March 5 – The Mirror that is Lent – Rev. Jo-Ann Murphy

Categories: Sermons

Lord, teach us to take our hearts and look them in the face, however difficult it may be.”

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers


   What is Lent for, really?  Mirroring Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, it is a time to let the light of truth reveal our motivations, to recalibrate our spiritual lives, to reorient ourselves as followers of Christ.[1]  Another way to say that might be, as Dorothy Sayers writes in Gaudy Night, “to take our hearts and look them in the face, however difficult that might be.”

   On Ash Wednesday we began Lent signed with ashes on our foreheads, the outward signs of our humble beginnings and our common end.  This morning as we chanted the Great Litany, we confessed our sins and prayed for God’s mercy. 

   To help us engage the reality of our need to be transformed, the church suggests a three-fold discipline for our Lent: prayer for the good of our souls, fasting for the good of our bodies, and alms-giving for the good of our neighbor.  We start off with the best of intentions, and then, whoops!  Next thing you know, on this first Sunday in Lent who shows up?  Satan shows up.  Satan, the tempter, the tester – that’s who shows up!

   The word Matthew uses for Satan is devil and devil means “one who attacks, deceives, diverts, one who discredits or slanders.”  In Matthew the devil seeks to mislead Jesus about the meaning of his sonship and the purposes of God.  How about you?  Do you know anything – anything at all – about the devil?  Who is the Satan, the tempter, in your life?  What does he, she, it look like, whisper to you, and when?

   I know what the devil looks like in my life.  In my life Satan is that little voice in my head that tells me I have all the time in the world.  I have all the time in the world to lose weight, to get in shape, to ask your forgiveness, to forgive that person who betrayed me …. I have all the time in the world to stop buying so many things I don’t really need, to start spending my time and my money in responsible ways …. I have all the time in the world to begin to seriously care for our earth …. and for God’s sake to stop drinking so many Diet Pepsis and saying that doing so isn’t harmful!

   Satan’s temptation comes to us in moments when we look at others and feel insecure about not having enough.  Temptation comes in judgments we make about strangers or friends who make choices we do not understand.  Temptation rules us, making us able to look away from those in need and to live our lives unaffected by poverty, hunger, and disease, and the unjust laws that allow wage theft, unsafe workplaces, the persecution of undocumented persons, and human trafficking often only for the sake of profit.  Temptation rages in moments when we allow our temper to define our lives or when addiction to wealth, power, and influence over others, vanity, or an inordinate need for control defines who we are.  The devil overpowers us when our addictions to booze or tobacco or other harmful drugs win yet again and Satan possesses us when we engage in the justification of little white lies, small sins, a racist or homophobic joke, a questionable business practice for the greater good, or a criticism of a spouse or a partner when he or she isn’t around.  Temptation wins when we get so caught up in the trappings of life that we lose sight of life itself.[2]

   For all of us Satan looks like whatever will keep us from the difficult and holy work of looking our hearts in the face.

   Theological commentaries would teach us that Jesus’ obedience counteracts, or rather overcomes, the disobedience of humanity that we heard about in today’s first lesson, the story of Adam and Eve’s fall in Genesis.  That’s way too simple an answer.  Temptation is far more complex than that.

   Obedience for me, for us, if you’re anything like me, needs to be constantly strengthened, day in, day out, in Lent, and during the rest of the year.  In his wilderness Jesus is obedient to a way of living that is intended for all humanity.  Our wilderness times come and go throughout our lives, but we do not have all the time in the world.  As a very wise rabbi, Hillel the Elder, once said “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, then what am I?  If not now, when?



[1] “Living the Word” by Maggi Dawn in The Christian Century, Vol. 131, No. 5, p. 20.

[2] Adapted from Maryetta Anschutz’s “Pastoral Perspective” on Matthew 4:1-11 in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol.2, p.48.