, so that a new pastoral relationship can be born and embraced. 

We stand in Lent.  And we stand together.

All that we do during this period are signposts of liminality.  The mark of ashes on our foreheads last Wednesday, that was such a sign – an outward sign of accountability to ourselves and to one another - indicating we stand on this threshold as a group and will enter the wilderness together.  And we do this because we know, from the wisdom of our tradition and the wisdom of our lives that there is something truly remarkable, truly transformative and life giving in these wilderness times, these times of liminality.  These times when we beat the bounds, step out of bounds and re-form our boundaries – on a sort of Outward Bound for our souls.

We are in this together.

So.  What will we want to bring with us on this outward bound journey into the wilderness?  What will we leave behind? We might all want to think about that.  Some of the things we carry with us get pretty heavy after a while!  What do you and I absolutely need, what can we live without?  This past weekend, the vestry and I talked about all that we do as a congregation – and asked ourselves, what is Really Important? Necessary?  Simply nice to do?  What might be weighing us down?

What are we going to miss?  What is it that we have loved? Naming those things that we grieve losing helps us to honor them, recognize the gifts they have been. Could what we grieve then become our gift? 

And then, what will we do in our silent times? In solitude?  With our uncertainty?  What will we hear that we cannot hear in the buzz of life’s tasks and demands, in the noise of life’s distractions? 

What are the demons that we will meet?  The temptations?  For what will you hunger or thirst?  What will vex you?  Will it be anger?  Resentment?  Self-doubt? Guilt?  Regret? Things done and left undone?

As a community, we are going to have to take care to watch out for these.  They will be our temptations.  We will be tempted to wonder, what could I have done to change this?  How could I have prevented it?  We will second guess ourselves, I know I will.  Some may be resentful, closed up, reluctant to trust again.  It will be helpful to recognize these thoughts as natural during times of loss and change, name them for the temptations that they are, and be sure to talk about them with each other.

Which brings me to another question, and that is, who will be our angels, our companions?  How will we let ourselves be ministered to?  What healthy practices, what friendships, what spiritual disciplines will take care of us?

And as we journey back, out from the wilderness, ready to move on, once again - What old gardens will need to be weeded? What new fields tilled?  What seeds will be sown?

Who do we all hope to become, with God’s help, when we return?   Who shall we become, with God’s help, when the Christ within us rises again?





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