Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday in Lent, Year C
February 14, 2016
So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me. Deuteronomy 26:10a
Lent is the season where many Christians practice disciplines of giving up, of denying, and of fasting from the “good things” of life: chocolate, alcohol, cigarettes, sodas, television, desserts, sugar, meat, or social media (oh my!), to name a few. Often the items given up are not so much sacrifice as inconvenience in a world of myriad choices. A dedicated person can give up almost anything for only 40 days, right? It’s not as if we’re doing without something we like for an eternity.
Yet I wonder, is this the fast our Lord desires? The first Sunday in Lent gives us the lesson about Jesus’ temptation. Of course, Jesus is perfectly divine as well as fully human, so of course he’s going to resist devil’s bait, right? This is not the point. It’s more about what God desires and about not testing God with our human foibles and foolishness. In response to this abundant gift of divine love, mercy, and grace, of course God wants the best we have to offer. God desires our first fruits rather than 40 days of minor inconvenience. God wants us to deny all that would separate us from right relationship our Creator and Lord, with the One who offers us real life — not some paltry facsimile.
In our Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy the people of Israel are being told by Moses how to prepare for the Feast of Weeks, how to ready themselves to remember Yahweh’s providence and deliverance, and how to respond with the very best they have once they get to the promised land. There’s a real lesson for us today as we journey through the season of Lent into the rest of our earthly lives.
We are instructed that as redeemed people of God we dare not forget those who still wander in the desert, who have no one to speak for them, and who are hungry, poor, and marginalized. We are to bring our tithes and offerings–time, talent, and treasure to the One who provides everything, right down to each breath we breathe. We are called to remember the deliverance and salvation story of which we are a part, and we are to share this story, this hope, and these blessings with others. Our best belongs to God because we belong to God.
Forget the nominal “sacrifices” this year and instead go deeper, into causes and consequences. Sure it might be good to give up chocolate, but maybe it’s even better to consider the source of that chocolate you give up. Does it come from fairly traded sources? Do precious human lives suffer just so you can enjoy a sweet treat? Sure, it is a wonderful decision to give up cigarettes or anything else that’s been proven to harm your health, but it might also be worth pondering why you fall prey to addictive and destructive behaviors in the first place. Perhaps a sacrifice to self and the illusion of control is the real sacrifice at hand. Yes, it’s great to get rid of 40 bags of stuff during Lent, but perhaps the better fast is to contemplate why you have a need to accumulate and consume in the first place. Maybe the fast that’s needed is one from extraneous activities, purchases, and choices that keep us from God, from the Body of Christ, and from real and lasting relationships–from a life well-lived as a faithful disciple.
What “first fruits” do you need to offer to God? Bring your right sacrifices, your holy listening and contemplation, your willingness to invest in the daily grittiness and grace of life, and your faithful action to the Lord during these 40 days. Then, as Moses told God’s beloved children “…you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house” (Deut. 26:11).
The first Sunday in Lent this year happens to be Valentine’s Day, and for many folks visions of rosebuds, chocolate hearts, and romantic dinners will be on the mind. Consider linking Moses’ instruction to the people of Israel to bring their first fruits as an offering to the day and to worship. What does it mean to bring our first fruits to worship? Just as we do our best for those we love, we should do and be our best for our Creator. Our worship is an act of bringing first fruits–our time, attention, talents, and treasure. Think of it as the difference between buying your Valentine the cheapest of chocolate when you can afford the finest hand-crafted truffles. You give your best to the one you love and to the God who loves you more than life itself.
Explore this week’s Gospel lesson (Luke 4:1-13) with your youth. Talk about temptation. What temptations do they face in their daily lives? Jesus was tempted at his weakest points with the most needful and wonderful things–bread, power, invincibility. What Jesus knew was that he didn’t need these things. God already has all that is needed or can be desired. Through Jesus’ example and faithful leading, we learn that we have all that we need in Christ Jesus. Our daily bread and our living bread are both found in Jesus who provides for our daily needs and strengthens us in the Eucharist. Our power comes in our weakness when we follow Jesus and trust his leading. Our invincibility comes in the reality that Jesus has already conquered death so that we can anticipate life eternal. God is not to be tested, yet the powers of evil and the evil one still seeks to distract and destroy us when we are at our weakest. Invite youth to contemplate how the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert can give us strength to withstand what the world throws at us.
Children will be familiar with the candy conversation hearts. Since this Sunday is Valentine’s Day, use this familiar treat to teach about the epistle lesson from Romans (10:8b-13) where Paul says “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” You can show them some regular conversation hearts that have sayings such as “Be Mine” and “Love” and “Be True” on them. Make some “conversation” hearts of your own out of construction paper or card stock and use faith symbols, words, and phrases on them. If you’re really ambitious, make frosted heart sugar cookies with faith words or Christian symbols on them. Give each child a bag of “faith heart” cards to take home and remind them that Jesus loves them so very much. If you do give out candy or cookies in your parish, you can give them a heart cookie or small box of conversation hearts. Sing the first verse of “Jesus Loves Me” and say a simple prayer.
Photos: Faith Goble, Stuart-Butterfield, and Ogilvy PR, Creative Commons. Thanks!